Clap Your Hands Say Yeah remain one of indie rock’s most truly independent bands


:: Clap Your Hands, Say Yeah :: Gothic Theatre :: October 6 ::
:: Boulder Theater :: October 7 :: 

By Don Bartlett

In the brave new world of modern music, days are the new months. New bands burn through their life cycle in a fraction of the time of eras past, creating a strange and chiefly disingenuous climate in which bands can rise to prominence and peak before even releasing an album. Perhaps no band understands this new era more than Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, one of the most hyped bands of recent years which is already experiencing a backlash — even without a record label pushing their product.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s self-titled, self-released debut dropped in late summer 2005 and spread like wildfire throughout the indie community on the strength of its catchy and refreshingly endearing sound. By the time of New York City’s CMJ Music Marathon in early October, 2005, they had been anointed the second coming of Christ long enough that the trend-monkeys were already scoffing at the notion of seeing such a “mainstream” band. This sort of cred-sniping has been around as long as music itself, but could a band really be born and eaten by their young in just 60 days time?

As it happened, the burgeoning hipster backlash at CMJ didn’t have legs. At show time there were not one, but two enormous lines spewing out of New York’s Mercury Lounge in opposite directions down the block. They didn’t exactly blow the doors off in a live setting that night, but the record remained one of the freshest sounding debuts in years, and fans and critics alike were crowding onto the bandwagon.

Their quirky brand of pop draws endless comparisons to The Talking Heads that are hard to argue with, but the album is much too direct and melodic to take that comparison quite literally. Alec Ounsworth’s vocals display a brash, almost nasal tone that you’d despise if it didn’t sound so goddamn good. It was clear very quickly that Clap Your Hands Say Yeah had a winner on their hands, and the music industry knew it. Suddenly a band that was still making trips to the post office to ship their CDs was being courted by the industry’s biggest names.

With a deep confidence in their record and perhaps a touch of innocent naiveté, Ounsworth and his bandmates politely declined the offers and stuck to the DIY path that had gotten them this far. In a move that may well turn out to be the blueprint for future generations, the band signed directly with a major distribution company, functionally breaking the last stranglehold of major labels.

“I don’t think the idea was fully formed at the time,” Ounsworth said in a recent interview with The Marquee. “I did have a vague position that I may want to approach things in a particular way, but was idealistic — kind of a fantasy. It was fueled by an idea of maintaining a certain degree of independence. I think that I was lucky enough that one thing led to another.”

“We recorded the album and released the album as something that you can either take it or leave it, and that’s the way it should be. That’s really the bottom line. I mean, what are we talking about when we’re talking music, when we’re talking about an album? We’re talking about what intrigues us on a level that has nothing to do with anything but the album itself. We didn’t give it up to people and what they think. And that’s all there is to it. It was important to do that,” said Ounsworth.

Now, the band has recently wrapped up the recording of their second album, a project that Ounsworth is very tight-lipped about. “You’re going to have to wait and see,” he said. There’s around 11 different songs that we recorded in Casadega, N.Y., and that’s really all I can tell you,” he said.

From the beginning, CYHSY believed in their music and felt that once they signed, that it would no longer be completely theirs.

“There’s a lot to be said for security for certain people. But as far as I’m concerned, it’s much more interesting and exciting to not know what could happen,” said Ounsworth. “I mean sure, yeah, there were some offers that kind of suggested that we needed that. Then you think, ‘Wait, what does that mean, exactly?’ You’re set on that level, but are you really set? As far as I’m concerned success means actually living from moment to moment, working from moment to moment, not looking down the line and saying ‘I’m set for x amount of years’.”

In the end, Ounsworth may end up being indie rock’s own little version of Oprah. Now, I’m none too pleased to be writing about the woman who brought us legions of squealing sycophants intoxicated with pashminas and Dr. Phil, but she taught everyone a thing or two about having the balls to turn down the early payday. Goddamn, I’m even more uncomfortable talking about Oprah’s balls, but I think you get the point. If Ounsworth keeps writing songs like these, he’ll be “set for x amount of years” and then some, and he’ll do it because he had the confidence and determination to create his music the way he wanted it — within his own brave new world.


:: Clap Your Hands, Say Yeah ::

:: Gothic Theatre :: October 6 ::

:: Boulder Theater :: October 7 ::


Spectate if you Gravitate:

• The Talking Heads

• Wolf Parade

• Arctic Monkeys


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