We sat down for a quick interview a while back with the Brooklyn-based band Yellow Ostrich (@yellowostrich) at the Austin City Limits festival to talk about being signed to a label, how they translate their unique recordings to a live setting and, of course, Radiohead. Alex Schaaf, Michael Tapper and Jon Natchez also hung out with The Wild Honey Pie recently for a Buzzsession, which will be premiering soon.
The Wild Honey Pie: Have you been at the festival long, have you been able to see much?
Alex Schaaf: We got here yesterday- and saw the bands that were playing then.
TWHP: Is there anything you are looking forward to seeing today or tomorrow?
Jon Natchez: We really want to see Stevie Wonder, but we can’t stay that long cause we have to play a show tonight.
TWHP: You guys have some really interesting and wildly complicated vocal looping and looping in general. Is it hard to translate that to a live setting?
AS: I mean, the way we do it- you know we use vocal loopers on stage—so we can get pretty close if we want to, to how it is on the album. But now we’re doing a lot of stuff where we’re doing less looping. So we can do it if we want to but sometimes we try to, you know, do something else.
Michael Tapper: Those songs on the album were written live by [Alex Schaaf]. So the album was sort of a replication of what he can do looping live. So then, to translate it to a live setting works pretty well.
TWHP: How has it changed going from a solo to a three piece, does it change the dynamic of the show?
AS: Yeah, definitely. Like I said, we do less looping because we don’t need to do so much. Like, I did shows by myself where it’s all looping. But now we have three people and so—
JN: Now we can just rock.
AS: It’s just bigger, and heavier- super heavy. It’s more live.
JN: More textures.
TWHP: You had a huge output before getting signed, has being on tour and signing to a label affected that output in anyway?
AS: Yeah, I mean, I think I’m still writing. I’m not writing fewer songs, that hasn’t changed. But the rate that stuff will come out changes because a label doesn’t want to come out with something every month. So, yeah, it’s just a matter of trying to figure out when we can put out stuff. There will definitely not be an EP every month.
TWHP: How has the process of re-releasing Mistress going for you?
JN: We wanted to, because it had been out on it’s own for a while. We wanted to have it be different in some ways. So there are some new tracks on it and that’s been fun. But also, Barsuk has been great and definitely, its actually surprising, it seems like more people are seeing it. I know that sounds simple, but you figure, “oh, it’s the internet everyone knows of everything.” But then you see it come out and new people really do see it.
THWP: Can you describe how Jon and Michael got absorbed into the band, the story behind that?
MT: I was on tour with another band and we played at [Alex Schaaf’s] college, when he was in college, and he opened for us solo as Yellow Ostrich. I think it was his first show as Yellow Ostrich.
MT: And so I saw him play there and I thought he was really good and I talked to him afterwards. When he moved to New York a few months later he got into contact and we started playing together. And then six months later Jon joined us. We asked Jon if he wanted to play. He played with us on one show, one time on sax and we were like, “hey, we like Jon.”
JN: And Michael and I had played together in another band.
MT: Yeah, we’d know each other for years.
TWHP: I was going through your bandcamp page and I noticed the Morgan Freemen EP, which is wonderfully whimsical–
JN: (laughs) Can we use that as a blurb on a record? Wonderfully whimsical.
TWHP: Oh yeah, you can use that whenever. I was wondering what inspired you to do that and why specifically his Wikipedia page.
AS: Yeah, it was just a time when I had the musical ideas and no lyrics. So I wanted to do a sort of concept thing about a famous person. I think it was the first one that popped into my head and then I looked at his Wikipedia and it was interesting. And then there was the part about his alleged relationship with his step granddaughter and I was like, “this is it.”
AS: (Laughter) Without that story he’s still interesting but like, that put him over the edge for me. That was it.
TWHP: Well, it’s a great song. Now to close up, have you been listening to anything specifically on the road that you have been loving?
JN: We’re not breaking any new ground here — but that new Girls record is awesome. We always listen to a healthy dose of [Harry] Nilsson too. Harry Nilsson has not come on this trip. For some reason when I think Yellow Ostrich van I think of Nilsson.
MT: And this trip we are teaching Jon about Radiohead.
TWHP: Teaching you about Radiohead, you’ve not listened to them before?
JN: I’ve always heard Radiohead and I know OK Computer, but Radiohead has always just been on and I don’t know any individual songs. Like, “oh what album is this, what song is this?” So now I’m really sitting down and learning.
TWHP: How’s the education going so far?
JN: We’re only into two albums, but I know every single song. Like, names—it’s good.
AS: He can play them
JN: I can play them.
MT: He can only hear it once and then he can play them all.