When sourcing leaders of the artsy punk rock music scene during the turn of the early 2000s, it’s impossible to overlook the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. As American indie/electronic rockers, when vocalist Karen Orzolek (better known as Karen O), guitarist and keyboardist Nick Zinner, and drummer Brian Chase banded together, the result was sheer vibrancy. The trio burst into the universe with a force unlike many others - if like any at all. In just one decade, the stream of the “instant connection” between Karen and Brian while they attended Oberlin College in Ohio during the late 1990s has paved a road to success that even the “trashy, punky, grimy” music makers of the group couldn't predict. With three studio albums and one on the way, plus several EPs and videos, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have claimed their stake in the hearts of fans, critics, and other musicians. In advance of this year’s upcoming “Mosquito” album, slated for release during April 2013, here is more about Karen O, her band, and the 10 Best Yeah Yeah Yeah Songs (So Far).
2. Y Control
3. Cold Light
4. Modern Romance
5. Kiss Kiss
6. Little Shadow
9. Dragon Queen
10. Heads Will Roll
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs joined forces as the acoustic duo initially named “Unitard” after Karen and Brian met in a bar. With Karen O’s vocals reminiscent of a edgy, more modern, less disturbed Nancy Spungen combined with a dash of the hearty badassery of Pat Benatar plus the brutal honesty of Blondie, the pair birthed what they described as a “beer throwing,” “trashy punk” using the name “Unitard.” Zinner offered druing an interview that the early days of the group were spent cutting through illusions and offering their hearts. He stated: “the first time we got together, it was just us and drum-machine and a four track recorder. We knew that we wanted to play in a rock band, and we wanted to be incredibly direct, and really kind of sleazy and sexy and emboldened. We were definitely thinking of, like, the aesthetic of The Cramps, even though, like, neither of us owned more than one Cramps record at the time.” Karen O echoed that sentiment with: “I had no idea what it meant to be in a band. So I wanted this to be more than just a band. We had very specific ideas about what we wanted to be. We wanted to have an element of violence, an element of bliss, and element of sexuality, that would all kind of fuse together and create a real good time good show that would knock people out of their self-consciousness.”
Though Zinner and Karen were likely unaware at the time, their mission would become an massive success. Unitard’s sound influenced some of their Oberlin College roommates who in turn went on to form the band Metric and also helped inspire birth of an eclectic punk/garage rock/indie genre. The duo quickly transitioned to a more plugged in, electric sound and hired drummer Brian Chase. The trio created a number of songs during their first practice which paved the way for the group to adopt their present name. The band went on to play several live shows and joined the White Stripes and The Strokes tour as a supporting band. In 2001, the trio headed to the studio to record and release their self titled debut. The EP was released in production with Boss Hog’s Jerry Teel under the independent label, Shifty. Within one year, the group earned international recognition by performing at the South by Southwest music festival. During 2002, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs embarked on U.S. and U.K. tours as both a supporting band for Sleater-Kinney, the Liars, and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and also as headlining act.
Between performances and gigs, the group hit the studio to record Fever to Tell during 2003. The Interscope labeled album received a huge critical response and sold over 750,000 international copies. The ballad track “Maps” struck the hearts of many and even ranked among Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. With massive commercial success, the album was certified gold by 2004. Later that year the group released the single and Spike Jonze directed video for “Y Control.” The song earned the Yeah Yeah Yeahs recognition as the 213th best song of the decade by Pitchfork Media for its depiction of a female’s loss of innocence and the subsequently inherent power of being a girl. The group’s first DVD titled Tell Me What Rockers To Swallow pushed the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' success to new heights. The DVD included concert footage from a live performance at San Francisco’s famed The Fillmore Auditorium, plus a number of interviews, and all of the group’s previously released music videos.
For much of 2005, Karen O and other members of the band took a break from touring and concentrated their talents on solo projects. Karen went on to collaborate with Squeak E. Clean to produce materials for a Nike soundtrack and a commercial produced by Spike Jonze. Zinner pursued a side project with the band Head Wound City and also produced a book of photographs titled “I Hope You Are All Happy Now.” By late 2005, the trio reconvened and recorded tracks to offer a highly polished sound jokingly based upon Karen O’s cat. The album was initially titled Coco Beware and later renamed Show Your Bones. Of March release of the album, Karen O offered (via Drowned in Sound online magazine): “Show Your Bones is what happens when you put your finger in a light socket.” She went on to give credit to a “9 year old anti-genius-wonder-kid” named Drake Barrett and the youth's insight for much of the material of the record. The album’s first single, called “Gold Lion,” climbed to the number 18 spot on the Official UK Singles Chart and peaked within the number 11 position on the U.S. Billboard’s Top 200. Within one week of the albums release, over 56,000 copies were sold. As a strong commercial success, the album provided for a promotional tour throughout the U.S. and Europe for the remainder of the year.
During late 2005, Karen O was personally subjected to an internet leak after she recorded her solo album, titled KO At Home. Of the leak, Karen quipped: “At first, it made me feel sick to my stomach. I felt paranoid, in some strange way, like people were everywhere, and my privacy was all gone, and nothing was left safe or sacred. It felt like if anyone does anything personal - writing a diary, or writing a song - it can’t, anymore, be something kept private. It’s strange when you do something personal, and somebody cracks that open, and spills it out. It was an odd feeling, but one that I had to get over pretty quick. Because it was completely out of my control, y’know?” Despite the hack, Karen’s solo album did well. In addition, by December 2006, the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Show Your Bones earned more tremendous praise by industry greats. NME Magazine listed Show Your Bones as the second best album of the year, Rolling Stone named it the 44th best, and Spin magazine placed it in the number 31 position of their 40 best albums.
During the summer of 2007, the band released a collection of songs written between tours and albums in the form of an EP titled Is Is. The album featured a short film of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs performing at the GlassLands Gallery in Brooklyn, NY, and included 5 previously unreleased songs created during the Fever To Tell tour. Members of the group continued to perform, tour, and record until the March 2009 release of It’s Blitz. A scuffle over an online leak from the band’s Interscope label caused the album to release ahead of its scheduled April 13 date but did not significantly impact the album’s success. Scoring highly by Metacritic with points in the “universal acclaim” range, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' critics, fans, and dancers 'round the world offered applause, praise, and recognition. Spin magazine listed the album as the second best album of 2009 for its “alternative pop...remarkable emotional depth and finesse.” The LA Times, the New York Times, BBC Music, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, Pitchfork, Slant, Popmatters, and All Music echoed Spin's opinion and rated the album highly.
While the group's fame rose, the band’s massive popularity and tremendous praise increased tensions for members of the group over the direction of their music. Of this, Karen offered: “All of us, individually, have different expectations of ourselves, as individuals and as a band. When there’s a conflict of expectations, there’s bound to be conflict. We know it’s not going to get any easier from here on out. That’s a bitter pill to swallow. But it never really was easy. There’s never an easy moment.” The group pressed on and began recording new tracks for an upcoming album in addition to playing live. During December 2011, Karen confirmed the album would be released during the Spring of 2013. The group revealed the title of the album, Mosquito, via their official Facebook page on January 14, 2013. They also offered details of the album’s April 16 release which is set to include TV On The Radio’s Dave Sitek, English producer and recording engineer Nicholas Launay, and James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem. The artwork for the album, created by animator Beomsik Shimbe Shim, has left fans and critics perplexed. The group will feature Shim’s work once the visuals are translated into an animated music video for the title track lead single. Perhaps the ultimate message of the artwork, album, and band is that some things of life (including how we all got here) is filthy, sloppy, murky, and divine - just as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are.