Clap Your Hands Say Yeah completed nearly an entire band life cycle in just four years. Their 2005 debut album Clap Your Hands Say Yeah shot through the blogosphere, and they received countless accolades from the press – in particular, drawing comparisons to early Talking Heads. But after their 2007 follow-up Some Loud Thunder got a lukewarm reception, the group floundered, and each member went off to work on their own projects.
"There’s no way I expected that," keyboardist Lee Sargent says about the hype surrounding the first album. "You can’t really manufacture that kind of buzz – well maybe you can, but I don’t know how to do it."
So it was a bit of a surprise when the band announced the release of their new album, Hysterical, due out next week (watch the album trailer below). "None of us really believed that we were finished as a band," Clap Your Hands frontman Alec Ounsworth tells Rolling Stone. "I think we just happened to run out of steam."
In 2009, the group got together to work on what would have been their third album. After recording some demos for the record, they decided that things weren’t quite right. "It wasn’t sort of jelling the way we had hoped," Sargent says about that time. "If we had made the record back then, it would not have been a great record."
So Clap Your Hands very cordially decided over dinner one night that they would take a break and reconvene at a later date. "It was a very easy decision," Sargent says. "It was mutual and there were no hard feelings and it had nothing at all to do with internal strife or anything like that. There's always this mythology that when a band stops making music they're not getting along or something, and that was just not the case."
As a way of reenergizing, the members of Clap Your Hands spent a few years working on side projects, solo work, and producing records from Brooklyn artists like Takka Takka and Conversion Party. As for Ounsworth, he recorded the album Mo Beauty with a group of musicians in New Orleans. "It was less an absolute solo record," Ounsworth says. "To me it was a representation of all of the musicians that played on it, and trying to tap into a certain quality about New Orleans."
The experience, though rewarding, made Ounsworth appreciate the chemistry between the members of his first band. "I think I came to understand what people liked about Clap Your Hands so much," he says. "There’s something I can’t really put my finger on. It just seems to work."
It was just a matter of time before Ounsworth contacted the rest of the group again about working on new material for that elusive third effort. "I don’t think anyone [in the band] was surprised that he wanted to do it again," Sargent says.
The result of their hiatus is an album that draws on Ounsworth's solo work and features some deeply personal songs that deal with themes of regret and loss. "It’s almost what kind of fuels this entire project," Ounsworth explains. "Regret – but tempered by a certain sense of optimism." One haunting track, "In a Motel," portrays the agony of touring through a contemplative night on the road. "That was certainly one of the more autobiographical songs on the record." Ounsworth admits. "When you’re on tour it’s sort of full of the highliest highs and lowliest lows."
Produced by the Paper Chase’s John Congleton, Hysterical is more textured and expansive than their previous work but still retains the upbeat vibe of Clap Your Hands' past. As Sargent says: "We wanted to capture the energy of the first record."