Quit Your Day Job

Quit Your Day Job – SXSW Edition: Yeasayer

After I interviewed Yeasayer in November ’07, they took off way beyond the low-level buzz the song “2080” was creating at that time. In the last few months, the guys have become key spokespeople for the Brooklyn scene on MTV and in the NY Times and converted Conan and a subway full of French folks. It’s safe to say their work schedules have shifted.

Originally Published 11/7/07
This past summer Yeasayer’s kid-choired “2080” made a lot of noise, oiling a few hype machines, but the quartet took their sweet old time releasing a proper debut. (I remember researching a piece on the band in July and having no luck turning up photos.) There was that “2080”/”Sunrise” 12″, but believe it or not longtime followers, All Hour Cymbals only came out a couple weeks ago. And actually the wait’s been longer than that: Frontman Chris Keating started the band by himself a few years back, and after relocating to NYC from RISD, hooked up with current guitarist Anand Wilder, a classically trained cellist living in Baltimore. They played their first show together in January 2005, before Wilder moved from Maryland to New York. Later, the duo added two additional members — bassist Ira Wolf Tuton and ex- Ex-Models drummer Luke Fasano. The guys are here today because when not whipping up their rare mix of soft rock, Gospel, disco, Grizzly Bear choral, psychedelia, barber shopping, sitar wrangles, and ecstatic chant, they hold down day jobs. Chris and Anand both work as set decorators and Ira’s a renowned wood worker/carpenter.

If the band’s new to you, it’s easy enough to get up to speed. Take a look at great live performances of “2080” and “Final Path.” There’s also this prime KEXP video footage. After the conversation grab downloads of “2080” and “Sunrise,” arguably Yeasayer’s signature, so-far unsurpassed moments. You can also head to the band’s MySpace to download the super “Final Path” and take a listen to more sinister album track “Wintertime.”

Chris Keating: vocals, tambourine, sampler, keyboard, etc.

STEREOGUM: How’d you get your start in set decoration?

CHRIS KEATING: I started doing set decoration by driving trucks for Saturday Night Live. I still prefer driving trucks around Manhattan to any other job. Many close calls and flying fists.

STEREOGUM: Did you go to art school?

CK: I went to RISD and studied film.

STEREOGUM: Who designs all those Yeasayer collages?

CK: We have a designer, The Diamond Eagle, who makes all of our collages, t-shirts, and album artwork.

STEREOGUM: Are you working freelance for for a specific place?

CK: I’ve worked on a few shitty feature films, some shitty television shows, and many shitty photo shoots.

STEREOGUM: Can you describe a “typical” day on a set or a shoot?

CK: Most film sets are quite boring. I always appreciate the catering. I worked on one video shoot for WWF in which my only job was to put soap suds on the scantily clad female wrestlers who were “washing” a car.

STEREOGUM: I interviewed a wardrobe stylist once and also had to ask: Do you try to slip in subliminal decor? Yeasayer-related items? Or a favorite book?

CK: I’ve tried to slip subliminal messages into some Nickelodeon shows but I’m not at liberty to say which ones. I’m hoping that it will increase our album sales with the preschool age group though. I know they don’t illegally download.

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Anand Wilder: guitar, voice, etc.

STEREOGUM: How long have you been in involved in set decoration? How’d you get your start?

ANAND WILDER: I worked on film/TV shoots for years, and it was an easy crossover.

STEREOGUM: Any particularly interesting film/TV shoots? How’d you get into that earlier line of work?

AW: I got into it basically because there’s a flourishing film and television scene in New York City and it’s good freelance work that allows you to have the time to work on musical projects.

STEREOGUM: Nowadays are you working freelance or for a specific place? If the latter, do you and Chris work for the same company?

AW: No, I just take what I can get.

STEREOGUM: How do you get jobs? Word of mouth?

AW: Yes, I’m slowly losing my contacts since the band is taking up so much of my time, and people get tired of hearing “No.”

STEREOGUM: You told me you didn’t go to art school, but do you create any outside art?

AW: I’ve made some videos here and there but I mostly stick to music and Photoshopping my face onto ladies’ bodies.

STEREOGUM: Early on, how did you guys decide to use collages early on in lieu of press photos? I remember trying to find a picture over the summer and it was pretty difficult.

AW: Our manager forced us to take down our vanity photos. And we didn’t have enough money for a proper band photo.

STEREOGUM: Can you describe a ‘typical’ day on a set or a shoot?

AW: I hold a piece of fishing line which is sewn onto a model’s skirt, and make sure her skirt doesn’t drift upward while the fan is blowing onto her. I also spray hairspray on pieces of chocolate to make them look shiny and so the models cringe when they nibbling on it.

STEREOGUM: Do you try to slip in subliminal Yeasayer decor?

AW: I give Yeasayer T-shirts to models to wear, but the photographer always makes them take them off and wear clothes from Macy’s, or whatever company they’re shooting the ad for.

STEREOGUM: Would you want to collaborate with Ira on a gigantic live set-up for the band? I can imagine his carpentry skills mixed with your decorating…

AW: Yes, we’re working on an elaborate backdrop system that is cued by certain audio frequencies. Also Ira is going to perform standing on top of an armoire that he built and we’re going to auction it off at the end of the night.

STEREOGUM: When can we expect all of this?

AW: 2009 or after we get our huge advance from a major record label.

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Ira Wolf Tuton: bass, voice, etc.

STEREOGUM: How long have you been involved in carpentry? What’s your background in it?

IRA WOLF TUTON: My pop is a lot of things but two of the things he passed on to me are carpentry and the bass. I started working when I was 12. I will never send my kid to camp. In that world it’s either be a bully or be bullied. I grew up seeing the most skilled Yankee craftsmen build some of the most sublime structures without wasting a motion. Those guys are some of the best musicians I’ve ever seen. I’ve also had the joy to both work with and learn from my brother in law, Ian. I grew up building and playing. My approach to both is the same. To make it worthwhile you need to be involved with people that have something that you don’t have. You need to approach with a soft, open mind. And it’s not worth it if those same people do not have the mind, ability, and stability to learn from you. In both worlds everyone is a teacher and everyone is a student. That’s why I love it.

STEREOGUM: Where are you currently employed? What are your duties there?

IWT: I am always self employed. My duties are to pay my rent, write my music, and be good to people, except assholes.

STEREOGUM: Do you have a “specialty” … or a specific area your known for?

IWT: I do work that I really enjoy. I’m going out to California after the new year to take a couple of trees down. Those people know that I’m a tree guy. The people in the West Village know that I lay trim and case out windows. You know that I’m a bass player.

STEREOGUM: You appeared in O Magazine. How’d that come about? Did it drum up some business? Meet Oprah?

IWT: Aaah, to my chagrin. The party to meet Oprah was on the same night as our record release, and not to dis the O, but I have my priorities. Someday.

STEREOGUM: You’re obviously skilled in the area of carpentry … have you ever thought about doing it full-time instead of making music? Or, do you enjoy maintaining the two paths?

IWT: There is no one or the other. I have been a musician making money as a carpenter for a long time. The main reason I ever got into carpentry was so I would never have to hire anyone to do anything for me. Then it became a job. Music will always be my life, but I need to build a few hours a day or I lose my mind. Too much of a good thing drives me crazy. I don’t want to die in an ivory tower.

STEREOGUM: Knowing the job skill of you and your bandmates, Yeasayer could basically build a house. Ever collaborate on projects?

IWT: Just music, loverboy.

STEREOGUM: Have you ever built anything for the band? Maybe a loft for touring? Cabinets?

IWT: So far just pedal board cases. One of the reasons I wanna be big is cuz I want to have the illest, most theatrical stage show. People sure pay enough for big shows, why not give it to them. It drives me crazy when I see a band in a large venue doing nothing more than a bar band. I saw one tonight — I can’t say who — but man was it boring. What’s the point except for feeding the ego? I want to build insanity and passion and I want to see it.

Yesayer – “2080” (MP3)
Yesayer – “Sunrise” (MP3)

All Hour Cymbals is out on We Are Free.


[Photo by Alexander Wagner; L to R: Ira Wolf Tuton, Anand Wilder, Chris Keating, Luke Fasano]

SXSW Itinerary
3/12 @ La Zona Rosa
3/13 @ Emo’s Lounge IV (WE ARE FREE jam)
3/14 @ Emo’s Big Stage (Pitchfork Party)
3/15 @ Waterloo Park (Mess w/ Texas)

Tags: SXSW, Yeasayer