When Karen O burst on the scene with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, guitar music was floundering. Thankfully, in the many indie dive bars of New York, a quiet revolution was underway. Along with the likes of The Strokes and various other scratchy bands putting melody back at the fore, Karen O and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs helped to save rock ‘n’ roll for the ten-thousandth time in its often-threatened but never bettered lifespan.
The befringed rocker was the energetic driving force behind the band, so energetic, in fact, that in the early days she once even danced her way towards an off-stage stumble and essentially had to be dragged to the hospital, only to complete the rest of the tour in a wheelchair. This, although a laughable example, was the sort of vigour that indie needed to become relevant once more, and it has to be said that Karen O was one of the most instrumental characters in doing so.
As she once said herself, “I’m in the camp that needs to discover and take risks, sometimes it’s with the promise of something special and new, sometimes it’s to stay awake, either way, it’s much more stressful with all the uncertainty but worth the pain in the end.” This daring has kept her in good stead throughout her continually evolving career.
Reflecting on an iconic debut: 15 years of Arctic Monkeys album ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’
And as she has travelled through the worlds of alternative music, movies and more, she has developed her own sense of mystique, which is just as well considering that it has always been something that inspired her. “Band that I’ve loved over the years are the ones that have a certain myth around them,” she once said. And as Alex Turner once said: “There is always that one band that comes along when you are 14 or 15-years-old that manages to hit you in just the right way and changes your whole perception on things.” There is no doubting that the first band who did that for Karen O certainly had a sense of myth surrounding them.
“I went to a very preppy private high school in New Jersey and I didn’t fit in. I liked to define myself by how different I was from the other kids. I spent a lot of time with my best friend from childhood’s gang who were public school kids in punk bands who’d discovered weed and acid,” she told the Guardian.
It was these wayward friends who turned the future indie queen onto the Grateful Dead’s classic Workingman’s Deadrecord, and her life would never be the same. “They switched from listening to Fugazi to the Grateful Dead and I followed suit,” Karen O continues. “Dead bootlegs soundtracked my 10th and 11th year in high school. I remember going to my first Dead show at Madison Square Garden. I was 15 and for the first time in my life I felt ecstatic to blend into the crowd, just another kid posing as a scrappy hippy in a sea of people dancing for hours in total abandon.”
No doubt many kids felt just the same as they revelled in the sweaty masses thrashing around at Yeah Yeah Yeah’s shows when her musical inspiration came to fruition.