C. Spencer Yeh is one loquacious dude. Pose a question to the guy, and it's likely to return a treatise as discursive and winding as his improv pieces tend to be. In a world of limited print space, Yeh's long-form conversational gregariousness runs a definite endangered-species risk: our email interview about Transitions (De Stijl) earlier this month clocked in somewhere in the range of 4,000 words, while The Village Voice's print edition article itself was confined to roughly 800 words. Now, in advance of the C.S. Yeh Band's CMJ debut at Death By Audio, Sound of the City proudly presents everything about Yeh's full-length left turn into the indie-rock world that we couldn't cram into the dead-tree package.
What was the first song written for Transitions, and how did it take shape?
I'd say the first song "written" would be the idea to cover that Father Yod and the Spirit of '76 song, "I Can Read Your Mind," in some kind of 4/4 or more electronic style. I had actually originally thought about covering it for the Burning Star Core record The Very Heart of the World. I was working with a lot of the Lexington, Kentucky crew on that record, so I had some good people to help execute it.
I forget why it didn't end up happening; maybe it just didn't quite fit the concept of the record in the end. So fast-forward to when I started work on Transitions, I thought it would be an appropriate time and context to finally realize this, so that was one of the first tracks finished.
"I Can Read Your Mind" is an odd song, but in some ways it seems to be a wholly 4-D song, in that performer and audience are sort of one or connected when it's on - sort of a psychic/psychedelic "We Are The World" thing. Like, I don't know what it means literally, but I grasp it instinctively. Do you know what I mean?
I think I know what you mean, and I think maybe that's why the original caught my ear to begin with, and why I felt an urge to do something about it even after so many years. Though Father Yod himself wasn't on the original, or involved in any direct way as far as I know, maybe there are subliminal Yod-energies running through the words. There's some pretty heavy assertions and feelings in there, and I hope I am not taken as being irreverent or frivolous. Maybe it's the "Born in the USA" to my campaign.
Does anyone else play on this album?
No one else plays on the album. It was important to me to just keep it to myself for this first full-length, and to keep that whole process pretty closed off.
Is there anyone you turned to for guidance when you were writing these songs, directly, people you knew, or artists who kind of were an influence? Personally, Transitions brings to mind Dave Pajo when he first started singing, only he was going about it an acoustic folk vein, while you're embracing electronics and a wide palette of textures.
I tend to be pretty secretive about works in progress, even with good friends, but this time I did show some people unfinished tracks, probably just because they were sharing their works in progress with me as well. Mostly I passed around early versions of the Father Yod cover, and did so knowing that track would most likely be buried towards the end record, and knowing that when the record was finally completed, that would be the most "recognized" of the tracks. But you know, I'm talking about being "recognized" by, like, a group of five people.
I feel like I did have a number of people in mind while making the record and might've asked some questions along the way, but in terms of dealing directly with the record, it was only Clint [Simonson] and Mike [Wolf] at De Stijl, Steve Silverstein who did the mastering, and of course working closely with Robert Beatty on the cover art. As for influences in terms of shaping my approach, attitude, whatever: sure, there's plenty of influences, but it was important for this record that I figured out most of it myself.