by Priya Patel – University of Florida
Recently, I was able to interview Anand Wilder, a member of the increasingly popular indie band Yeasayer. Wilder plays guitar, keyboards, and contributes to vocals as well. Yeasayer has a greatly unique sound and their recently released second album, Odd Blood, has been generally well received and praised throughout the music community. Spin Magazine, in a review for the album, described the music as a “masterful mash-up of ’80s synth pop and tribal-beat tickles,” among other things (like I said, pretty damn unique).
In a about a week, Yeasayer will begin an international tour after finishing up playing all over the US (and selling out many of the venues). Personally, I’m a huge fan of the band, and being able to ask Wilder a few questions about his life and his music was a great treat. Although, I had to remind myself to not get carried away with the whole fan-girl thing and ask dumb questions like “zomg, like, do you have a girlfriend???”
Check out the interview (he gives some really interesting answers), as well as the video and their website, www.yeasayer.net. At the website, you can download their single “O.N.E.” (for free!), as well as get updates and touring info.
PP: How did you get your start in music? Early influences?
AW: I have always been interested in music as long as I can remember. I started playing cello when I was 4 1/2, so I had all that classical music as an influence, but I always had a love affair with pop music. From an early age, I was obsessed with all of my mom’s classic rock, The Beatles, Dylan, Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Simon and Garfunkel. The first contemporary music I discovered on my own was stuff like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nirvana, Beck, all that 90′s alt rock. My sister was really into TLC, Kriss Kross, Boyz II Men, so that was a big influence on me too. But it was really those rock bands that made me want to learn guitar, and in a totally different way than I had learned cello, all by ear, learning from friends in the hallways at school, or at summer camp around a campfire.
PP: Tell me a little bit about your background (you know — childhood, hopes, dreams, fears — typical life story stuff).
AW: I had a really happy childhood. I always loved performing, whether it was cello performances or school plays. I think I was just a big show off, still am. I always wanted to act or be a rock star.
PP: I know you have been touring regularly with the band these past few years — what has been your favorite city?
AW: I really loved touring in New Zealand and Australia. There are a few places that I never thought I’d enjoy, but have been pleasant surprises, and have become some of my favorite places to visit, like Austin, and Texas in general, and Minneapolis- the Walker Arts Center is a great modern art museum there. Of course LA and San Francisco area always fun to visit. Paris is great because I get to practice my french a little. Norway and Sweden are beautiful, and Italy and Spain are great fun too.
PP: And speaking of touring, how was Coachella? Did you have any favorite acts?
AW: I thought Fever Ray was amazing at Coachella. Great costumes, lighting, the sound was great, and I love her music.
PP: What do you think of South Asian artists who have also broken into indie/mainstream music success, like Natasha Khan (Bat for Lashes), M.I.A., and yourself? Is there a different responsibility or consciousness involved with being South Asian and a musician in an industry environment where there are so few?
AW: I love M.I.A. and Natasha Khan’s music. I would add that Das Racist engage South Asian and “brown identity issues” in the most sophisticated and hilarious manner of any contemporary artists. Truthfully, I don’t feel a burden of responsibility as a South Asian musician in an industry where there are so few. I am half Indian, so if I want, I can identify with the multitude of ridiculously talented mixed breeds out there: James Brown is part Apache, Bob Marley’s dad was white, Prince is definitely something weird. And Freddie Mercury is the greatest singer of all time, and he’s a Parsi, born in India. But, I guess you could say that those first guys I mentioned identified themselves as Black, and Freddie Mercury did everything he could to play down the whole Asian thing and is remembered as a British pop star. But then there’s still trailblazers like Tony Kanal from No Doubt and Kim Thayil from Soundgarden. One could argue that those were sidemen though, and that’s what so great about Natasha Khan and M.I.A.- their brown faces are front and center.
I’m sort of halfway there. I’m not the frontman, but I’m not exactly a sideman because I do sing lead on a bunch of our songs, and I really try to put myself out there. If I wasn’t singing lead on at least a few songs I’d be really disappointed in myself. But I really think that’s enough, as far as my burden of responsibility. Indians who live in America are not a downtrodden minority. I could write a song about being brown but I would feel like I’m bitching about something that doesn’t really upset me. It’s fine as a subject for stand up comedy, and I think there are a lot of great movies about Indians growing up in America that haven’t been written yet, but it just doesn’t appeal to me as a subject for a song.
The problems facing Indians in America are what? Parents pressuring their kids to become professionals, parents valuing academics over social lives, parents pressuring their kids to marry. When you think about it in the grand scheme of things, these problems are really not that bad! I’m pretty sure Indians are America’s wealthiest ethnic group – I think if I was fully Indian, statistically I’d be a richer man! At least more educated. So the only thing holding us back from being in the spotlight is ourselves. Sure there’s probably some institutional racism out there, but I’ve been around the world, and there’s no place as open as America. Europe is an ass-backward, old school place. Everyone who wanted to do something new and interesting with their lives left Europe for America at one time or another. Don’t let all that supposed progressiveness fool you, they’re xenophobic as hell. And I love to visit India, but come on – it is a dusty, corrupt, and chaotic country, with an even more despicable gap between the rich and poor than America’s. Did I mention the dust?!
I embrace being different from your average white musician. That’s part of what I love about my band; we all have different personalities or backgrounds and we try to throw them all into the mix to create something new and interesting sounding. If I can be onstage and inspire some brown kid out there to pursue something artistic, something other than being a doctor or engineer, then I’m doing a good job. And if they want be a doctor or an engineer, good for them! Less competition for me.
PP: What is the one instrument you would love to learn but don’t know how to play?
AW: I would love to actually know how to play the piano.
PP: Do you get groupies? What is the fan-base like? Any crazies?
AW: We have some crazy fans that we sometimes have to kick out of the backstage when they come creeping in. But so far nobody’s been that crazy. We don’t have bodyguards yet…
PP: What is the most embarrassing thing in your iPod right now? Quick! No time for thinking — only first reactions count.
PP: What is your opinion on the state of the music industry today? Has the internet hindered or helped Yeasayer and other indie bands?
AW: I don’t think we would exist without the internet. I don’t think Yeasayer would have had the same rise without the exposure and support of bloggers, or webzines, or youtube. The internet was our first press, our first video, our first live recordings. The record industry is a sinking ship, especially the major labels, because of illegal file sharing and their unwillingness to cater to the shifting paradigm of how people access music. There’s this democratization in the music industry, where Independent labels can have as much sway as the Majors, and a small unsigned band can have nearly as much cultural significance as a huge pop act, if their music video or song becomes a meme.
So this shift is a good thing, but it also hurts record sales, which means in order to make a living, I have to tour my ass off. Now touring can be fun, and of course I’m grateful that people want to see my band play, but it’s difficult to make long term life and family plans when the only way you can make a living is if you’re away from home for half your life. So it’s a double edged sword I guess. I wouldn’t exist without the internet, but the internet will eventually destroy me.
PP: Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians/artists?
AW: Work hard, play live as much as possible, try to sound as unique as you can, wear something interesting onstage.
PP: If you weren’t part of a pretty kick-ass band right now, you’d be…?
AW: Working some crappy job and struggling to make people notice how amazing my unsuccessful band is.
PP: What’s the last song that was playing in your head/iPod/general vicinity?
AW: Ken Seeno’s unreleased album
PP: Favorite genre of movies? And do you have a Bollywood fave?
AW: I don’t have a favorite genre, different genre for different moods. Bollywood fave is Sholay for sure. (PP: Mine too! zomg)
PP: And finally, what is the one thing you miss from being a teenager?
AW: My mom’s cooking!
*band photography – Alexander Wagner