Clap Your Hands Say Yeah are currently on tour to promote their new album, Some Loud Thunder. Frontman Alec Ounsworth took some time out of his busy schedule to chat with Daze.
Daze: Who came up with your name, and where did he get it?
Alec Ounsworth: Um, I don’t know I think it was divine intervention.
Daze: That’s it?
A.O.: [chuckles] I think I remember reading something when I was taking Chinese history. Do you know what trepanation is?
Daze: I am not familiar.
A.O.: They drill into the back of someone’s head to relieve pressure.
A.O.: And there are readings made, by virtue of just, ritual. I don’t recall exactly. But we had to do that. It was trepanation. And the reading was made by virtue of the bone structure. “Clap your hands say yeah” came from those readings.
Daze: It’s also been said that the band was conceived in the belly of a great whale. What exactly does this mean?
A.O.: It was exactly that: a literal interpretation of the great whale story is the best one.
Daze: Okay … Where did you guys meet and become Clap Your Hands Say Yeah?
A.O.: Actually, our bands name was written on a wall somewhere — I’ll tell ya straight. The great whale, though, is true.
Daze: Okay. So where did you guys meet. In the great whale? Or at Connecticut College?
A.O.: Yeah! Well, there was nothing else to do … in the belly … of the great whale.
Daze: Okay. Are Tyler and Lee identical?
A.O.: Sure, yeah.
Daze: Is it hard to tell them apart?
A.O.: No …
Daze: Not anymore?
A.O.: Tyler sneezes quite a bit. He has tremendous allergies and I keep telling him, “You have to go to an allergist!” and he just never does.
Daze: What did you guys study at Connecticut College?
A.O.: I don’t know. Um, I don’t know what everybody studied. I know that I studied medical anthropology. I don’t know what everybody else did. Underwater basket-weaving.
Daze: What would you say has evolved in your sound for Some Loud Thunder and what remains constant about Clap Your Hands Say Yeah?
A.O.: Well, I don’t think there’s any evolution. I like to call it a creative mutation. And what remains constant is the fact that the same people are playing on the album, I suppose.
Daze: How exactly would you describe the Clap Your Hands Say Yeah sound?
Daze: Bubbly … How do you guys collaborate and work together when you live in Philadelphia and the rest of the band lives elsewhere?
A.O.: Live feed.
Daze: Live feed?
Daze: How collaborative is the writing process for you guys?
A.O.: Uhh … um … somewhat? I dunno, I mean, like uhh … yeah. Somewhat collaborative? Collaborative. Enough, I guess. Collaborative enough. Question mark. [chuckles.]
Daze: What was your reaction when Ringo Starr plugged your eponymous album on his website?
A.O.: Well, we called him right up to see if he would play drums. No, I mean, I dunno, that’s like … all I need to know is that my mom actually likes it. So it doesn’t matter, really. But you know, just as grateful as anything else, I guess.
Daze: Sean’s played in a Guns ’N Roses tribute band. Since the influence of this particular group is not immediately obvious on your albums, could you tell me if you think there is any and if so, where it is?
A.O.: Oh the Guns ‘N Roses thing?
A.O.: Well, if you’ll notice, when Sean plays the drums, you can’t really tell; it’s like a ventriloquist with a dummy. When he’s playing drums, he’s singing beneath his breath. He’s not usually mic’ed. We put a mic up there, but we turn it off, because we just want — he thinks that he’s singing, but he’s not. He’s singing in the Axl Rose voice, all of the lyrics, underneath his breath. It’s really disconcerting. Once we had the microphone kept on, and it’s really disconcerting because it gets … you know his voice? Axl Rose’s voice, right?
A.O.: It just took over. It changed the sound absolutely, for better or worse.
Daze: So … does each song that you guys play really have the same beat as an individual Guns ‘N Roses song, then?
A.O.: [Laughs] They play songs in 4-4, and we do too, so, yeah.
Daze: Who would you say is a big influence on your sound and your tastes? Your mom?
A.O.: My mom is a big one. The teachers that I had in school, those are all the biggest influences.
Daze: Specific subjects or just whoever?
A.O.: Spanish, senior year Spanish class, particularly.
Daze: What’s on your mind right now?
A.O.: I was thinking about getting another cup of coffee.
Daze: That’s exactly what I was thinking, too.
A.O.: Oh really, that you’re going to get another cup of coffee?
Daze: Yup, we’re on the same page, then.
A.O.: [Laughs] Are you at a café?
Daze: I am not, but I just came from one and I’m en route to another.
A.O.: Whoa. Are you a Cornell University student?
Daze: I am.
A.O.: Oh you are? What year?
Daze: I am a sophomore.
A.O.: What are you studying? Journalism?
Daze: Actually, they don’t have a journalism major here.
A.O.: Oh they don’t?
A.O.: I visited Cornell. I remember it was — everyone told me how desolate it was. And it … it was. [Laughs.] But, uh, I liked it because there was a certain amount of conviction that the students supposedly had.
Daze: Academic conviction or … ?
A.O.: Academic conviction. Like apparently the students who go there go there to work, and work hard. Am I right? That’s the reputation and I believe that it’s true. What are you studying?
Daze: My major is American studies.
A.O.: Oh okay, alright.
Daze: Mostly that is going to hopefully be studying rock ‘n roll.
A.O.: Oh really? Studying rock ’n roll journalism?
Daze: Hopefully in the future I can have this be a jumping off point to that, but who knows.
A.O.: Yeah that’s cool.
Daze: Why did you guys make the decision to release the first album independently?
A.O.: I think we just had to, because I didn’t have a record label. The idea was, truthfully, to make an album. And we did. The time at which we released the album, we just didn’t have a record label. So basically all it consisted of was telling people we had something that we were interested in letting other people know about.
Daze: Why did you guys decide to do it again for the second album?
A.O.: It had occurred to us that we didn’t need a label after that.
Daze: How does it feel that your second album cracked the Billboard top 100 albums when it was released, after having independently released it and the debut?
A.O.: It feels like anything. Like when people tell you, “Do you feel older?” when your birthday comes around and you say, “Well I don’t really know, but I guess if I’m supposed to, sure.” [laughs.]
Daze: What are you listening to lately?
A.O.: Lately I’ve been listening to Mea Kaufman quite a bit and I’ve been listening to Gilberto Gil, the Frevo Rasgado album. Let’s see, what else…I’ve been listening to the Microphones album, The Glow Pt. 2. And I’ve been listening to quite a bit, actually after the fact interestingly enough since we worked with them on the second album, to Clouds Taste Metallic by the Flaming Lips. Those are the ones I can think of off the top of my head.
Daze: What would surprise people to know about Clap Your Hands Say Yeah?
A.O.: That we’re not all related.
Daze: And what’s up next for Clap Your Hands Say Yeah besides your cup of coffee?
A.O.: We’re going on tour; on April 10, we begin. Otherwise, I’m working on a children’s album.
Daze: Interesting, what was your inspiration for that?
A.O.: Well not long ago, I used to get sick quite a bit. I had a high temperature, and I often went to my mom’s house to shoot the shit, and she had a piano. I sat down at the piano and I had this fever, and I didn’t mean to start working on children’s songs, but it took on that quality. Nothing really spurred it on directly; it just happened.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah will be playing in Buffalo on Sunday. Their album Some Loud Thunder is available on iTunes, Amazon.com and in many music outlets. Visit www.clapyourhandssayyeah.com for more information.