Yeah Yeah Yeahs On Love Songs, New York And Transforming On Stage Ten years after the trio's debut album, singer Karen O says she and her bandmates are still shy in conversation. But when they perform together, "it's explosive."

Yeah Yeah Yeahs On Love Songs, New York And Transforming On Stage

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Ten years ago this month, a three-person rock band made their debut with an album called "Fever to Tell."


MARTIN: There was guitar and drums and a tall, provocative singer with a courageous sense of fashion. Her voice was emotional - sometimes soft, sometimes like a banshee - and she called herself Karen O.


KAREN O: (Singing) Made it off, don't stray...

MARTIN: Most of the tracks on her band's first album were rock hard, punkish. But the song they got famous with was different, a love ballad called "Maps."


O: (Singing) lalala, lala, lala. Wait. They don't love you like I love you. Wait. They don't love you like I love you. Lalala, lalalala....

MARTIN: The band called themselves the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. In the beginning, Karen O got a lot of the spotlight, which caused some friction in the group. But the trio, with Nick Zinner on guitar and Brian Chase on drums, stuck it out. Now they're releasing their fourth album. it's called "Mosquito."

And when we talked with the group recently we played them "Maps," that song that got them airplay on MTV and Top 40 radio a decade ago.


MARTIN: How does it sound to you 10 years later?

NICK ZINNER: It sounds good.

BRIAN CHASE: Yeah, it sounds great.


MARTIN: It's such a soft song compared to a lot of other stuff that you guys do.

O: I think it's like really the ballsiest and most punk thing you can do is write, like, a ballad straight from your heart and be able to perform it on, you know, a regular basis because the more punk-punk songs, you know, that's not as challenging. And I credit, you know, Nick and Brian for always baring their soul in it, too, 'cause I think it might be harder as a guy than a gal, maybe.


O: (Singing) Oh, despair. You're always been there. You're always been there. You're always been there. You're there through my wasted years, through all my only fears, no tears...

MARTIN: Karen O, Nick Zinner and Brian Chase started playing together in New York, where pure guitar-driven rock had thrived. But in the early 2000s it was looking for a lifeline in a music scene dominated by mainstream pop. Enter the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

ZINNER: Saving rock and roll or whatever it was probably...


ZINNER: ...the furthest thing from our minds.

O: Yeah. Yeah.


ZINNER: And we just wanted to like, play at clubs and entertain ourselves and - our first EP was recorded as a demo, so we could get shows opening up for bigger bands.


ZINNER: That was literally our aspiration.

O: And just the thought of playing, like, a club in New York City, even if it's just a bar in New York City, to me, was like the biggest deal ever.


O: (Singing) Down, down, all these birds goes (unintelligible)...

MARTIN: The Yeah Yeah Yeahs did get their first show at a New York club, the Mercury Lounge to be exact. They were one of three bands opening for the White Stripes. But they made sure to stand out. Before going on stage, Karen O doused herself in olive oil which flew everywhere into the crowd as she threw her body and around the stage, and sang like she had absolutely nothing to lose. It is what her fans have come to expect.

We should say for people who haven't seen you perform, it's compelling. You can't stop watching sometimes. It's aggressive and raucous.

O: I think my husband, he doesn't - like, he still can't really wrap his head around it, you know?


O: Because he's the one who spends the most time with me, like, when I'm not, you know, I'm on stage, I guess. It's really extreme, you know, the change that happens. But, you know, that's obviously in there, you know, the whole time. Just brewing away or like a, you know, volcano...

CHASE: Just super cathartic.

O: ...getting ready to blow. You know?


O: And I'd say, like, the thing about Nick, Brian and I, the one thing that hasn't changed, is that you couldn't get, you know, three more awkward, shy...


O:, and strange and weird like, you know, a weird threesome.


O: (Singing) away...

MARTIN: The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, their new album is called "Mosquito."

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.


O: (Singing) Run away, run away...

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