PW profiled Philadelphia native Alec Ounsworth and his band Clap Your Hands Say Yeah back in October. We praised Ounsworth’s ability to evolve as a musician with each of CYHSY’s three albums (not to mention his own 2009 solo release) and noted his unorthodox decision to eschew the record-label format and instead self-release all of the band’s material.
As it turns out, that radical approach to the music business applies to his live shows too: Ounsworth is opening up a “living room” tour with a show in Philly this Thursday. After an open call for hosting homes in November, Ounsworth will be touring the U.S. by way of unfamiliar living rooms, offering fans the chance to see him perform solo in strangers’ housed.
We had the chance to chat with Alec before this week’s show—the location of which remains a secret to everyone except for those who managed to buy a ticket to the now sold-out gig.
PW: Where did this idea come from?
Alec Ounsworth: It’s been going around for a little while now. My new manager [Bob Andrews] suggested it to me. Dave Bazan [of Pedro the Lion] has been doing it for a little while. It’s been good for him, in terms of more direct experience with people that he’s been making records for. It removes the distance. It’s a nice opportunity. It’s something I liked about our early shows that I haven’t really had the opportunity to do since then.
So, you’ve never done anything like this?
No, not really. Except playing for friends, and that was a while back. That’s the idea, to pull it back, so it’s really about the song in the most intimate of settings.
Will this be mostly CYHSY material?
I’ll probably be doing all Clap Your Hands. I’ll veer off here and there. I’ll probably lean on more material than when I play with a full band because I could probably do it by myself more easily. [Laughs]
Do you like playing solo more than with a band?
Yeah, at this point I definitely prefer solo. It’s more challenging, and I think that you can kind of do more. I used to do solo shows 10 years ago, and that was my only thing. The only reason I started a band to put the songs together for the first record was because I thought it would be interesting to have these overlapping keyboards and this, this and this. But now, I feel like in its most reduced form, it is more interesting to me at the moment.
Is that because you have more freedom to do what you want?
That’s part of it. But it’s more that I’ve done band shows for so long. I’d also like to show people how the things begin, in a way. I’ve been listening to John Lennon’s early demos, before he did them with the band. I’m at a certain point right now where I find that almost more interesting than what they came up with as a full band. And if a song stands up, it’ll stand up any way you put it forward.
Will you be taking requests?
For these early shows, I think I’ll try to stick to the scripts to a degree. People have asked for relatively obscure songs when we’re onstage, and I’ve heard them, and I’ve wanted to play them, but sometimes I’m the only one who knows them. It might be an opportunity to revisit some of the songs that I haven’t had the opportunity to play too much.
Will you be playing any songs from the upcoming CYHSY album [due out in April]?
Yeah, I’ll probably ease those in. Unlike albums two and three and some of the solo material, they don’t lend themselves as easily to guitar and vocal. But I’ll figure out a way to make it work.
Do you think you’ll be hanging around the various houses after each performance?
Yeah, that’s another thing that I’ve always wanted to do. It’s difficult to do that at a festival or at a bigger show. Definitely. There aren’t going to be that many people there, so I can’t imagine it’ll be too overwhelming.
Since it’s a new format, you think you’ll get any pre-show jitters this time around?
Yeah, well, I get jitters anyway playing songs for anybody. It doesn’t matter if it’s two people or 2,000.
Tickets to this show are now sold out, but Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is certainly still worth checking out.—MAX UFBERG