A decade ago, bassist Tyler Sargent began mailing out copies of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's self-titled debut from his home in Pennsylvania. It wasn't long before the indie pop band caught the attention of Pitchfork, which bestowed CYHSY with a coveted "Best New Music" label. After people saw David Bowie and David Byrne at CYHSY shows, demand for the album was so high that the band had to do another pressing.
It's not hard to see why it caught on. The 2005 album has many of the indie staples of the era, including elements of Bell X1 and Modest Mouse and a distinct earnestness in moody lyrics about suicide ("Gimme Some Salt"), foreign wars ("Upon This Tidal Wave of Young Blood"), and self-loathing ("Is This Love?").
In 2009, NPR claimed the album was one of the most important recordings of the decade, alongside classics like Arcade Fire's Funeral and LCD Soundsystem's Sound of Silver. Given that the record was one of the first to gain notoriety through the Internet alone, the honor truly has merit.
To this day, CYHSY prefers to self-release its music, as the group continued to do last year with its fourth album, Only Run. We called Alec Ounsworth, CYHSY's frontman and guitarist, to ask him about the 10-year anniversary of his band and what guidelines, if any, he might have for fledgling musicians.
"I don't know if I have too much advice anymore," Ounsworth says. "I think everything's a little bit too topsy-turvy at the moment. For anybody that's starting off, you do it the way it's always been done. You play as many shows as you possibly can and you make an album. And you hope that it takes and something catches with the general public.
That isn't to say that ride has always been smooth. In 2009, the band went on hiatus to focus on several side projects, causing many fans to fear it had broken up.
Keyboardist Robbie Guertin played drums in Radical Dads and played in Uninhabitable Mansions with Tyler along with Annie Hart of Au Revoir Simone. Drummer Sean Greenhalgh turned to producing, working with bands like Conversion Party, Gabriel and the Hounds, and Takka Takka while Ounsworth released a solo effort called Mo Beauty and started Flashy Python with members of Dr. Dog and The Walkmen.
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CYHSY did return in 2011 with Hysterical. However, just a year later, three members — Guertin, guitarist Lee Sargent, and his twin brother, Tyler — would leave. Greenhalgh would depart in 2014. Ounsworth says the lineup changes haven't affected much, and he feels his band is doing really well.
"I think it sounds great," he says. "I can't say one thing is one thing and one thing's another. I don't necessarily say positive or negative. I just say it's a change. I think it's up to everybody else to tell me what they think."
But even if you were to tell Ounsworth your thoughts, it's not clear he would listen. The singer seems far removed from his critics and says he's not sure he even considers being recognized.
"To understand that you've finished an album and you've done it as well as you possibly could and you're satisfied with it — that, to me, is the goal," he says. "Whether or not anybody else likes it — whether or not it's recognized, that is — you don't have any control over that. You really don't. If you're actually, truly, challenging yourself, then you should be challenging other people."