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Weekly preview: The unmistakable lightness of Anand Wilder

Former Yeasayer member's solo act arrives at Holocene.

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Anand Wilder.

There’s an unmistakable lightness in Anand Wilder’s voice these days. Perhaps that’s all down to timing–I catch him on the phone chilling at his cousin’s house in Toronto, waiting for the bassist in his touring band to finish grilling some vegetables in the hours before his first ever live performance as a solo artist. “The first show that we’re doing is an opening gig for another band,” Wilder tells me, “so there’s a little bit less pressure. It’s as good as it could possibly be.”

But the tone of his voice and his answers to my questions are both marked by a sense of reprieve. For the first time in Wilder’s career as an artist, he feels free of the weight of commercial and creative expectations. For the better part of his adult life, he was a member of Yeasayer, a much-blogged about Brooklyn band that had a precipitous rise within the indie scene that saw them playing enormous festivals 18 months after their formation. While a thrilling experience, the group strained to maintain that level of attention among listeners and critics, and kept overcorrecting as they tried to find purchase on the slippery landscape of success. 

All of that worry was removed from Wilder’s shoulders once Yeasayer announced their split in late 2019. He instead settled into the recording studio he built into his home in Brooklyn and started to humbly piece together a collection of material on his own terms. “I just wanted to make music that I liked,” Wilder says. “The process was just little by little wanting to finish one song at a time and then eventually have a body of work that I’m proud to put out into the world.” 

As musically complex as Wilder’s first solo album I Don’t Know My Words (released last month via Last Gang Records) is, its creation was humble. Wilder recorded all the instruments and vocal harmonies on his own, layering together a rich–and, at times, indulgent–collection of songs that bear the visible imprints of ’70s pop a la Todd Rundgren and the rolling folk-rock of groups like Fairport Convention. 

“You don’t want to be too easily pinpointed,” Wilder says, “but for this one, I didn’t worry about it as much. I was like, ‘You know, if this song sounds a little bit like Cat Stevens, who cares? I like Cat Stevens.’ I just thought, ‘Let’s keep it organic and keep it like something that I would put on the record player when I’m cooking dinner.’” 

As proud as Wilder is of Words, he’s also come to appreciate how his sometimes simplistic approach at playing the drums and recording other parts has become the raw material for the members of his touring band to mold and adapt. For this tour, which stops at Holocene on Wednesday May 11, he’s joined by bassist Sander Travisano, drummer Ricky Petraglia, and saxophonist Walter Fancourt, a friend of Wilder’s who contributed to the last Yeasayer album Erotic Reruns

With their help, Wilder is now seeing just how much of a high-wire act live performance can be after years of over-rehearsed and over-choreographed shows with his former band. 

“Yeasayer was very pop-oriented,” he says. “Everything was on the grid. We would play to backing tracks and click tracks. That was how it had to be. I really did not want to do that for this. So we speed up, we slow down. Sometimes you’ll be like, ‘Oh, that was pretty slow tonight.’ But it’s fun. It feels more spontaneous for me. So every show is going to be actually a different show.” 

Anand Wilder performs at Holocene (1001 SE Morrison Ave.) on Wednesday May 11 at 9 pm. Tickets: $18. Proof of full COVID vaccine, or negative rapid COVID test, required for entry. 21+.

Robert Ham is a critic and journalist living in Portland, Oregon’s outer reaches. During his time in the Rose City, he has contributed to The OregonianWillamette WeekPortland Mercury, and Portland Monthly, while also amassing a healthy amount of clips for print and online publications including PitchforkDownBeatBandcamp, and Village Voice. In 2019, he was the recipient of the SPJ Award for Best Sports Feature. In addition, Robert produces and hosts Double Bummer, a radio show focusing on new and newly reissued experimental music from around the world that airs every Tuesday night at 11pm PT on XRAY-FM. To read more of his work, visit his portfolio site or follow him on Twitter at @roberthamwriter.

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