Brooklyn art rock band Yeasayer settled on a different approach for their recently released fourth album, Amen & Goodbye. The trio decided to record as a band live to 2” tape, in the wilds of upstate New York, embracing the classicism of the album as an art form.
When the dust settled on promoting their third album Fragrant World, Yeasayer – Chris Keating, Ira Wolf Tuton and Anand Wilder – were suffering something of an identity crisis. “We had toured so much over the previous eight years and we were a little burned out. We’ve always tried to evolve as artists, to take risks instead of repeating old formulas. In the past we’ve discovered new sounds by experimenting with new technology, and it becomes psychologically exhausting. We couldn’t quite come to terms with what it should be this time.”
When work finally did begin on the new album, the band agreed first that they would write solo in their respective home studios, reuniting to travel to an isolated country studio in upstate New York. The studio was located on a working fibre farm, and if the band forgot to close the studio door during a break, they’d be joined in the vocal booth by wandering chickens. “The recording studio is in a remote part of the Catskills that’s really culty,” say the band. “It’s only two hours from New York City, but it feels really desolate and quiet. They used to call it the Borscht Belt; a lot of legendary comedians honed their craft at these glamorous vacation resorts nearby which are now abandoned and in a state of decay, totally overrun by nature.”
“The farm where we recorded was beautiful and idyllic, but the surrounding area felt like a horror movie.”
The band settled in to working long hours in the studio, nearly burning out their live-in engineer – at one point much of what they’d already worked on was lost, one of the risks of analogue recording – and had to rebuild the album in a style that was truer than their usual style.
For the recording of Amen & Goodbye, the band decided for the first time to work with a producer. They sought to make sense of the pieces they’d already recorded, and chose Joey Waronker, famed drummer for Beck, R.E.M. and also a member of Atoms for Peace. “We really wanted to explore the emotional poles of the arrangements more than we have before,” say the band.
“Joey [Waronker] was a very good glue for us to work with, and he helped us gain a new excitement for the process – and that’s the most important thing.’
The album cover (seen at top) is an intricate tableau of sculptures by the New York-based Canadian artist David Altmejd, who worked directly with the group to create the new work. Moloch, an ancient god of child sacrifice, a silent movie starlet, a breastfeeding mother, characters from the band’s songs past and present, and various other pop-culture and religious characters are brought to life in the cover art. Says the band, “It’s Sgt Pepper meets Hieronymous Bosch meets Dali meets PeeWee’s Playhouse.”
Yeasayer say the album was “definitely the most difficult we’ve ever made – we’ve never taken this long to make an album, and it’s difficult to maintain focus for so long and resist the urge to kill your darlings.”
While the title Amen & Goodbye may sound like the band’s closing statement, it’s not. Individually, they’ve had to recognise and evolve what it means to be a recording artist right now. In life they are three men with young families, changing circumstances and altering perspectives.
“The title isn’t fatalism, it’s about letting go and not being precious – in life and in art. Making an album is an exercise in challenging ourselves as a band.”
Yeasayer is: Chris Keating, Ira Wolf Tuton and Anand Wilder. Amen & Goodbye is out now.
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- Buy Amen & Goodbye here