Interview: Yeasayer

In late June, I sat down with two members of psych-pop band Yeasayer, Chris Keating (vocals) and Ira Wolf Tuton (bass), before their concert at Mr. Small’s. I had seen Yeasayer twice before, once at Terminal 5 in New York and at Mr. Small’s nearly a year go. They’re always a treat to see with their intricate light shows and colorful sound.

Chris Keating of Yeasayer

Jess Phoa (WRCT): So, how did you come up with your name?

Chris Keating: My parents named me before I was born.

Ira Wolf Tuton: My grandfather named me.

CK: I was kind of bummed about my name – band name?

JP: Yes, sorry.

IWT: Mine’s from a time of, you know, you don’t meet many Ira’s any more.

JP: Is it an acronym for “I.R.A”?

IWT: To some people yes, to many Northern “Irelanders”.

CK: Uuh band name…actually a guy who only played with the band for two shows came up with it.

JP: Really? Okay, was this when you were just up and coming?

CK: Yeah, totally.

IWT: NO. We were bigger then. [chuckles]

CK: We were very huge… our EGOS were bigger. [laughs]

IWT: The first name of our band was “Coldplay” [laughs] and then we changed this name to be more modest.

CK: Yeah, he was really into naming bands. He was obsessed. Seriously obsessed band names.

JP: What are your thoughts on Pittsburgh? Well you’ve obviously been [here before].

IWT: I feel like Pittsburgh is, regardless of shows and all that, Pittsburgh is one of those hidden jewels of an American city. One of those that not a lot of people really know about and, uh, it’s probably easier to discover when you’re here and find people that are from here who can show you around. It’s definitely interesting.

JP: Yeah, cause a lot of people are like, “Why do I want to go to Pittsburgh?” what’s so special about it?

IWT: Sure. I grew up in Philadelphia during the Rocky era, at least the Rocky view. Everybody now from Philadelphia figures Philadelphia was just what they saw in Rocky. A lot of that is true, but there’s more to it than that. It’s very picaresque and cultural, culturally relevant.

JP: What have you actually seen around here?

IWT: Uh, the first time we were here –

CK: We went to the Warhol Museum!

JP: I was gonna say, did you go to the Warhol Museum? Did you like it?

CK: We did. Yeah, it was great.

IWT: CRAP! [laughs] No, it was a cool museum. All the bridges, uh, the steel architecture.

CK: The wild packs of dogs.

IWT: The wild packs of dogs roaming…

CK: Roaming the streets.

IWT: Three-headed fish in the river. Um, Carnegie Mellon up there is really pretty. I remember uh, the first time we came here… I think, some dude whose house we slept at… He took us on like, an unplanned tour.

JP: Of the campus?

IWT: No, just around Pittsburgh, different park areas that it overlooked.

CK: Buildings, squats.

IWT: Like Neo-Classical stuff, which is really, really cool. Deco-era stuff.

JP: Being from New York, where do you guys like eating? In the city?

IWT: Where do I like eating in the city… let’s see…

CK: My backyard! I’ve got a grill.

IWT: Yeah.

CK: I’m all about it.

IWT: That’s all I’ve been doing lately in my backyard… There’s a lot of great butcher shops, a lot of great markets. I’m in a CSA, so I get a lot of really good organic veggies every week. Too much.

JP: Are they cheap?

IWT: Uh, it works out to if I had gotten all these veggies throughout the season, it goes all the way through November, actually, which is crazy. And if I were to pay for all of these vegetables, I’d definitely be paying a lot more. The challenge is trying to figure out to do with, you know, four heads of bok choy.

CK: What the fuck. I’d never do that shit.

IWT: You ALWAYS get bok choy.

CK: YOU GOTTA GET CSA, MAN! I’m like, “You have a fifty pack of turnips.”
[laughter]
I don’t want a turnip.

IWT: Yeah, yeah, but it’s good!

CK: There’s good Japanese restaurants.

IWT: It keeps you on your toes.

CK: Chinese food that’s great…there’s everything in New York!

JP: What’s your favorite kind of Japanese food?

CK: Well, in Tokyo, there were these Izakaya places. There’s this one yakitori place that I loved. Or actually we went to this place that specialized in Okinawa-Japanese food.

JP: I’ve never actually had that kind of Japanese food.

CK: A lot of bitter cucumbers.

IWT: My favorite stuff in Japan going to the Ryokons. Going to some inns more inlands, it was kind of like the local…river fish that were fried and sautéed up. Kind of local pickled vegetables…All this really good, high-quality local stuff. Which is good. It wasn’t just sushi! But that yakitori place…

CK: That was awesome.

IWT: That was amazing.

JP: Did you just have endless skewers of meat?

CK: Basically just like, all parts of the chicken. I have of a friend of a friend and he just takes us out. He takes us to interesting places.

JP: If you could have one last meal before you died, what would it be?

IWT: It would probably be Japanese food because I’d be able to eat, more of it.

CK: Probably a really huge bowl of pasta, ‘cause I always want to die after then anyway.
[laughter]

IWT: You’d die first.

CK: Like just a HUGE heaping.

JP: With anything on it?

CK: Yeah, just EVERYTHING. Like ALL THE SEAFOOD! Mix it all together.

IWT: Red sauce! White sauce!

CK: Why am I dying, by the way? Am I in prison? Am I being punished?

IWT: Yo, why is it your last meal?

JP: No, just like a hypothetical question. Let’s just say you were to just die the next day, I guess.

IWT: Like we were clairvoyants.

CK: There are so many other things I’d rather be doing.

IWT: Yeah I probably wouldn’t sit down to eat. I’d probably be doing a lot of other things.

CK: All the horrible things I’d be doing… [laughs]

IWT: Well, GOTTA EAT.

JP: Well I feel like I got this wrong, ‘cause I read you [Ira] grew up in Baltimore.

CK: I grew up in Baltimore.

JP: You. So wait, I guess I got that wrong. So are you [Ira] and Anand [Yeasayer’s guitarist] cousins?

IWT: Me and Anand are related through family, yeah.

JP: How did you guys form [Yeasayer]?

IWT: Anand and him grew up together. In Baltimore.

JP: Ah okay, are you approximately the same age?

CK: Yes we are approximately the same age. Same year of school. Class of 2000 high school.

JP: What high school did you go to?

CK: Park. It was called Park High School.

JP: Did you play an instrument in high school?

CK: Nah, not really. We had a band. I sang in a band.

IWT: They had a band that when I was in high school, I had their album.

CK: A demo!

IWT: I had never met him [Chris]. But because I knew Anand and his family –

CK: He LOVED it!

IWT: I LOVED IT. My sister, not a big fan.

[laughter]

JP: And then did you get roped in? By them?

IWT: Roped in, they just pushed me in and wouldn’t let me go. Uh, we all moved to New York around the same time.

JP: Okay.

IWT: And then, over the next three or four years, we slowly, slowly got it together after all of us figuring [things] out and getting on our feet.

JP: What drew you to New York then?

CK: Jobs.

IWT: The community. The opportunities and every single thing.

CK: Girls and jobs.

IWT: Totally.

JP: All the girls?

CK: There’s a lot of them there. Seems like a good place to go.

IWT: All the girls with jobs.

CK: All the girls with jobs. COUGARS! I’ve never experienced that first hand.

Ira Wolf Tuton of Yeasayer

JP: So I always see you [Ira] wearing this necklace and the rings, which are on your watch. I was wondering about the significance of them.

IWT: This was a necklace I got a long time ago from a friend of mine.

JP: Mhmm.

IWT: And he traded me for a necklace I had at the time. It has Pennsylvania and Maryland on it and I noticed that it had Pennsylvania on it and I was like, “Oh I’m from Philadelphia! What’s the other state?” and he said “Maryland.” And I was like, “Oh that’s where Chris and Anand from our band are from.”

He took that as a sign from the heavens that this necklace was for me. He placed it on my head and I haven’t removed it since.

And these [the rings] are gifts from my woman.

JP: How did you design your album covers? They’re kind of just…out there.

IWT: He did the first one [All Hour Cymbals]. [gestures towards Chris]

CK: I did the first one.

JP: How did you do it? Photo manipulation?

CK: Collage. Cutting out stuff. I did a lot of collages, surrealist collage. So that was the first one and then…the second was like the same idea, but we were using 3-D scans of our faces that actually a friend had built using a car design program.

IWT: Actually that guy also had built some of the set designs.

CK: Yeah he did. So that was a friend of mine and so he did virtual sculptures of our faces and matched them together and made all this weird stuff. I figured it was in line with that. And the last one was another friend and that was like, images of this dancer.

JP: Do you have any hobbies that not many people know about?

IWT: I really enjoy tree work and gardening. And working on music.

JP: Is that why you wear wife-beaters all the time?

IWT: They’re called, “tank tops” where I come from?

JP: Sorry, haha. Or “muscle tees”?

CK: Guinea tees?

[laughter]

IWT: TANK TOPS.

CK: I watch a lot of movies.

JP: Oh, what do you like?

CK: All kinds of stuff. I don’t even know!

IWT: What DON’T you like?

CK: I did NOT like the new Superman movie. I generally, I tend to like movies from say, ehh, 1969-1979. It was a really fascinating period.

IWT: The movies I brought on tour, I brought because I knew he would really like them. The French Connection.

CK: OH! I love The French Connection.

IWT: As well as…El Topo.

CK: I liked that. You gotta go with Gene Hackman in Conversation, though.

JP: [To Ira] Are those some of your favorite movies too?

IWT: Yeah! They certainly are. I haven’t seen the new Superman.

CK: I watch a lot of old stuff and the Hollywood Blockbusters.

IWT: I like the documentaries. [In a New York accent] I like the documentaries! I read tha paypahs!

JP: [To Chris] Do you have a crab tattoo because you’re from Maryland?

CK: I do. It’s not because I’m a cancer.

[laughter]

IWT: If you were to die tomorrow, what kind of tattoo would you get?

[more laughter]

Special thanks goes to Ceci Gomez and Paul Drake for all of their help.


Interview: Passion Pit

Just over two weeks ago, on June 6, I met up with Ian Hultquist, keyboardist and guitarist of Passion Pit, at Stage AE. He is a graduate of the Berklee College of Music, where he studied film score composition. We talked about things such as his Batman fandom and his favorite composers. Read the interview transcript below.

Ian Hultquist of Passion Pit

Jess Phoa (WRCT): I know you’ve been to Pittsburgh a quite a few times in the last year, so how do you like Pittsburgh?

Ian Hultquist: I like it a lot, actually. You know, I feel like I didn’t really get a chance to see it until last time we were here [in November 2012]. And I finally started to get a better feel for the city, but I think it’s pretty cool.

JP: Which Batman franchise do you prefer?

[Prior to the interview, I looked at Ian’s Flickr account and I noticed there was a picture of him standing in the middle of Heinz Field, which was featured in Batman: The Dark Knight Rises.]

IH: Well, the one that included Heinz Field. The “Nolan Universe” one.

JP: What did you like about it in particular?

IH: I mean, I thought they were such well-made movies. The Dark Knight, the second one, was like the perfect movie. I couldn’t find anything wrong with it. From a technical writing and editorial standpoint, I thought it was perfect. Then I thought the stories were so good and they finally made real characters out of these people. Where, I mean, I love Tim Burton’s movies – I love every Batman movie. I’m a Batman fan for life.

JP: Did you grow up with the TV show?

IH: Yeah, the animated series and everything. But I just felt like the characters made sense for once, like, I, you know super hero mythology is really funny, like, you have all these universes and all this crazy stuff.

JP: Like Marvel vs. DC?

IH: Yeah, all of that. I wouldn’t say that this is the “definitive Batman”, the real one, but it’s the one [series] that stands on its own.

JP: Do you have a favorite composer? Personally, I really like Michael Giacchino.

IH: Yeah! He’s one of my favorites. He’s up there. I was watching Lost as I was doing film scoring at Berklee and he’s kind of like, one of the composers that really made sense to me. Like, I feel like I could do something like this. I love what Hans Zimmer has been doing lately. Alexander Desplat [the composer for Zero Dark Thirty]. For up and coming composers, Nathan Johnson, who did Looper. Rob Simonson is another one. He works with Mychael Danna a lot, who did Life of Pi. There’s a lot of composers up there that I’m really into right now.

JP: What about classical composers?

IH: I love Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky. You know, I don’t have ones that I shy away from, I’m pretty open to a lot of things. But lately, I’m just so focused on film scoring that that’s what I listen to.

JP: When did you learn to play the guitar and keyboards or piano, [which one did you learn] first?

IH: I actually grew up playing alto saxophone. I played in the school bands and then I think in like the seventh grade, I was listening to a lot of punk and rock music and was like, “I wanna play these songs” and there are no saxophones. So I forgot how to read music completely, and I only knew how to read tabs and I got my first guitar. I think that’s when it started and then of course, when I got to college, I had to remember how to read everything.

JP: Well, you had to audition [for college]?

IH: Yeah, guitar’s definitely my main instrument. I played piano just a little bit, but I didn’t have any training in it. I didn’t really start until Passion Pit started and then I kind of had to teach myself how to play keyboards.

 Xander Singh of Passion Pit

JP: Do you have any lesser-known hobbies? Ones that people aren’t really aware of?

IH: Mmm, no. I’m pretty good about sharing whatever I come up with, like I Instagram all of my photos.

JP: Do you like knitting?

IH: Haha, no. I don’t have any knitting skills. I’m pretty not complicated. I play music, I watch lots of music, I write music for film. That’s basically my life in a nutshell.

JP: It sounds like a good life, though!

IH: Yeah, it’s great!

JP: I previously read about your pre-concert rituals, but do you have any pre-concert necessities, like the room has to be set to 68 degrees Fahrenheit or something like that?

IH: No no no, hahaha. We’re not that anal yet.

JP: Is there an instrument you prefer to play?

IH: You know, because guitar is more comfortable for me, I always go to that. But lately, I almost feel just as comfortable, if not more, on keyboards. So, it kind of depends, but I always like playing guitar.

JP: What would you do for a living if you went deaf?

IH: Oh man…become a silent film maker.

JP: But even those have film scores.

IH: Sure, I’d just have to trust whoever’s writing the music I guess, haha. I would probably just focus on the story.

JP: Really, just the writing?

IH: Mhmm.

JP: Is there a song you particularly like to perform as opposed to crowd pleasers?

IH: We’ve been playing this song, “Where I Come From”. It was actually on the Twilight soundtrack. We’ve been playing it a lot, and I actually like it a lot. It’s very, very different from any other Passion Pit song. Mike [referring to Michael Angelakos, the lead singer] and I play guitar on it. So that’s one thing that definitely stands out from the others.

JP: How long have you been living in Brooklyn?
Michael Angelakos of Passion Pit

IH: Three and a half…four years?

JP: What’s your favorite thing about it?

IH: I know that it was one of the first cities that I had gone to in a while, that like, felt right. It felt like home. I had lived in Boston for five and a half years [while at college], but it always felt this is my “college town” this doesn’t feel like I’m going to live here for the rest of my life.

JP: What kinds of things do you like taking photos of?

IH: It’s always different, honestly. Usually it has to do with shapes because I always kind of mess around with colors already. But it’s usually shapes or interesting shadows and landscapes. It’s kind of whatever catches my eye.

JP: Is there something you just HAVE to do whenever you have break time? Is there something you long for while you’re on the road that you have to do when you get back?

IH: My wife has a pasta dish called “Amatriciana” that I ask her to make me when I get home. It’s just tomato sauce, onions, pancetta, basil, it’s like such a simple dish, but it’s just the way she makes it.

JP: If there’s any artist you could collaborate with, who would it be?

IH: I’ve been listening to Ólafur Arnalds, who’s Icelandic, and Nils Frahm. If I could do something with either of them, that would be amazing. They’re kind of like, new classical composers. A lot of piano pieces, but they bring in a lot of ambient electronics at the same time.

I managed to attend the concert later that day and I was far from displeased. It was my third time seeing them live and I wouldn’t hesitate to see them again. Special thanks to Nathan D’Oria and the folks at Stage AE.


Interview: Rubblebucket

On Dec. 9, WRCT hosted a very special guest, Rubblebucket, in our studio. The eight-person ensemble performed acoustic versions of “Pain From Love” from their latest album Oversaturated and one of their best known songs, “Came Out of A Lady” from Omega La La. They came just in the nick of time to promote their concert featuring Reptar that night at Mr. Smalls in nearby Millvale, Pa. Unfortunately, I could not attend the performance but I did manage to snag a brief interview with three of the band members: band leader and trumpet Alex Toth, vocalist and saxophonist Kalmia Traver, and guitarist Ian Hersey. Snippets of the interview are just below the photo.

Jess: I have asked other bands this question before and I will ask you guys as well, can you provide some more insights regarding the interests listed on your Facebook page? “Traveling, eating good food, hiking, rhythmic lock, exotic beats and colors”

Alex Toth: Yes! All of these things are true. We’ve actually gone on group hikes several times and they’re a lot of fun.

(I also noticed that Kalmia was wearing brightly colored socks, true to the band’s professed love of colors.)

Jess: Is there anything you like to do in particular when you have down time after getting back after a tour?

AT: Do nothing. Absolutely nothing. Being on the road is a busy hectic lifestyle, so it’s nice to relax.

Kalmia Traver: I love riding around on my bike and something I always have to do is ride my bike over the Williamsburg Bridge.

Ian Hersey: Eat pizza with lots of basil and delicious cheese!

Jess: Now, I understand that Alex and Kalmia met at the University of Vermont, but did you two originally come in as music majors or what?

AT: No, I actually came in intending to be a psych major.

KT: I was undeclared.

(The two of them decided to pursue their musical interests instead and henceforth Rubblebucket was born.)

Jess: Do you have any favorite books?

AT: We’ve been exchanging books by David Foster Wallace with each other.

The interview was short, as time was running out, but I hope you have learned a bit more about Rubblebucket. They’re rad and definitely a group to keep an eye out for the future.

Interview by Jess Phoa. Photo courtesy of Roll Call Records. Special thanks to Ted and Eden for all of their help setting up and producing this interview.


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