Found Stuff:Artist – Alec Ounsworth

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah‘s debut album was my #1 of 2005.  This indie rock gem seemed to come out out of nowhere.  It was the first truly Internet-based release I had experienced.  These guys from Pennsylvania and New York did not have a manager, a label or distribution.  They were hand pressing the CDs and sending them out via mail.  And they were becoming huge!  The buzz around this band was sure to crush them.

Alec Ounsworth is from Philly.  He met Lee Sargent at Connecticut College and hooked back up with him via Friendster 4 years after graduation.  They wanted to start a band, and in 2004 they did just that .  They started performing around Manhattan and as their following grew, they self-recorded and released Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.

This album blew up beyond what they could handle, so they ended up working out a distribution deal with a label or two, but never signed with one.  This way they could get their music out to the fans but still keep control of their artistic integrity. The blogs started the hype and Pitchfork catapulted the buzz into extreme heights with their 9.0 rating.  I can’t recall if it was before or after receiving the coveted Best New Music label that David Bowie and David Byrne came out as huge fans, but I guess it doesn’t matter.  How can a band that’s only a year old handle the weight of that?  The obvious answer is that they can’t.

Their sophomore release, Some Loud Thunder, was a noisy mess.  Sure, Alec always had a voice that you either loved or hated, something like a mixture between David Byrne and Mickey Mouse, and the music could be loud to a distorted level, but it was still enjoyable.  The same can be said for a few songs on Some Loud Thunder, but a lot of it was not listenable.  This album still received a 7.2 from Pitchfork, but most fans were not impressed.  Some even believe Alec deliberately put out this album to kill the buzz around the band, fearing the buzz had become bigger than the music.

I saw the band perform with Architecture in Helsinki at The Warfield in Oct. 2006.  This was a year and half after the release of CYHSY and 3 months before Some Loud Thunder.  It seemed to me there was something broken in the band by that point.  It might have just been a bad night, but they did not look like they were having fun anymore and they just didn’t sound 100%.

In January 2009 CYHSY announced they would be taking a break.  Most thought this meant they were breaking up.  Robbie and Tyler went on to work with Au Revoir Simone on a multi-media project called Unhibitable Mansions, Sean continued to play Axl Rose in a G ‘N R cover band called Mr. Brownstone and  Alec went on to do some solo work.

The first of these solo projects that were announced was Alec‘s solo album for Anti- Records, Mo BeautyAlec described this album as “me going down to New Orleans for a short period of time and trying to piece something together based on a collection of mostly old songs”.  This album was released on Oct. 20th, 2009 and sounds like New Orleans.  You’ve still got Alec‘s unique voice, but instead of indie rock or noise in the background, you’ve got blues, soul and even a little big band.  It’s a nice change of pace.

The second project is Flashy Python and their album was actually released prior to Mo Beauty.  This is a collaboration with Toby Leaman and Scott McMicken from Dr. Dog, Matt Barrick of The Walkmen and Billy Dufala of Man Man.  The album, Skin and Bones, was released on the Flashy Python website on April 11th, 2009 with no press release or announcement what-so-ever.  This album is a little more experimental than his solo outing and ranges from psychedelic to more CYHSY-type material.  Alec has hinted that Flashy Python have a revolving door policy and the next album might be recorded with a different cast of musicians.

Alec is now on a solo tour where he is performing material from both CYHSY albums, Mo Beauty and Skin and Bones.  I am going to try to either catch him at Cafe Du Nord in San Francisco or Larimer Lounge in Denver.  I think it will be a show worth seeing.

As for the future of CYHSY, I don’t see a positive outcome there.  The official statement is they are on a break and they have released a new song since they announced that, but Alec‘s statements tell me a different story:

“I don’t really care to speak to that at length. The guys in Clap Your Hands are really gifted players. But if I want to do something with a particular group of people, I will. And if I don’t, I won’t. If people are willing to work on those terms, that’s good. If not, I’ll just have to figure out a different way.

“I work with people at any given time who might be available to work on something. That’s the way CYHSY started, to be honest. I do like mixing it up and seeing what other people can do. And also I don’t like making the same record over and over, which is what everyone else seems to want.”

“I’ll keep making music, but sometimes I feel it’s not something you should do for a living. Oftentimes it seems like a popularity contest instead of anything that has to do with music. And it should never be that.”

Alec’s Solo Tour Dates:

Feb 5 Austin, TX Emo’s Alternative Lounge
Feb 6 Denton, TX Hailey’s
Feb 9 Tucson, AZ Solar Culture
Feb 10 San Diego, CA The Casbah
Feb 11 Los Angeles, CA Bootleg Theater
Feb 12 San Francisco, CA Café du Nord
Feb 13 Brookdale, CA The Brookdale Lodge
Feb 15 Portland, OR Doug Fir Lounge
Feb 16 Seattle, WA Neumo’s
Feb 18 Boise, ID The Neurolux
Feb 19 Salt Lake City, UT Kilby Court Gallery
Feb 20 Denver, CO Larimer Lounge
Feb 22 Omaha, NE The Waiting Room
Feb 23 Minneapolis, MN 400 Bar
Feb 24 Madison, WI High Noon Saloon
Feb 25 Chicago, IL Schuba’s