The Next Sound:
Dodging Natural Disasters with Alex Schaaf of Yellow Ostrich
Words by Audra Tracy — Brooklyn, NYC
Within the loops and layers of The Mistress, Brooklyn’s Yellow Ostrich teaches us that sometimes, less is more. Sometimes, that pregnant pause between notes can be just as heavy as the riff itself.
The Mistress came almost solely from the psyche of Wisconsin native Alex Schaaf, who dropped the album last year as a free download through Bandcamp. Now The Mistress has been re-released on CD via Barsuk Records, complete with three bonus tracks featuring Schaaf’s new band members John Natchez (bass) and Michael Tapper (drums).
As the trio prepares to head out on tour with The Antlers and Ra Ra Riot, we chatted with singer/songwriter Schaaf about ditching the piano for a guitar, dodging natural disasters, and unveiling Yellow Ostrich 2.0.
When an earthquake hit Virginia on August 23rd, aftershocks traveled all the way up the coast and through New York’s metropolitan area. It seemed that many Northeasterners reacted in one of two ways – either by reveling in a newfound experience or by anxiously reaching for a Xanax. Alex Schaaf of Yellow Ostrich managed to take the ‘quake in stride.
“I was at work and someone was like, ‘um, why is the building moving?’”, he recalls. “And it took a while, because we didn’t have a radio on, but then we found out it was actually some sort of earthquake, which was pretty exciting. I kind of wish it would have lasted longer”, he jokes.
A week later, Hurricane Irene slammed the Atlantic shoreline, but Schaaf was on the West Coast, far away from Mother Nature’s wrath. “I got out right before that, and thankfully nothing got flooded”, he says of his Greenpoint digs. “It’s crazy. I was kind of disappointed for a while though. I was like, ‘This big event, I’m gonna miss it!’”, he laughs.
When he’s not taking cover from environmental mayhem, Schaaf is busy promoting the re-release of The Mistress, an album driven by his impressive use of vocal loops (think Keller Williams meets Apollo Sunshine). Even if he didn’t enlist a band for the original pressing, he certainly made it sound that way.
An exercise in polyphony, ‘WHALE’ begins with a simple drum beat and builds into a rich chorus of ‘oh-oh’s, click-ity clacks, and playful, nursery-rhyme-like lyrics. ‘Libraries’ is an indie ode to burning books, and a bouncy ‘Campaign’ calls to mind the quirkiness of Vampire Weekend. The heaviest song on The Mistress calls out ‘Mary’ for her drug use, claiming ‘you always seemed a little too happy/Mary’.
While his voice seems to be the most utilized instrument on The Mistress, Schaaf traces his musical roots back to playing black and white keys. “I started piano in like kindergarten, and I did that exclusively up until my second or third year of college”, he shares. “And then I started playing guitar because I was sick of playing piano in bands”, he laughs.
With the additions of Natchez and Tapper, Schaaf’s band has entered into a new musical phase that this writer refers to as Yellow Ostrich 2.0. “With the re-release, it’s cool because it has more of a representation of what the band is now”, Schaaf explains. “The original album was just me, but now we are a three piece and the songs have become much bigger, and kind of a little heavier.”
Yellow Ostrich 2.0 gets its day in the sun with bonus tracks ‘Bread’, ‘Fog’, and an alternate take on ‘Mary’. It’s a rare thing when you can hear where a band came from and where it’s headed, all in the same album. “The bonus tracks are cool”, he goes on, “we wanted something on there that was more indicative of what we sound like now. We are hoping it works as kind of a bridge into the next sound.”
TheWaster.com | The Beginning