B&E: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

Breaking & Entering: A look at acts breaking at radio and retail and entering Billboard charts. This week: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.

Profiling acts breaking at radio and/or retail and entering Billboard's charts.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah has achieved what every unsigned band dreams of: out-of-the-box recognition. Through word-of-mouth, the Brooklyn-based quintet has been selling out shows around New York, and its popularity is quickly spreading across the country with the help of its self-released debut album.

Last week the self-titled release entered Billboard's Top Heatseekers chart at No. 34, after selling 4,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Although 11% of that total was sold in New York, Clap Your Hands have proved to be more than just hometown heroes with 9% of album sales coming from Seattle.

The group -- comprised of vocalist Alec Ounsworth, bassist Tyler Sargent, drummer Sean Greenhalgh and guitarists/keyboardists Robbie Guertin and Lee Sargent -- melds Violent Femmes-like vocals with a Talking Heads vibe.

"Whatever pops in is what comes out," says Ounsworth of the band's sound, adding that "listening to the sound of a car horn or water filling a tub" is just as influential to him as personal experiences and musical influences. "I recall a melody popping into my head on a subway platform based upon the subway train braking in the station."

The album's success has been relatively unexpected for the band, whose Web site has recently been inundated with CD and T-shirt requests. But how did the virtually unknown act create such a buzz?

"I think that [several factors] contributed to a certain degree," Ounsworth says. "I can't say for sure which was most effective but I suppose that live shows served as a sort of jumping off point. That is to say that without continuously playing live shows there would have been no word-of-mouth, [and] promotion would have been somewhat irrelevant.

"I hadn't the foggiest whether the album might or might not take," he continues. "I suppose I thought it might [because] certain things happened which indicated that people were interested. The shows were getting to be better attended, for example, [and] friends whose opinions I respect [told] me that they liked the album and that no one song stood out as better than another."

According to Ounsworth, "many" record labels -— "big ones, medium-sized ones, small ones" —- have approached Clap Your Hands Say Yeah with offers. So now it's just a matter of time and a question of which one will be the right fit for such an unconventional band.

"I'm not particularly interested in one [type of label] more than another," he notes. "I view labels as a kind of vehicle, and that's all. If one is able to provide support in an honest fashion, by which the music will remain primary, I will not hesitate to work with them."

Ounsworth says that aside from hopefully working with producer Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips, Modest Mouse, Sleater-Kinney) in the future, "it has been a fantasy of mine... to work with Todd Rundgren, George Clinton or Brian Eno." But he quickly adds that he "won't be heartbroken" if all that doesn't pan out.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah will be on tour this fall with the National.

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