Really, they came out of nowhere. There was little or no advance warning—no portentous red moon, no keening air-raid siren, no Post-It on the fridge. Just a two-song single, and a surprisingly discreet buzz signaling that the few hipsters who possessed the audio scarcity wanted to keep the Brooklyn quartet as their precious pet band. Someone eventually let the cat out of the messenger bag—or at least booked them at the 2007 South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas. That’s when a collective gush issued from bloggers so stoked about this band that would save the world—or some such lofty deed—through what the band purportedly calls “Middle Eastern-psych-pop-snap-gospel.”
Like any good indie rocker, guitarist/sample master Anand Wilder doesn’t believe the hype. Well, maybe just a little. “We are such a small operation,” he says from a Seattle hotel before the band plays KEXP 90.3 FM’s holiday benefit concert. “There’s no huge record company behind us or anything, so the hype can’t be total bullshit. It’s somewhat organic. People are praising us just based on the music they’ve heard, or the shows they’ve seen, not because of a giant publicity campaign by Interscope or whoever.”
Yeasayer did hire a publicist to trumpet All Hour Cymbals (on the band’s own We Are Free label), but buzz remained the band’s best friend. Besides the music, and their all-inclusive creative ethos: Musically, Yeasayer adheres to no firm tenets—no genre, no reference is truly accurate, which is ironic, given their name.
“My old school chum and former drummer Louey always tells me, ‘You do know that Yeasayer means a yes man, someone who conforms to the norm.’ This was the ultimate diss, because for us growing up, a yes man was the worst possible thing to be. We always valued rebellion and irreverence,” Wilder says. It’s the positivity, symmetry, brevity and uniqueness of the word, and the allusion to musical potential, that they enjoy. “We do say yes to many different styles and genres of music, like musical theater, choral music or soft rock that other bands might dismiss,” Wilder says.
All Hour Cymbals features these and myriad other sounds, but it’s like trying to mix sodas at the self-serve fountain in 7-11: doesn’t matter how much of what flavor you dump in there, you still get a pretty unique cocktail. So while you might be able to pick out the Moody Blues gentility, David Gilmour-type aloofness and Arcade Fire artsy-fartsiness in the vocals on “2080,” infer that the jangly Athenian college rock took a semester abroad and picked up some east Indian melodicism, see the faint Supertramp corona around the ominous, tribal, geek-soul of “Sunrise,” or pinpoint the juncture of the Fat Boys and Talking Heads in “Final Path,” ultimately, the songs are definable only as Yeasayer.
Since we’re conditioned by cookie-cutter bands content to create within the confines of formula and recipe, groups like Yeasayer are deliciously mysterious. We like to pump them up to mythic proportions simply because they’re—to pilfer an Arby’s slogan, “different” and “good”—while still attempting to make them fit a schematic. For example, attempting to link Yeasayer’s “2080” with Prince’s party anthem “1999,” Rush’s high-concept 2112, Orwell’s totalitarian 1984 and Kubrick-Clarke’s epic 2001 might actually, accidentally, define Yeasayer. Wilder’s cool with that, fully embracing his band’s cosmicity even as he points out that sometimes things are simpler than they seem.
“The lyrics are, ‘In 2080, I’ll surely be dead,’” he says of the song singer Chris Keating wrote about his own mortality. Yeasayer isn’t portending apocalypse, he furthers, because “the apocalypse is now!”
YEASAYER w/ MGMT @ Kilby Court, 741 S. 330 West, Sunday Feb. 3 @ 7:30 p.m. 24Tix.com