Clap Your Hands Say Yeah are an eccentric outfit from Brooklyn which boasts five members: Lee Sargent, Robbie Guertin, Tyler Sargent, Sean Greenhalgh and Alec Ounsworth. Just how eccentric only time will tell, we've really got to see, and hear, what comes next. Not only on record, but also in aberrant behaviour. Like... who will hole up in a suburban-esque house in, oh, somewhere like Philadelphia, while the rest of the band slugs it out in Brooklyn? And which of these guys will live with a couple of dogs? That's two dogs, people... just a step away from being a cat lady. Well, it turns out CYHSY lead singer/songwriter, Alec Ounsworth, does live in Philadelphia with two dogs while the rest of the band call Brooklyn home. This isn't very eccentric, but the music is. Especially if you think of eccentric as unconventional, then this is a beautifully eccentric group, so much so that their s/t debut seems flamboyant even when it isn't especially.
Alec Ounsworth was kind enough to let sleeping dogs lie and answer some questions I posed.
*Sixeyes: I hear you are going to tour with The National, how did that come about?
Alec: We had played a show with The National at the Mercury Lounge a little while back and got to talking. A little later they headed out on tour and one day I got a call from Aaron (Aaron Dessner of The National) who suggested we tour together and I said, "That sounds like a good idea."
*Six: To try and get an idea of where you are coming from musically... 'What albums were the most important to you when you were growing up?'
Alec: I don't know really. There were many. Those that stick out for me... from my folks' record collection... are Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, The Beatles' Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles "Going to a Go-Go", Michael Jackson's Thriller, and others. I remember listening to these when I was very young. Around 9 or 10. I listened to "the oldies"... on the radio usually... all the time when I was growing up... The Temptations, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Percy Sledge, Aretha Franklin, The Ronettes, Chuck Berry, Ray Charles, Little Richard, the Sun Records' people, etc... I studied classical piano around then, so I guess music like this was an outlet of sorts. In high school I listened to a lot of music like Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, Husker Du, and the Velvet Underground, etc. I also took "jazz" guitar lessons in high school and was really into Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, and Miles Davis... mainly the "compositional" stuff like Miles/Gil Evans and Bitches Brew and In a Silent Way, etc... and John Coltrane. This was all very important to me and still is... there's a lot I haven't mentioned.
*Six: That's a great answer, it really gives me and the reader a good idea of where you are coming from... well, what are you listening to these days?
Alec: Today I listened to Neil Young's Zuma, John Coltrane's Sun Ship, The Ramones' Rocket to Russia, John Cage's early works for piano, Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street, Gang Starr's Daily Operation, and Roots and Blues Retrospective - Disc 4.
*Six: The comparisons that I come across most often, regarding your music, are to Talking Heads, David Byrne, and The Cure. How do you feel about these comparisons and these artists?
Alec: I don't pay attention to comparisons of this sort.
*Six: Are the songs on Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's debut culled from years of writing (and if so, which ones are the oldest), or were they written for this release?
Alec: Sure... A few of the songs on the album I wrote about four or five years ago (e.g. "Heavy Metal"). Others are more recent.
*Six: While tracking you and the band down online, I came across your personal, or solo, website. Do you still write songs for yourself, or do all energies go into the band now?
Alec: Generally I work with whatever pops in/comes out (to a point) and sometimes it falls into what might work with the band and when it doesn't I try to find other ways of bringing it forward. I don't usually/consciously write songs for one project in particular.
*Six: Which do you prefer, performing live or recording, and why?
Alec: At this point probably performing live. Maybe because it is not as painstaking as recording.
*Six: How is the band live? Have you done enough gigs together to know what each other is going to do onstage?
Alec: I think we're good live. We have the songs down more or less. Every so often I like to add new songs to the set with which not everyone is exactly familiar to keep things suspenseful and for practice but on the next song or so we return to what we know so everyone can get his footing.
*Six: What is in store for Clap Your Hands Say Yeah for the rest of this year?
Alec: We're touring with The National and doing some dates by ourselves from Sept. 7 to Oct. 22nd (i think that's right). Then I'm pretty sure we take a break and head to the UK for a short stay I think.
If you can't find the album in your corner shop you can purchase it online. Recorded partly in Providence, Rhode Island at Machines With Magnets with Keith Sousa, and a few tracks in Brooklyn at Fireproof Studios with Adam Lasus, it can be bought from the band here and from insound.com.
+ In This Home On Ice
+ Over and Over Again (Lost & Found)
+ Upon This Tidal Wave of Young Blood