JUNE/JULY 2005

Karen O

[OF THE YEAH YEAH YEAHS]

“WE ALWAYS FEEL LIKE THE WEIRD BAND WITH THE WEIRD SONGS WITH A FEMALE LEAD THAT SOMEHOW MADE IT.”
You’ll eventually find out:
Your idols won’t live up to your expectations
Indie labels can be just as shitty as major labels
The band you ignore today will be gone tomorrow
Slow-moving blood does not necessarily predict a Grammy nomination

I have seen Karen O and her band, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, perform to sold-out crowds in New York City, Oslo, and Melbourne. And then I have seen her play to a half-full venue in my hometown of Portland, Oregon. No one likes the feeling of being stood up, staring out from the stage and wondering why your other half didn’t bother to show. But instead of making us aware of who wasn’t there, Karen O reminded us of what it feels like to be present. As a performer, she looks for the anomaly; she seeks out the dancer unhinged, the misshapen, the underused, and she pursues them. And that night, we the crowd were the anomaly.

There is the audience and then there are the cracks in the audience; the vulnerable fragments, the individuals that make up the whole. Karen performs for both. She gets into the spaces that are dangerous, bridging them and then splitting them apart again. She is an adhesive and an agitator when most performers are neither. Karen O understands that there are so few moments like these; ones that are spontaneous, alive, and visceral. She asks that the audience join her, and if you’re waiting for a polite invitation, then you’ve missed the point.

I talked to Karen by phone while she was at her home in Los Angeles. The formality of an interview can be awkward for two people who are used to relating to one another in a different, more casual context. It took a while for us to feel comfortable. Soon, however, it grew into a conversation about the vulnerabilities, the frustrations, and the caprices of music, but mostly about holding onto a sense of immense hope.

—Carrie Brownstein

*

THE BELIEVER: When you’re performing, do you feel that you’re able to be present in it?

KAREN O: Oh, completely, yeah, 100 percent present. To a point, it becomes kind of painful. There’s no detachment when I’m up there. I don’t allow myself the distance. I’m fully putting myself out there for the people and for the sake of trying to lure them into the experience and out of that sort of detachment that you’re talking about. I think that’s why it takes so much out of me. And I think that’s why I resent it to some degree. I feel like I’m picking up the slack for a whole generation of nonbelievers.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please purchase a copy of the magazine from The McSweeney’s Store.

Carrie Brownstein is a musician and writer living in Portland, Oregon. Her band Sleater-Kinney’s new album is entitled The Woods.


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