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July 29th, 2009

Interview: Yeah Yeah Yeahs Drummer Brian Chase

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs come back to Philly tonight, playing Electric Factory in support of It’s Blitz!, the trio’s latest (and third) full-length album. We recently spoke over the phone for a few minutes with YYY drummer Brian Chase:

So I heard that like your other albums, this one was in its own way somewhat difficult to make. When you’re starting off writing and recording an album, do you visualize what you think the end product will be?
Yeah, sometimes. This record we…there’s always an abstract sense of the end of the line in a way, in that there is almost some momentum that’s funneling time and energy in that direction. So yeah, I mean, like, the moments of feeling kind of trapped and you can’t look forward and you can’t look back, it’s like, “Ahhh where am I?!” You know, it’s almost like no escape. But it’s about having faith that it is moving toward an ultimate goal.

A lot has been made of It’s Blitz! being more dance-y and synth-heavy and electronic rather than guitar-heavy and so on like the sounds of your previous albums — did you envision things going that way when you went into it? How did you evolve as a band?
Well, it was sort of just a matter of going into the studio and playing, that was the first step. Doing improvisations and jams, and from those spontaneous methods we would kind of stumble upon little gems that we would slowly develop into full songs. So I guess it was very much going for the unknown in many ways. We weren’t able to give it much forethought but it was more, like, through spontaneity and coming up with basic core themes, but then it was a very laborious process of developing them to full songs that more often than not led to dead ends, and we’d have to backtrack. A lot of times it’s frustrating because you’ve spent so much time, and every idea we pursue we do it because we believe in it, but then after spending hours and hours or sometimes days trying an idea that we think really has potential and then we realize that it doesn’t, it’s almost like, it feels like a mini-defeat. It does take strength and courage to realize that if it’s not it, then to just let it go and keep searching until you find what you feel is right.

You’ve been in other bands before the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, right?

What is it that makes this band particularly special, that makes it work between you and Karen [O] and Nick [Zinner]?
Umm, well, with this one, this one feels special in the sense of like, there’s an energy and chemistry between us…it definitely feels like there’s a real power here that is very rare. It felt…it clicked right from the first rehearsal.

What is it that makes a live show especially great for you?
When the crowd is into it. We want to feel some love from the crowd. I guess we’re a little needy [laughs].

When you were putting set lists together for this tour, or these individual shows, did you think about how the new, more electronic sound would mesh with the sounds of your older material?
Yeah, it was definitely a concern at first, how the sounds would mix, but just over time we managed to make the transition between songs pretty seamless, sonically. There’s a slight difference, but we definitely approached playing the new songs live as how we would do it as a unit, but we do have an extra guy with us playing parts.

Oh yeah, is that Imaad [Wasif, previously a Yeah Yeah Yeahs touring band member]?
No, we have David Pajo.

Oh, from Slint, cool. Are you guys sticking pretty much to the arrangements on the album, or do you feel like you can go off more spontaneously during the live set?
Yeah, there’s definitely some flexibility with in the songs, and it’s almost like, the more we play the songs, the more holes we see where we can shift things this way or play things that way. It’s tight, but there’s a little room to move.

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