Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, led by singer-songwriter and Philadelphia native Alec Ounsworth, set the standard for being independent artists. In 2005, the band combined the guitarist's unique vocals with a post-punk beat to critical acclaim on their self-titled debut. They were living proof that hard work and grassroots marketing can sell albums. They flew off shelves so fast that the first pressing of the CD sold out and had to be reissued.
"In the beginning, it was out of necessity," Ounsworth says of his stubborn need for autonomy. "Well, it wasn't entirely out of necessity. I have a lot of trouble looking at music as a business. Around that time, by virtue of the Internet, there was so much more competition as a result. I think a lot of people started to make compromises in order to maintain a relationship with a fan base. I think that musicians should have a responsibility to take chances on albums. I didn't want other people to call the shots. It's always been preferable to me to be independent and work alone."
The band sticking to their guns paid off in spades. Pitchfork awarded the album "Best New Music" and two guys named David (Bowie and Byrne) were spotted at their shows.
"I remember a lot of movement, a lot of traveling," recalls Ounsworth.
Their follow-up, Some Loud Thunder, layered on the quirkiness to their already unconventional sound but suffered from the sophomore slump in the critical eyes of the Internet. Despite some gems, including the alt-dance hit "Satan Said Dance," unforgiving hipsters rejected the effort.
"I don't see [the Internet] any differently than just word of mouth. It's just a means of communication. I think the problem with it is people's attention spans are a lot shorter than they used to be," says Ounsworth.
The following years had members of the band pursuing solo projects and rumors of a prolonged hiatus began to spread. The gossip ended quickly with the release of 2011's Hysterical. Shortly thereafter, members Robbie Guertin and Tyler Sargent left the band and Ounsworth and drummer Sean Greenhaigh recruited guest musicians for the band's latest release Only Run, which also features a contribution from The National's Matt Berninger on the guitar-heavy track "Coming Down."
"Matt is an old friend and it seemed like he'd be a nice touch for that song," says Ounsworth. "I was thinking of something like [Velvet Underground's] 'Lady Godiva's Operation.' I find it pretty jarring and interesting."
The haunting song effectively sums up the musicians own insecurities. "It come from this constant sense of always being outside the situation. That's my own particular hang-up. I've always felt at a distance from any social gathering," he says.
Only Run feels like a summation of the roller-coaster ride that has been CYHSY's career. It feels like the perfect balance of the crazy experimental hooks that made such an impression years ago and the atmospheric pop they've attempted since. "A lot of the songs on the album are like a conversation," Ounsworth describes, "It's about the comfort of limitations. This album might be my favorite, but time will tell, I suppose."
There's still some rust under that polish, which is a relief to those who remained on the bandwagon nearly a decade ago.
"I'll just keep doing this," Ounsworth declares, "I want to communicate to people who are on the same page. As far as achieving any sort of success, it was the same now as it was in the past. I was done with it in the beginning. I just play the next show for the people who are true believers."
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is scheduled to play Saturday, August 9 at Pub Rock Live.
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