Yeasayer on What It's Really Like To Perform at a Music Festival
Once June hits, music festival season is officially in full swing and the countdown to Lollapalooza is on. To toast the music that awaits us, we sat down with Anand Wilder from Brooklyn rock band Yeasayer, a Lollapalooza veteran and one of the most-awaited performers for this year’s festival. Since its revival in 2003, the iconic Chicago festival promises a stellar line up, mouth-watering eats, and an art market for an experience that is so much more than mosh pits and hippy outfits. This year, Cupcake Vineyards is the official wine of Lollapalooza and the makers of a brand new Mini Prosecco (have you ever heard of anything cuter?!). Their vinos will be poured at concession stands all throughout the festival, and there’s nothing better than a chilled glass of white wine to accompany an amazing set. In our exclusive interview, Yeasayer frontman dished on their new album, where they get their inspiration, and what really happens backstage at music festivals. InStyle: What was the first festival you ever performed at?Anand from Yeasayer: The first festival we ever performed at was in Champaign, Illinois, at the Pygmalion Music Festival. We were on tour with Canadian indie-rock band, Shapes and Sizes, which was one of the first groups that took us out on tour at the start of our career. What has been your favorite experience performing at a festival? There’s been so many good ones. Latitude Music Festival is really fun, Coachella, Laneway is probably my favorite festival. Laneway is a traveling festival around Oceania.
How do you feel that performing at an outdoor festival is different from performing indoors at a standard concert venue? It’s a totally different mood. When you’re in a darkly lit venue, you get to be spooky and mysterious. When you’re out in the daytime, it completely changes everything. You get to really see the crowds, and they really see you. With festivals, people are committing to them and spending all the money they were paid in the past month on this one extended extravagant experience. There’s an idea of constantly living up to an idea of what the Woodstock festival was like. Do you have any crazy stories about what happens backstage at music festivals?There’s definitely good and bad things. The great things are those moments like when Jay-Z and Beyoncé come to your set after you’ve finished playing Coachella and ask you personally to play them one more song because they missed your set. Then we go to hear Jay-Z perform, and he gives us a shout out: “I saw some band the Yeasayers. They’re amazing.” Have you had any crazy fan experiences?It depends; I like to walk around and go out and hopefully be greeted by some fans if anyone recognizes me. There are the occasional tattoos of us, which is always amazing, but we always said if anyone has tattoos they can get into our shows for life–all access pass! The cool thing about festivals as an artist is that you get to be backstage and get to know other bands, otherwise you’re just on a tour with one other opening band. It’s the networking of the music industry. What are those interactions like? We’re all adults but none of us come together to say, “Hey man we should figure out how we can get these festivals to pay for our health insurance.” There’s no smart and sophisticated adult conversation. If all these artists got together and said, “Look, we’re not going to play your festival unless you all put in some money for a group health care fund,” that would be a really powerful thing. But we are too busy living in the moment. Do you guys have any rituals before you go on stage? I’m really getting into stretching a lot more these days – ever since I got into my mid-thirties. We just came out with a new album in April, and this is the first tour we have gone on in many years, so I’m really looking forward to a half an hour of tai chi and a zen moment before I get on stage so I don’t go into spasms. We’ve been practicing for about two months now, but it’s always the morning after your first real show that your neck will kill. They call that a “bangover.” You never act in band practice the way you do when you’re on stage and you’re feeding off the energy of the crowd and trying to put on the best show. You go all out.
Do you or your band mates have any superstitions? We usually like to do a group huddle right before so it’s not just everyone arriving to the stage in an individualistic manner. It symbolizes the cohesion and group energy, and the music comes out better. Where do you get inspiration before you go into the studio to record a new album?I get a lot of inspiration and lyrics from books that I’ve read, poetry, or lines from a movie. Art is a constant back and forth, everyone is responding to someone else. Every song that you think is an original idea, someday you’re going to come across something in a children’s book that has the exact words you heard in your favorite song on the radio. Art is constantly curating this vast history of music, art and literature. What other music genres inspire you? What other artists do you listen to when you’re working on new music? I am inspired by a lot of different bands. I really like Mystikal, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Talk Talk, and Dead Can Dance. I love classical music. I spent most of this winter playing the Nutcracker Suite over and over again with my three year old daughter. How does having a child change your way of life on tour, and how has it changed who you are as an artist?It kind of cuts your independent artist lifestyle short, because you’re not able to go out and do whatever you want at any time. When you have a kid you are suddenly responsible for another human being. If you can’t be responsible for this little kid, then someone else has to, and then if they can’t do it, then you have to find someone else. It’s a constant juggling and passing around of responsibility, which is something you never really have to do when you are just a musician going out on tour. We made three albums before any of us had kids so we were able to establish ourselves before that which was good – but it is a different ball game now. How do you feel that Yeasayer’s sound has changed over the years?A lot of our sound stays the same even though we approach melody from different angles each time. This new album is a little more embedded in rock heritage. This is really something I would have never done ten years ago when we were starting because we were trying to establish ourselves as a little bit of an “anti-guitar/rock and more downtown” kind of band.
Do you have a favorite song from your new album that you really enjoy performing?We haven’t performed this yet, but I am really excited about the direction of the song, “Gerson’s Whistle.” That is one of the songs where we don’t play much guitar. When I find a new riff that’s not in the recording that I think is really strong, I get so excited because I want to figure out if audiences will react to it the same way that I have. We always like to make our live performances pretty different from the studio recordings – we want it to sound even more captivating. Can you give us a little sneak peak of what your Lollapalooza act is going to be like? How are you going to use visuals?We are using a New York-based artist named Nick Doyle. He took some of the sculptures from the album covers and a couple of other images he drew himself, and he will be creating 6 feet tall light figures to populate the stage. We’re not really being minimalist – but we really want the intimate aspect of the album to shine through. ©2016 Cupcake Vineyards, Livermore, CA