If you’ve ever seen Yeah Yeah Yeahs play a live show before, then you’ve witnessed the absolute force of nature that singer Karen O is. Her on-stage antics are incredibly physical, with her often losing herself to the music, sprawling atop a speaker, contorting to straddle the microphone, and then some. But it’s deeper than just theatrics. O explained in a recent interview with Vulture that the element of self-destruction in her performances are the primary reason why the band’s live appearances have always been limited by design.
“I mean that’s why we don’t do that many shows. If anybody’s curious. It’s hard to sustain. There really was a spectacle of self-destruction happening, but it was therapy,” O said. “The stage is a safe space for me. It’s the greatest gift in my life. It’s such a release. It’s like wild ecstasy onstage, something I can’t access hardly anywhere else. All of a sudden, anything I had repressed over my entire life just felt open, free, fun, confrontational, vulnerable. It was a sandbox. It’s childlike. You can throw a tantrum up there. You can be sexually inappropriate up there. You’re beyond any mundane experience. There’s not a whole lot of people that will allow themselves to go there in front of an audience. But it felt natural. I can’t explain why. It just did. And still does.”
And while the concept of performative self-destruction sounds romantic in a way, she elaborated that it’s a very real expression and has taken her to the brink:
“But if I overdo it, it obliterates me. It became something bigger, where I felt like I had very little control of what was happening onstage. I was injuring myself. I was drinking a lot while I was doing those shows. I was trying to numb parts of me because it was hard to process the immediate attention and fervor. It went from really lighthearted, playful, and celebratory to more angsty. It’s been many years of learning how to harness this thing that feels much bigger than me, that flows through me when I’m performing. I’ve figured it out, more or less.”
Even now with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs first album in nearly a decade, Cool It Down, due out on September 30th, Yeah Yeahs only have two shows on the docket following its release, October 1st in New York and October 6th in Los Angeles.