Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

Saturn Presents:

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

Laura Gibson

Sat, April 29, 2017

Doors: 8:00 pm / Show: 9:00 pm

Saturn

Birmingham, AL

$13 Advance - $15 Day of Show

This event is 18 and over

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Like previous Clap Your Hands Say Yeah records, The Tourist nods to Ounsworth’s musical heroes—a group that includes artists such as John Cale, Robert Wyatt, Tom Waits and Nick Cave. However, this album also shows a natural progression from previous records. “Better Off” and “The Vanity Of Trying” are lush, keyboard-augmented songs, while “A Chance To Cure” and “Ambulance Chaser” are rhythmically askew, and the sighing “Loose Ends” is delicate, acoustic-based folk-rock.

The Tourist emerged from a period where Ounsworth was doing a lot of intense soul-searching, and processing personal events that irrevocably shaped his life and future. But although most of these songs came together during this time of reflection, he considers the record to be cathartic—an exhale of sorts, rather than a collection of songs where he was indulging in self-pity or letting things stagnate or fester.

Appropriately, The Tourist’s lyrics reflect how complex upheaval can be (“We can beat around this bush together/Sometimes it’s all I think of/Other times I can forget”) and explore the imperfect nature of blame (“The car left the road and was found without its mirrors/You play the victim/And I’ll play the blind man”). Other songs try to make sense of the present time (“Now that the past is on fire/How can I look around and find I can’t remember who I was”) or employ clever wordplay— “Black cat let’s not split hairs/I’m tethered to the weather/I assure I don’t care about no lucky streak”—for effect.

Ounsworth spent about a week recording The Tourist at Dr. Dog’s Philadelphia-based studio with a drummer and bassist. After that, he and engineer Nick Krill spent a few months “tidying things up” and recording additional embellishments: backup vocals, keyboards, guitars and more percussion. That gives The Tourist more of a band feel than the last album, and contributes to why the record possesses a musical lightness. The dreamy opening track “The Pilot” especially has a lilting edge, courtesy of Smiths-reminiscent acoustic guitars strums and Ounsworth’s hiccupping, conspiratorial vocals.

The Tourist was then mixed by Dave Fridmann, who also worked on two previous Clap Your Hands Say Yeah albums, 2007’s Some Loud Thunder and 2014’s Only Run. Ounsworth says he and Fridmann are on the same musical wavelength, which makes their long-time working relationship an anchor of sorts. “Dave and I don’t necessarily stick with what’s easiest which is fine and anxiety-inducing, in a good way,” he says. “He challenges me to do something a little bit different.”

“I am a relatively solitary person and seem to work best alone,” he says. “I do count on others to help the project as the process of making and releasing an album moves forward, but if it doesn’t match what I have in mind, it’s hard for me to really be there for it. I guess this is one reason why the project has been independent all this time. Trust me, I understand that thinking this way is both an asset and a liability.”

However, this stubborn independence also reflects Ounsworth’s commitment to musical integrity. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s career arc is all about building on previous successes while staying true to a core artistic vision. And although The Tourist may have emerged from challenging times, it reflects Ounsworth’s uncanny ability to move forward, no matter what the circumstances.

“I’d rather not say that it was a dark time, but it was a difficult time in my life—among the most difficult,” he says. “But I needed and need to try to let it go. And this is how I let things go. Though it’s the same for any album—this one probably more than the others.

“But I have to try to do something each time that’s new and engaging for me,” he adds. “I mean, I could very well just write songs the way they were early on. But I don’t think that people would appreciate listening to someone just going through the motions. We have to build something to last, rather than just build it because it looks good at the moment.”

– Annie Zeleski
Laura Gibson
Laura Gibson
“You must go change your life.”
Those words by Rainier Marie Rilke followed Laura Gibson as she boarded a train in the summer of 2014, the Empire Builder line that took her from Portland toward New York City. Ahead was an MFA program in creative writing and uncertainty; behind was a boyfriend, a close-knit family and music community, a city that fanned her songwriting and her life. It was a story that she had already written traded for countless blank pages. The train wheels scraped against the rails, shearing off a layer of dust, a rolling tabula rasa.
Back in Portland she had already started writing a new batch of songs, recording demos with engineer John Askew (The Dodos, Neko Case). She planned to finish in New York, but her entrance to the city was bumpy. Securing a fifth-floor apartment in the East Village, Gibson continued work on the new songs and began her
program at Hunter College, even as her long distance relationship started to suffer. Shortly after she arrived, she broke her foot, effectively barring her in the apartment while it healed. The songs she had begun to write and record in Portland began to feel more important, a way of understanding her situation. A new record was taking shape.

I changed my name the day I left
I cut my hair, I hemmed my dress
I was damn sure about it
You were playing piano in an empty room
Ringless finger, a calloused thumb
Damn sure about it, we were damn sure about it

On breaks from school, Gibson returned to Portland to continue recording in Askew’s studio, and with violinist/composer Peter Broderick on the Oregon Coast. Her rhythms were emerging in the studio, and in New York she was getting settled. A fire changed all that. On March 26, 2015, Gibson’s East Village apartment building was consumed by a gas explosion and burned to the ground. Two people lost their lives, more were injured, and most were displaced. Gibson escaped unharmed, but in the wreckage was every piece of the life that she brought with her: the notebooks filled with lyrics, her instruments, including the guitar she had played on every album, every ID card
and piece of paper that detailed who she was. She bounced around. She slept on couches. Friends and fans and fellow musicians near and far supported her with guest beds, financial assistance, and encouragement. In the midst of trauma and recovery, the very act of
writing and re-writing her lost lyrics connected her to who she was, and where she was going.

We are not alone and we are more alone than we’ve ever been
So hurry up and lose me, hurry up and find me again

As the songwriting came together, the music and recordings did too, as Gibson gathered a band of her closest friends and most admired peers: Dave Depper (Death Cab for Cutie, Menomena) took up guitar and bass, building ambient loops. Drummer Daniel Hunt (Neko Case) layered percussion, and Broderick added stringsections and sang with a sensitivity to match Gibson’s own silver voice. Contributors like Nate Query of The Decemberists and the singer/songwriter Alela Diane rounded out the studio time. Sharing the role of producer,
Gibson and Askew pushed forward. What emerged is Gibson’s most personal record to date.

It is impossible to miss the effects of Gibson’s fiction studies on her songs. She writes with the narrative precision and imagery of Marilynn Robinson or Rilke, circling simple truth with powerful images, never
sacrificing style for clarity or vice versa. On title track “Empire Builder” Gibson keeps a spare arrangement that makes uncommon use of space as the keys and guitar shimmer and flow, punctuating on the downbeats as she sings,

But you never liked it when I play dead
And you wondered why my love songs were always the grieving kind
Why I wander off to search for my reflection in the crowd

It is an album about womanhood; about looking your own ambition in the face and wondering whose eyes are staring back (“Not Harmless”), about the crushing certainty that nothing is certain (“Damn Sure”).

Gibson reflects, “This time around I didn’t wanted to settle for abstract phrases or leave things open to poetic interpretation. I fought harder to make the story clear, and I guess by story, I mean my own.” A narrative made of a hundred moving parts, Empire Builder is suspended in the intricate moment between loss and recovery, a map to go forward, with pins in all the places we’ve left, and more in the places we’ve yet to go.
Venue Information:
Saturn
200 41st Street S
Birmingham, AL, 35222
http://www.saturnbirmingham.com/