”Folk Hero Shtick,” an especially trippy track on psych-rock trio Yeasayer’s third album, “Fragrant World,” was written about an “annoying rock star” who was completely out of touch with reality, according to the band’s Anand Wilder. “The emperor’s standing naked/How much longer can he fake it?,” seethes vocalist/keyboardist Chris Keating on the track, as a sinister guitar line twists around his words.
Although Wilder is staying mum about the identity of the song’s inspiration, he recognizes the irony of calling out rock poseurs at a time when his act, Yeasayer, is delivering burgeoning festival audiences, robust sales and an ambitious digital rollout plan for its latest release.
“When you’re playing music in front of thousands of people, it’s easy to allow your ego to get inflated,” Wilder admits. “The idea is to keep the ego at the same level as when you put out your first album, and keep the quality the same, too.”
“Fragrant World, out Aug. 21 on Secretly Canadian, finds Wilder, Keating and bandmate Ira Wolf Tuton retreating into the weirder, murkier edges of the act’s 2010 sophomore album, Odd Blood. That album sported cracked song structures with technicolor melodies on tracks like “Ambling Alp” and “O.N.E.”
After its 2007 debut, “All Hour Cymbals,” moved 55,000 units, according to Nielsen SoundScan, “Odd Blood” — the band’s first effort for Secretly Canadian — sold 80,000 copies and was supported with an international tour, featuring stops at Coachella, Primavera Sound and Lollapalooza. As the band became road veterans, word-of-mouth bolstered the so-called “freak-folk” act as it flashed hooks that would also work on top 40.
As crowds kept growing, Yeasayer tried to maintain a firm grip on the dynamic that made it a critical darling five years ago. For “Fragrant World,” which Yeasayer self-produced, the band brought in a few outside helpers for contributions: multi-instrumentalist Kishi Bashi played strings on “Longevity,” while Nomo’s Elliot Bergman stopped by to play kalimba on “Devil and the Deed.”
Illicit substances also admittedly affected “Fragrant World.” “I’m always a pretty strong advocate of doing drugs and alcohol during the creative process,” Wilder says. “A lot of epiphany moments come when you’re like, ‘Let’s try to spin the knobs on this Super Shifter while we’re stoned!'”
Emerging from the haze and synth twiddling of its studio sessions last fall, Yeasayer mixed “Fragrant World” in various Brooklyn studios at the top of 2012 before letting Dan Carey (Bat for Lashes, Chairlift) do touch-ups in London last February. When the trio returned to the States, Yeasayer began rehearsing for a headlining tour that kicked off June 19 in Richmond, Va., and headed to Europe on July 4.
With months of promotion ahead of its highly anticipated new release, Yeasayer stayed as kooky as ever. Five days before the tour began, the band released a twisted visual for the track “Henrietta” that the act described as a “vignette to take drugs to” on YouTube. The panoramic collection of colors, along with the vignette for official single “Longevity” that followed one week later, introduced an offbeat digital rollout for Fragrant World that continued with an online “scavenger hunt” for fans around the world on Aug. 1. To counteract the inevitable leak of the new album, Secretly Canadian hid URLs to links of nine more video vignettes on different websites worldwide, then offered clues to fans to the locations.
Once all of the links are found, the album’s full 11-song track list will be available online for 48-72 hours before the links are shut down. “It’s just a fun way to engage different markets and create visual components for the songs,” says Secretly Canadian co-founder Ben Swanson, adding that an official “Longevity” video will be released in the coming weeks while the song grows at triple A, specialty commercial and college radio.
Yeasayer also embarked on a U.S.-into-Europe trek on July 31 with a live setup constructed with the help of the Creators Project, an arts/technology initiative that helped concoct visuals for its last live campaign. With the group now accustomed to world travel, Yeasayer is scheduled to play its first-ever show at sea when it sets sail on the inaugural Coachella cruise, which will sail from Florida to the Bahamas beginning Dec. 16 and then from Florida to Jamaica starting Dec. 19.
For Wilder — who hopes to bring his new wife and baby along on the Solstice-class ship — a stateroom on the S.S. Coachella will be a nice change of pace after months on the road behind Fragrant World likely to leave the band a little, um, less than fragrant. “A lot of people think it’s unattractive to do a cruise if you’re a band, but they don’t realize that most of the time we’re living on a bus,” Wilder says with a laugh.