Anand Wilder on His Forthcoming Solo Record, Yeasayer's Contentious Relationship with Critics, and the Importance of Doja Cat

Interviews
01/18/2022
Jasmine Albertson
photo by Charles Vidal

While I wouldn’t call him a Luddite, Anand Wilder’s preference for analog record players over streamed playlists, 16mm film rather than the filter-heavy images on Instagram, and hauling a piano on tour instead of using the far more practical but less aesthetically pleasing keyboard, suggests a traditionalist mindset. Scathing are his thoughts about how the world has changed and the importance of music lessened. But less curmudgeonly, more humorously nihilistic.

“I think 50 years ago, all you had was that single, that new 45 that came out. And that was your connection to culture. But I just think music has really been devalued a lot. And the listening experience for most people is just like put on a playlist and you'll be at a party and be like, ‘What is this music that's playing?’ And someone will be like, ‘Oh, I don't know. Hold on. Let me check my phone.’ And you're like, "Really? You don't even want to like, share something that you've thought about?”

At the same time, the Yeasayer co-founder has brought up Doja Cat on no less than three occasions during our interview so you can’t exactly say he’s out of touch. Brought to his attention by his four-year-old daughter, who prefers Doja’s honeyed pop songs to dad’s gentle guitar strums (ew!), Wilder’s fascination with the controversial pop star is hilarious when spoken in conjunction with the very vintage sound of his new record.

 

 

Titled I Don’t Know My Words, the album is Wilder’s first solo project since the dissolution of Yeasayer and relinquishes the lush mosaic soundscapes of his former band for a back-to-basics approach. He looked to longtime favorites like Cat Stevens, Fairport Convention, and, of course, The Beatles for inspiration as Wilder found his footing post-Yeasayer.

When Yeasayer announced their breakup in December of 2019, the response didn’t exactly send shockwaves through the music community. While together for a total of 15 years, the popularity of the Brooklyn band had slowly been fizzling out over the decade prior, without a lot of sense to it. The trio could put on a hell of a show and their music was always constantly yo-yo-ing between experimental maximalism or eccentric pop bangers in a way that should’ve been pleasing to both the art geeks and the party-all-night festival junkies.

“There was something good and kind of a freak folky and kaleidoscopic or something about the first one [All Hour Cymbals],” Wilder tells me when discussing re-listening to the Yeasayer discography. “And then the next one [Odd Blood], I think we got a much better mix and some weird sounds and some good songs, too. So I was like, ‘Okay, we did progress there.’"

“I say this because I think of certain bands where I'm like, ‘Oh, they got horrible after their first record.’ he continues. “And especially when you know about a band off their first album, you have that right, you know? So I was thinking that a little bit. I was buying into that kind of mythology and then I was like, ‘No, no, we did. We got better.’"

 

 

The fact that a publication’s critical reception of their records would have an artist second-guessing his growth is rather sad but progress — or I should say, perceived progress — is a bit of a contentious topic within Yeasayer’s career. Constantly panned by the Blog That Shall Not Be Named in a nearly comical way, where one record is deemed too experimental, “And then once it was commercial and safe, they'd be like, ‘At least they were experimental before,’" Wilder sighs.

“And then there would be this revisionist history of like, well, ‘That one that we gave a bad review to actually did stand the test of time.’” Which is true. And fucked up. But also not the reason Yeasayer broke up. “Bands are kind of a toxic relationship. At least, it became that for me. It felt like a real toxic relationship.”

“I guess around Amen & Goodbye was when there was talk of, ‘I'm quitting the band,’”, explains Wilder. From there, the band struggled over power dynamics, either unhappy and wanting to leave or fearful that the other might. “You can't say what you really think because it's going to ruin you. Your professional destinies are tied up with these two other people. So it's this delicate dance that you have to do.”

Stepping up to be the band’s cheerleader, Wilder pushed his bandmates to finish the last two records, Amen & Goodbye and Erotic Reruns. The latter record’s upbeat, dancey tone belies the friction behind the scenes but its brisk runtime of only 29 minutes is likely indicative of their impatience to exit.

“The last album I felt like I was actually trying to say, ‘Okay, come on, guys, we can do it! We don't have a record label. Let's just get it together. I have a home studio. We all have home studios.’ But the collaboration had reached its end.”

Much respect is given to those who know when to let something go rather than continuing on and phoning it in. The grind of playing the same decade-old hits night after night is far from everyone’s dream. But for their final show in October of 2019, Yeasayer pulled out all the stops one last time for their tour-closing Halloween show in Brooklyn unbeknownst to the fans in attendance.

“I carved like 50 pumpkins the night before and we sang ‘The Ghost of John,’” Wilder recounts. “Knowing that it was probably most likely the last one, it was really high energy and we were at the end of our tour cycle. So it was quite a good set of songs. But I was at that point, I was so bitter and pissed off. And then it just kind of ended. I would have kept going to finish up our tour obligations, but one of the other guys was like, ‘Nope, I'm done.’ So I was like, ‘All right. Whatever.’

 

 

But closed doors open new windows or something to that effect, and it didn’t take Wilder long to start forging his path as a solo artist. With Yeasayer’s conveniently-timed ending pre-pandemic (“We didn't have to do that whole, ‘Let's do a live Zoom set!’”), Wilder used the forced downtime that 2020 brought to explore the English folk and psychedelic sounds of the ‘70s that he’s long been influenced by.

“I was so motivated once the band split up to just do my own thing,” Wilder recalls. “I did make an album. And I did it all in my house. At the beginning before COVID, I did invite a couple of friends over to drum on it and stuff but it didn't really work out. It was too quick, you know, I needed to take more time with it. And then once COVID hit, it was like, ‘Oh my God, we don't have to have parties at our house every weekend. I can really work on this.’ So, COVID was just a blessing for me!”

He’s kidding, of course. The seriousness of the pandemic is not lost on him and those fearful first months permeate the record on songs like “Sick Hotel” and “Hart Island,” which gained its title from the Bronx field that served as a mass grave for one in ten of the New Yorkers who died from COVID last year.

“My wife lost her sense of smell because of COVID," Wilder recounts. While very unfortunate, this did lead Wilder’s young daughter to say something so perfectly imperfect that he stole the phrase for his album’s title. “And so the joke was like, ‘You know how momma doesn't know her smells? I don't know my words.’ Because she's just learning how to speak and she didn't know what she was saying. I just thought it was a funny grammatical error. I thought it had a ring like that David Crosby album, If I Could Only Remember My Name.”

So far, Wilder’s revealed two songs off I Don’t Know My Words, “Delirium Passes” and “I Don’t Want Our Love to Become Routine.” The former is a jaunty psychedelic-folk song full of whimsy while the latter is a straightforward George Harrison-esque guitar and piano brooder. While the new stripped-down sound might sound like a far cry from the eccentric and expansive leftfield compositions of Yeasayer, Wilder claims he’s always been writing this way.

“If you were to go back and listen to all those Yeasayer songs that were all sung by me, from ‘Wait For the Summer’ or to the ‘Uma’ song [you’ll hear it],” he insists. “I actually remember presenting a song off of Amen and Goodbye to our record label and Daniel Miller from Mute Record saying, ‘It sounds too Beatles-ey.’ I mean, even, ‘One’ was kind of a little folk song that I wrote that we then turned into bow-wow-ch-ch-da-da. So I always liked the gentle stuff. And maybe I brought a little gentle side to Yeasayer.”

 

 

The mashing together of each other’s styles and influences may have been the formula for Yeasayer, but without having to get approval and input from his former bandmates, Wilder found a new freedom. We, as listeners, also get to finally hear him at his most pure. Personal stories about marriage and his children (which seem to be one of his favorite topics) fit naturally amongst the gentle guitar strums and twinkling piano arpeggios.

“[I Don’t Know My Words] is more of a continuation of the songs that I would bring to Yeasayer and then would either be approved or disapproved of. But this is just all me. I mean, this whole album could have been nixed by my bandmates, you know? And yeah, if I get criticized, it's just going to be me. It's not going to be them, you know. If anything, they'll benefit from my album getting denounced.”

And while, on one hand, it would be fitting to continue the legacy of negative reception after five Yeasayer records and an absolutely scathing review of Wilder’s decade-in-the-making musical Break Line in 2014, I feel confident that I Don’t Know My Words has a good shot at breaking that cycle. Either way, Wilder’s unbothered and focusing his attention on putting together the live show of his dreams.

 

 

“Every time I'm doing rehearsals, I'm like, ‘I would want to see this. I don't know if anybody else would, but I would want to see this.’ Just a guy singing, piano, a little bit of weird sounds, kind of quiet, and good songs, you know?”

Aiming for a loungey ‘70s singer-songwriter vibe, Wilder’s most excited about the saxophone player he’s hired to join him on tour and the full piano that he might be the only one thrilled about hauling around.

“I ran into my old sound guy at the at a bar, the other week, and I told him, ‘I think I'm going to play real piano.’ He said, ‘What are you, a sultan?! Who do you think you are?!’ I was like, ‘Come on, it's got to be possible!’ He's like, ‘Yeah, and the piano tuner they come in, you have to be quiet for two hours while the piano tuner tunes the piano.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, that sounds great!’"

I mention how his enthusiasm over the piano harkens back to Yeasayer’s iconic 2008 Take Away Show for La Blogotheque, where the band and crew maniacally journey through the streets of Paris because Wilder insists he needs a real piano for this performance. “I didn't want it to just be us banging on like wine glasses or something,” he responds.

 

 

Over the course of the hour that we’re chatting, Wilder’s been sitting at the piano, occasionally playing little bits of songs in order to further elaborate on the meaning of a line or the genesis of a melody. He’s not the first artist I’ve chatted with like that, but he is the first to offer up a private performance of a full song to me.

After patiently taking me through a lengthy explanation of the song “I Don’t Want Our Love to Become Routine,” which was conceived of as a Dolly Parton-esque country song and is built from various stories of real-life relationships around him, Wilder brought it to life on his beloved piano.

“Why does music matter to me?” Wilder questions, when I press him to answer the question personally rather than on the societal placement of music within a capitalist economy. “I don't know, it's just like a part of what I do, you know. I guess my question back at you is, why does anything else matter? Nothing really matters, so why not become obsessed with this one thing that also doesn't matter?” Fair enough.

I Don't Know My Words is out March 25th via Last Gang Records. Watch Anand Wilder's special stripped-down performance of "I Don't Want Our Love to Become Routine" below.

 

 

Related News & Reviews

Music News

Yeasayer Announces New Album Erotic Reruns, Shares Two Songs

The band's fifth studio album is due for release on June 7


Read More
Sasquatch Live Reviews

Sasquatch! Music Festival 2016, Day 1: Yeasayer

Brooklyn group Yeasayer are an act that cares about the details. From their pleas to “please watch at the 4k setting” on one of their music video’s to the collage of sounds that was their 2016 release, Amen and Goodbye, the group certainly has a knack for thinking about the little things other ba...


Read More
Album Reviews

Album Review: Yeasayer - Amen & Goodbye

There's a great scene in Richard Linklater's film Boyhood where Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) is about 10 or 11 years old and is in Houston sleeping over at his dad's place when he asks him this great question. "Dad, there's no, like, real magic in the world is there?" Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke) asks h...


Read More
Click anywhere to return to the site