Published Jan 01, 2006New York City's Yeah Yeah Yeahs hit the ground running in 2001 with a short shock of blood, sweat and cum, an eponymous, indie EP rather fortuitously released within a month of the Strokes' Is This It. An increasingly vibrant New York scene, in all its post-9/11 defiance, along with the beer-soaked stage fervour of one Karen O, led to a year-long spin in the hype twister. All the tumult resulted in a deal with Interscope/ Universal and a debut LP called Fever To Tell, where the trio's no wave punch and disco punk pulse gradually give way to a deep hit of new wave melancholy.
"We were sequencing the album with the idea that it would be the ultimate party record," says guitarist Nick Zinner, "but one that includes the feeling of leaving a party totally dejected and waking up by yourself with a tremendous sense of need or loss.
"Lots of New York kids are into excessive consumption," he adds, admitting to a pounding hangover of his own. "But it's ultimately a search for love or for something bigger. That's what we're hinting at."
Frivolous nightlife excess has become common for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, whether they're being wined and dined and wined again in London, or simply watching their flashy "electroclash" neighbours in the 'hood, that trendy pocket of Brooklyn called Williamsburg. O now lives in Jersey and Zinner just moved to Manhattan (drummer Brian Chase is still Brian from the block), but Williamsburg is where O and Zinner hooked up around the turn of the century and formed a band called Unitard.
"Karen was writing these beautiful, tragic ballads and I started working with her, playing slide guitar," says Zinner. "The Yeah Yeah Yeahs developed as we became friends, almost in opposition to Unitard."
With the addition of O's old friend Chase and a heavy shot of adrenaline, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were born, their debut gig a raucous, topless opening spot for the White Stripes. O transformed with the sound, uttering caterwauling blues as she romped around stages in torn fishnets, a single black bicycle glove and punkette mishmash fashions designed by her friend Christian Joy.
In light of all this, a persona that's drawn comparisons to the likes of Poly Styrene, Chrissie Hynde and Iggy Pop, it's hard to fathom Karen O the neo-folk singer. But Vice Recordings has unearthed Unitard for their upcoming compilation Yes New York, out this summer on Warner Canada. "Year To Be Hated" is an early version of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' "Our Time," and it's the disc's final track, capping a comprehensive sampling of the NYC scene.
"We wanted to be a part of the compilation, but not with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs," Zinner says. "We didn't want to push the New York City association because we sometimes feel trapped in that. We're really floating in our own paradigm. But there's a sexy darkness in a lot of the New York bands that we definitely relate to."
Yes New York may be the first and last hurrah for Unitard, outside of some future rarities comp, but Zinner says that Unitard's "sorrowful sentimentality" lives on at the close of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' ultimate party record in the band's favourite song, "Maps."
"People respond really intensely to that song and it still affects us, too," says Zinner. "We actually thought of it as our life preserver when we signed to a major. You know, if all else fails, we have Maps.'"