YEAH YEAH YEAHS
JON SPENCER BLUES EXPLOSION, LIARS
Showbox, 628-3151 , $20/$15 adv.
9 p.m. Tues., Sept. 24
Sleater-Kinney Drummer Janet Weiss is getting crank calls, and it's all Nick Zinner's fault. In fact, if you're an underground rock star and a stranger has phoned to ask if your refrigerator is running in the past few days, you can probably blame Zinner, guitarist for New York's Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
"I got mugged a week and a half ago, and they got my cell phone," explains the haystack-haired 27-year-old. "I got a new one, but apparently this guy, who claims to have bought my phone from a crack-head, is calling up everyone in my address book and harassing them. I feel really bad about it." During our half-hour chat, Zinner will click over to call waiting four times to field complaints and updates.
This may be Zinner's first encounter with a celebrity gadfly, but the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have already amassed a good number of rabid fans and plenty of gushing press—thanks to their distinctive art punk propelled by Zinner's taut guitar licks, the edgy, sexy vocals of Karen O, and Brian Chase's distinctive drumming. The group's self- titled, self-released five-song debut, featuring the jerky-yet-irresistible "Bang" and the scathing stop-start screecher "Art Star," was quickly snatched up for rerelease by Chicago indie Touch and Go, and the trio has already barnstormed across North America opening for Girls Against Boys.
The band formed in 2000, when Karen was a student at N.Y.U. Zinner, who hails from Boston, had been through a string of unsuccessful groups but was immediately taken with the singer. "We met through some mutual friends, and she was totally out of her mind . . . and still is. She was the most unpredictable person I'd ever met." Creatively, the two clicked instantly, something that took Zinner by surprise. "The other band I was in had four people, and it was more like group therapy than band practice."
When the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' original drummer ducked out, the duo recruited Chase (whom Karen knew from their days at Ohio's Oberlin College) to round out the lineup. "We tried playing with a keyboard player and another guitarist," adds Zinner, "but it just worked the best with three of us."
Like many noted modern rock acts these days—from Sleater-Kinney and the Gossip to the White Stripes and Glass Candy—the Yeah Yeah Yeahs don't bother with a bassist. For his part, Zinner doesn't believe the trend signals the end of the bass player. "No . . . I don't think they're going anywhere," he says, chuckling. "Not so long as the influence of Jaco Pastorius lives among us all."
The trio has spent most of the summer diligently finishing its debut full-length (even canceling a European tour to clear their schedule for recording), currently in the final stages of being mixed. "The record is all over the place," says Zinner of the forthcoming disc. "It's definitely a lot less garage rock, a little more dance-y. It's a little more aggressive." The album should be out—fingers crossed, he says—in early 2003.
In the meantime, fans can look forward to the release of a new three-song single come early November. Although the A-side, "Machine," was recorded during sessions for the new album, none of the cuts on the single is slated to appear on the full-length. "One song, 'Graveyard,' is sort of an old demo," says Zinner. "And the third track is a remix of one of the songs that is going to be on the record. It's actually pretty atmospheric. Someone who heard it said it was 'the sound of love.'"
Zinner is looking forward to spreading the YYYs' unique brand of "love" these next few weeks as the trio terrorizes the country, along with Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and fellow up-and-comers the Liars. "New York City is pretty jaded," he admits. Outside the Big Apple, he finds audiences respond more enthusiastically to his band's outpouring of raw, erotically charged energy. "Out of town, people are a lot less apt to stand there with their arms crossed and more ready to rock out, which is great."
Indeed, much of the clamor surrounding the band has concentrated on Karen's no-holds-barred performances. But Zinner swears she's never done anything onstage that truly scared him. "Although I did accidentally hit her on the head with my guitar at a show on Saturday," he says. "That frightened me . . . but she was OK. Two people rocking out sometimes collide."