Album Set For Release Through Mute On 1st April 2016.
Brooklyn art rock band Yeasayer seemed to emerge fully formed in 2007, when their debut album All Hour Cymbals introduced audiences to a cosmic fusion of kraut-rock and worldbeat inspired textures. They found a broader audience with the leftfield synth-pop of their breakthrough follow up, Odd Blood and with 2012’s Fragrant World, an album of scintillating avant-garde electronica, Yeasayer completed a trilogy of uncompromising artistic statements.
When the dust settled after promoting Fragrant World, Yeasayer – Chris Keating, Ira Wolf Tuton and Anand Wilder – were suffering something of an identity crisis.
“We had toured so much over the previous eight years and we were a little burned out. We’ve always tried to evolve as artists, to take risks instead of repeating old formulas. In the past we’ve discovered new sounds by experimenting with new technology, and it becomes psychologically exhausting. We couldn’t quite come to terms with what it should be this time.”
For their fourth album, Amen & Goodbye, the trio settled on a radically different approach: record as a band, live to 2” tape in the wilds of upstate New York and embrace the classicism of the album as an art form.
So after writing individually in their home studios, they ventured to the countryside –an isolated studio in upstate New York – and began recording rhythm tracks onto tape. The studio was located on a working fibre farm, and if the band forgot to close the studio door during a break, they’d be joined in the vocal booth by wandering chickens. On more than one occasion, the electric fence would create an audible hum on the recordings. But if they switched it off, the goats would immediately escape, and the band would have to wrangle the goats back into their pen.
“The recording studio is in a remote part of the Catskills that’s really culty,” say the band. “It’s only two hours from New York City, but it feels really desolate and quiet. They used to call it the Borscht Belt; a lot of legendary comedians honed their craft at these glamorous vacation resorts nearby which are now abandoned and in a state of decay, totally overrun by nature. We also would drive by the prison where Son of Sam is serving 400 years or so on our way to the supermarket. The farm where we recorded was beautiful and idyllic, but the surrounding area felt like a horror movie.”
The band hunkered down and settled into working long hours in the studio, nearly burning out their live-in engineer.
“Upstate we drastically reinvented our home demos – we created rhythmic beds using layered tape loops, and the studio had this incredible array of exotic string
instruments hanging on the walls that we used to breathe life into the new recordings. We became addicted to recording live three-part harmony vocals in this giant geodesic dome a hundred feet up the hill from the studio. The natural reverb added this eerie depth to the recordings. ”
The band was inspired, ideas were flowing, but then, a setback – they lost much of what they’d recorded, the danger of analogue recording. At the end of one particular recording session, the band decided to capture the sound of a summer rainstorm to use at the beginning of the track ‘Gerson’s Whistle’. The storm lasted through the night, and they awoke to discover that a leak in the ceiling had flooded the control room, causing considerable damage to the tape machine, some of their favourite go-to outboard effects units, and two of their finished reels of tape. Rather than wait for the tape machine to be repaired, they returned to New York with what was salvageable, and amended their original plan. They would now rebuild the album in a way that was truer to their usual, forward-thinking modus operandi.
They decided – for the first time ever – that they would work with a producer to help them make sense of the pieces of music they’d recorded, and approached Joey Waronker, famed drummer for Beck, R.E.M. and many more and a member of Atoms For Peace. “We really wanted to explore the emotional poles of the arrangements more than we have before,” say the band. “Joey was a very good glue for us to work with, and he helped us gain a new excitement for the process – and that’s the most important thing.”
Working in Brooklyn, Waronker helped the band realise the potential of the song fragments, and worked heavily on the rhythmic qualities of the sound. The shift in location and method worked wonders. New techniques crept in: Joey would play live over drum machine beats created by the band, creating a hybrid of digital and analogue. Waronker’s bag of percussive toys – rusty springs, chopsticks and jangly wooden boxes – was employed to create unique sounds. “We deconstructed the whole album and put it back together again. We laboured over the textures of each song, and paid careful attention to the flow of the album. From demos to final mastering was a much longer period of time than usual – two and a half years total – so the songs really had to earn their place on the album. Songs that we originally thought would be the next single didn’t even end up making the cut.”
There were guests in the studio, too – Brazilian percussionist Mauro Refosco played on many songs, Steve Marion from Delicate Steve added guitars, and Suzzy Roche of cult band The Roches sang layered vocals on three tracks. The Roches – comprising Suzzy and her two sisters Maggie and Terre – were a big influence on Yeasayer in their formative years, and the three were thrilled by her presence on the album.
The finished album has, as a loose concept, an underlying narrative informed by religion and transcendence, the afterlife and the search for meaning, and the songs stream together like a collection of strange fables from the Bible of some universe that does not yet exist. “There are quite a few references to Babylonian gods and ideas of religiousity. Living in America, you’re faced with presidential candidates talking about the end times, and everything is so God laden. It became a theme for us when we were thinking about lyrics, reflecting on our culture and these big questions about religion.”
These questions are referenced on the album cover, an intricate tableau of sculptures by the New York-based Canadian artist David Altmejd, who worked directly with the group to create the new work. Moloch, an ancient god of child sacrifice, a silent movie starlet, a breastfeeding mother, characters from the band’s songs past and present, and various other pop-culture and religious characters are brought to life in the cover art. “It’s Sgt Pepper meets Hieronymous Bosch meets Dali meets PeeWee’s Playhouse.”
The songs saw the group on lyrical flights of fancy. First single ‘I Am Chemistry’ began life as a song written from the perspective of an atom or a molecule, but shifted to being about poisonous compounds and the places they come from, man made or naturally occurring. ‘Silly Me’ taps into the inventive pop style they honed with the likes of Odd Blood era hit ‘Ambling Alp’, ‘Prophecy Gun’ is a hypnotic samba raga that harkens back to the meditative qualities of their debut and contrasts with the raucous ‘Dead Sea Scrolls’. ‘Uma’ is an ethereal rubato lullaby and album closer ‘Cold Night’ finds the band struggling to come to terms with the loss of a dear friend.
Yeasayer say the album was “definitely the most difficult we’ve ever made – we’ve never taken this long to make an album, and it’s difficult to maintain focus for so long and resist the urge to kill your darlings.” But the protracted gestation period was worth it as the album is their most well rounded, imaginative and fully realised effort to date. “It’s the most collaborative and multifaceted record we’ve done. We’ve tested the boundaries of what we’ve done before, but we’ve gone deeper than on any other album. We have arrangements that go from stripped-back to incredibly lush in a moment. It’s been a real exploration, and we all get off on that.”
The title Amen & Goodbye might sound like the band’s closing statement; it’s not – it’s them recalibrating what it means to be a recording artist in today’s world, not as a gang of three guys, but as three men with new families and changing situations and altering perspectives. “In a span of four years, a lot changes. Not just in life changing ways like having a child, but in nuanced ways too. The title isn’t fatalism, it’s about letting go and not being precious – in life and in art. Making an album is an exercise in challenging ourselves as a band.”
11.05 → Kingston, NY, US
12.05 → Portland, ME, US
13.05 → Boston, MA, US
14.05 → New York, NY, US
16.05 → Washington, DC, US
17.05 → Philadelphia, PA, US
19.05 → Asheville, NC, US
20.05 → Atlanta, GA, US
21.05 → Nashville, TN, US
22.05 → Detroit, MI, US
23.05 → Chicago, IL, US
24.05 → Minneapolis, MN, US
28.05 → Vancouver, BC, Canada
29.05 → Portland, OR, US
31.05 → San Francisco, CA, US
01.06 → Hollywood, CA, US
02.06 → San Diego, CA, US
03.06 → Santa Ana, CA, US
10.06 → London, UK
11.06 → London, UK
12.06 → Ghent, Belgium
14.06 → Oslo, Norway
15.06 → Bergen, Norway
17.06 → Hilvarenbeek, Netherlands
17.06 → Aarhus, Denmark
20.06 → Zagreb, Croatia
20.06 → Lausanne, Switzerland
21.06 → Marina di Ravenna, Italy
24.06 → Scheessel, Germany
24.06 → Neuhausen Ob Eck, Germany