Chatting with Yeasayer’s Ira Wolf Tuton
This eclectic, funky band’s highly anticipated fourth album, Amen & Goodbye, was just released today. Since joining forces in Brooklyn in 2006, this psychedelic trio—Chris Keating, Anand Wilder and Ira Wolf Tuton, has taken fans on one wild trip after another (and judging from their music videos, one might surmise they’ve taken a few trips of a certain kind themselves). With leaks of new releases like “I Am Chemistry,” “Prophecy Gun” and Silly Me,” the band continues to fascinate their audience with their out-of-this-world creations.
DuJour had the chance to hear from Ira Wolf Tuton—Yeasayer’s innovative bass player—on the band’s rustic songwriting location, where his creativity stems from, and why the band chose to work with Canadian sculptor David Altmejd.
How did the band initially get together?
Anand and Chris grew up in Baltimore together. They were in a band in high school, which actually I knew because I was in Philadelphia. Anand’s cousin was dating my sister and now they are married with three kids. So, I have known Anand’s family for years. We all moved to New York roughly around the same time. Met along with other people and kind of loosely started playing together for a few years. We had one or two shows per year for about two years. We started recording more and writing more together.
When did you first realize your love for music?
Two of my uncles growing up were professional musicians. So, I always saw it as something that wasn’t a rebellious pursuit. It was something that seemed very viable if you had a passion for it and worked hard at it.
What is the band’s songwriting process like?
It really depends from song to song. On this last album, I would say more collaborative. Usually, the seed of a song will come from one person’s demo and sometimes that’s just a piece of music. Then, the three of us get in the studio to arrange and continue to write and hash out whatever arrangement we are looking for stylistically for whatever that moment is. It’s a pretty fluid process. We try and operate with as few rules governing the process as possible for the greater good of what we are actually working on.
Where did you guys mostly work on the album?
We went upstate to a place called Outlier Inn for about five-six weeks. That’s where we did a lot of the initial recording. So, we settled kind of what we were going to work on as a studio farm situation. You are recording with chickens running around. I had to wrangle goats because there was an electric fence that produced a hum in the track. We had to turn that off when we were recording. After recording, we had to run around the farm and grab the goats and put them back in the pen.
What’s the backstory behind the name of the new album?
There’s some mystery to it and there’s a lot of question marks to it. On my end, I tend not to live in the future. It’s amazing to me getting any record done. For me, in some ways I think there’s a lot of catharsis and a lot of experience that went into making this record. It feels really good to be able to put that behind us. And I’m happy that the album that we have is a representation of that.
What are some of your personal sources of inspiration?
I try and get inspiration from as many things as possible. I’ve been upstate a lot. Spring has come early. So, everyday I am seeing salamanders in the pond and then the robins have just come. Then, you juxtapose that with being up on current events and what’s happening with the political situation in the United States. It’s basically trying to be as tuned in as possible as a citizen and human in the present time because things are changing at a faster and faster pace.
Why did you find David’s sculptures to coincide so well with the message the band is trying to convey?
There’s a composition that he works with in each individual sculpture, but also in combining elements together that I think is very musical. The color schemes that he uses I feel like are things that kind of draw you in at first. This like beautiful grotesqueness that you didn’t know was there before.
Since you recently just announced your tour dates, how do you prepare for life on the road?
Well, you practice as much as possible so, you can get physically ready for it. You try to mentally prepare with the loved ones around you. At the end of the day, the only thing that snaps you into gear is just getting out there and doing it. I find basically two weeks into tour that’s when you get your stride. Those first two weeks can be pretty tough in a dynamic, exciting way. You just got to do it.
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