Indie music has more or less gone mainstream in the seven years since Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (CYHSY) released their first album. The record, a self-titled and essentially homemade — if not an accidental and truly “indie” affair — saw the Brooklyn-based band move from unknowns to road warriors thanks to the wonders of the interweb. The members of the five-piece, a supersonically dense, emotive, and often pop-flavored group, many of whom were college buddies at the party-friendly and formerly women-only Connecticut College, were making CDs in their living room when the world found them back in 2005, with bloggers and then-emerging Internet hit-maker Pitchfork championing them all the way to world tours and widespread critical acclaim, and highly publicized folk like David Byrne and David Bowie singing their praises. As lead singer Alec Ounsworth said recently about those halcyon early days: “We didn’t really know we were making a record when we were making it. … And then, yeah, pretty soon, we were going on tour.”
Indeed, a case could certainly be made that CYHSY was perhaps the first band to so effectively use the web, rather than an actual record label, to achieve such a sweeping — and seemingly overnight — success. Ounsworth himself, a serious and well-spoken sort of cat, admitted last week from his personal headquarters in Philadelphia that he and his bandmates “probably wouldn’t” have been able to get where they are today without the power of the Internet. “Certainly, it would have taken much longer at the very least,” he surmised.
A somewhat disappointing second album (Some Loud Thunder), a rumored “hiatus,” and various solo projects for the band members all followed before last fall’s resurrecting and beautiful third effort, Hysterical, was released. With a sound that comes off cleaner and more mature but just as layered, powerful, urgent, and dance-floor appropriate as the best parts of CYHSY’s earlier efforts, Hysterical is delicious evidence that Ounsworth, Robbie Guertin (guitars, keyboards), Sean Greenhalgh (drums, percussion), and twin brothers Tyler (bass) and Lee (keyboards, guitars) Sargent are anything but finished making music that matters.
“Obviously, at the moment, [CYHSY] is the primary focus for everyone, but there is always a bit of flexibility. From the beginning, anybody in the band has always been welcome to explore any project outside the band, provided we don’t have a tour or something,” said Ounsworth with a laugh. And, well, for a bunch of guys who got college degrees from a liberal arts school, I guess such open-mindedness is just par for the course.
As for Hysterical, Ounsworth, who balks at calling the album an evolution for the band but rather considers it a “variation” on the same theme that has been behind all of their efforts, is excited to share it on the soon-to-kick-off West Coast leg of their late-spring tour. “We are going to be playing a lot of the new stuff and, of course, plenty from the first album, too. It’s great because you can slap any of the new songs in between our older material, and they really fit well together,” he said. “I’m looking forward to getting out there and maybe playing for some people who haven’t been able to see us before.”
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah plays SOhO Restaurant & Music Club (1221 State St.) on Monday, May 21, at 8 p.m. with openers The Darcys. For tickets and information, call (805) 962-7776 or visit clubmercy.com.