We spoke with Alec Ounsworth of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah about his new album The Tourist.
Your debut self-titled album was released in 2005. After nearly 12 years of writing and recording, you're still producing great records. What ways do you stay motivated to continue to write and how have your creative influences changed over time? Do the things that inspired Clap Your Hands Say Yeah still inspire you for The Tourist?
Sometimes I find it difficult to stay motivated but, in the end, I never really lose interest in trying to complete an album. I've been told it is the easiest way for me to communicate feelings I wouldn't otherwise . . . Yes, the same things that inspired Clap Your Hands Say Yeah have inspired me for The Tourist.
The band always puts several years between releases. Is this a testament to your level of patience in the songwriting process; taking time to perfect things or is it just the duration of creative rest you allot yourself? Is it more organic than that and records just come together when the content is there?
I think it has more to do with patience. I am rarely interested in the first idea. It becomes organic but only eventually.
That said, I do seem to do a lot more touring than I used to (and also now have six albums worth of material) so the length between albums might have something to do with that as well.
You're embarking on a huge tour in March to promote the new album. Do you have a passion for the road and how has time and age impacted your travels?
I do like to be on the road for a little while. I think it's necessary to drop in every so often. It gets trickier as we get older, especially if you're used to doing things independently. There is a little more to consider when you're on your own.
Last year you went out on a living room tour across the U.S. playing songs for people in a setting as intimate as it gets. You're also scheduling a European living room tour of the same nature. Is this a new concept for you? What are the challenges to adapting your songs to this kind of audience? What do you most look forward to for these types of tours?
I think I've been doing living room tours for 3 years or so now . . . There are challenges to adapting the songs live but I'm generally used to trying variations, and the challenge of making an idea stand up on a stripped down level is a good one to try from time to time. Beyond the challenge of rearranging songs, I think I most enjoy the directly interacting with the audience.
The new album, The Tourist is out 2/24 on Undertow Records. What types of things motivated your creative process to write this album? What are the themes of the record?
Actually, this one, like the first four, is independently released but Undertow (my management company) had a huge part in helping me get there. I'd rather not directly speak to the motivation but instead suggest that, if you listen attentively (or read the lyrics), it's fairly self-evident. I don't mean to be facetious here but I guess the album content is a bit too personal to explain away.
What's the recording and production process like for you? Is it something you do yourself or bring in help for? For The Tourist, how was production different than previous work? Do you have a formula you try to maintain or is each record totally unique in the recording realm?
It depends on the album but usually I look for help. On this, we used a total of five studios, two for basic tracking (drums, bass, maybe a guitar or two), and three for cleaning up and mixing. Most of the work was done in my project studio, with steady oversight from my engineer/co-producer, Nick Krill. This one hasn't been very different than the rest. It begins with me in my project studio trying to get the songs as far as I can, and then into "proper" studios to put down basic tracks, back to project studios(my own and Krill's) to add vocals, keyboards, guitars, percussion, etc., and then finally to Fridmann's for mixing. Actually, TW (mastering) would be the last piece of the puzzle, so 6 studios all told.
For your fifth release with CYHSY, do you feel any pressure to achieve any certain milestone or have expectations for success? What ways do you measure the success of a release?
I have no expectations and I never will. The measure of success is whether or not I can get to a place where I feel the album is finished. This is much more difficult than it might sound.