Last week’s print issue of The Village Voice featured an incredibly thoughtful and well researched article on the whirling dervish known as Karen O, in advance of her band the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ gig at the Barclays Center tonight. In it, we talked about her love of New York, what playing a hometown show like this means to her and about the future of the band, after the release of their latest album Mosquito. Because of space limitations, we weren’t able to include everything. Here is the rest of what Karen O had to say.
Why did you decide to do a show at the Barclays Center?
For us, the alternative was maybe a couple of Terminal 5 shows. That just wasn’t cutting the mustard. [Laughs] At the end of the It’s Blitz tour, our big New York show was a Radio City show and that was just magnificent. It was such a memorable, unique and wonderful experience for us. So for this, we kind of thought, Let’s go for the guts and the glory of doing a really big–staggeringly big–knock-your-socks-off show. But instead of doing the Terminal 5 thing, which we’ve never actually done–I went to go see LCD Soundsystem when they did, like, five of them in a row there and it was great–this just kind of feels more epic and is something I had a pretty good feeling about, too.
The Barclays Center is near what used to be a divey venue called Southpaw, where a lot of bands got their start. What were some of the grungiest New York venues you played early on?
Our second or third show was at CBGBs when it was, I guess, winding down. [Laughs] I think we played after a hair-metal band. It was probably, like, a Tuesday evening or something. [Laughs] That was definitely one of the nastiest, grungiest places we’ve played, especially towards the end. And there was the Cooler, which was like a meat locker in the meat-packing district. That was a pretty stuffy, grimy basement type venue. And we did a junkyard with the Twisted Ones, who were these indie promoters that did a lot of cool shows when everything was exploding in 2002 and 2003. We did a show in a junkyard in Brooklyn. The city has a lot of places that you can play. [Laughs]
Was a big venue like the Barclays Center always your goal?
I don’t think that was ever on my radar. Back then, playing a show in a New York City club was such a big deal for me. Just that alone was a lot of pressure. It was a huge deal to be at a really shitty bar. I didn’t have much to go about outside of that, and even doing any shows outside of New York City was kind of unfathomable to me, so playing the Barclays Center, that’s the probably the pinnacle, right? As far as playing in New York City venues. It’s pretty exciting. When it came up as an option, the intuitive artist side of me had a good feeling about it.
What role did New York play in the intuitive artist side of you?
I feel like I blossomed as an individual and came into my own because I moved here. I transferred to NYU Film when I was 18 or 19. I still hadn’t really come into my own and gotten a sense of myself and my individuality and the Karen O aspect of that, too, at that point. The exhibitionist and performer part of my personality didn’t happen until I moved to New York City in my late teens or early 20s. I associate it with caterpillar-to-butterfly transformation. This is where I guess I became the artist I am now.
You’re now a very dynamic and uninhibited frontperson live. Have you ever regretted doing anything onstage?
Yeah, there’s one major regret. Well, it’s not a regret. I had an accident where I fell off the stage head first in Sydney in 2002 or 2003. I could have broken my neck, broken my back, gotten my head bashed in. I was hanging off a monitor on the edge of the stage and I slipped off of it and went head first down to the floor, five or six feet, and the monitor–I don’t know how much that weighs, probably over a hundred pounds or something–it came and just bonked me on the head. And that was a big sign to me at that point in time.
I was drinking so much before I went onstage and the violence and the recklessness that was happening up there, it was like Iggy. I don’t know if he ever hurt himself that badly up there, but it was not for a 23-year-old girl. So it’s escalating. I was hurting myself more and more and more, like with black eyes, chipped teeth, bruises all over my body. And then that happened and I slipped off the stage and I had to go to the emergency room. It was a pretty major, traumatic event of my life. I had to kind of rearrange the whole way I thought about things.
It kind of made me think of The Wrestler, like that weird thing about human nature where the more that he got hurt and the more that he hurt other people, the more people seemed to love him. [Laughs]. So that accident tore me out of that cycle of things.
I think at that point in time, I was totally just a spectacle for a lot of people. And what I did up there was really self-destructive. And I think people were really getting off on it in a really weird way. I felt like I was feeding into that and feeding off of it, and then that happened and I had to change the whole way I thought about performing. [Laughs] That’s probably one of the only things where I just felt, like, Holy shit! But it’s not a regret because I learned so much from it.
Well, despite that, you’ve maintained an anything-can-happen air about you. What should we expect from the Barclays show?
We’re going to pull out all the stops. It’s going to be really fun and dynamic. It’s going to be a celebration. It will be great.
So you’re saying it’s going to be the show?
It will be the show.