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We talk with Ira Wolf Tuton of Yeasayer

I recently held a nice phone conversation with Ira Wolf Tuton, who plays bass in Yeasayer. Yeasayer is a psychedelic pop group in Brooklyn that has had a rise to prominence in the past few years with a couple of really catchy albums. They are now preparing to debut their third album, Fragrant World.

I listened to Fragrant World, and it’s a little less poppy. Can you tell me about the direction the album is going in, Ira?

The big problem we’re dealing with in the studio for any project is trying to make a concerted effort not to retread our steps. We’re constantly pulling from a lot of different influences and genres. The challenge that we have is to turn that into a cohesive aesthetic.

I saw you guys have set up an internet scavenger hunt for the new album. Who came up with the idea for that?

Our manager, who likes to be involved more than most, on more than just the business side. That idea was to put our music out in a creative way.

Now, each of these videos comes with a visualization. Could you elaborate on the process for selecting the artist?

That is Yoshi Sodeoka‘s brainchild. There’s some stuff that he made and showed to the rest of us, some hard work and video stuff he had done that was really engaging. I like the idea of taking advantage of multisensory experience, and not just have music visual accompaniments be narrative music videos, but more of an entire experience to watch the whole record.

Are these visualizations going to be in lieu of any actual music videos?

No! We’re doing it all, man!

So, you guys filled in for Passion Pit at Firefly Music Festival a couple weeks ago, last minute, how did that go down?

We were actually in Europe, I think in London, when we got the phone call. We had been touring Europe for such a long time before then, so getting offered a show a couple hours outside of where we live to play, in front of a large American audience that hasn’t heard a lot of our material, was a good opportunity for us to get our new songs out.

What did you think of the actual venue? That was their first year of operation for Firefly.

Oh, really? It was actually really pleasant, I had never been down there. The only thing that wasn’t pleasant were the cops in the surrounding areas. Delaware cops, I would say, are not the most friendly individuals. Once you get beyond them, it was really nice. The site was nice, everybody who worked there was really relaxed, there were long changeovers, and a really relaxed crowd.

So, Ira, I’m curious, what kind of new music are you listening to these days? Any bands really caught your eye?

The Gaslamp Killer, I just discovered him. It was a festival in Germany that we played with him. We’ve got this dude, Daedalus, opening for us right now, he’s done some pretty cool stuff in a similar crew.

Could you tell us a bit about how you play live?

Well, night after night we’re playing a live show. After every show, there’s notes that we all take. We’re constantly evolving the arrangements that we play live. It’s enjoyable to have that dynamic, where the way you’re doing live can evolve so that you’re not just going through the motions and regurgitating what’s on the record.

Do you handle any artistic direction in the live performances?

We’re in a fortunate position where we can find artists and talented people that we enjoy and take advantage of their skills. So there’s definitely a back and forth when it comes to design and feedback. On the technical side of it, we’re teaming up with people and excited to see how they re-translate what we’re doing in a different genre. Visualizations, video, lights: there’s an open conversation about that, it’s not a hands off thing. There’s definitely involvement.

I read a bit of your biography, and it mentioned that you’re big into carpentry. How have you kept up with that as Yeasayer’s popularity has grown?

The nice thing now is that I can do things on my own time that are a little bit more creative. I love working with my hands still. The last thing that I built was a porch swing. Now, when I go home, I can wake up in the morning, make myself a cup of coffee, sit on my porch, look at my garden, and just chill out for a half hour before I start doing things. I still like the physicality of creation. It’s nice not to have to do that as a 9-5. Instead of putting someone else’s aesthetic and ideas into form, I am doing it for myself.

Okay, my last question for you, Ira. Where do you go from here with Yeasayer? You’re about to debut your third album, and playing quite large venues. What do you see yourself doing over the next year or so?

Well, we are playing a lot of places, some we’ve done before, and many we haven’t. I’m really excited about the live show, with the visual stuff we are putting together right now. All these gears are in motion, and I am eagerly anticipating their fruition.
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Fragrant World is out on August 21, via the Secretly Canadian label. Yeasayer goes on to play a sold out show at Music Hall of Williamsburg this Wednesday, August 15, before headlining Rumsey Playfield in September.

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About John Harrison

John Harrison is a music afficionado and web developer in Hoboken, New Jersey.
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