Clap Your Hands Say Yeah were one of the first groups to break solely via the internet.
The band's music was exchanged by fans, a digitally-enhanced hype circuit that spread across the globe, free from any barriers.
10 years on, the group are still claiming their independence. Leader Alec Ounsworth has steered Clap Your Hands Say Yeah through five albums, with new release 'The Tourist' finding the songwriter re-connecting once more with some formative influences.
Recently completing a full UK tour, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah remain the perfect example of a band simply doing exactly what they want.
Here's Alec Ounsworth muses on the shifting nature of independence, and the band's continued approach...
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A little over ten years ago, when Clap Your Hands Say Yeah released its first album, I considered remaining independent more a natural extension of our artistic approach than a business move. The idea of going into music to be make money or be recognized was beyond me and keeping things as direct and as simple as possible seemed the only approach and one that didn’t suggest compromise, which didn’t interest me, especially at the time.
This was 2004/05. It was a time when opportunities seemed to be everywhere but anything substantive seemed in short supply.
Because we had no one backing us (not even a manager or booking agent when we unofficially released the first album in 2004, officially in 2005), we based our approach upon how we would want things to be, disregarding how they might have been. In a sense, we functioned the same as any other independent act at that time (website, social media page, EP, LP, playing as many shows as possible, etc.). The difference might have been that we were lucky to be noticed early enough to have had nothing to lose.
At that time, I knew that if we could have the music connect to smaller audiences around the world, we could build sustainable careers. To do it without the aid of a record label would be more difficult but, if it worked, I imagined it could move of its own volition. Fortunately, we were introduced at a time when connecting with people globally as an independent band was becoming possible. Less than a year after we had released the first album, we were touring internationally.
Things did of course get more difficult as time went on. I remember doing an interview in 2009 where a journalist told me he had spoken to me in 2005 and, then, “your model seemed ideal in the sense that it looked like power was returning to the musician. Now things seem worse than ever.”
I think for a lot of musicians this has come to be the case. Just the decline in album sales across the board was enough to make most musicians and their labels begin to make desperate choices. There were many other things working against musicians (over saturation of the market, added competition for live shows, lower fees for licenses, etc.). These things concern me but mostly as they relate to friends of mine who also do this for a living. Finally, it depends on how big you want to (or can) make it.
To sustain a career which counts upon a small but loyal fan base is a noble ambition but necessitates a lot of sacrifice on either side. On the band’s side, it means a lot of travel, a lot of shows, a budget of generally very little to make the album, etc. On the audience’s side, it means adjusting to the fact that the music isn’t going to be any one way from album to album (or track to track) but is instead a document of where the band is at the time and for that it can come as a surprise (e.g. 'Some Loud Thunder').
Another complication is that most members of the “team” (i.e. musicians, managers, publicists, etc.) are understandably not so interested in going on such an unpredictable journey. I know that I ask a lot of those who do but I also know that I’m getting the right people as a result. Basically, these are people who are passionate about music, and still think there is a magic to it beyond graduating to a bigger venue or selling more albums.
I am directly involved at every level of the process of making and releasing albums and have come to understand that I need to make decisions primarily instinctively considering the fact that major aspects of the business have been shifting (e.g. streaming, social media marketing, etc.). I think it best, for my purposes (and for now), to use these shifts as tools rather than fight against them. In the end, I’m not after an audience who takes a quick listen and disappears.
Overall, however, my approach is very much the same today as when I began —try to make an album worth releasing, hope that other people are interested, present it to them honestly, and see what happens. After a little over 10 years, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah has made five albums, all of which have been independently released. I am free to do whatever I want which, as everyone knows, is both a good thing and a bad thing.
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'The Tourist' is out now.
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