"MY WHOLE LIFE up until now, I did all my recording on just a cheap computer set-up," says Alex Schaaf. That's how he recorded Yellow Ostrich's charming 2010 album The Mistress: Schaaf played all the parts himself, building catchy, slightly off-kilter songs out of vocal loops and minimal but insistent percussion. Yellow Ostrich has since turned into a three-piece, rounded out by Michael Tapper and Jon Natchez, and the group's new album Strange Land is very much a band effort.
It's true that Strange Land has a more conventional sound than what preceded it—such as the Yellow Ostrich EP Schaaf recorded with only vocals and a drum machine, or the one whose entire lyrics were cribbed from Morgan Freeman's Wikipedia bio. But it's also a bright, brash record that's incredibly fun to listen to, riding on Schaaf's sugary melodies and kid-next-door voice. "I just got kind of tired of doing the vocal loops just 'cause I did so much of it on the first album," he says. "And it's kind of a new challenge to find ways to do it without using those."
Strange Land was engineered and co-produced by Portland-based producer and engineer Beau Sorenson, whom Schaaf had met briefly during Sorenson's days at Madison, Wisconsin's Smart Studios. (Schaaf has since moved to Brooklyn.) "I felt like on The Mistress I had reached some sort of wall where I had done everything I could do. It was cool to get someone else to open up this world of how it could sound and introduce new ideas."
Sorenson and the band mixed the album here in Portland, at the Mix Foundry, the smaller mixing studio next to the renowned Type Foundry main studio. "We flew out there in September," says Schaff. "It's just a nice little room, and it was near Beau's place so he could bring all of his gear over. It was really fun. Most of the time we were in the studio; we would work from 11 am or noon until midnight or so. On the street where we were working there were all these different various businesses, like a glass factory and a motorcycle repair place. It just felt very Portland—as I had envisioned it."