Ssking Yeah Yeah Yeahs drummer Brian Chase to discuss the stability (or reputed lack thereof) of his revered band is like asking George W. Bush about, well, anything both clearly know the truth, but both clearly ain't talking. Oh, Chase will answer all your questions, but in a hemming and hawing style that breeds responses so innocuous even the seediest, least reputable journalist couldn't possibly misrepresent them. The transcript reads like a Mad Libs entry, all the colorful verbs and adjectives carefully removed.
It's hard to blame the guy, though: Everyone thinks his band's about to implode.
"I'm just surprised by this myth that's going on about what it was like recording this album and the band's dynamic," Chase sighs when quizzed about the studio atmosphere while cutting the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' sophomore disc, Show Your Bones (Interscope). That's certainly surprising considering the fact that both singer and sexed-up fashionista Karen O and guitarist and Lestat double Nick Zinner have made it clear in prior interviews that they were barely speaking to each other. Chase, understandably, wants no part of the rumor: "I'm not going to add to it or anything, but a lot of it is overdramatized and a bunch of garbage."
As proof, Chase offers up Show Your Bones itself. That the record got made at all under the enormous expectations fostered by the band's stormy, overcaffeinated, critically lauded garage-pop debut (2003's Fever to Tell) is evidence enough of relative stability since, Chase contends, music has little to do with the process of making music. "It should be there just to reflect your personalities and the life of the band behind the music," he says. "So that always underlies whatever we do."
And indeed, Bones does rock in a way few sophomore albums do these days; there's a maturity here, and a commitment to reeling in the trio's famously furious extravagances to create something precise without sounding too polished. The simmering threat that they could explode at any moment is the sonic equivalent of watching a circus performer stick his head into a lion's mouth you pray for success, but remain quietly thrilled at the prospect of violent disaster.
"We set out to mostly not make Fever to Tell Part 2," Chase explains. "That was the last thing we wanted, to make more of what we've been doing for the last three or four years." For starters, that involved changing up the writing style to make the tunes more studio-oriented. "Not so much about the live show and playing for the audience or nightlife or anything like that. More about the three of us working together, you know, in a studio environment without any contact from the outside world at all."
Well, better throw a coproducer in that mix, which brought its own set of bizarre problems. The victim: Sam Spiegel, aka Squeak E. Clean, aka the younger brother of big-shot director Spike Jonze (who happened to be Karen's boyfriend at the time). Moreover, Sam/Squeak was previously the brains behind Karen's solo track "Hello Tomorrow," created for an Adidas ad.
So did bringing into the studio Karen's boyfriend's brother, who'd already worked with her on solo stuff, ever make her bandmates think that maybe, just maybe, she was trying to tip Show Your Bones toward her creative vision? Chase just chuckles at the question; he chuckles a lot when you bring up stuff he doesn't want to talk about. "I'm just surprised it came up," he allows.
Then, maybe making matters worse, he offers up this ringing endorsement: "Um ... uh ... he seemed like a nice guy, and he had a really comfortable studio setup where, you know, we could do what we needed to do. He, uh, has a really easygoing manner, and has an optimistic, positive outlook on life that balances out our more depressed, gloomy outlook on life."
Chase, who spends what free time he has releasing albums with his punk band the Seconds (their latest is Kratitude) or jamming with avant-garde artists like Ikue Mori and Tyondai Braxton, clearly feels burned by the press given their nasty habit of (as he sees it) misrepresenting the truth not to mention the fact that his participation in the band has been completely marginalized by a public fascination with Karen's beer-soaked, crotch-thrusting rock diva persona.
"There are times that I definitely feel overlooked, and I definitely resent any condescending statements directed toward me in that regard," he says. In other words, he's jaded. But has all the attention really changed who the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are? Karen seems to think so, claiming that, while she's still the same person, Zinner and Chase are not.
Of course, ask Chase if Fever to Tell changed Karen and it's Mad Libs time again. "Ah, yeah," he finally confirms. "Yeah, it has. But I'm not going to comment on that."
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