Brooklyn, NY—Yeasayer’s music has been described as “experimental rock”—a catch-all term covering a multitude of sins—but the band’s new album, Erotic Reruns, could almost be mistaken for mid-’80s pop, offering nods to Hall & Oates, The Cars and Talk Talk, plus a hint of The Beatles. This latest release, their fifth, was once again self-produced, and for the first time was almost entirely tracked, overdubbed and mixed at the home studios of the three core band members.
“I would describe our three studios exactly in the way we used them,” says bass player Ira Wolf Tuton. A former architecture student, he raised the roof of his home in New York’s Catskill Mountains, creating a space with sloping ceilings and dormers that’s ideal for recording.
“I’ve been in a variety of studios and have figured out what I like and don’t like. I really tried to create a ‘church’ for playing and collaborating, making sure there was plenty of space for multiple people to be comfortable with their own stations or way of doing things,” he says.
Multi-instrumentalist and co-lead singer Anand Wilder’s studio in Brooklyn provided a venue for overdubs, arranging and experimentation. “It’s set up with toys all over the place. We did the horns at his house,” says Wolf Tuton.
The final mixes and approvals took place at the home of the band’s other lead singer and multi-instrumentalist, Chris Keating, who lives in a former church in upstate New York. “He has really nice monitors, the nicest of all of us,” says Wolf Tuton, referring to Keating’s Dynaudio speakers.
Having previously rehearsed for live shows at Wolf Tuton’s studio, the band chose to track in a similar manner, each setting up their own workstations and using their Midas M32 and Hear Back rig for monitoring. “We tried to get good takes” as a band, says Wilder. “That was the first time we’d done that. We made a lot of mistakes and we ended up keeping a lot of them,” he says, since mic bleed made fixes tricky. “We’d replace a sound and lose the atmosphere.”
The decision to track as an ensemble played to the band’s strengths, according to Wolf Tuton, who says that playing live is what keeps him in music. “We’ve been a band for 14 years. We’ve done a lot of touring. I enjoy the arranging and editing, but I love the childish joy of performing.”
Yeasayer songs typically begin with a beat programmed by Keating in Native Instruments’ Maschine, says Wilder. “But we always end up overdubbing drums. It makes it sound more dynamic.”
Wilder’s studio intern, Daniel Neiman, an engineering student at the Clive Davis Institute who tracked the sessions and ended up mixing the album, plays drums on half the songs. Noah Hecht, brought in to play drums on tour, overdubbed the other songs. Wilder tracked Hecht at the drummer’s practice space into his laptop via a Universal Audio 4-710D and RME Fireface 800, with the Hear Back for monitoring. Hecht’s engineer friend Ian Reilly assisted.
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Wilder reports that some vocals were recorded with the help of Grady Owens, who was very briefly a member of Yeasayer and, in fact, named the band. Owens has a voice recording studio at his home, with Russian-made Lomo 19a9 tube mics from the 1960s. Other vocals were recorded at an animator friend’s home studio through a vintage Neumann. “We were trying to figure out how to record cheaply,” explains Wilder.
Yeasayer have used Pro Tools, says Wilder, but all three switched to Apple Logic Pro, not least for its MIDI capabilities. “It’s very easy to plug a USB into a keyboard, bring up a synth in Logic and lay something down.” He had sketched a part for one song and thought he would record it on Wolf Tuton’s baby grand, given to him by his grandmother, but ended up using a softsynth. “Because with MIDI you can adjust the notes very easily. That’s the advantage.”
“We tracked the whole thing on my laptop. It was super DIY,” says Neiman, who was also generating rough mixes in Pro Tools while recording. Tracking sessions were fluid, with the band constantly trying ideas and arrangements. “They just want to lay down ideas quickly. I thought, ‘I don’t have the facility or the time to get sounds. We’ll overdub it later and do it properly,’—and we never did. But that’s the character of the album, and they’re super into it. It’s not lo-fi, but it has some cool fingerprint smudges on it.”
Neiman ended up mixing the album almost by default. “They wanted to hire five or six people and do a mix shootout. I’d given them all the Pro Tools files, but they didn’t have Pro Tools, so I decided to mix five songs. I turned in some mixes and they said, ‘I guess you’re mixing the album now!’”
He mixed on his laptop at his home studio. “I would say my three workhorse plug-in companies are Waves, for their utilitarian capabilities, Soundtoys, for the inspiration and cool sounds, and in the middle of tracking I got a bunch of FabFilter plug-ins. I was doing a lot with Pro-Q 2, then Pro-Q 3 came out in the middle of mixing. It’s amazing, my go-to EQ for anything surgical.” He adds, “The guys are sponsored by Soundtoys and graciously gave me copies.”
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The band has previously incorporated tape into the workflow, but as Wolf Tuton reports, “Our last record was our first experience mixing completely in-the-box. It was an eye-opening and positive experience. I would say that there’s a warmth to it. All of us were a little bit stunned at the capabilities and how far we’ve come from when we started educating ourselves with home recording.”
As artists, they are focused on the music, of course, yet the technology is easily accessible if you are willing to educate yourself, he says. “All these tools are out there if you’re willing to put the time in. And you need to figure out your interface. I like certain programs over others just because, for me and my brain, it might look more like my TASCAM 4-track, and that makes sense to me in terms of how I’m arranging stuff and how I think about it.”
He has friends in the DJ world who use entirely different programs, says Wolf Tuton. “But at the end of the day we have conversations about how the compression sounds on something. It’s all about the sound, all about the tone. That’s where we’re all trying to get. And you can’t hide behind your gear.”
Yeasayer • www.yeasayer.band