The sound of one hand clapping12/24/2014
We live in a fickle world. There are few acts that understand this in the way that Clap Your Hands Say Yeah do.
With the release of its 2005 self-titled debut, the Philadelphia based five-piece seemed poised as the next big thing. They were supposed to be the harbinger of a more democratic, less corporate world. Much of the band’s success came through MP3 sales, and it was one of the first big successes of the iTunes generation. It was a brave new world, and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah was going to lead the way.
But then the band members seemed to lose focus. Their follow-up album was critically panned, and the same audiences who embraced the band so fully in 2005 didn’t seem to know what to make of it now. The band released two more albums after that (the most recent, “Only Run,” coming out this year), but it seems clear that its star has fallen a bit.
“That’s just a number of people’s opinions,” front man Alec Ounsworth countered. “It doesn’t matter to me, really. Personally, (the debut album) is not my favorite of the four. But there’s no rhyme or reason as to what seems to stick with people, so I have no real control over that.”
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is an act that finds itself out in the wilderness a bit. After a decade of life, it is no longer the buzzworthy up and comer. Over the past two years, four of the band’s original five members have left to pursue other projects, leaving Ounsworth as the lone “official” member. And while none of that would instill many musicians with feelings of confidence, Ounsworth remains undaunted. While he may stop short of assuming a “if you don’t get it, that’s your fault” position, it is only just short.
“It’s a responsibility not to look back and not try to repeat a formula,” he explained. “While it might be comfortable and might please a lot of people to try and repeat the past, it’s important to try to move forward and express what you’re feeling at a given time. I have no idea why the first album was so popular. I don’t know why anyone thinks any record is popular.”
Ultimately, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s biggest sin (if you’re into gauging such things) is simply that of failing to fulfill the expectations of either extreme. The band hasn’t been anywhere near as bad as its biggest critics would have you believe, but at the same time never quite being as good as its biggest supporters have wished for.
But that is none of Ounsworth’s business. All he can do is continue to follow his own internal muse and show the world where that road takes him. Whether that trajectory in the global consciousness is upwards or down — or a completely flat line — is of secondary concern.
“A lot has changed in the music industry over the past decade,” he said. “It’s sort of a weird ride. Doing all of this, I don’t really look at it as ups and downs or anything like that, but I think this trip that I’ve been on, doing what I do, has sort of brought me back to where I wanted to be and made everything honest again in a very bizarre and roundabout way.
“But certain things had to happen. Things that might have been considered by others to be failures or frustrating experiences had to happen in order to reduce it to a form that I considered initially pure — and I still do, but it took me a while to get back to it.”
Alec Ounsworth and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah play the Des Moines Social Club on Wednesday, Dec. 31.