Within a short span of time, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (CYHSY) appeared to experience the entire life span of an indie buzz band: the unique, massively hyped debut (2005's "Clap Your Hands Say Yeah"); the "disappointing" follow-up (2007's "Some Loud Thunder"); and a hiatus marked by under-the-radar solo outings. But frontman Alec Ounsworth doesn't agree with that general narrative-particularly the dismissal of Thunder-and hopes that the newly re-formed band's self-released third outing, "Hysterical" (due Sept. 20), will change it for good.
"The second record definitely has a place with us. It's not some sort of write-off album," Ounsworth says. "It seems like a very natural progression to get to this record, even though it seems like a roundabout way."
When CYHSY arrived in 2005 with its self-released debut, the Brooklyn-based quintet-Robbie Guertin, Tyler Sargent, Lee Sargent, Sean Greenhalgh and Ounsworth (who lives in Philadelphia)-immediately made noise. The album's jangly guitars and cacophonous vocals earned raves from Pitchfork, NPR and Tiny Mix Tapes and eventually sold 160,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The band returned two years later with a higher profile and still no label backing. "Thunder" entered the Billboard 200 at No. 47, but received mixed reviews. According to Soundscan, Thunder has sold 62,000 units, and the band has been relatively quiet since its release.
"We were just not in the correct headspace to make a third album," says Ounsworth, who issued a solo album, Mo Beauty (Anti-), in 2009. "We were like, 'We're going to let it breathe for a second and come back and make a record that we honestly are passionate about making.'"
That moment finally arrived in late 2010, when the band reconvened and started basic tracking in Hoboken, N.J., before finishing overdubbing in Dallas with producer John Congleton (St. Vincent, the Walkmen). CYHSY wrapped "Hysterical" in the spring. The album recalls the pop-rock sunniness of the band's debut, and according to manager Nick Stern, that quality is more important than the still-unsigned band's promotional backing.
"The only reason the first record got big was because it was awesome," Stern says. "[Hysterical] will do well if people like it, no matter what the business model is."
Until then, the group is doing the little things to get the word out about the new set, which will be distributed by RED in the United States and Co-Op/V2 internationally. CYHSY posted two new tracks, "Same Mistake" and "Maniac," on its website (clapyourhandssayyeah.com) in June and July, and set up official Twitter (@cyhsyband) and Facebook pages earlier this year. A preorder campaign launched in August to give fans the chance to purchase "Hysterical" in deluxe LP form, with a silkscreen poster or an embroidered fleece jacket.
Most crucially, however, is the overhaul of the band's live show. "[We] tried to position the record in such a way that it can translate well live," Ounsworth says, adding that CYHSY boosted its preproduction efforts to ensure the new songs flowed seamlessly with its older material within the group's live set. According to Stern, CYHSY's next 18 months will focus on touring the album, with trips to Australia, Japan and Europe followed by a spring U.S. tour and festival dates.
"It's a weird position to be in, because we still have our fans from the first two records, but we can't be absolutely sure they all waited for us," Ounsworth says with a laugh. "We're going to have to wait and see... I don't doubt that they'll still be there for us when we come back around."