Yellow Ostrich's first record, "The Mistress," was a solo work. It was written and recorded entirely by lead singer and guitarist Alex Schaaf, with a bit of instrumental assistance from some friends, but with Schaaf performing nearly all of the parts. It was a labor of love. Schaaf endeavored to fund a proper release on vinyl via Kickstarter.com, but before the project could be fully funded -- though it was well on its way -- it had garnered enough interest to be picked up for release by small indie label Afternoon Records. A few months later, it was re-released by Barsuk. Within the span of a little over a year, Schaaf's personal project had become fodder for indie blog buzz and critical excitement.
What was once a solo project is now a full-fledged band, with three creative minds contributing to a sound that's often as experimental as it is poppy. Drummer Michael Tapper -- formerly of We Are Scientists and currently also of Bishop Allen -- lays down offbeat rhythms that both mirror and converse with Schaaf's unconventional lead lines. Multi-instrumentalist Jon Natchez -- dubbed "indie rock's most valuable sideman" by NPR for his contributions to work by Beirut, the Antlers, Okkervil River and others -- plays whatever's called for in a particular song, providing baritone saxophone, flugelhorn and bass, among others.
"The Mistress" relied on extensive vocal and guitar looping to create layers that interacted in complex and interesting ways. On Yellow Ostrich's sophomore record, "Strange Land," there were six hands to give those sounds life, resulting in a much more organic sound. The songs are undeniably in the style of Schaaf's previous work, however, with tangled textures and deep, asymmetrical hooks. For this session, Yellow Ostrich performed three songs from "Strange Land."
All photos by Louis Kwok.