Yellow Ostrich

Event Off Sale: Tickets no longer available

SHARK PRODUCTIONS presents

Yellow Ostrich

Strand Of Oaks

Tue, November 6, 2012

Doors: 8:00 pm / Show: 9:00 pm (event ends at 11:59 pm)

Zanzabar

Louisville, KY

$6.00 - $8.00

Off Sale

This event is 21 and over

Yellow Ostrich
Yellow Ostrich
"At some point you wonder if maybe the grass is greener, and then you go somewhere else and you realize it's not that much greener - so what do you hope for now?" so says Yellow Ostrich's singer-guitarist Alex Schaaf, summing up the themes of his band's powerful new album, Strange Land.

Schaaf knows what he's talking about - he moved to New York from Wisconsin in 2010, got a bunch of acclaim for the Yellow Ostrich album The Mistress, signed to Barsuk and toured the U.S. several times with his hot new band: multi-instrumentalist Jon Natchez and drummer Michael Tapper. Still, wherever you go, there you are, and that's what Strange Land is all about.

"The Mistress was a guy in a bedroom," says Schaaf. "Strange Land is a band. In a slightly bigger room." They recorded most of the tracks in six days in a little studio outside of Woodstock, New York, and self-produced with engineer Beau Sorenson (Death Cab for Cutie, Sparklehorse). So while The Mistress used a purposely limited palette of sounds, Strange Land has a dramatically expanded one: Tapper's inventive, downright catchy drumming provides a polyrhythmic foundation for many of the songs while Natchez plays no less than eleven different kinds of horns on the album, lending an almost symphonic air, while his nimble bass playing helps propel the music in its exciting new direction.

Strange Land retains Schaaf's sweet, boyish voice and bracingly open-hearted songwriting, but adds a hard-won urban edge: brawny bass and busy, prominent drums, triumphal horns, and plenty of raw, overdriven guitar. As the album transitions from wistful but supercharged pop to new musical realms, it's as if you're hearing the transition the band itself made, from self-contained solo unit to a collaborative trio of outstanding musicians. Schaaf has a degree in music, and there's plenty of his gorgeous stacked harmonies here, but this time Natchez's horns occasionally take on that role, and it's all animated by Tapper's hip-shaking syncopations.

The opener, "Elephant King," is "my current self talking to my past self," says Schaaf. "I've achieved some goal but there are still so many important things to find. It's a song about struggle."

"'Marathon Runner' is about the constant need to figure out what you are and what you want to be," says Schaaf. There's "Daughter," with its exhilarating final rush of horns, roaring guitar and thundering drums, but then there are riveting quiet moments, like the haunting and powerful ballad "I Got No Time for You," "Wear Suits," or the naked candor of "I Want Yr Love," mostly just drums, percussion and voice. And sometimes they'll just blam out a rocker with the swing and chug of "Stay at Home" or "The Shakedown," with Schaaf cranking out some wonderfully hairy guitar on the latter.

The lyrics were written as straightforwardly as the music was recorded. "They're a lot more open and personal," Schaaf says. "I didn't usually go for the big metaphor, I just said it. I got a bit of a thrill from being more open and direct, and from putting myself out there a bit more. Being unafraid of darker areas and yet trying to not make it totally depressing."
Previously, Schaaf had reveled in artistic constraints, like recording The Mistress virtually by himself, or recording an EP using only voice and drum machine (Fade Cave), or taking lyrics exclusively from a movie star's Wikipedia entry (The Morgan Freeman EP). This time he went in the opposite direction, enlisting some very gifted bandmates to help take the music in directions he never could have anticipated.

Tapper actually saw Yellow Ostrich's first show, at Schaaf's college in Wisconsin, opening for Tapper's old band. A few months later, both of them happened to move to New York City, and in October 2010 Schaaf invited Tapper to join forces. They played as a duo for another few months before inducting the talented and supremely versatile Natchez, who's played with Beirut, the Antlers, and Camera Obscura, among countless others. "When Jon joined, that's when it really felt like a band," says Tapper. "It's more than just the fact that he plays horns sometimes - he adds some things that can be quantified and some that are intangible, but it all makes playing the songs feel really natural."

Yellow Ostrich did several US tours in 2011, opening for bands like the Antlers and Ra Ra Riot. It was a pivotal experience. "I found myself tending to want to flex a little bit, get bigger, so people wouldn't talk over our whole set," Tapper says. That - and the heavy airplay the Velvet Underground, Wire, and Crazy Horse-era Neil Young got in the tour van - had a big impact on the new music they made, with its dramatic dynamic shifts and listen-to-me-now passion. "We took the energy from those performances," says Natchez, "and allowed the live experience to direct the recording, as opposed to vice versa."

It took that kind of power and urgency to unleash the emotional core of the songs on Strange Land. "They're about all those pent-up feelings of anticipation you carry throughout your life," says Schaaf, "and what happens to those feelings when imagination becomes reality, and you see things maybe quite aren't as magical and easy as you thought they'd be. When your future becomes your present, an explosion happens; that's where a lot of this came from."
Strand Of Oaks
Strand Of Oaks
From the first bars of HEAL, the exhilarating melodic stomp of ‘Goshen ‘97’ puts you right into Tim Showalter’s fervent teenage mindset. We find him in his family’s basement den in Goshen, Indiana, feeling alienated but even at 15 years old, believing in the alchemy and power of music to heal your troubles. “The record is called HEAL, but it’s not a soft, gentle healing, it’s like scream therapy, a command, because I ripped out my subconscious, looked through it, and saw the worst parts. And that’s how I got better.” HEAL embodies that feeling of catharsis and rebirth, desperation and euphoria, confusion and clarity. It is deeply personal and unwittingly anthemic.

Showalter was on tour, walking back to his hotel on a mild autumn night in Malmo, Sweden, when he first felt the weight of the personal crisis that would ignite him to write HEAL. “It was a culmination of pressure,” Showalter recalls. “My marriage was suffering, I’d released a record I was disappointed in, I didn’t like how I looked or acted…so I’d gone on tour, I was gone about two years! I didn’t take time to think about failure, but I knew I was going deeper and deeper…I was thinking, I have this life, but it’s not my life, I haven’t done it right…”

When Showalter returned, he wrote 30 songs in three weeks, a process that proved difficult, but cathartic and at times even invigorating. Previous Strand Of Oaks records were more skeletal, raw examples of folk-rooted Americana with occasional rock and electronic currents, that have now come to the fore. HEAL’s sound is a bold new beginning, a thrilling full-tilt sound that draws on Showalter’s love of ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s rock and pop, with the singer and guitarist playing the intense valedictory confessor. “It’s sad but it sounds like a celebration, like I’m crying and laughing and sticking both middle fingers in the air all at the same time.”

Crucial to HEAL’s scaling-the-walls of sound was the man who Showalter chose to mix the record, the stellar alt-rock icon John Congleton. Showalter also re-connected with Ben Vehorn, synth expert and studio engineer extraordinaire, and Verhorn’s drummer pal Steve Clements who provides HEAL’s thunderous, sinewy drive. Songs such as ‘Shut In’, ‘Plymouth’ and ‘Woke Up To The Light’ have a classic construction and mood, recalling ‘70s power-pop/ballads and the melodic, yearning ache of Big Star’s late, great Chris Bell. Many of the songs on HEAL reveal an electronic undercarriage and towering drums that push the album’s wired dynamic to its stretching point, especially on ‘For Me’, which expertly bridges the album’s twin decades of influences. And if ‘Goshen ‘97’ recalls the molten energy of Dinosaur Jr, that actually is J Mascis on lead guitar.

Title track ‘Heal’ climaxes with Showalter’s fabulously brazen guitar solo, electronically tweaked for maximum impact. Despite the initials, the album’s smouldering seven-minute epic ‘JM’ is not a Mascis tribute, but to the late Jason Molina, about having his music as comfort no matter how bad things get.

Which brings us to another crisis, this time much more serious and immediate. HEAL was scheduled for mixing on December 26, 2013. Driving on the freeway on Christmas Day, Showalter and his wife hit a patch of black ice and crashed their car head on into a semi-truck, and were very fortunate to walk away with their lives. Showalter suffered a, “pretty severe,” head trauma, “which affected me much more than I realized at the time.” Fearing delays, Showalter didn’t let Congelton know about it, so the mixing session went ahead. “Being on the verge of death, and my thoughts being so closely tied to that, changed the album’s direction,” Showalter claims. “Together, we pushed it toward a much more cathartic sound that forces the listener to where I was at that exact moment, somewhere between almost dying and being absolutely fearless.”

HEAL is not just a saviour for its creator, but for anyone who needs reminding of music’s ability to heal, or just thrill. Showalter is taking out a full band to play, and finally, the kid who wanted to be a rock star at 21 might get his chance. Finally, he and Strand Of Oaks have much to celebrate.
Venue Information:
Zanzabar
2100 South Preston Street
Louisville, KY, 40217
http://www.zanzabarlouisville.com/