For its second semester show, Binghamton Underground Music Presents (BUMP) booked Yellow Ostrich, a four-piece indie rock band from Brooklyn. Call Security, an upstate indie-pop rock band, and student comedian Darian Lusk both opened the show. Yellow Ostrich is currently on tour promoting its new album, “Cosmos,” out on Barsuk Records. Release sat down with lead singer/songwriter Alex Schaaf to talk home recording, their tour and Carl Sagan.
Release: How has the tour been so far? How many shows have you done?
Alex Schaaf: It’s been good. On this tour, it’s been like 26 shows. It’s been a very long four and a half weeks.
R: You’re going to London right after this?
AS: We’re going to Europe in May, which is really exciting. We’ve never toured there — the other guys have been in other bands, but for Yellow Ostrich it’s the first. It’s good it’s in May — we need a few weeks to recover from this month, so it’s exciting.
R: You’ve been touring with Pattern is Movement, right?
AS: Yeah. They’re awesome, our New York show was last night. They’ve been with us the whole tour. It’s good to be out with a band you like because you see them like 27 times. All of us just have all their songs stuck in our heads. We get to pick the openers so it worked out.
R: You made the move from Wisconsin to Brooklyn when starting Yellow Ostrich. How different are their respective music scenes?
AS: I think music scene-wise, Brooklyn has just so much more going on there. You know, Wisconsin is cool but the thing about Brooklyn is that there are so many bands. There’s not really one scene. You know some cities like Salt Lake City — big punk scene there — but in Brooklyn, there is a big punk scene but also a big scene for every sub-genre. It’s kind of overwhelming but it’s cool to have such unlimited options.
R: Did you record “Cosmos” in Brooklyn?
AS: Yeah, we did it in our little practice space. We brought in an engineer friend to make it sound good. We wanted to spend a long time on it, which you can’t do if you’re in a studio where you’re paying 300 bucks a day.
R: Yellow Ostrich did start as a solo home recording project.
AS: Yeah, it started in Wisconsin as just me, and then when I moved to Brooklyn it became like a real thing. When you have a computer and you can record stuff, I just got excited that I could make an album in like, four days and put it out on the Internet for free. Once I moved to New York it became a real band, we put out this album “The Mistress” and got a drummer. Then we started playing shows which is when it became a real thing.
R: Carl Sagan influenced “Cosmos.” Was it a lyrical or sonic inspiration you drew from him?
AS: Kind of both. We didn’t want to make an album about space or about “Cosmos.” I’m still writing the same kind of songs anyway, you know it’s all personal stuff but you can use stuff like that to filter things and get a different perspective. I can say that it’s not spacey music, but I like that it’s a mix of really small, intimate stuff mixed with this huge loud sound. This is kind of retroactive analysis, but it is kind of the themes of “Cosmos” — how space is huge and enormous but you can have a connection with it on a small level. That’s my music critique analysis.
R: Speaking of that, you did study music at school. Does that training come through in the songwriting?
AS: Yeah, yeah. I studied classical piano but then I was like — I don’t want to do this. It’s fun but I don’t want to do that. But I think it helps, learning about stuff like ear-training and hearing intervals. I think it seeps into the stuff we’re doing but not directly. I’m never like “We need a D major augmented seventh chord here.”
R: You can hear complexities in elements like the harmonies and percussion, which sound pretty specific.
AS: You can get any ideas from anything. I don’t think it’s necessary for me to have done a four-year music degree to write these songs because you can get inspiration from anywhere. Listening to music can be enough of an education. But having done it and paid for it, I’m sure it helped to some degree.
R: Was it a degree in classical piano?
AS: No, just a B.A. in music. At first it was piano performance but I made it into a general music thing. I also had an English degree — both great moneymakers. You get out of college and it’s like, “Oh you have a B.A. in music and English? Let’s hire you!”
R: When did you start writing songs?
AS: Middle school, I think the seventh grade was my first song. I still have a recording of it. It was called “Go to Sleep,” maybe? Something about sleeping. The first couple actually aren’t terrible, and then there’s a stretch where they’re terrible. I’ve never been good at just playing guitar and writing a song or writing on piano. Once I figured out how to record on a computer with some cheap Windows software in 2001, I realized I didn’t need a band — I could be a band.
R: And you still self-record to this day?
AS: Yeah. It’s so easy to have a lot of control, if we can do this all ourselves and not rely on needing a lot of money or time to do it. That to me is the whole point, being able to make the stuff we want to make. Doing it on our own is much better than whatever the alternative is.
R: Do you enjoy these smaller, intimate gigs like this BUMP show?
AS: It’s funny, how a tour can be. Last night, we played Bowery Ballroom, which is super nice and big. That was the fanciest show of our tour. The thing about college shows is that it’s cool going to places that aren’t big cities that get shows all the time. People get more excited at shows like this. Some of the best dates on this tour were the smaller shows where people were like “no one ever comes here!” I mean, obviously bands come to Binghamton — but it can be more fun.
R: What’s next for Yellow Ostrich?
AS: After this, we have a month off. We’re gonna sleep a lot, then Europe in May. We’ve been trying to go forever so it’ll be good. Just gonna continue touring this album however possible.