This Year's Model

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs get swept up in the rock-is-back movement.

Music-business decision-makers realize that the pop bubble is apt to burst soon -- and most of them are touting post-indie rock as its probable successor.

Why? For one thing, underground rockers are in plentiful supply; throw a stick in most major cities, and you're likely to hit at least one of them. For another, there's already an infrastructure in place to develop and promote such performers via clubs, college radio stations, magazines, Web sites and more. And as an added bonus, music journalists, many of whom have spent the past several years pretending to give a damn about 'N Sync and the Backstreet Boys, actually like the stuff, thereby ensuring a geyser of publicity.

Granted, these factors don't guarantee a new rock revolution. Is This It?, the latest album by the Strokes (the trend's poster boys), has yet to hit platinum sales status despite the oceans of ink already spilled on its behalf, and neither the White Stripes nor the Hives, two acts also earmarked for greatness, are currently burning up the charts that matter most. But rather than waiting for these designated luminaries to achieve maximum brightness, the eager media is already turning its spotlight on other like-minded combos, including the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, a promisingly raucous trio from New York City (home of the Strokes). And while Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner isn't complaining, he admits that the attention has its drawbacks.

"A lot of people come to our shows now expecting to hear the voice of God," he says. "But we're not, like, the greatest rock band in history -- or the greatest new rock hope. We're just a really good rock band. But if your expectations are that high, you're going to be disappointed."

Such baggage is unfair to pile on any group, but particularly one as new to the scene as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The combo, which is fronted by vocalist Karen O and also features drummer Brian Chase, has been around for only a couple years; its first live date took place in September 2000. Moreover, the players' recorded oeuvre consists primarily of a self-titled EP cut for Shifty Records (its five songs clock in at less than fourteen minutes) and a cut on Fields and Streams, a compilation issued by the Kill Rock Stars imprint.

This slender output hasn't prevented Zinner and company from being ballyhooed by publications small and large. In February, for instance, Rolling Stone chose the Yeah Yeah Yeahs as one of ten outfits in music's "next wave" of sonic celebrities. Then, in July, the mag graded its predictions from five months earlier, declaring that it missed the mark on Clinic, Starsailor, Felix da Housecat and, inexplicably, Andrew W.K. "I didn't understand that one at all," Zinner concedes. "I mean, he's on a beer commercial and everything." Rolling Stone gave itself props, however, for correctly anticipating the achievements of Norah Jones ("Debut album No. 20 in Billboard"), John Mayer ("Hit album [Room for Squares]"), Vanessa Carlton ("Be Not Nobody No. 32 on charts"), Freeway ("Hit single ['Line 'em Up']"), Hoobastank ("Album Hoobastank now gold") and, not coincidentally, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who were lauded for spurring a "Major-label bidding war" -- a contention that mystifies Zinner.

"That's not true, by the way," he says. "There's been no bidding war that I know of, and I think I would have noticed. It sounds so violent and lecherous -- like A&R guys fighting with ponytails.

"I don't know why Rolling Stone loves us so much," he adds. "I just think they unnecessarily jumped the gun. I wouldn't call us a success by their standards yet."

Maybe not, but Zinner is obviously moving in the right direction. He hails from the Boston area and credits his parents with providing the foundations for his musical pursuits: "My dad's a great piano player, and my mother played guitar. She had aspirations of being a folksinger in the '60s. They played a lot of Pete Seeger around the house -- that and, like, show tunes."

Meanwhile, he received a grounding in rock from his older sister, Meredith; she's an actress who's appeared in episodes of ER and Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place, as well as what Zinner describes as "that awful Julia Roberts movie -- Erin Brockovich, right? She had kind of a big part. She was, like, this woman who had nine miscarriages or something." According to him, "It's that classic scenario of her introducing me to a lot of music I wouldn't have been listening to at the time. She was a Bowie fanatic, so I definitely heard him when I was really young. That shaped a lot. And from there I got into heavy metal. So I guess Diamond Dogs and, like, Mötley Crüe's Shout at the Devil were the two most influential records of my youth."

By the time he was fifteen, Zinner was able to play Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" on guitar from start to finish ("It's not too fast, so you think you're really good"), and subsequently graduated to writing and recording his own compositions. "They were, like, instrumental guitar wanks. I went through some of them a year ago, looking for little pieces I could take, and most of them are awful -- really bad. But there was some interesting stuff there, once I got through my goth/punk-rock stage."

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