In SPIN's eight-out-of-10 review of Yeasayer's 2010 album Odd Blood, we praised the Brooklyn psych-rockers' bold and flamboyant dance sound, and asked, "What's coming next?" Now we know: "It's like a demented R&B record," singer-keyboardist Chris Keating tells SPIN of the band's upcoming third album, expected in late spring or early summer of 2012. "It's like an Aaliyah album if you played it backwards and slowed it down. Or David Bowie's Lodger. Those two are major influences."
The quintet -- also featuring bassist Ira Wolf Tuton, guitarist Anand Wilder, drummer Jason Trammell, and percussionist Ahmed Gallab -- have been working 12-hour days in a Greenpoint, Brooklyn, studio on the yet-to-be-titled effort, and already have more than 22 songs written. They're even considering recording two separate LPs, "one that's the real album with three-and-a-half to four minute pop songs, and another that's more like a soundtrack and released on the internet."
The tracks for the "real" pop album, which "we're working on now," says Keating, find Yeasayer "trying to get back to the roots of the music that we like. We're asking ourselves, 'How do four white dudes in Brooklyn write a reggae song that's not cheesy?' Or, 'How do we write an R&B song but inject your own personality into it by fucking up all the sounds?'
"I don't want to retread any ground. So if it sounds too much like something we've done in the past, we don't do it," says Keating. "We have some bangers but we're really trying to get away from all this David Guetta bullshit, this club-influenced hip-hop and this Ibiza techno stomp. It drives me crazy. It has the absence of soul, swing, and the weirder elements that attracted me to dance music like that in the first place."
The band members worked separately, recording demos on their laptops during their summer tour, then started combining ideas this fall. "That's what gives us an interesting sound. It's not just necessarily one person's vision. It's disparate sounds you glue together to see if they work."
Of the new tracks, "Henrietta" is Keating's personal favorite. "We've been flipping it in the studio, dubbing it out and transforming it into something like a Public Image Unlimited song. We're throwing the beat through loops and doing a lot of sequencing."
Keating says that the track was inspired by a book he read about Henrietta Lacks, an African American from Baltimore, who had a rare cancerous condition in which her tumors and cells continued to live and grow after her death in 1951. The subsequent research resulted in the HeLa cell line, named for her first and last initials. "Her tumors were somehow used in the polio vaccine, too, so basically this woman's cells still exist," says Keating. "It's an interesting story. So we turned it into adubbed-out pseudo-science-fiction song!"
And the rest of the songs? "On the last record we were consciously writing love songs. So we didn't want to repeat that. I'm writing from a more depressing and darker perspective. There are a lot of shitty things going on in the world lately. And the prospect of a Rick Perry presidency is the most horrifying thing ever. He's already making George Bush look like a fucking genius."
To expand their sound, Yeasayer began working with new technology. "It forces us to think about music in a new way," Keating says. Guitarist Anand Wilder purchased an ElecTribe sequencer. "He'd never used one before, so he was forced to approach it from a very naïve perspective, which is really cool. Sometimes your first inclinations on an instrument are your best. I started messing around with different samplers and software based sampler controllers, and I'm getting all kinds of new sounds."
Yeasayer are focused on advancing musically towards the future, not looking back like many of the en vogue garage rock and '60s-retro bands. "I don't want to purposely sound lo-fi just because lo-fi is cool. I want to be lo-fi when it's perfect to be lo-fi. Other times I want to activate a full range of sounds. It's inane to pretend that you're from an era that you're not."
"It's important to take those older bands to heart and filter them through your own perspective," he adds. "But I'm not trying to rehash the past -- it's important to Yeasayer to keep pushing forward."