“Well, it’s really just [that] the record industry was not really working out for us anymore.” That could be an understatement from any musician trying to make a living these days. But coming from Anand Wilder, one of the principal songwriters of the beloved indie-rock band Yeasayer, that sentiment could have a little more unpacking to it than a clear-cut artist-against-bean-counters scenario.
Formed in 2006, the band — consisting of Wilder on guitar and vocals, singer and multi-instrumentalist Chris Keating, and Ira Wolf Tuton on bass — have stretched the boundary lines of pop music to hallucinatory levels, never staying in one place long enough to be defined by limiting genres. This year, the band broke from working with high-profile alternative labels Secretly Canadian and Mute to release their new album, “Erotic Reruns,” on their own Yeasayer Records. While they lost support from labels, having their independence allowed them to dictate their album cycle as the band released four singles from the nine-track album ahead of the album’s release.
“There wasn’t enough kind of financial support,” says Wilder of the move toward more DIY approach, adding, “You have to sacrifice a lot of your copyright and intellectual property when you work with the record labels. So we figured, let’s just do it ourselves. And then, if we have hits, or if we actually sell records, we’ll reap more of the actual profits instead of just giving them to some record label that’s not even putting in that much money to help us create anything.”
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The resulting album is the most streamlined and direct representation of what the band has been trying to achieve over the past decade-plus. Songs veer into unexpected directions, such as the Wilder-penned “Let Me Listen in on You” which starts as a lush Beatles-influenced synth-pop ballad and breaks down only to erupt with a tense industrial bridge. These too-crazy-to-work moments happen all over the album, with both Wilder and Keating delivering transfixing hooks over the bands melting-pot party rhythms.
The album is also the band’s most outwardly political release to date. Songs like “24-Hour Hateful Live!” attack the Trump administration and horrid state of the world head-on with lyrics like “ICE to ISIS, migrant crisis / Gleeful cruelty at the top.” For Wilder, discussing the elephant in the room wasn’t necessarily that difficult. But, making sure their lyrics would stand the test of time would be the true balancing act.
“I think, with this album, we were like, well, we have to address it, because it’s just such a horrible, horrible time,” he says. “Then, once you delve into it, then you need to figure out how you’re going to address the politics. And I think we tried to do some kind of more obscure, abstract lyrics and then some very, very direct ones.”
While setting out on their own has helped to give Yeasayer a new sense of purpose and freedom, Wilder explains that the three-headed beast still needs to occasionally fight for larger shares of the meal when it comes to getting ideas on tape.
“There’s a lot of ideas that are bad ideas, and you have to duke it out, and you have to make compromises, and you have to hope that the group decision is superior to the solo decision,” explains Wilder. “And then, if you really feel strongly about something, then you have to fight to make it work on the album. I love — there’s a great story with the movie ‘Young Frankenstein,’ where Mel Brooks didn’t want to put in the ‘Putting on the Ritz’ scene. He thought it was too over the top. But Gene Wilder said, no, that’s the best scene in the movie. And then Mel Brooks said, okay, all right. But only because Gene Wilder fought for it [did] they keep it in the movie. And then you think, how could that not be in the movie? It’s a pivotal part of the movie. And it’s hilarious, too! And so, I think that’s the same thing with the band. If you really think something is essential, you’ll fight for it.”
Make sure to catch Yeasayer on tour this summer.