Most new music acts would love to have the kind of press notice that the freewheeling indie rockers Yeah Yeah Yeahs had in advance of their first full-length album, “Fever to Tell” (Interscope).
Then again, having two robust EPs in 2001 and 2002 and a reputation for raucous live shows will usually spark a media buzz.
Oddly enough, though, as expectations for their debut album gained steam, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs retreated from the spotlight to finish the record in seclusion.
“It totally, like, freaked us out,” guitarist Nick Zimmer recalls. “All that expectation and hype – it’s pretty much directly why we chose to record that record with like a really good friend of ours, and just like close ourselves in and not let anyone else come into the studio or just be involved with anything while we were making it.”
All the pre-album hype apparently didn’t hurt the New York-based band in the end. Reviews of “Fever to Tell” generally have been favorable. Album sales have approached 100,000 since its release in late April.
Lead singer Karen O (Karen Orzalek), drummer Brian Chase and Zimmer wring an impressive amount of sound from their tools. Yeah Yeah Yeahs music has a primal, yet deceptively polished quality, punctuated by a singer with a vocal delivery style that would make Yoko Ono proud.
While some music observers have lumped the Yeah Yeah Yeahs in with garage rock, the band’s musical explorations are more in line with a group such as the B-52s or possibly even Sonic Youth, rather than the Strokes.
“The songwriting stems from a type of improvisation,” Zimmer says.
“Usually like, we’ll play around until we find something. And usually that something leads us to finish a song. The songs sort of write themselves. We’re not aspiring to make the most complicated music, like what hits hardest.”
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs get along fine as a threesome, sans bass player. In fact, not having a bassist provides something of a double benefit for the band. Not only does it, as Zimmer notes, “open up more possibilities” musically for the group, it also gives Karen O more room to roam on stage.
Visceral hardly describes a Yeah Yeah Yeahs show. Against a blazing sonic backdrop created by Chase’s potent rhythms and Zimmer’s ringing guitar, Karen O works the stage with high-octane flair. She sashays, back pedals and high kicks with sultry panache.
Occasionally, a show will go overboard. During a performance in Sidney, Australia, in October, Karen O accidentally tumbled off stage and suffered a concussion. After a visit to a local hospital, she returned to the stage the next night… in a wheelchair.
Although the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have a reputation for its energetic live performances, Zimmer doesn’t seem too concerned that the band’s stage act will somehow overshadow its music.
“I think you can’t, at least for us, really separate them (performance and music). It’s pretty easy just to walk into any club in, like, the East Village or Brooklyn and see people freak out, you know, but their music is really boring. It’s like pure shock value or just pure sort of like adrenaline entertainment. It’s exciting for five or 10 minutes, but after that you get kind of bored if there’s nothing to back it up.”
Reflecting on the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ short history, Zimmer feels the group’s music has evolved, and now encompasses a broader sonic palette.
“I’d say the first year we were writing and playing, I think we were going through something. I know, the word stripped down is like kind of out of vogue now, but it was sort of like minimal and specific and direct. But then, I think now we’re probably just trying to evolve to fill up as much sound and space as possible. … We kind of like have short attention spans and big dreams at the same time.”