Discover Jersey Arts 5: Alec Ounsworth of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah sprung onto the national music scene in 2005, with their self-titled and self-released debut album. Pitchfork gave their premiere outing a glowing review: "There's something really refreshing about stumbling across a great band that's trembling on the cusp without any sort of press campaign or other built-in mythology-- you actually get to hear the music with your own ears...Damn, maybe this is how it's supposed to work!"Six years later, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is on the Saturday lineup of the XPoNential Music Festival. We sat down with CYHSY's frontman, Alec Ounsworth, to discuss hometown shows, touring, becoming a dad, and the release of the bands new album, Hysterical, coming in September.
Jersey Arts: You're a Philly local--what's the best thing about playing a hometown show?
Alec Ounsworth: Well, my family doesn't have to go out of the way to see us (laughter). I think that XPN is sort of a family-style radio station. Even though it's our first show in a little while together, it's a lot easier to get back into the rhythm of it in a familiar town. There's something about where you're from that you recognize in other people, that makes it a little easier. It's comfortable.
JA: How do you put together a set-list for an outdoor festival like this?
AO: I wish I knew--I think that these days, with the new record, and several new b-sides as options in the new sets, I think the whole game is gonna change. I can't quite answer that just yet. I have a feeling we'll approach it the way we always have, but I don't really think I have an answer to that, yet.
JA: What's your favorite tour memory?
AO: You know, after being worn down on the road for a long time, you get to certain locations, and the audience pretty much dictates the pace of the entire show. You're basically running on fumes at certain points, and you get lifted up by a given audience. This one time, in Ireland, we were playing a show, and were starting the touring cycle for the second record. We played our first show on a run with the Cold War Kids and Elvis Perkins, and it didn't look like too many people were gonna show up. You can't always expect that people are gonna come see you--you always have to be flattered when they do. But [later in the evening], the crowd eventually showed up. The degree of energy on that particular night--I don't know, it hasn't really been translated to anywhere else. You know, you need a push from time to time, when you're in a band and running around on tour. That night was...it definitely felt like an occasion instead of a show.
JA: Do you and the band have any rituals when you're on the road?
AO: Nah. We're pretty boring (laughs).
JA: You're the father of a three-year old; how does becoming a young dad change your approach to music?
AO: That's a good question--I think the nature of having a child ramps up the serious nature of what you're doing. You assume more responsibility of what you're doing, outside of your job, and that transfers over to what you're working on. A lot of it has to do with time consumption--for me, every last second counts, and I find myself constantly on-task, when before I might've procrastinated a little more than I should. It gives you a new sense of focus.
JA: The new album, Hysterical, comes out on September 20. Tell us a little bit about the album?
AO: I always have trouble with this one, because it's hard if you haven't heard it yet, unless you want me to sing you a few bars. For me, it's a bit of an event; I didn't know if this project would be coming back, and it sort of demonstrates that for me, there's always a reason for this band. I think everyone will know what I'm talking about when they hear it--for the last few years, I've been playing with other bands and other people, and coming back to Clap Your Hands...something about the quality of the performance is hard to replicate in anything else, and it just sounds like a cohesive unit, always moving forward, against all odds (laughs).
My first memory of you guys--right after grad school, I moved to West Virginia to run a theater, and my boyfriend, who was still living in Princeton, decided to bridge the gap by sending mix cds back and forth. I've got this really clear memory of popping the first cd from him in and hearing The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth for the first time, in May 2006.
AO: Yeah? That feels like a long, long time ago. I think that that on this record...I think that that's a good example of this band...of everyone getting together and making a relatively simple idea stand up and exploring the nuances--I don't know if that's the exact way of putting it--we present each other with a simple idea and ride with it, and interesting things poke out. I think that's the nature of popular music, really. No one's Mozart or Beethoven out there, so what you have to do is embrace that ineffable quality of what makes it interesting, and get it to stand out.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah plays the XPONential Music Festival on Saturday, July 23, and keep your eyes peeled here for more Sounds of Summer interviews from Jersey Arts.