Under the influence
Rather than the Beatles/Smiths hegemony of inspiration, US acts like Yeasayer are drawing ideas from a disparate array of influences. Rob Dabrowksi hears how
After riding a wave of hype stateside and playing to sold-out audience on their first full US tour, Yeasayer are bringing their unique brand of world music-tinged rock to Glasgow. The four-piece combine sprawling, experimental soundscapes with African chanting and Far Eastern acoustic numbers in a glorious wash of melody. They are, quite frankly, bizarre. But the disparate array of influences they draw on makes for a captivating experience.
The Brooklyn band are the latest in a critically acclaimed stream of American acts to invade these shores. Like their contemporaries, Animal Collective, TV on the Radio and Vampire Weekend, they create exciting and original sounds by weaving together genres which would, by British standards, be considered strange bedfellows.
Chris Keating, who plays keyboards and sings in the band, thinks the surge in creativity across the Atlantic, is due to the decline of the major label in the states over recent years.
‘I think there’ve been some really interesting bands in from the UK over the last 30 years, but right now in New York it seems like there’s this climate which is just producing experimental music,’ he says. ‘With the emergence of more independent labels I think we’ve seen some underground artists really break through from the States. People are just all trying different things and it’s a very exciting time.’
Yeasayer are an act who dabble in tradition and work in the lingering shadow of Talking Heads, but have no qualms about name-dropping Chimurenga music pioneer, Thomas Mapfumo, as an influence. Luckily, they don’t shy away from a good pop hook either, as demonstrated on their new single, ‘Wait for the Summer’. The track is all gently plucked acoustic guitars and a shuffling rhythm section, coming together to create a 70s folk sound that’s pitched somewhere between alt.rockers Calexico and psychedelic trailblazers Arthur Lee’s Love. It’s all topped off with a dreamy middle-eight section that’s dripping with harmonised vocals that could melt Brian Wilson’s heart. It’s the kind of musical rarity that is as far removed as you could get from the current crop of up-and-coming British bands who are still obsessing over The Beatles, The Smiths and Joy Division.
‘I don’t see why anyone would want to sound like Joy Division,’ says Keating. ‘They were a great band but it’s already been done. I think there was definitely a conscious decision when we formed to do something different and break away from the ordinary.’
These aren’t surprising words from a band that formed two years ago to record the soundtrack to a stage musical about a West Pennsylvania mining town, and who also have a penchant for sampling basslines and monkeying around with them so they sound like French horns as they blast through shimmering layers of melody.
‘I suppose the mission statement for the band would be to take things that have come before and combine them with influences that just aren’t usually seen in Western music – to come up with something completely new.’
King Tut’s, Glasgow, Sat 8 Mar.