NPR Story
11:55 am
Tue June 3, 2014

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah Stays Independent

Originally published on Wed June 4, 2014 10:12 am

The Philadelphia-based indie rock band Clap Your Hands Say Yeah has been making music for about a decade and doing it outside the mainstream music business. At first, the band got a boost from music blogs and today it releases its music independently.

The creative force behind Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is Alec Ounsworth and he’s a big believer in staying close to his fans. He spent a few months recently doing “living room concerts” for groups of a few dozen people.

Now Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is on the road playing much bigger venues in support of its new album, “Only Run.”

“To me, albums are a documentation of what people are doing at a given time,” Ounsworth told Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson. “If people connect with it, good, but it’s something that you firmly believe in and you’re passionate about, so it should come off to those people who want it.”

“I’m not looking to sell out Madison Square Garden or anything like that.”

In the nine years since releasing its first album, Ounsworth says the band and its philosophy hasn’t changed much — the priority has always been caring more about creating the music they want to make over being rich and famous.

“In a way, we went through a lot of what, apparently, we needed to go through,” he said. “We played a lot of big festivals, big shows. It is a different world. I’m trying to adapt to how everything’s changed in the music industry. But what I remember about starting was, I started in a very naive and innocent way. I started based on having a passion and not really caring what people thought. I mean, it was a statement that I needed to make at that particular time. And after going through all these changes and going through the second — you know, the scary second, and the third record, and coming back to the fourth, it seems like I’ve taken that position that I had when I began, that, you know, independence is key, is the key element, and hard work will pay off insofar as it connects me with the that people I need to connect to. I’m not looking to sell out Madison Square Garden or anything like that. I’m just looking for the true believers, as it were.”

Songs in this segment

All songs written by Alec Ounsworth and performed by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

  • “Little Moments”
  • “Clap Your Hands”
  • “As Always”
  • “Coming Down”
  • “Only Run”
  • “Impossible Request”

Guest

  • Alec Ounsworth, singer, songwriter, guitarist and frontman of indie rock band Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.
Copyright 2014 WBUR-FM. To see more, visit http://www.wbur.org.

Transcript

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

The band Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is out with a new album, it's first in three years. It is called "Only Run." This is the song "Little Moments."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LITTLE MOMENTS")

HOBSON: The creative force behind Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is Alec Ounsworth. He's with us from Washington to talk about his music. Alec, welcome.

ALEC OUNSWORTH: Thanks for having me.

HOBSON: Well, you've been making music with this band for about a decade. I want to go back to the first CD you released before we talk about the new one. Here is the song "Clap Your Hands" from back in 2005.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CLAP YOUR HANDS")

HOBSON: I remember hearing this back in 2005, and it was such a different sound. Now, the band today, though, is actually a very different band than it was back then.

OUNSWORTH: Yeah. Yeah, things have changed, you know, as they do. That track is a strange one. I haven't heard it for a while for one thing, for one thing. But for another thing, you know, it was me trying to piece together, based on certain precedents, what I considered a complete album.

And the beginning, that probably come from Tom Waits. The idea of - maybe I was listening to a lot of Black Rider or something like that at the time that I just sort of cobbled some things together, and - I don't know. But yeah, in any case, the band has changed and will continue to change, I'm sure.

HOBSON: There was also a real sense of humor to that song, though.

OUNSWORTH: Yeah, I think so. I mean, I try to not take things too seriously if I can.

HOBSON: Well, let's take a listen to a little bit from the new album. The first song on the CD is called "As Always." Here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AS ALWAYS")

HOBSON: Alec, how is Clap Your Hands Say Yeah different in 2014 than it was in 2005? And what are you trying to do with this one?

OUNSWORTH: Strangely enough, I don't think of it as too much different. In a way, we went through a lot of what apparently we needed to go through. We played a lot of big festivals, big shows. It is a different world. I'm trying to adapt to how everything's changed in the music industry.

What I remember about starting was I started in a very naive and innocent way. I started based on having a passion and not really caring what people thought. I mean, it was a statement that I needed to make at that particular time. And after going through all of these changes in the second, you know, the scary second and the third record and coming back to the fourth, it seems like I've taken this position that I've - that I had when I began that, you know, independence is key, is the key element and hard work will pay off.

And so far it connects me with the people that I need to connect to. I'm not looking to sell out Madison Square Garden or anything like that. I'm just looking for the true, true believers as it were.

HOBSON: Well, explain that because you've been doing these living room concerts even.

OUNSWORTH: Yeah. And that's been - that's been great. I wish I had done that years ago. Yeah, I've been going to people's houses. I've been connecting with them face to face and talking to them after the show and before. And it just made things a lot more enjoyable for me.

Sometimes the impersonal atmosphere at a regular club show is just - I don't know - overwhelming for me after a while. I find that connection with the audience a lot more understandable.

HOBSON: You have had some help on a couple of the songs on this album. Kid Koala collaborates with you on the song "Cover Up." And then one of the singers from The National sings with you on "Coming Down." Let's take a listen to that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COMING DOWN")

HOBSON: What was it like to collaborate with these other artists?

OUNSWORTH: Oh, it's great. I mean, these are friends of mine. I've done some collaborations in the past with guys from The Walkman and Doctor Dog and just, you know, people who happen - and I did a record in New Orleans with people who happen to be available.

And it was the same in this case. I kind of thought Matt might work on this particular song. And, you know, he was - he was up for it.

HOBSON: Let's listen to the title song. This is "Only Run."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ONLY RUN")

HOBSON: Alec, what is this song about?

OUNSWORTH: A lot of these songs are essentially me trying to consider what it is to be doing what I'm doing after 10 years of this. That's one of them. And, I mean, I try to again - you know, I mentioned earlier that I try not to take things too seriously. But I think - let's see. I'm trying to get around to what exactly this is about.

HOBSON: What do you mean by consider what you're doing after 10 years of this? Are you still enjoying yourself?

OUNSWORTH: Yeah, from time to time.

(LAUGHTER)

HOBSON: What did you set out to do?

OUNSWORTH: What did I set out to do with this project or just in life in general...

HOBSON: In general.

OUNSWORTH: (Laughing).

HOBSON: ...When you started this?

OUNSWORTH: When I was 10 years old...

HOBSON: (Laughing).

OUNSWORTH: ...I wanted to be an astronaut. When I started this, I wanted to do exactly what I'm doing now, which is simply to present certain material that I believed in for people who might think along the same lines. You know, that's the people that I looked up to when I was a kid, like Lou Reed or Nick Cave or people like that, they had a certain connection with me that a lot of other people - maybe because I romanticize it to such a degree - but it seemed a lot stronger than even the people that I was directly connected to at the time. So yeah, it's something to sort of help people.

HOBSON: Is it to get a message to them or to give them something to - that they can enjoy?

OUNSWORTH: Yeah, I mean, I don't think that deeply about it. I don't, you know, write some abstract every time I set out to do an album. To me, albums are a documentation of what people are doing at a given time. And really that's all it comes down to.

And if people connect with it, good. But it's something that you firmly believe in and you're passionate about. So it should come off, you know, to those people who want it.

HOBSON: That's Alec Ounsworth. His band Clap Your Hands Say Yeah has a new CD, which we've been listening to. It is called "Only Run." The band is also on tour. We've got information about that at hereandnow.org. Although maybe it includes somebody's living room. You never know. Alec, thanks so much for joining us.

OUNSWORTH: (Laughing) Yeah. Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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