In 2005, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s self-financed debut album took off through online buzz alone (Pitchfork gave it a rare 9.0), and the Brooklyn-Philly quintet became musical heroes for a digital age. Then they released a second in 2007, but people weren’t so jazzed. Now, four years later, Clap Your Hands are back with a great third album - frontman Alec Ounsworth explains how they relit their fire.
Esquire: Alec, why such a long break?
Alec Ounsworth: We got to a point where we had to make a [third] record because people expected it, but our heads, and maybe our hearts, weren’t exactly in it. Our quick rise was good and bad: good because it was nice to know people cared, but bad because there wasn’t much of a gestation period.
ESQ: Did you talk about splitting up?
AO: No, we never talked directly about splitting up. We wanted to take some time off. We were never a “problem band”. Nobody was sleeping with anybody else’s girlfriend, or had to go to rehab, or get talked off a ledge.
ESQ: Your new album is called Hysterical. Is that hysterical “crazy” or hysterical “ha ha”?
AO: I would say the former above the latter. Some people, myself included, have a tendency
to be hard on themselves for things they can do nothing about and blow things way out of proportion so that life ends up taking on a face that is sort of hideous.
ESQ: Speaking of hideous faces, there’s also a track called “Ketamine and Ecstasy”. Care to explain?
AO: It’s a similar concept, but more to do with the idea that you can escape through self-medication.
ESQ: What brought on this contemplative mood?
AO: Probably living in the middle of nowhere. We’re just outside Philadelphia, and it’s not absolutely necessary to venture too far from my doorstep. A lot of what I do is right here.
ESQ: You’ll have to venture out for your forthcoming UK live shows. What can British audiences expect?
AO: Right now we’re playing it safe in the States, just so we have everything down before we start concentrating on the spectacle. But we’ll have something to offer beyond simply the songs. We’ll ride in on an elephant.
ESQ: Take That already did that.
AO: We’ll play the entire set on an elephant.
ESQ: OK, you win.
Hysterical by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is out today (V2 Records). For live dates see clapyourhandssayyeah.com