profile of JRocker

Yeah Yeah Yeahs: "We went through a super dark time"

It's been 13 years since New York's art rockers emerged with a potent mix of Cramps inspired garage and loose DIY punk. Their 2003 debut, Fever To Tell, put the trio on the avant-punk radar and frontwoman Karen O channeled everyone from The Slits to Pussy Galore in her quest to be noticed. They put the rock back in punk and gave the 2000s something to remember. The trio—who met at the now defunct lower east side dive bar Mars Bar—are about to release a fourth studio album Mosquito. It's all about reggae inspired rhythms this time and follows 2009's electro diversions of It's Blitz!. The once black haired Karen O has gone platinum blonde, guitarist Nick Zinner remains the pale goth and Brian Chase still stings behind the drum kit.

A regular visitor to these shores in recent times, we caught up with Zinner ahead of the band's tour with Big Day Out.

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What happened to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs after you finished touring 2009’s It’s Blitz? What inspired you to come back together four years later to record a new album [Mosquito]?

We went through a super dark time after we finished touring the last record. We were trying to figure out what our next steps were, jointly and collectively. There was a long period of doubt, we were trying lots of different projects and Karen [O] and I were jamming a lot. We both felt we still wanted to do another record. It was just waiting for the time when it felt right, necessary and urgent. From 2011 we felt really inspired about doing YYY’s stuff. There is a great bond between all of us, so it’s just part of who we are. When we were practicing for a show a few months ago, we were playing songs we hadn’t played in two years and we were like, this is great; it’s special.

You’ve toured Australia as a band and as individuals with solo projects. What are you most looking forward to?

It’s kind of crazy, this is my third time in Australia this past year. It’s a record for me. I came for totally different projects; and the second time was with Karen and drummer Brian [Chase] with Psycho Opera for the Sydney Festival. The whole time people were asking me about the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and what was happening. It seems people are still excited about us. As a band we’re really looking forward to playing music again and eating delicious food in Australia.

You were recently in London working with former front man of LCD Soundsystem James Murphy? Did you work with him on the new album?

I can’t really say much other than we weren’t exactly doing something different to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. We were experimenting and hanging out. The album is done. It will be coming out in Spring [USA]. I am hoping we play one or two songs in Australia. We previewed a new song [Despair] at a benefit show [for Hurricane Sandy victims] in December at Union Pool in Brooklyn.

How would you describe the chemistry between the band members?

For me it’s a familial attachment and a family connection. We have so much history and Karen and I live five blocks away from each other in New York and we all hang out all the time. It’s familiar and assuring; it keeps us going.

You enjoy taking photographs in your spare time and have released three books. Any plans for more?

I started photographing back in high school. I usually take photos while on tour. I have a huge archive that need to be edited and I have plans to release another book of crowd shots. I have 12 years of photos of all the shows we ever played.

Do you always travel with a camera?

Yes. I have a really bad memory but the photos help with that. I take photos for a personal reference. I try to make something look beautiful wherever I am, without giving it too much thought. I am constantly thinking about taking pictures of the band too. Taking pictures of unfamiliar situations is my thing. I have a strong thirst for the unknown and I get quickly bored with familiar patterns. I am a classic Sagittarian. 

How did you come to be involved in Africa Express? You’ve been involved in a few now.

Damon Albarn [Blur/Gorillaz] helps organise it. It’s a collective project where he brings artists to Africa to play with musicians. I went to Ethiopia with Flea and Josh [Klinghoffer] from the Chili Peppers. I haven’t seen them since so the Big Day Out will be a good time to catch up again.

Do you ever have to pinch yourself given the opportunities that have arisen since the success of the YYYs?

I never take it for granted. My life is very strange in that way and blessed for those moments. One minute I’m on stage with John Paul Jones [Africa Express during a train tour in UK last year] thinking what the fuck, is this really happening and the next I am getting a cab and kids are spitting on me.

Have you ever thought of living somewhere else other than New York?

Sydney is on my wish list, but I don’t drive because my eyes are fucked up so there are few places I could survive beyond a few months. New York is my home and truly where I feel comfortable. I don’t think realistically I’d ever move anywhere else.

Career highlight?

The fact I got to play the Opera House for my solo show 41 Strings. That was amazing and another what am I doing here moments.

Any New Year resolutions? Are you a drifter or a list-maker?

I used to all the time, but now and especially this past year I was pretty sick over the holidays so I prefer to let things happens as they do. I did quit smoking again; that was my birthday and new year’s resolution.

Jane Rocca (@JBirdRocker)

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Yeah Yeah Yeahs are currently touring Australia as part of the Big Day Out. See them at the remaining dates:

BIG DAY OUT - 2013

Friday 25th January - Adelaide Showgrounds, Adelaide

Saturday 26th January -Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne

Sunday 27th January - Claremont Showgrounds, Perth

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