CLAP YOUR HANDS SAY YEAH at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West), Saturday (September 3). $12 (sold out, limited tickets may be available at door). 416-598-4753, www.clapyourhandssayyeah.com. Rating: NNNNN
The mysterious process that turns a struggling artist into an overnight sensation has little to do with musical talent. But the success that once started with some "greatest band ever" blather from the taste-making UK music press in addition to at least one Morrissey sighting at a low-key gig can now happen with just a favourable comparison to Arcade Fire on a popular website.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah had been together for just over a year, playing sporadically in New York, without anyone paying attention. There wasn't much fanfare surrounding their terrifically exuberant self-titled debut disc when they released it themselves in early June, but that changed dramatically once a glowing review appeared on the Pitchfork site (www.pitchforkmedia.com) on June 22.
A relatively high rating of 9.0 (out of 10) on the site's indie-rock hype-o-meter would be enough to get backpack kids salivating with anticipation (Broken Social Scene's You Forgot It In People got a 9.2), but it was reviewer Brian Howe's name-dropping of Modest Mouse, Neutral Milk Hotel and Arcade Fire that sent them off and running to track down Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's magical music.
In a matter of days, they went from selling a couple of copies at shows to shipping 50-count boxloads to Toronto's Rotate This and Soundscapes, which now can't keep the disc on the shelves.
While there's no question that part of the reason for Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's current popularity is because their quirky take on pop is so fresh and exciting, even lead singer Alec Ounsworth admits it's doubtful they would've been able to sell out the Horseshoe within hours of tickets going on sale without the Pitchfork push.
"Since the Pitchfork write-up, we have been selling a lot more discs," concedes the group's charismatic warbler from his Philadelphia pad.
"I'd never read Pitchfork before we got reviewed, and I generally don't pay attention to reviews at all, but somebody told me I should have a look. What I found interesting was the writer's speculation about what I might've been listening to when writing the songs. I actually wasn't even familiar with most of the artists he mentioned."
Could it be that Ounsworth is the only living 20-something who hasn't yet heard Arcade Fire?
"I think I saw them at the end of a talk show once, but they didn't make much of an impression on me. I guess my musical tastes lie elsewhere. I really don't listen to much contemporary music at all. If it's not immediately appealing, I'm not into it. What's in rotation right now is Tom Waits's Bone Machine, Funkadelic's Maggot Brain and Brian Eno's Here Come The Warm Jets."
Along with the sudden surge in CD sales, the members of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah have noticed many more smiling-faced major-label A&R reps coming to their shows. There might even be a few flying in for the Horseshoe gig Saturday night - that's how badly some labels want to sign Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Look for the dudes with moustaches.
"The whole idea of putting out a CD was to gauge what people thought of our music and maybe help us get some gigs. We made 2,000 and those sold out, so we released some more. We're still selling the discs by ourselves, which is becoming difficult to manage now that we're going on tour. I can see we'll eventually need some help with it, so we're talking to a number of people from different labels who've been coming to see us in New York.
"But nobody has come looking for me in Philadelphia yet," chuckles Ounsworth, "so whoever gets to my place in Philly first . Just kidding. I was joking about this with another journalist and said that we were going to sign with the A&R rep who grows the thickest moustache in the shortest amount of time. I'd much rather see a big, bushy moustache than a limo parked outside my door."