An ancient interview with Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Thought you might enjoy reading it.
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It’s the small hours of the morning. I can’t sleep. Got a Sex Drugs Rock N Roll lecture to give in under seven hours. Can’t sleep. So rather than spend the whole night playing Minesweeper, I thought I’d reproduce this. Thought it might amuse someone. Happened early on in the Yeah Yeah Yeahs career. Wrote it for NYC’s excellent BB Gun magazine. Had a lot of fun with it. I bet Yeah Yeah Yeahs will be really happy to see this one again.
I can date this pretty much to the week, cos of the reference to our wedding. Must’a happened 10 years ago, August 2002 or thereabouts. Careless Talks Costs Lives was the magazine that I put together with Steve Gullick, start of the 00s.
YEAH YEAH YEAHS FAQ
Words: Everett True
We had trouble with this interview.
The first attempt Karen O got too stoned, because I’d asked her to call me back in an hour as I was going through the church music for my wedding with my mother and fiancée, trying to figure out whether we could work Nick Cave into the equation. So she smoked some damn weed: ever interviewed someone on the phone stoned off her gourd? Don’t. Still: she made more sense then the last time we met – her and her gal pals tearing up a Williamsburg bar. Time and again, people were dragged out along the floor by their hair: someone tried to set light to a table: someone pelted me with ice as I sat next to Karen discussing boy troubles: someone ended up with a right shiner, and rightly so. It goes without saying that VOICES were FUCKING RAISED. It is liberating to scream: how else to explain the entire Lydia Lunch back catalogue? (Hey, I’m not knocking it. Just calling the shots.)
So when it comes to the interview proper, Karen is affronted at my nerve. Why? Let me backtrack slightly.
The previous interview we undertook, first I’d got in a full-on argument with their manager – emailing everyone drunk accusing everyone except myself of being full-blown corporate whores – that later resulted in him clocking my photographer in return for his attempts to make him a eunuch courtesy of a low-lying stage. I introduced myself to Karen’s band mates Nick Zinner (guitar) and Ross from Friends (drums) as Roger Mellie. No reason, except that bands are far too self-obsessed. It ain’t exactly rocket science, plugging a fucking guitar into an amplifier, so lose your fucking airs and graces now. WHAT HAS THIS TO DO WITH THE MUSIC, THE MISCHIEF? Fuck man, ain’t you heard the Yeah Yeah Yeahs yet? Squeals and salacious explosions of brittle and booming sound, and tautology: songs that drip (Ed, fill in another word for mischief, please) (no don’t, this is a journalistic device) and menace in equal proportions… Within three fucking seconds of hearing the meaty guitar on the start of ‘Bang’, the opening track of their self-titled five-song EP, I am absolutely drooling ravenously. Like George Bush faced with the remainder of the world. I’m guessing the singer is female, but she sure as hell looks like my little brother’s mole-fed androgynous (male) math teacher with her MASTER neck chain on the sleeve. So I decide I should write about them: this music makes me wanna dance and there is NO HIGHER ACCOLADE. So I write. Reams.
Letters pour in, affronted at the fact we dedicate 10 pages to Yeah Yeah Yeahs in Careless Talk Costs Lives – T-E-N, in a magazine that loses me my dignity, my decorum and my future pension – like they’re not the MOST FUCKING RIGHTEOUS EXPLOSION OF NOISE I’VE HEARD SINCE YOU WERE IN DIAPERS. Hey. I’ll print you one.
You’re fucking kidding me. You didn’t have space for my article, but you had space for fucking SIX articles about ONE band? Excuse me, but if I wanted to read some hype-fuelled Publicity Blow-Job about the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, I’d pick up the NME.
I thought CTCL was going to be different than the rest of the Music press. Guess I was wrong. You’ve seriously dropped the Ball on this. This is the sort of shit that made me hate the NME. I understand the idea of falling in love with a band. But lavishing that much hype on a band with ONE EP and a handful of live shows…
…It took four issues to get the first woman on the cover, and when we finally do, it’s just the scantily sexily dressed mouthpiece for an otherwise MALE band? Open the magazine and there’s all these articles about my heroines of yesterday – Kim Gordon, Kim Deal, The Shop Assistants, The Slits – but have we really stepped so far BACKWARDS in the past 10, 15 years that the closest equivalent we have today is some dolly bird girl singer? You can talk the talk as much as you like with all these token pieces on Riot Grrrl (yawn) but where is the walk being walked?
I was in a band called Blowjob once. When I was 16. I was naïve. My band-mates told me it was because we blew down recorders, and I plastered the name across the front of all my school exercise books. I was put in detention several times. Bastards. Whatever. I digress. Let’s get back to the interview.
So Karen’s pissed off. Rightly so – because I see part of my role as Britain’s Leading Unpaid Rock Hack to piss off as many musicians as possible – and for this BB Gun interview, I demand she comes up with both the questions and answers. Why should I have to do any work whatsoever? SPONTANEITY! SPONTANEITY! That’s what is central to all the greatest rock’n’roll and THAT’S WHY the Yeah Yeah mother-fucking Yeahs are so vital and the (spit) mother-fucking Vines are just sheep’s turds dressed up in your momma’s glad rags. Fuckheads.
So Karen O suggests I write the answers as she’s given me (some of) the questions. I argue back: successfully, except that the interview is punctuated by stoned giggles. Half the time I’m thinking I can use a previous…
Then I hear she has a breakdown.
1.1 HOW DID YOU GUYS MEET?
“I’m not answering those questions. Are you crazy? Really? Did we just do your homework for you? That’s just wrong. Is that what this is. That’s not fair. I refuse to answer any of those questions. Can we talk about something else?”
“I’m smoking some pot right now. That’s all I’ve been doing recently; waking up no earlier than three, roll out of bed, show up at the studio around four, and smoke pot. I’m usually brain fried from the night before, so I smoke some more weed. It’s a vicious cycle of weed smoking. People don’t think weed is addictive but I think quite the contrary. It’s a dangerous, dangerous drug. What are you doing over there?”
“That’s a really bad idea. You should get someone else there, two or three of you. The songs are good. I can’t really talk about that right now. We have a lot, 17 – none of them I will discuss right now.”
Not even one? OK. That makes my job easier, not harder. When was the last time you did something you don’t want to tell me about?
Well, I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself.
“Oh boy. Oh man.”
Think of me as your late night confessional.
“It’s between five and six o’clock, the dipping point of the day.”
1.2 WHAT’S IT LIKE BEING A FEMALE IN A BAND?
“I came up with a joke recently, at a Siouxsie Sioux concert. Wanna hear it? What’s an adult Goth’s greatest fear? To be made fun of like he was when he was a kid. Nick is part-Goth, and his response to the joke was that’s not a joke, that’s a fact.”
Take the question literally.
“Well, um, it’s like… imagine…”
“Hello? Sorry. Wow.”
“I’m really glad I smoked pot midway through this. I wasn’t planning on… I didn’t weigh the circumstances. Now I’m really stoned. What’s it like being a female in a band? Well. Are you making up something for me? How about, this is the little deal we can cut. I came up with the questions so…”
No, that’s too much work for me.
“You didn’t let me finish. So you… A female in a band is like…”
“Last night, I had a dream that me and Angus were in Australia we were in field with long yellow grass with his dad and his dog and we kept throwing Frisbees at the dog and he kept missing them, what do you think it means?”
The dog’s got bad eyesight.
It’s now Monday, four days after our first attempt at an interview. Nick, frantic at Karen’s stoned intransigence, has agreed to sit in on the studio’s extension line. Karen still sounds very stoned. Hey, I don’t care – it’s their dollar. The remainder of the article is taken from an amalgam of the two phone calls.
1.25 WHAT’S IT LIKE BEING A MALE IN A BAND?
Nick: “Um. Well, uh. Um.”
Nick: “I don’t have any experience with the other to base it on. I don’t know. It’s all right. Sometimes I wish I could experience what it’s like for Karen.”
Do females complain you can’t rock because you’re not female?
Nick: “I wish. It would be nice to think we’re more equal. The only girl who ever commented on my guitar playing was Carrie from Sleater-Kinney. Maybe that’s because there aren’t too many outgoing female guitar players that want to speak to me.”
1.3 HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT WRITING A SONG?
Karen: “Why don’t you ask me some questions about Nick and Brian?”
Nick: “Don’t you have a little intern to type your tapes up for you?”
No. You can get arrested for that over here.
1.35 DO YOU GUYS EVEN CARE ABOUT MUSIC?
Nick: “Oh yeah. Of course… is this a trick question? That is preposterous.”
Is Karen a front-woman for scheming male musicians?
Nick: “That seems obviously incorrect. If there’s a stereotype it means there’s a long tradition that’s become the norm – incorrect, and you can’t compare Karen to any other front-woman. There are three women that Karen is often compared to – PJ Harvey, Siouxsie Sioux and Blondie…”
She isn’t nothing like PJ Harvey. Believe me.
Nick: “And Courtney Love…”
I’m not qualified to comment on that.
Nick: “Karen could be playing Billy Joel songs and people would say she sounds like Tori Amos.”
1.4 ARE ALL YOUR SONGS ABOUT SEX?
Karen: “This interview could go in a terribly wrong direction if I go this way. They trust me to do a good interview with you. I’m at a point where I don’t know what to talk about… I want this to be really, really… I was dreading this interview because I respect BB Gun and I had a feeling I wasn’t going to…”
Trust me I’m a critic.
Karen: “Er. I don’t know.”
Tell me about Brian.
Karen: “These are terrible questions.”
You came up with them.
1.45 ARE ALL YOUR SONGS ABOUT MASTURBATION?
Nick: “Maybe in one sense. We have a couple of new songs – one is a love song.”
What kind of love song?
Karen: “It’s one of those ‘don’t go’ love songs. Stay.”
[This sounds way funnier on the phone than in print.]
1.5 WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT ALL THE HYPE ABOUT YOUR BAND?
Karen: “You know, I really don’t think there’s any such thing as… hello…I don’t know.”
Karen: “Let’s talk about something else for a second. What else is there to talk about? Is that sound, you typing? You’re like a nerd-freak, typing as fast as you can.”
I only use two fingers.
Nick: “People write about us because other people write about us.”
Karen: “The domino effect.”
1.6 IS ‘OUR TIME’ ABOUT SEPTEMBER 11?
Karen: “Oh God. Why am I always hearing these questions?”
1.7 WHY DO YOU SMILE SO MUCH ON STAGE?
Karen: “What kind of stupid question is that, man?”
It’s yours. I’ve never seen you play. I was drunk remember, and insulting random local musicians. How would I know whether you smile or not?
Karen: “So. Oh man. I just can’t…I’m not… I don’t know…”
Tell me what you did last night.
Karen: “I was in the studio last night. There’s no getting around it. I need a break. I went out a week ago, to a place in Manhattan, nothing out the ordinary.”
Did you get dragged out screaming by your hair?
Karen: “I don’t know, maybe a little. What are you writing right now?”
Karen: “Read it back to me.”
[Me]: “‘What are you writing right now?’ Stuff. ‘Read it back to me.’”
1.8 IS ‘BANG’ ABOUT SOMETHING YOU ACTUALLY EXPERIENCED?
Karen: “Um, maybe. Yeah, it’s probably about an ex-boyfriend or someone. Maybe it’s about… oh God. I hate answering questions about the songs.”
1.85 WHAT DO GUYS THINK OF THE VINES?
Nick: “That’s so funny you said that. I just gave them a second chance and I don’t want to encourage any kind of feud but… I was disappointed.”
They’re not a fucking garage band. Garage bands don’t take nine fucking months to record an album in LA.
Nick: “Exactly. I like reading about them. I think it’s funny the singer will roll around parking lots in a rage because he can’t find a McDonalds.”
1.9 IS IT TRUE YOU WROTE YOUR WHOLE EP IN ONE SESSION?
That’s it. Interview’s over, you’re the new Vines.
2.0 DO ANY OF YOU ACTUALLY LIKE MUSIC?
Nick: “I’m a music fanatic. My favourite music magazine is NME.”
That’s very funny.
Karen: “Haven’t you asked this question already?”
How would you know, you’re stoned.
Nick: “I like your magazine a lot.”
Karen: “I like BB Gun a lot.”
2.1 WHAT’S THE NEW YORK SOUND? ARE YOU A PART OF THE NEW YORK SCENE? DO YOU KNOW THE STROKES AND THE WHITE STRIPES? DO YOU GET ANNOYED WHEN PEOPLE COMPARE YOU WITH THEM?
Nick: “That’s a FAQ.”
Karen: “I didn’t come up with these questions, honestly Nick. Don’t you have any of your own? Nick, you can do this interview, I’m going.”
That’s it. The interview is over.
2.2 WHY’S THERE NO BASSIST?
Karen: “Can you make this any more difficult for us?”
Nick: “Punk rock journalism – ask the most obnoxious questions you can.”
2.3 DID YOU HAVE A BREAKDOWN RECENTLY?
Karen: “No, not a breakdown – but…”
Nick: “A flat tyre.”
Karen: “I don’t know. It’s complicated. Everything was moving too fast. Things got out of sight. Things were hyped up too early, so we had to get things back on track… I really hope this band doesn’t drive me to have a breakdown.”
Nick: “Me too.”
Karen: “Once people start dying… life is fragile.”
Tell me more.
Karen: “You tell yourself more.”
2.4 ARE YOU AS OBNOXIOUS IN REAL LIFE?
Karen: “I feel so misunderstood in this interview. I feel so misrepresented. I’m certainly no fashion icon. I wear a tank top.”
2.5 IS IT TRUE THAT YOU PUSHED COURTNEY LOVE INTO A FOOD TABLE?
Nick: “The Hissy Fits are the only band I’ll openly slag off. I hate their singer, and I think they’re a really mediocre band.”
2.6 IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE YOU WANT TO SAY?
Karen: “Disregard this interview.”