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Punks in a Hard Place 

Label support doesn't dim the sensibilities of Brooklyn's Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs are kinda ready to rock your - world.
  • The Yeah Yeah Yeahs are kinda ready to rock your world.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs drummer Brian Chase isn't sure he has an answer to the question: Why is the Brooklyn-based band, on the verge of art-punk superstardom with the release of its first full-length album, wrapping up its tour a week after dropping the CD in stores?

"Um." He searches. He hems. He haws. Then he offers this: "We were supposed to do festival dates in Europe in June, but we canceled them."

Risky? "Yeah, our record label is not too happy with us," he admits. "But for the sanity of the band, we need to take a break. The band is all that's occupied our thoughts for the past few years."

The label, Interscope, has plenty to be pissed about. While the Yeah Yeah Yeahs recorded the new Fever to Tell on their own, without any outside interference, they're now expected to do all the things that a band signed to a major label is expected to do: tours, interviews, promotional appearances, etc. And Chase, singer Karen O, and guitarist Nick Zinner (like the White Stripes, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are bassless) aren't pleased. "There's a lot of pressure here," Chase says. "They want us to do more than we can handle. And we're still not sure if this is the right decision. But it was the only decision we could make at the time."

But you can't blame Interscope. The expectations precede the band. Its self-titled EP in late 2001, released on the indie label Touch and Go, was a hit. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs got more mileage out of the album's five songs than most bands get out of entire careers. "We obviously weren't expecting that kind of response," Chase says. "It took us so long to record the album, because we weren't ready to record an album. A lot of the songs on the [new] record cover a two-year period."

On Fever to Tell, the band balances on the threshold of fame. The music's there (Fever is a blast of chick-fronted punk that rocks hard, with just a little bit of self-consciousness), and so is the buildup -- what the Strokes waded through in 2001 and the White Stripes drowned in last year, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are now swimming in. "The EP just goes to show how the hype machine works," Chase says with a sigh. "It's just a game, and it's not really about the music. As long as they have a good spectacle to promote, it kinda works on its own.

"We want it to be about the music. But we're [caught between] different positions."

Like, the label wants a hit. And the band, apparently, doesn't give a shit. "All of a sudden, we have all of these expectations on us to be a proper rock band," Chase says. "But we don't want to go through the motions." Again he stammers.

"We didn't ask to be in this position."

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