Next week (16 January) Yeasayer are set to share the stage with one of their musical heroes, John Cale at a one off gig to pay tribute to The Velvet Underground man’s collaborator Nico. We caught up with the band’s frontman Chris Keating to discuss the show at New York’s Howard Gilman Opera House, their recent UK dates, reaction to album Fragrant World, the future of the band (and the single) and more.
How the devil are you?
How is your new year shaping up?
“We have a performance with John Cale in the middle of January, so we’re getting ready for that. He said we can have a couple if rehearsals. I’m really nervous about it. We might need more and a few rehearsals!”
So how did that come about?
“He approached us. With a guy like that we can’t really go to him. I’d love it if that was the world where I could reach out to John Cale or David Bowie! You get the call. He’s doing a Nico. We’re trying to figure out the details now, I’m really nervous. He’s one of the greatest musicians ever.”
What’s it like when someone like that reaches out to you?
“It’s funny, you just go: You know who we are? Ok, weird!”
Did you enjoy your UK dates at the end of last year?
“They were good, although our bus broke down on the first UK date. There was a moment of, Why is the bus not moving and why is it so freezing? We had to get a tow truck to get it rolling then we couldn’t stop till we got to London.”
Your latest album is more electronic than previous efforts, how did it go down live?
“People have either loved or hated our new stuff. I guess if they came to the show they liked it. I’ve heard people say the new songs are challenging are more difficult to get into, but I don’t really hear that. It’s my favourite stuff to play!”
Is it a challenge to play those songs live having been more instrument based in the past?
“I didn’t realise this but the knobs [on synths, etc] get worn out. At one gig the synth was just scrolling through the settings, the ghost in the machine as in charge and I didn’t know what to do. It was cool but it was changing all the effects parameters all over the place. I don’t think anyone noticed by I was freaking out!”
So it’s stressful relying on machines?
“Yeah, well you know. You’re always relying on something. How many times do strings break or an amp blows out? On ourlast tour, at the last show of that album in New York the main synth we were using just exploded! It wasn’t digital, it was a beautiful old analogue machine. It just had enough! It died. So there are no guarantees whatever you use. It’s actually pretty exciting when something does go wrong because you have to brainstorm and fix it live. You can’t go sorry, show’s over.”
Do you find you learn more about your songs playing them live every night?
“No I just get really depressed. [laughs] It’s a slow aching depression that comes from within in my bones, My god I’m singing a song about dead people again!”
As long as you’re happy with your work
“Yeah, right! [laughs] Could be worse I guess.”
You released Regan’s Skeleton as a single at the end of last year…
“I don’t even know what singles mean any more. The album’s out, all the information is out there. I don’t know what it means.”
So you weren’t ‘cashing in’ on the US election?
“It was timely, but that wasn’t the idea. It could have come out six months ago. When it comes to picking singles, I don’t care. I like all the songs. That’s one area where we ask the label what they like. They generally don’t pressure us, so we let them have that. We just try not to get caught in the machine. We make the most interesting videos possible, all our artwork is done by us or by friends, it’s a really hands on approach.”
Have you thought of doing something other than singles then?
“I think we’ve worked around the structure the best way we can by having labels who are very supportive. If we were on a different label we could have got into a lot of trouble. So it’s an ideal situation they can facilitate the ideas we couldn’t do, monetarily or organisational, but we still get to do what we want. That’s good, if you don’t have that relationship you could get totally fucked!”
What do you want to try next?
“We wrote a rock opera, we worked in it for eight years. I liked the idea of releasing and album what has a concept, a story and it comes with a movie and the tour relates to that in someway. The problem is to do it right, if you do it poorly you really fail. But who knows? It’s all about time, before you know it a year has gone by and you’ve made commitments to albums.”
Talking of which, any thought of when you’ll do another record?
“We’re writing, it’s been tough to write on the road because you don’t get much privacy. Lil Wayne has a whole bus with a studio on it, we have a cramped backstage.”
For more head to Yeasayer.net.