Buzzin' Fly

16 April 2013 | 7:15 am | Bryget Chrisfield

“I was maybe a little bit more intimidated doing it at the [Sydney] Opera House, but, everyone there was just so incredibly supportive and helpful and welcoming, and I couldn’t have asked for more."

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So far this year we've been blindsided by a string of major-league artists dropping their releases with next to no lead time. Yeah Yeah Yeahs were just in the country headlining Big Day Out and then, bam! Mosquito landed seemingly out of the blue. The band's guitarist/multi-instrumentalist/composer Nick Zinner begs to differ. “I still feel like what we've been doing is pretty long. We started doing stuff a few months ago, but we just tried to, like, delay any like production or, you know, having people hear it, and mixing and mastering.” After explaining these measures were put in place to help protect the new material from leaking, Zinner opines, “It's weird when you work on something for a very long time, and you put it out and it's, like, six months, eight months later – there's a strange little distance to it.” Zinner gasps at the effectiveness of Bowie's recent shazam-style The Next Day campaign. “How did he do that? How did he also have the world think that he was dying and then [he] was secretly making the best record that he's made in, like, ten years!? It's just amazing.” A self-confessed “huge Bowie fan”, Zinner lavishes further praise: “It was the coolest thing. And Bowie doesn't give a fuck about magazine lead time [laughs]. He doesn't give a shit about, you know, three or four months lead time or whatever, he's just like, 'Fuck it! I'm putting this shit out'.”

Each Yeah Yeah Yeah cross-pollinated, embarking on different creative projects to fill the four-year period since It's Blitz blew our synthesised g-spots: Karen O [Orzolek] creating, writing and performing the Where The Wild Things Are soundtrack and also finding the time to compose/star in Stop The Virgens: A Psycho Opera, with Zinner and drummer Brian Chase driving the orchestra; Chase putting out a solo album, Drums And Drones; and Zinner exhibiting his photographic talents via Please Take Me Off The Guest List and also composing a piece to mark the 41st anniversary of Earth Day, titled 41 Strings. This last undertaking sounds daunting. Zinner chuckles, “Um, I mean, I dunno if 'daunting' is the word: I was really excited about it.” His orchestral composition for strings and percussion premiered in New York in May 2011 and then Zinner brought the opus to Sydney Festival earlier this year while Yeah Yeah Yeahs were in the country rocking the Big Day Out circuit. “I was maybe a little bit more intimidated doing it at the [Sydney] Opera House, but, everyone there was just so incredibly supportive and helpful and welcoming, and I couldn't have asked for more. So it was amazing vibes and amazing times.”

Returning to Yeah Yeah Yeahs after spreading their wings is something Zinner says contributed to an interesting dynamic in the studio. “It's weird, 'cause we were always working together on other projects and playing Yeah Yeah Yeahs shows sometimes, too,” he considers. “Like, we were all down there working on Karen's Stop The Virgens…  project – I was just going from one to the other, so it was kind of just switching gears but, yeah! At the same time it's also like: when you're with people who you already have this incredible, really long, relationship with – at the same time being, like, 'All right, we're gonna start from scratch,' you know? 'Whadda we do?' [Laughs] You know, like, 'What's gonna work? What's gonna feel right? And what's gonna feel forced?' It's this whole new set of variables and unknowns that's kind of exciting and totally terrifying to enter into.” Even though these individual passion projects broadened the pools of inspiration from which the trio drew, Zinner stresses, “Yeah, yeah, but it's also, like, you can't really push ideas if they're not gonna fit.”

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One of the standout tracks on Mosquito is Subway, which utilises recordings of trains navigating railway tracks as backing. Zinner enlightens it was their “genius co-producer David Sitek” who requires a slap on the back for executing said sounds. James Murphy and Nick Launay also made the liner notes as producers on Yeah Yeah Yeahs' latest set, but on Subway's train-ification, Zinner commends: “[Sitek] deserves full credit for that. It was a stroke of absolute brilliance. I think he's one of these people who's constantly thinking about and noticing, and often recording, sounds. So I think he just had it in his arsenal and he chopped it up to fit the song.” After this interviewer shares a discovery that the tempo of departing London Underground trains calls to mind Stevie Wonder's Master Blaster, Zinner chuckles, “That's really, really funny,” before suggesting another piece of sonic trainspotting. “There's this New York minimal composer I really love named Steve Reich and he wrote a piece called Different Trains. It's all based on, like, the repetition and rhythm of trains going over train tracks.”

A particularly interesting Mosquito guest-artist catch is Dr Octagon (Kool Keith's alter-ego) for the creepy-fun Buried Alive. Although the concept of the title is terrifying, Zinner offers, “But [Dr Octagon] kind of makes it intriguing, like it would be okay if you could just hang out underground [for] a little bit with him”. Zinner says there was something about this track that cried out for an injection of rap and Octagon was “just the best”. “Another guy, our friend Sam [Spiegel, aka Squeak E Clean], who produced the second Yeah Yeah Yeahs record [Show Your Bones] had worked with him before on his project called NASA [an acronym for North America/South America that saw Spiegel teaming up with  Brazilian DJ Zegon]… We didn't even meet Keith, Sam recorded him, but hopefully we'll meet him some day, 'cause we're all – like, Karen and I are big fans of his stuff.” Zinner goes on to acknowledge, “I think this was probably the only record of ours where we could kinda do something like [the Octagon collab], 'cause we were like, 'Let's just do whatever we want',” he laughs.

When Yeah Yeah Yeahs headlined Falls Festival in 2009-2010, the band secured Rowland S Howard as support act for some of the sideshows, but sadly Zinner's “all-time favourite guitar player” passed before these scheduled appearances. Yeah Yeah Yeahs dedicated Maps to Rowland S Howard's memory during these shows in his homeland. “That was really, really, really sad,” Zinner recalls. “It was really heavy, and well, I mean, Mick Harvey told us a few weeks before that that, you know, Rowland wasn't doing well and that they had to pull out of those dates, but it was still just – the presence was so missed and it was definitely really heavy on my mind.” Zinner appears as a talking head in Richard Lowenstein's Autoluminescent: Rowland S Howard “for a split second”. “It's a really incredibly moving and brutally honest biography of him,” Zinner extols of the film, before pausing, barely containing his emotion and adding: “At times it's just really hard to watch.”