Monday February 4, 2013
Karen O on staying crazy while growing up
By Eddino Abdul Hadi
Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O talks about staying crazy while growing up.
The feisty frontwoman of New York art-rock trio Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Karen O, will always associate Singapore with the thorny king of fruit.
The 34-year-old remembers distinctively the last time she was in Singapore in 2010 for a gig.
“Yeah, we played at The Durian,” she says, using the colloquial term for the Esplanade. “And we also ate durians, it was my first time and it wasn’t my favourite. I remember we had a great culinary experience there, we had chicken rice and then we went to a late-night fruit stand. We had a great time, it was awesome.”
Born Karen Lee Orzolek in South Korea to a Korean mother and a Polish father, the family moved to New Jersey while she was a child.
She met Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ drummer Brian Chase when they were studying at Ohio liberal arts college, Oberlin College, and was introduced to guitarist Nick Zinner when she moved to New York to enrol in the Tisch School of the Arts.
The trio formed the band in 2000 and soon gained prominence after supporting acts such as The Strokes and The White Stripes, major players in the then-emerging garage-punk scene.
Several American and European tours later, they released their debut full album, Fever To Tell, in 2003, a record that earned them a Grammy nomination for Best Alternative Music Album.
Their subsequent two albums, Show Your Bones (2006) and It’s Blitz! (2009) were equally well received by critics and fans.
O, who is married to film director Barney Clay, is reluctant to talk about the new tunes that the band have been working on for its highly anticipated fourth album, but the band did preview new material at its Big Night Out gig at Fort Canning Park in Singapore last Wednesday.
You have been playing in the band with Nick Zinner and Brian Chase for about 13 years. How has the relationship changed among the three of you over the years?
I guess you might have heard this before, but being in a band is the closest thing to being a family. And, like in a family, you have blood ties, you go through thick and thin, the hard times and good times and whether you love them or hate them, they are your family and you stick with them. It’s been a really long time to be in a band. You understand the other band members better and, yeah, it gets better.
You genuinely look like you are having a lot of fun in all your shows. Where do you get the enthusiasm from, considering that you have to do it night after night when you are on tour?
I don’t know, I wish I could tell you where it comes from. A lot of it comes from the audience and the crowd and wanting to kind of have a dialogue with the crowd. So the enthusiasm is speaking to the crowd and trying to get them to return the enthusiasm and then after that gets going, it’s just a natural high that happens to me up there.
You got married in 2011. Has being married had any effect on your music?
(Laughs) Oh, I don’t know about the music. There might be a couple of songs related to that on this new record about everlasting love. But yeah, I’m happily married and it’s new territory for me, so I’m learning about it every day.
The band have always released a new album consistently every three years. It has been four years since the last album. What is taking the new album so long?
Yeah, it is a little bit overdue. We started writing songs for this record when we got off the road in 2010 and just collected a bunch of songs over the years. That was a good way to do it because every time we go into the studio, we’d be kind of excited about writing something new instead of just sitting around the studio trying to write songs. So yeah, it was a different process this time and that took a little longer.
Do you keep in touch with your family in South Korea?
Yeah, I have family there. I used to go because my grandparents were there but they are not with us anymore. I was there a few months ago to pay my respects, so I still have ties in South Korea. I have the vocabulary of a one-year-old Korean child, though. I can say “milk”, “thank you” and “hello”, just the real basic stuff.
K-pop music is huge around the world today. Are you a fan of the genre?
Well, I’ve been reading about it and checking it out from time to time and I can see the appeal. I think I’m happy that it’s happening with Korean stuff, it’s exciting for me. Because for a long time, I was waiting for Korea to be on the radar culturally and it seems like it’s really popping off through there, so I’m excited about hearing all the stuff that’s coming out, including K-pop. – The Straits Times, Singapore/Asia News Network