Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Guitarist Nick Zinner
Nick Zinner doesn’t just play guitar for one of the most original bands of this decade, he’s also an incredibly talented photographer whose documentation of the band’s experiences on the road were published in a fantastic book that offers a peek behind the curtain. The book is called I Hope You Are All Happy Now, and the band is called Yeah Yeah Yeahs. If you haven’t heard of them, you’ve been asleep for the past 3 years.
Nick let me quiz him about what it’s like to see the crowd from the band’s perspective, and how it feels to exist behind a captivating frontwoman like Karen O.
Before we get into the music I’d like to talk to you a bit about your photography. How and when did you get interested in it, and when you were taking photos on the first tours, did you know they would end up in a book, or did that idea come about later?
I guess I started taking photos in high school, and then in college afterwards, it’s just kind of something I’ve always done. I just consider it part of everything I do in some aspect, so it just felt really natural to bring a camera on tour, always, and take photos of everything that was going on around me. But I never had any gallery shows, or gotten any work as a photographer, so I never really thought about what I’d do with the photos it was more of a carpe diem. Shoot first, ask questions later. Then, after awhile, I had a friend of mine ask me if I wanted to do a photo show so I put up about 500 photos on a wall and I guess that’s when I thought it would pretty kind of interesting to do something with them instead of putting them back in my closet after the tour was over (laughs).
The fact that you didn’t premeditate it, you can see that in the photos. They really look like just candid documentation. Do you still do that now?
Yeah. It takes time to get distance from the images, when you can see them in a different context.
Did it surprise you how fast your band caught on and developed a loyal fanbase?
It really did! Umm… I think it really surprised us because it wasn’t what we were setting out to do. Originally we just started a band because we wanted to start a band- just to do something with our bored and restless energy in a city that we felt was kind of boring as well. But there was never anything beyond that. We weren’t into getting tons of fans, making records and touring, or any of that so when those things actually did start to happen there was like a little bit of absurdity attached to that. It was like, “Oh, that’s what other bands do! That’s what happens to other people.” And when it’s actually happening to you, it feels weird. It’s wonderful, but it’s weird.
You still getting used to it?
Always! (laughs) I kind of go in and out of it. Like when I’m on tour, we can all go into “tour mode,” but when I’m home doing something non-music related and people stop me on the street… it feels kind of strange.
So it’s almost like a character you play on the road- there’s the musician, and then at home there’s just Nick?
I don’t know if it’s something like that, it’s just different personalities. I don’t know if I could be, like, someone else, but I feel like the person I am onstage… I’m not really sure where it comes from. I watch videos of us playing live and I don’t remember doing that. I’m always like, “What’s that crazy thing I’m doing with my head?!” (laughs)
When you’re onstage, and you look out at the crowd, do you even see faces- do you even know what’s going on- or is it just surreal?
It’s kind of interesting- that’s one of the reasons I started taking pictures of the crowd because I can’t look at people. I can’t make eye contact with people. I feel like if I look out to the crowd it’ll totally distract me. You know when, like, you wake up and you’re going out to get coffee- or to work or whatever- and there’s that split second question of whether you actually are dressed or not? (laughs) I kind of… if I make eye contact with the crowd, or look up too much, I have that same sensation. So it’s like a hyper quick questioning of what I’m doing- it totally throws me off! Karen’s the opposite way, she has to totally attack the crowd! But I can’t do that. So, yeah, I started taking photos so I could actually see who comes to the shows!
I saw you in Orlando about 2 and 1/2 years ago at a place called The Social…
Oh man, that show was crazy! That was great!
It was awesome! Anyway, I had seen all of you guys just hanging out at the bar before the show, keeping to yourself. The transformation from then to when you went onstage- it was as if you were incognito and then explosion!
Yeah it is, like, a radical shift. We can’t figure it out, but I guess it’s best not to question it (laughs).
As a band whose singer often gets singled out in the media, is it difficult for you and Brian to let Karen get a lot of the attention or does it relieve you of a lot of pressure?
Definitely the latter. I don’t think either of us necessarily want that, or would feel comfortable with that. I know a lot of the times, Karen doesn’t even really want that either, but it’s just how it goes. When you’re the singer in the band, you are the face of the band. It’s something we all accept and are fine with. I don’t think if you ask, like, any kid, if you ask them their 3 favorite bands, if they could even name the drummer. Or the bass player. It’s sad, but it’s the same thing for me. I notice that I don’t even pay the same attention to the other members of a band as I do the singer, at least not immediately. So it’s never something that I question, or feel like I deserve more credit or something- it’s just the way things go. It kind of frees me up a bit more, too.
SPIN Magazine put you on their list of one of the Top 25 Live Bands- which you totally deserved, by the way. Who would you say is the best Live act?
Umm… I got a few… Definitely TV On The Radio. Actually, Karen and I were watching- at the Reading Festival, where we played- Gogol Bordello. Usually, like, every band that I watch I think, “Wow, it’d be so fun to play with them!” But after watching Gogol Bordello, I think that’s one of the only bands I would hate to play with. Because, on one hand, I’d be so incredibly inspired, but on the other hand- they put on such an amazing show that it’d be impossible to follow it. Or even know where to play with it and not be completely overshadowed by it. I think they’re absolutely amazing live!
So you can still just be a fan, and be in awe, even at this stage.
It’s rare, but yeah definitely.
Well, I look forward to catching you when you play Orlando again in a couple of weeks (October 13th @ Hard Rock Live). I’ll be photographing your performance there.
Oh, ok! Well, then I probably won’t see you (laughs), but I’ll know that you’re there!