Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

If there’s an indie band today that knows the meaning of Internet buzz, it’s Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.

When the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based quintet released its self-titled debut last June, bloggers and online music publications went ballistic, comparing the outfit to Talking Heads, Arcade Fire, Neutral Milk Hotel, and Modest Mouse.

Influential online music magazine Pitchfork reviewed the album, giving it a whopping 9 points out of a possible 10. The Pitchfork review alone is arguably what catapulted the unsigned band’s popularity. But CYHSY frontman Alec Ounsworth has a different opinion.

“I think that review was one in a series of catalysts,” the singer/guitarist told Pollstar. “Pitchfork was just one of the things, and people tend to blow it out of proportion.

“To me, it always seemed like it was steadily progressing.”

Prior to releasing the album, CYHSY played shows in New York City for about a year and a half, slowly building a fan base, Ounsworth explained. After self-recording their album for $8,000, the musicians decided to sell and distribute the CD without the assistance of a label. Today, the record has sold 100,000 copies in America, according to manager Nick Stern, who separately works as a publicist for Atlantic Records.

Between playing gigs and holding down days jobs, the five-piece “figured out a system where everyone chipped in” to successfully ship CD orders. But things got hectic as the band’s buzz continued to grow.

“It was kind of difficult,” Ounsworth said. “It was interfering with the idea of writing songs and practicing, and things like that.”

CYHSY enlisted Alternative Distribution Alliance (ADA) to take over North American distribution after Ounsworth received a phone call from The National’s Aaron Dessner, inviting Clap Your Hands Say Yeah to support his band on a September 2005 jaunt.

Agent Jackie Nalpant of Monterey Peninsula Artists / Paradigm told Pollstar the outfit “gleefully accepted” the offer. It didn’t take her long to see the band’s headliner potential.

“We realized that as the tickets started selling on that tour,” the agent said. “It wasn’t a band people told you to like; people wanted to like it. The record speaks for itself.”

Instead of being introduced to the band through a label or management, Nalpant discovered CYHSY through another band she reps: Ambulance LTD. She said the Ambulance boys couldn’t stop raving about the quintet after a March ’05 gig they played together.

“After the show, I heard the Ambulance camp really loved this band and wanted to do more dates with them,” she said. “They said they were great.”

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

After wrapping its six-week trek with The National, CYHSY branched off as a headliner, playing sellouts in the U.S., Europe and Japan. The band is currently scheduled to appear at some of this summer’s top festivals, including Coachella, Sasquatch, Bonnaroo, Fuji Rock and T In The Park.

So far, Nalpant has played it safe in choosing where to book the band.

“Next time, it’ll be bigger rooms. We’ll probably skip a bunch of steps and go to a Wiltern and a Warfield,” the agent said. “I think we will go to where the market demands. There seems to be no shortage of people wanting to see them, and a lot of people have not been able to get tickets.”

Ounsworth believes that most concertgoers are attending shows because they sincerely like the music, and not just to see what all the Internet fuss is about.

“I think the idea of the shows being sold-out a long time before we get to the actual venues indicates it’s more of a loyal fan base that’s forming,” he said. “They don’t really have the opportunity to get tickets if they have a half-assed opinion.”

Playing gigs overseas was a different story.

“It was a little different over there because a lot of people came to the show having heard about us rather than having heard us,” he explained. “I think there were a lot of people trying to see what all the fuss was about.”

Despite the band’s popularity, CYHSY doesn’t plan to sign to a U.S. label in the “foreseeable future,” Ounsworth said. Last December, however, the outfit signed to U.K.-based Wichita Recordings, which now handles overseas distribution.

“We were set in [North America] with the distribution company, but in Europe we needed a little more help,” he explained.

Nalpant says that part of the band’s charm with fans is that it’s not interested in signing to a U.S. label.

“People wanted to like them for that,” she said. “They had a lot of offers, but they still decided to do it themselves, which is commendable.”

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s as-yet-untitled sophomore release is scheduled to drop sometime this fall.