Five Questions with…Yellow Ostrich

January 10th, 2011
(From left, Andrew Schaaf and Michael Tapper)

(From left: Andrew Schaaf and Michael Tapper)

Yellow Ostrich is the brainchild of New York City-by-way-of-Wisconsin-resident Alex Schaaf. In 2010, with little more than a floor tom, his voice and a guitar, Schaaf created The Mistress, a sneakily impressive album currently only available here. The band played Mercury Lounge last week, and in the deep recesses of the venue, Schaaf and drummer Michael Tapper were nice enough to answer Five Questions for The House List.

Michael, you’ve been playing in bands now for a while, right? I know Bishop Allen from [frontman Justin Rice’s performance in] mumblecore movies. Is that an aspiration?
I don’t think anyone aspires to be in anything called mumblecore. One of the definitions tends to be a lack of aspiration. It would be weird. I’ve only seen a couple, but I think the genre tends to be: I went to college, now what? I guess I’m, like, in a band or maybe I’ll bake cookies?

Your sound seems to invite more musicians. Do you plan to add any more instrumentalists?
AS: It’s something to take into consideration. On The Mistress, I kind of tried to do it with only, like, a few tools—floor tom, guitar and voice basically—just to see, because I think that is more interesting sometimes than having, like, 20 instruments. You can get a bigger sound but it’s not as interesting because you’re not doing creative things with it. So, yeah, we have two people but we have to do way more crazy, creative stuff compared to what I’ve done with a full band in the past. Live, I think we sound like at least four people or three people. We want to keep it small, relatively, because it’s an interesting aesthetic. Forces you to do things you wouldn’t do.
MT: Putting constraints on yourself forces you to be more creative: In the film The Five Obstructions, Lars von Trier asks his mentor, Jørgen Leth, to remake his film The Perfect Human. But he tells him here are your constraints and you have to do it five times. Like, OK, you only made movies in Sweden, well you have to make it in a place you’ve never been. Each time you think, with the constraints, this is impossible. But he overcomes it with creativity. It’s awesome.

Do you go to a lot of shows in New York City?
AS: When I first got here, I went to a show a week—not like Wisconsin. There are shows around the block now. I’m going to Sharon Van Etten at The Bowery Ballroom this weekend (note: Yellow Ostrich’s cover of Sharon Van Etten’s “Love More” is available for download). I go to a show a month because we usually have one every couple of weeks. I try to go as much as I can.

What bands or musicians do you see as being your contemporaries?
AS: I don’t know. I mean it’s hard to think of contemporaries. I think of bands I’d want to be or totally respect where they are, like Dirty Projectors or Grizzly Bear, bands that sound-wise, we’ve been compared to.

What bands did you listen to growing up?
For me, growing up it was a lot of melodic pop. Ben Folds Five and an embarrassingly long phase of Dave Matthews…. But now, in the last few years, it’s been less mainstream stuff—’70s Bowie and Talking Heads. Now I listen to way more older music. How about you [To Michael]?
MT: I wasn’t allowed to listen to music.
AS: That sounds like a more interesting story. [LaughsJared Levy