Ever since the three-member Yeah Yeah Yeahs exploded onto the New York rock scene in 2001, most of the media’s attention has been lumped onto eccentric frontwoman Karen O and stylishly hip, photographer-on-the-side guitarist Nick Zinner. Often lost in the shuffle was classically trained drummer Brian Chase, but even the queen of cool herself has said that Chase draws from more avant-garde influences than she is.
Chase’s other band, the Seconds (his project with Zack Learhoff of the Ex-Models) released its second full-length, Kratitude (5 Rue Christine), earlier this year. But we caught up with him just as Yeah Yeah Yeahs was finishing up the North American leg of its spring tour in support of Show Your Bones, the band’s second full-length. We discussed touring in support of the new album, the hardest part about making Show Your Bones, and being overshadowed by Karen O.
Are you guys all living in New York City again now?
Brian Chase: Nick and I are the only ones living in New York now. Karen is out in L.A., sort of for the time being.
Weren’t you living in New Jersey for a while?
Brian Chase: Karen was for a year or so.
How was the recent tour? Was it what you expected?
Brian Chase: It was fun to play again, for sure. The feeling of being all back together on stage, that can’t be replicated. A lot of the shows were pretty hit-or-miss, but I think we’re still getting on the same page with the new material. But there were some really good shows, and the crowd really responded to the new music. I think it will go over better once the new record is out, but overall it was a lot of fun.
I saw your second show in New York City at Bowery, and I thought it was pretty good. Like you said, it’s cool hearing the new music, but a lot of people can’t sing along. I think more people will get into it the next time around.
Brian Chase: You live in New York?
Yeah, I live in Brooklyn, actually.
Brian Chase: Oh, yeah? Me too.
You’ve lived in New York for a while now, right?
Brian Chase: I grew up in Long Island and moved to Brooklyn in 2000.
Just to get a bit of information on the background and history, you went to school at Oberlin?
Brian Chase: Yeah.
And that’s where you met Karen. The story goes that Karen and Nick were starting a band and they had another drummer. He basically dropped out and then you came into the picture, right?
Brian Chase: More or less. I think the other drummer was a woman, and they only did a handful of rehearsals. They had a gig at the Mercury Lounge, and it was their first ever show, and the drummer they had been practicing with couldn’t make it. So Karen called me up and asked if I’d do the gig. And the rest is history.
Let’s talk about Show Your Bones. What was the toughest decision you guys had to make with the new album — if you wanted to keep certain songs or cut them, or if you wanted to re-record anything? Were there any major issues you had making this album?
Brian Chase: Yeah. There were. When we first started this album it was kind of like putting together a puzzle. The whole process took place over the course of several months. It was kind of a very step-by-step preparative process of constant revisions of a work in progress. I think the biggest challenge was staying focused and staying on track while coming up with new material. The most difficult thing about making the record was deciding what to leave in and deciding what to take out. And, of course, the personal issues that can interfere with clear thinking.
How would you compare making this record versus previous ones?
Brian Chase: I think this the question we’ve heard the most so far. This is a record that we’ve done in the studio, and all our other releases have been more of a document of the live band in a way. We’ve been playing the songs out for an audience for however long, and then when we get to the studio it’s just about nailing and getting it to feel like how it does live, more or less.
But this record was just created in a very private setting, where there was no gauge from the outside world on whether what we were doing was good or not, and we didn’t know what was going to happen next.
Was it uncomfortable?
Brian Chase: I mean, yeah. It’s never easy all the time.
Is it true that the cover art for this album was created by a fan through a contest?
Brian Chase: We had a contest, but we decided to go with a design that was made by Julian [Gross] from the Liars. He came up with the pattern and constructed the flag himself. And the cover artwork is a picture of the detail artwork of that flag.
On this tour, what song has brought out the biggest reaction?
Brian Chase: Well, after doing a few live shows, I think “Turn Into” has brought the biggest response. People seem to identify with that pretty quickly.
“Gold Lion” is the single that’s out right now, and I’ve heard the remix Diplo did of that. How did that come about?
Brian Chase: I don’t know. I’m not a big fan of remixes in that style. I remove myself from all responsibility. I think that stuff is useful for some people, and some people listen to it and appreciate it on some level, but I’m not one of them.
Have you been reading what people have been writing about your current tour and the album? Or do you avoid that?
Brian Chase: I’ve decided to avoid it. The blogging thing is just a giant cesspool of subjectivity. I’m curious to hear what people think, but it can be costly at times.
How much pressure do you feel to match the success of Fever to Tell?
Brian Chase: It’s foolish to try to compare this to Fever to Tell. We just have to treat this as its own album. It’s a whole new collection of songs. We’re starting on a very different place now than we did with Fever to Tell. We’re a different band at a different place in our career. I think the strategies are different but still essentially the same. We’ve always had independent control over our music, and now it’s publicized how we’re represented. I think we’re just thankful for the chance to use the major media as an outlet for spreading the word about our music.
Any time a band achieves a lot of success, there seems to be a good amount of backlash.
Have you felt that with the last album?
Brian Chase: Well, there’s people resentful of the crossover into the mainstream, and to some people that’s an indication of us selling out. But that’s not the real circumstances behind the music. People can see us however they want. If they feel they need to be resentful of our success or our popularity, and their resentment validates their own feelings of credibility, then that’s what’s important to them.
What led to the addition of Imaad Wasif? How did that come about?
Brian Chase: As you probably know from our record, there’s a lot of layers of instruments. So rather than recording on samples or pre-recorded music during our live show, we decided we better just add an additional musician.
Did you guys know him before?
Brian Chase: He was recommended to us by a close friend.
Karen and Nick seem to get a lot of the attention. Do you ever feel slighted? Do you ever feel annoyed that you’re less in the limelight?
Brian Chase: Well, yeah, at times. You read a lot of reviews in papers or whatever, and they put a lot of attention only on the visual elements of Karen’s performance, which is really important, but there’s three of us — well, now four of us — on stage up there. And we each have strong personalities. He was recommended to us by a close friend.