As the experimental rock band's name implies, Yeasayer is concerned with hearty affirmation rather than denial. When given a choice, the members of the Brooklyn-based group collectively vote "yes."
"We think the band name is open to anyone's interpretation, but I do like the idea of whatever you do, you want to have the license, the freedom to explore that. We're not about saying 'no' to ideas," said bassist Ira Wolf Tuton during a recent phone interview.
Touring to support its second album, Odd Blood, Yeasayer will play Wednesday, April 14, at Club Congress.
Tuton said that when he and bandmates Chris Keating (vocals, keyboards) and Anand Wilder (vocals, guitar) come to the table to create new music, they have no agendas and are willing to consider any idea. (The touring version of Yeasayer also includes a drummer and a multi-instrumentalist.)
"Our motto is that there are no bad ideas; there's just bad taste," Tuton said. "Just like every other band on the planet, we're trying to do something contemporary using the same tools that bands have been using for decades. We never want to be retro in any sense; we're trying to engage in new forms ... but we're also reconstituting the elements that are familiar. It's not like we're reinventing the wheel."
The Yeasayer sound is an amalgam of indie rock, electronica and glitchy pop, subtly touched by African, Middle Eastern and Asian influences, and—now on Odd Blood—unabashed dance music.
One might wonder how the group can blend such diverse sounds without the results seeming contrived, but Yeasayer pull it off convincingly.
"Not only do we listen to the radio and to music from all over the world from today, but to as many people's music from the decades that have come before (as possible)—everything from doo-wop to the Beatles to the Wu-Tang Clan," Tuton said.
"That people can be aware so easily these days of music from so many years and from all over the world is a relatively new thing. It's somewhat unprecedented that you can hear as wide a range of diverse music any time, and it's all available at our fingertips, or a mouse click away," he said.
Tuton said Yeasayer try to avoid exploiting their influences while weaving a seamless whole.
"That's pretty much the challenge—to make it sound cohesive and to end up with a product that doesn't sound like a jumbled mess," he said.
The members of Yeasayer come from diverse backgrounds—but only slightly, Tuton said. "As much as three guys who grew up in a middle-class world in the northeastern United States can have. Anand stared playing cello at an early age, and my family has classical musicians in it. The two of them went to school in Baltimore, and I went to a similar school in Philadelphia, and at each one, they valued the arts pretty highly, and we all participated in musicals and chorus and theater and things of that nature."
Some sources claim that Keating and Wilder sang together in a high school barbershop quartet.
"That's become sort of a myth," said Tuton, who is Wilder's cousin. "They were in different singing groups together, but not the bow-tied and red-and-white-striped-shirt thing. But we all learned different things about harmonies and melodic structure in the music as we grew up."
Which is important, considering how vocal harmonies play a part in Yeasayer's beguiling sound.
"When the first record came out (All Hour Cymbals, 2007), at the time, there were a whole slew of garage bands, like Interpol and the Strokes and others, even if they never played in a garage, and we wanted to offer something different than that. We knew that there weren't a lot of groups practicing vocal harmonies at the time, but we sort of assumed naïvely that the listeners would come to us, and if they didn't, well, that was OK, too."
Through serendipity, or perhaps the collective unconscious, harmonizing seems to play a large part in the music of many relatively new indie bands, from Fleet Foxes to Or, the Whale to Local Natives.
"I think it's also just something about how musical styles come in waves," Tuton said. "And often, one style will be a reactionary style to something that came before it."
To supplement their conventional rock instruments, Yeasayer also uses samples, which might once have been forbidden in indie-rock circles.
"It's just another instrument to us," explained Tuton. "Even a computer is another instrument, as far as I am concerned.
"I could never understand the arguments of purists. You can start from when the piano was there, and then people started playing the harpsichord, or when Leo Fender created the electric guitar. All of the sudden, the things people think are normal are challenged. And people said, 'What?' ... but some forms need to die for there to be progress."
Tuton said he appreciates artists who challenge the norm.
"Like the first time I saw Tricky, I thought it was frightening; he was creating this whole new sound, and it was a little scary, but I liked it. And Mozart? He was written off for a really long time in the scope of history, until pretty recently. He was considered pop drivel, too modernist."
Yeasayer is just trying to stay ahead of the curve, he said. "There is no specific way rock music has to be done. If there were, it wouldn't be rock music."