Interview with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs
I first came across the Yeah Yeah Yeahs in a Terry Richardson photo shoot for The Face. It was 2003 and the band were being profiled as part of an up-and-coming hipster music feature. They certainly looked the part. Karen O snarled as she tore apart old C-90 cassette tapes, drummer Brian Chase wore a Black Flag shirt and looked vaguely startled at the presence of the camera. Meanwhile, guitarist Nick Zinner held a flick knife to his throat and looked eerily calm. I didn’t know who the hell these three people were, but I certainly wanted to find out.
As it turns out, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs would be the most enduring and successful band from the class of 2003. Their debut album, 'Fever To Tell', was a messy and joyously noisy affair; packed with indie dance floor anthems. The success of the album led to blanket magazine coverage, high-end photo shoots and a controversial, seldom-seen videoclip for 'Y Control' helmed by Spike Jonze. 'Show Your Bones' followed in 2006 and saw the band take a more reflective and arty approach. While it polarised opinions, NME named it their Album of The Year.
Three years (and one Internet leak later), the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have returned with their third effort, 'It's Blitz!'. Easily the band’s most adventurous and bizarre album to date, it's an LP that deserves the exclamation mark it comes with.
Much has been made of unusual array of sounds present on 'It’s Blitz!' and whether keyboards or heavily tweaked and processed guitars were responsible. According to Zinner, both are present in more or less equal amounts. “We just started fucking around with keyboards as a new element to incorporate and be inspired by – we really just wanted to expand on what we do,” he explains quietly. “It’s more like a continuation of the path we’ve been on. Adding keyboards just seemed like the next step.”
One new song that has been of particular interest is 'Skeletons'; at track four, it’s the first moment that the tempo drops back and Karen O sings lyrics like "skeleton you, skeleton me" over a backing so slow and dreamy it could be a lost My Bloody Valentine single.
'Skeletons', as it turns out, was the very first song written for 'It’s Blitz!' “We were setting up in the studio and I was unpacking a box with a little shitty keyboard I bought on eBay,” Zinner illuminates, “and it literally came out right there – half an hour later, the song was done. It came out of nowhere. That was a good day.”
When the Yeah Yeah Yeahs write songs, they go into a bubble, shutting out all unnecessary distractions to focus on what they are doing. Zinner, while a fan of Mötley Crüe and Public Enemy, is a punk at heart, and the idea of sitting around with a band and jamming infuriates him, but sometimes it’s a necessary evil. “There was a lot of jamming that went on with this record,” he sighs, “which I really hate to do, but you gotta do it I guess.”
It’s inevitable these days that a high-profile album like the new Yeah Yeah Yeahs will leak onto torrent sites and blogs weeks before its official release. This was the case with 'It’s Blitz!', and though the band are annoyed, they’re prepared to be philosophical. “Obviously it’s incredibly frustrating and kind of disheartening,” Zinner offers, “if only for the sake of our labels, who are tearing their hair out.
“There’s nothing we can do about it, so we’re not going to be crying to anyone about it,” he continues. “At the same time, though, the fact that it has leaked means that people must want to hear it and be excited about hearing it – I hope from there that more people will want to hear it, and come see us play.”
Before I can let Zinner get back to doing his thing there's one rumour that needs to be put to rest. Back in 2006 when the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were getting ready for their sophomore release, a story began circulating the net that the band had recorded a concept album about the adventures of Karen O’s cat and were calling it 'Coco Beware'. While nothing materialised, a similar story began circulating ahead of 'It's Blitz!'. So, are the band responsible?
Zinner laughs at this suggestion. “The last time that one went around, our producer was responsible. I didn’t know it had happened again this year but that’s great. There was actually a kitten that showed up on our doorstep when we were recording in Texas who was kind of the band’s muse,” he continues, “or two thirds of the band’s muse. There were kittens in the making of 'Show Your Bones' as well. There’s just something about cats and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs – we’re attracted to each other.”
Will the band will cave into pressure and release a kitten-themed album next time around? “Definitely,” Zinner deadpans. “It will probably be a hip hop record.”