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Interview: Yeasayer
November 14, 2012 | 9:00AM

Not many interviews conclude with an infant daughter calling her father a pussy. But that’s just one of the several interesting turns in this lengthy conversation with Yeasayer multi-instrumentalist Anand Wilder. Over the course of this phone interview, Wilder discusses a series of subjects at length, including his mixed emotions over Spotify, Yeasayer’s attempt to circumvent album leaks, his preferred use for Instagram, and some reminiscing of seeing “buttoned-up indie rock 90s kind of guitar bands” at the 9:30 Club, the same venue that his band performs two sold out shows this week.

BYT: Hello?

Wilder: Why is that an English accent? (Ed note: a pre-recorded voice informed Wilder that this conversation was being recorded.)

BYT: I don’t know. I just downloaded the application today.

Wilder: What is that app?

BYT: I just googled iPhone recording app.

Wilder: And you just dial my number from that app?

BYT: Yeah, I have to pay a credit because it’s technically… Apple doesn’t want to get into the legalese of recording calls. So I have to go through a third party.

Wilder: Does it go right to your computer or something?

BYT: No, I dial your number through the application and it records it to their website and I can download it.

Wilder: So it doesn’t become a voice memo on your phone? So it’s totally web-based?

BYT: It doesn’t store it on your phone, it stores it on the website. A “cloud” sort of thing.

Wilder: Right.

BYT: You seem like you know your stuff when it comes to digital media.

Wilder: No. I mean, I’m okay. I’m not as good as I should be.

BYT: Well actually this a good start to what I want to talk about was “the cloud.” What are your feelings on Spotify and streaming websites?

Wilder: That’s interesting. I subscribe to Spotify. I think as a consumer of music and a culture maven, I feel that anything that helps me access music at the click of a button is going to be useful. I have the $9.99 per month thing, so I can just, fuckin’, play anything I want on my phone. But I can also acknowledge that as a musician for every play I’m doing of someone’s album, that’s something I’m not purchasing. So I acknowledge there’s definitely less money going to the artist. So it’s kind of tricky. It’s weird, because as a musician you’re in the business of selling records but you’re also in the business of just… existing, kind of.

And being taken seriously as a band. So that’s the primary goal, you want to be culturally significant. When I talk to our record label and stuff and we suggested, “Maybe we should not put our album on Spotify. Is that going to hurt record sales?” And when the record labels are like, “Well, it doesn’t matter.” We don’t want to seem reactionary or something. Everyone doesn’t want to be seen as Lars Ulrich or something, fighting against Napster. So it’s weird, it’s a tricky situation. It’s like, well, okay, if the record label’s okay with Spotify, then who am I to be angry about it because they are the ones fronting all the money for the record to be made.

BYT: It seems like there’s been a few artists in the past that have asked to not have their albums put on Spotify. I think the Black Keys have been one. I think Taylor Swift, her album just came out last week and it sold a million copies in like a day. She didn’t allow streaming or anything like that. A lot of other bands and artists have talked about that recently. Grizzly Bear had an article in New York Magazine where they talked about Spotify and there’s been a bunch of controversy about an NPR intern who said she doesn’t even buy music anymore, she just streams everything which caused a lot of artists to give her crap about that. So you’re cool with streaming?
Wilder: I’m cool with it. I mean, here’s the thing: as a consumer, when I was a kid, or when I was in college, Napster came out and then suddenly if some kid at a party was like, “Oh, you’ve never heard that Brian Eno album,” you could go onto Napster and check it out even if you didn’t have the $15 to spare due to your work or study job, because you could only afford lunch. For people who don’t have that much disposable income, you’re able to keep up with music and culture, and really to extend that, what about all of these TV shows that you can just download on Pirate Bay or whatever. And everybody does it and nobody feels guilty about it.

So I don’t know. It’s hard to have to have a problem with it. It’s sort of… I was just reading about how [Fleetwood Mac’s] Tusk came out, it was deemed a failure by the record label because it only sold like 4 million copies and Rumors sold like 12 million or how much ever it was. I read that Mick Fleetwood was convinced that it was because the album had been played on the radio or something like that in its entirety so people had taped it and that was why they weren’t selling records. So these things are always going on anytime there’s a new technology that comes out, whether it’s VHS or cassette tapes, there are always going to be people that are freaking out because suddenly everyone is just going to tape it and sell it. Now it’s this new thing where it’s purely digital and really there’s no physical objects at all necessary and you can just share it with friends.

Like, I don’t know why anybody sells any records. Why… why… (sighs) why does Adele and Mumford & Sons keep selling records? Well, obviously it’s because they’ve figured out how to appeal to people who still buy records. And they probably appeal to people who buy like one or two records a year and they also appeal to people who download mostly all their music and also just want to buy one record. For Yeasayer, it’s weird that we have a very successful touring career. We can play venues all across America for over 1,000 people and they’re coming out to see the tour of our new album, but our album sales don’t exactly reflect the notion that everyone who goes to our show has also purchased the album. So it’s kind of put the focus more on the live act because that’s something you can’t digitize, you can’t pipe that into someone’s laptop.

BYT: I think one of the interesting things about streaming media is how its popularity in the past three or four years–Spotify was bigger in Europe before it came over to America–is how it coincides with the recession of the past few years. I feel the love of music for music fans will obviously never go away, so they have to mediate it by using these legal services. So people are still getting the demand for music even though they are downloading it legally or streaming it, but it puts more an emphasis on consumers who want to support the artist by going to live shows and I feel that artists like yourself and others are also cognizant of that. That even though their record sales might be down, I think that concert attendance is going up.

Wilder: I think so.

BYT: So does that put more pressure on you to put on a more awesome live show, some more visually-stunning stuff to make it more memorable?

Wilder: I don’t think it puts more pressure on us. I think it just gave us a career. It’s like being on the internet and being on an independent label, it allowed us to kind of us to rise to the top or whatever. It used to be, okay, here’s these few songs that maybe some people found out through blogs or downloaded for free or whatever and then they want to come out and check out the show and then they are really impressed with the show and that allows you to have a career. I think there are probably a lot of bands where you might hear something about them on BrighestYoungThings or whatever and you see the show and you’re like, “Oh this fucking sucks.” This person can’t even sing in tune or it seems like a karaoke act or it’s just very boring. It’s not as exciting or lo-fi or cool sounding as that recording I fell in love with. So it’s not pressure, it’s like you have this great opportunity with a live show to kind of win over… to gain a fan base. I don’t really think you gain a fanbase from a download.

BYT: I would agree with that. MP3s make everything sort of disposable. You can just download it and delete it, but it is also the basic promotion into getting you into become a fan of them and then seeing them live and becoming a fan of what they like and their contemporary artists and everything. So I think it’s good from that perspective.

Wilder: I think that really the whole digital world, the kind of nasty part about the digital world to me is that people… it allows this certain anonymity that allows people to show their true colors, maybe not their true colors, but it allows people to say things anonymously. Even if you like text message with a friend, people have fights over text messages and you text things that you would might never say to someone. I think when people listen to an album, they might say, “Oh, this sucks. They sound like this other band.” And then you can start a whole internet phenomenon just talking shit on a band. But if you actually go and see a band, it’s a little bit hard because you’re like, oh wow these are actually real humans who are doing something that is very difficult, but it’s unique and you’re really putting yourself out there. I think the increased attendance at live shows is a result of our increased isolation and pessimism that comes with living your life sitting in front of a computer.

BYT: Oh yeah, I fully agree. It makes you want to go out and… we spent all of our times in front of computers, in front of screens. I think the connection that you have to have with live music, how you can hear songs differently live, and how you can change arrangements and each tour you have different members, so bands can change each and every night. For me personally, I like to see how bands change with each and every night. It’s an organic experience and that’s one of the reasons why I love hearing music and that’s probably why you like performing it for audiences.

Wilder: Yeah, and I also feel like the value of music has gone down. People don’t value it as much, but also the actual fidelity of audio that people are putting into their ears has diminished. It’s like Dre’s Beats headphones… actually don’t talk shit on Dre’s Beats headphones (laughs). Well people are listening to, well actually we’ve gone back to mono. Even very rich people will have a Bose iPod dock with two speakers coming out of it and there is no low end and there’s no volume or anything. So it’s no wonder that you go to a live show and people are like, “Whoa that was amazing! That’s the best experience of my life!” It’s just louder. I just don’t think there are that many people who listen to music at home on good soundsystems.

BYT: Yeah, I agree. People are so used to compressed bitrates of MP3s, when they finally get to hear their favorite songs and they see the rock star performing in front of them and everyone singing the lyrics, it just blows people away.

Wilder: Yeah. There are kids now that before Spotify, if you wanted to play a song at a party, you’d just look it up on Youtube. And YouTube is just the shittest quality. You play something off YouTube and it’s terrible. Compare it to the official recorded version and it sounds like shit.

BYT: If I recall you did some promotion for this new album via YouTube. How did that come about?

Wilder: Well, we were kind of trying to avoid the whole, well not avoid but preempt the fan-created videos where they take a bunch of press photos of us and put them in a YouTube video with our song in the front. So we wanted to something that’s official with an artist that we respected. And we’re always trying to stay ahead of the leaking game. It’s like, do you want to album to leak? Do you want to leak it on your own terms? Is it better if someone else leaks it because that shows interest? This constant reassessing of what the best marketing strategy is because of the industry is in flux right now and we’re trying to be a progressive band and I think our audience expects that. For us, it was very exciting to put out all of the songs with really involved visuals. I think our fans are into it.

BYT: One of the interesting things is that most albums leak, but a few artists have managed to control the leak. Radiohead did it when they released their last album last year. I think Kanye West and Jay-Z managed to beat the leak. What’s interesting is that in the past when the release date came, everyone heard it at the exact same time. Now with the leak culture, it’s kind of like there is the slow drip and build up to when the album actually comes out and then come the album reviews and everything. But when The King of Limbs and Watch the Throne came out, everyone reacted at the exact same time, so people were judging it in real-time on Twitter and various websites. And it was an amazing thing because to see people’s minds blown, everyone is hearing this song for the first time, which is rare in this day and age. What you alluded to, the disposable culture and people being assholes on the internet and everything, it’s hard to be an asshole when everyone is talking about something at the exact same time.

Wilder: Right, exactly. So it’s like when the album comes out, I think that a lot of critics are kind of parrots of each other. So it’s like, ooh, what did Pitchfork think? I need to see what Stereogum has to say about it. It’s lame? It’s not cool? Well I thought it was cool… no, it’s not cool? It makes people really have to make spur of the moment decisions on something.

BYT: It takes away from the tastemakers and makes it more of a democratic process. 

Wilder: Totally. I think that’s valuable and I think those artists, it sounds like it’s coming from the artists. It seems like the Black Keys are just very passionate about not wanting their albums to be on Spotify, and that might also be a reaction for them of having all of their songs on commercials. If you have all your songs on commercials, maybe you’d want to avoid it this time, or maybe it’s just savvy business. Obviously if people can’t get things for free, they’ll have to buy it. The weird thing is we somehow are expecting people to purchase something they can easily get for free, which just doesn’t make any sense. So… it’s just crazy. It’s not economically sound (laughs) to pay for something you can get for free.

BYT: I guess that’s just the way of the future to try and figure out how to mediate getting as much music as possible, wanting to pay the artist, you being an artist being paid but also wanting to get your music out easily and quickly. So yeah, it’s a weird time for music right now.

Wilder: It’s funny, pharmaceutical companies aren’t liable for lawsuits. Basically, in the 80s or something the government said, look, you guys keep producing vaccines, we’ll cover the costs of these lawsuits when people have adverse reactions. Pharmaceutical companies were like, “Look, we’re going to stop making vaccines if people keep suing us.” And it’s just ridiculous that pharmaceutical companies who are doing such a good thing in the world were able to be like, “Look we’re going to–suck it!–we’re not even going to try and help people out anymore. We’re just not going to produce vaccines because we’re going to go bankrupt.” They’re not all about the free market or like competition. If they’re not going to make that vaccine, someone else is going to come in and make vaccines and suffer the kind of risk. So for music, it’s like this real kind of passion where it’s doing just as much good in the world as creating a vaccine, I think.

BYT: I’d agree.

Wilder: And no musician is going to be like (whiny voice), “Well, I’m not going to make music.” Because there is always someone who is going to be hungrier than you who is going to be like, “Fuck it man, I just want to go out on tour. I don’t care. I just want to leave my shitty office job and at least give it a shot. I don’t even care if I make money.” So really who am I to complain about money when I’m actually doing everything I could have dreamed of. I’m way more successful than I ever could have dreamed of being as a kid who was just listening to [Pink Floyd’s] Piper at the Gates of Dawn over and over again.

BYT: That’s awesome. If I could segue to something else, you’re from the Baltimore area, correct?

Wilder: Yes.

BYT: And you have a few sold-out shows coming up at the 9:30 Club. Did you ever manage to get down there growing up?

Wilder: Oh yeah, totally. The 9:30, that was the spot you’d go to see… I saw Pavement there. I saw Weezer there. I saw Built to Spill. I think I saw Modest Mouse. You know, it’d be like drive down with all the bros, the whole gang, take an hour trip to the 9:30 Club. You see, Baltimore really didn’t have a venue. I think we got the Recher Theatre came in 2000 or something like that. But the 9:30, it’s funny I always took it for granted being this DC club and now having played shows all around the world I’ve really come to appreciate it as one of the best clubs in the world.

BYT: I’m from the DC/Virginia area so I’ve been going to the 9:30 Club for a while and artists are always saying that it’s one of the best clubs, we’re always happy to play here. NPR is based out of DC so they do streaming concerts there. I’ve gone to concerts in other cities and so we’re weirdly lucky that we get such an awesome nightclub. And now you get to sell out two nights in a club you also attended, it has to be surreal

Wilder: It’s pretty surreal. It is. It’s hard to get back into that mindset of being a little kid but once your dreams become a reality, you’re not totally giddy all the time (laughs) but it’s definitely surreal because you’re like (voice of childlike wonder), “I remember it being much bigger when I was a little kid or something.” So it’s not the same, the memory is always going to be a little bit different. And for me, going to shows growing up, it was always like, I know I’m supposed to be enjoying this, but all of these songs kind of sound the same (laughs). That very kind of buttoned-up indie rock 90s kind of guitar bands, where if you didn’t know every single song, it was a little bit unexciting.

BYT: I see.

Wilder: Oh, I want to say one more thing about the whole digital thing. I just had a baby.

BYT: Congratulations.

Wilder: Thank you. And I’ve been doing Instagrams, I finally have a purpose for Instagram. I’ve been doing Instagrams of my baby posed with albums that I’m playing for her for the first time.

BYT: Is it a she?

Wilder: Yeah, she. Uma is her name. You guys can check it out, it’s Anandwilder. It’s totally public. But some of my favorite albums I’ll be playing for her that are just on my iPod, stuff I’ve downloaded from Amazon or gotten for free or whatever and I can’t exactly pose… like most of the time I’m listening to my iPod because it’s more convenient and I can’t pose her with the iPod. And I don’t really have time to go into Photoshop and find the album artwork and superimpose her on it. So I’ve just been going to eBay and I have this new purpose for buying physical objects because I need, it’s like, and the album vinyl is exactly baby size (laughs).

BYT: I never really thought about that.

Wilder: So I just keep putting her next to vinyl and I’m just totally beefing up my vinyl collection now. I just had to buy Tusk on vinyl. I had to buy the Blonde Redhead album, that was my most recent one. So I’ve finally have use for the physical objects. I’m probably going to get a very cluttered house.

BYT: Okay, one last question for you. What albums has she been enjoying?

Wilder: Well she’s still young. She’s only seven weeks old. But she was actually smiling–I don’t know if it meant anything–but she was smiling while I was playing Grinderman of all records.

BYT: The Nick Cave project?

Wilder: (laughs) Yeah.

BYT: Okay, well…

Wilder: She might be like, “Dad, your music is so pussy. I like heavy shit.” So yeah, it’s funny because you play certain things, I was playing the Blonde Redhead album and I’m like these cool kind of Kraftworky synths are probably really pleasant because she has so much higher range than we do, you know. She probably loves all that fizzly, that 20,000 hz kind of range.

BYT: Well it’s good to hear that your daughter is going to grow up to be pretty awesome. 

Wilder: Yeah, she has a good start. I hope so. Or else she’ll just resent me for being on tour all the time. Because no one buys records anymore (laughs).

BYT: You got to pay the bills. It’s good talking to you.

Wilder: Good talking to you too.

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