Yeasayer: Amen, Brother!

Interview Yeasayer: Amen, Brother!

Yeasayer aren’t trying to stay relevant anymore. Anything goes on ‘Amen & Goodbye’, which takes on religion and Donald Trump.

As two thirds of the Brooklyn-born psychedelic pop outfit Yeasayer, Chris Keating and Ira Wolf Tuton - along with bandmate Anand Wilder – have now been in service for a little over 10 years. They’re veterans of the game, pros with nothing left to prove. But don’t think for one second that means they’re sitting still.

Chris and Ira aren’t afraid to admit that it takes time to create something worthwhile, even if they were reluctant to slow down at first . “I remember when I was a teenager and bands would take a couple of years between albums,” Keating says. “I would be like, ‘Why can’t they just put one out immediately?’ Then I was like, ‘Oh, it takes a while to tour the whole world and then write a new album.’”

Keating is talking from experience. It’s been over three-and-a-half-years since Yeasayer released their last record, ‘Fragrant World’. Before that, there was 2010’s ‘Odd Blood’ and 2007’s ‘All Hour Cymbals’, all of which were subjected to non-stop schedules that took the band far away from thinking about releasing new material within a tight, one-album-per-year schedule, in a bid to stay relevant. “When you’re touring so much and you’re constantly travelling and you’re away from the creative process for so much of the time,” Ira muses, “it takes time to reconnect with that.”

Yeasayer: Amen, Brother! Yeasayer: Amen, Brother!

“I’m fascinated by death”

— Chris Keating

The reconnection process starts with ‘Amen & Goodbye’, their new album. “[We said] let’s take a little space and think about what we did last time and what we want to do now,” Chris says, detailing the months spent working on their fourth record. “What are we listening to? What are we inspired by? Let’s make some lists of types of sounds and songs we’re into right now.” Their aim: “Be authentic to what we want to do.”

“We were trying to go for this certain kind of collage of sound,” Chris says, “so there was a bunch of songs in the space of one track. And also, we’re always trying to push the envelope sonically and conceptually.”

Conceptually, there isn’t much doubt surrounding the direction in which ‘Amen & Goodbye’ is pushing that envelope. Religion streams out the record like syrup, seeping through the lyrics and into its artwork. But, Yeasayer are adamant that ‘Amen & Goodbye’ isn’t a ‘Concept Album’.

“We craft these things to take you on a bit of a journey”

— Chris Keating

“There’s not a singular story. But the inspiration for some of the songs... I’m fascinated by death,” Keating confesses. “I think a lot of people are; by religion, about other religions, about why people believe what they believe and what they believe if they don’t, and it becomes interesting to construct your own religious narrative.”

It’s ‘Amen & Goodbye’’s strength of narrative that seems to make folk singer Suzzy Roche such a natural choice for collaboration on the record. She does, after all, have a history of telling a story through song. But, when asked whether this influenced their decision to bring Roche in to provide vocals for ‘Half Asleep’ and ‘Gerson's Whistle’ - as well as lead single ‘I Am Chemistry’ - both Chris and Ira turn instead to their status as fans.

“It wasn’t so much conceptually her work, as just like [I’m] a big fan” Chris assures. “And you know, wanting to have a female vocalist,” Ira adds. “The opportunity to be able to work with someone like that, being a band for ten years - yeah that’s going to be a refreshing appeal.”

On Roche’s contribution to the record, Chris has a succinct way of summarising: “If you’re making an album that has religious subtext, and if there is a God, God is a woman,” he says, deadpan. “That’s just a given for me.”

“If you’re making an album that has religious subtext, and if there is a God, God is a woman”

— Chris Keating

From religious subtext to declarations of belief, Yeasayer seemed to have a pretty firm grasp on the record that they wanted to create. “I think also we’re engaged in making the album an art form,” Ira says on the topic, “whether it’s relevant to now or not.” It’s the second time that Chris and Ira have stumbled onto the topic of relevancy, denying its necessity in their musical pilgrimage.

“We craft these things to take you on a bit of a journey,” Keating explains of Yeasayer’s musical ethos. “It’d be cool if [the songs] function individually too, because I know that’s how people access music and they’re going to make their own arrangements on Spotify or whatever. But yeah, if you’re going to put the needle on the record, it might as well have a flow.”

Until recently, little had been known about Yeasayer’s imminent fourth album; the band drip-fed clips of the artwork around the Christmas period before releasing ‘I Am Chemistry’ in January. “We knew that ‘I Am Chemistry’ could be a really dense song,” Chris explains. “I was surprised that people found it accessible at all... It’s cool that world still exists and those people are out there, [...] people on the radio that are interested in pushing something [different]” Ira agrees, “I had kind of lost faith in that.”

Yeasayer’s new album ‘Amen & Goodbye’ is out now via Mute Records. Taken from DIY’s 50th issue special, out now. Subscribe to DIY below.

Yeasayer will play Best Kept Secret (17-19th June), where DIY is an official media partner. Tickets are on sale now. Visit diymag.com/presents for more information.

Photos: Jenna Foxton.

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Tags: Yeasayer, From The Magazine, Features, Interviews

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