"And Nick, I basically consider him as like my soulmate. When we first met, I thought, is he like my number one romantic soulmate?! But he wasn’t, he was my musical soulmate..."
Karen O is cool as fuck. Fitting then that she should pen a record about how the planet should follow suit.
Released in September of 2022 Cool It Down (Secretly Canadian), Yeah Yeah Yeahs' first new album since 2013’s Mosquito sees the band back with a bunch of songs so flippin’ good, they only reinforce just how much we missed them these past 9 years. Their joyful reunion does however give us the perfect excuse to celebrate the record in our Albums of the Year 2022 list, a fitting tribute to one of the 21st century's most alluring bands.
We caught up with Karen to chat comebacks, friendship and calling the shots.
Making music as a band again after 9 years… how did it feel being back in front of the fans?
It was kinda like a mixed bag of thrilling and more deeply emotional moments. Little bit terrifying at the very beginning, having gone through Covid, you know I wasn’t sure if it was gonna get me…! All those things made it an unusual experience. The overarching feeling was like a joyful reunion.
Cool It Down explores some really important themes. There’s a whole new generation to speak to with this record - how much did that play a part during the writing and recording process?
It was more of an afterthought in a way! When we start a record, especially after a decade of not writing, it’s a pretty unconscious/subconscious process. There’s so much uncertainty of what’s gonna happen and we’ve changed so much - are we even gonna be on the same page? Is what we write gonna sound corny?! You know? So I’d say luckily we were consumed more with the artistic process than being too aware of our audience.
How much of a cathartic experience was writing Cool It Down, compared with earlier work - do you find it more so as you get older?
Because of the state of the world I've drawn some comparisons. The world Yeah Yeah Yeahs was born into was a pretty turbulent one (9/11, 2001) and so, you know, I think at that moment in time when we were just babies too, it really felt like the world could end any day and so there’s such a high stake steering towards the birth of the band. The songs we were writing back then didn’t have much to do with that really, but 20 years later, there’s a similar feeling of turbulence and high stakes and the world ending any day. So there are parallels and I think basically the themes that we are writing about now are more distilled from what’s happening in our lives and we wanted to be able to express that, not just for us, but for everyone who is feeling this.
How would you best describe the friendship you share with Brian (Chase) and Nick (Zinner) and how central is that to the music that you make together?
I’ve known Brian since I was 17, we met in college and stuff and when you’ve known someone for over 20 years and been through so much with them, it really does feel like family. And Nick, I basically consider him as like, my soulmate. When we first met, I thought is he like my number one romantic soulmate?! But he wasn’t, he was my musical soulmate and there’s been just as much turbulence as if it were a romantic one. But it’s mellowed out these last years and it now reminds me of a brother/sister relationship, I feel like we’re twins! We usually check in with each other, the highs and lows, whatever’s going on with each other. We’re sounding boards, we commiserate.
I read the excellent Rolling Stone piece that you did with Michelle (Zauner) of Japanese Breakfast and felt it was so insightful. So I wondered, based on your experiences coming up, particularly as a woman in a very male-centric scene, if you could give one piece of advice on self-care to young artists today, what that would be?
Self-care is misperceived as weakness and it’s absolutely the opposite, it’s strength. Especially when you are a front person in a band or a woman among a lot of men, there’s a vital misconception that you have to push through no matter what, even if it’s demolishing you and I think that’s kind of the wrong attitude to have. I was speaking to Maggie Rogers at an event a couple days ago and there's this moment in Meet Me In The Bathroom, in the film and also the book, where I talk about how I cancelled a bunch of tour dates because it was killing me and we weren’t able to focus on finishing our debut record. That was so controversial and I was a real pariah because of it! My understanding was that the record is gonna last forever and we can put the shows back on sale when we are ready for them, but if we are touring incessantly then we won’t be able to make this album as good as it can be and I was being destroyed in the process. And Maggie was saying that that decision that I had broadcasted was one of the most important things that she had taken in and learnt about her own career and was a game-changer for her, just to know that you could prioritise and not have to be towed along by forces that are bigger than you, that you can call the shots.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Cool It Down
Rough Trade Exclusive Cornetto blue vinyl.
At just eight tracks in length, the first new album from the esteemed indie rockers since 2013 needed to pack a punch. Thankfully, it does so and then some. Although the Indie Sleaze resurgence is fully on trend for 2022, Yeah Yeah Yeahs have been wearing cool their entire career. And as Lizzy Goodman gears up for the release of her long-anticipated documentary exploring the book of the same name, it couldn't be a better time to re-appreciate the magnetic trio’s mastery with the enlivened grooves of Cool It Down. Bassier? Yeah. Grander? Yeah. On repeat? Hell yeah.