Karen O is the lead vocalist for the alternative rock band Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and was nominated for an Academy Award in 2014 for “Best Original Song.”
Who are some contemporary artists you really like?
I love Urs [Fischer]‘s work and I love Darren Bader‘s work. I guess I like a healthy dose of the absurd in art. I went to school with Darren, lost touch and then reunited with him when he was working under Urs in 2008 when Urs was working with YYYs on our It’s Blitz record art. Now Darren’s one of my favorite contemporary artists.
You’ve said in the past that Christian Joy has been your partner in crime for over 10 years. How did you originally meet and decide to work together?
I met Christian when she worked at the Daryl K store in the East Village. I used to stop in the store and chat with her, we’d get to talking about boys mostly. Then at some point she brought in a couple of pieces she was working on; one was an army green t-shirt that she had lined the collar with plastic green army men and the other was a deconstructed prom dress that I think she called “teenage car crash dress”? Yeah Yeah Yeahs had just started playing live shows around that time and I thought to myself, “that dress sure beats what I’m wearing on stage,” so I asked her if she’d make me a dress to wear on stage. She agreed and the rest is history.
Tell us about the evolution of your costuming and stage presence. Does one costume stand out as being particularly brazen, challenging for the stage, or perhaps just a favorite?
Our partnership = female trouble. We’re up to no good: we will crash the party and trash the living room. There’s something intrinsically sadomasochistic about our working relationship, there’s a lot of provocation in our sensibility. Christian once put me in a dress that was SO heinous and SO ridiculous, which I’ve dubbed the “pepperoni pizza dress.” It was bright yellowish-green covered in these 3D polka dots that looked like slices of pepperoni and jutting from the sleeves were black-and-white striped, stuffed, penile-looking appendages. I wore it for one show and felt like a chicken pocked Carmen Miranda up there, yet I chose to wear it, no one forced me to. I’m pretty sure that with many of the costumes she’s made for me there’s an unspoken challenge like, “I dare you to wear this one in front of thousands of people” and I’m like, “You’re on. I’m going to wear the shit out of that thing that looks like a Day-Glo diaper.” All the best collaborations have some chafing, some push and pull, some love and some hate.
Outside of that aspect of our relationship there’s a deep love and childlike enthusiasm for the glamour of cult idols. We love cult everything in music, film, and the avant-garde, which we reference heavily. We always have a lot of fun conspiring about what our next conquest is going to be.
How has your costuming affected your music or vice versa?
I can’t imagine myself in the YYYs without the contribution of Christian Joy. It’s an impossibility. There’s no fantasy in rock stardom without the presentation of style and persona. When I’m getting ready to tour behind a record, my redemption from the perils of the road is that I get to wear Christian’s costumes and be a new character in a new story on that stage. When I think back and review all the costumes throughout the evolution of our careers, one thing remains the same and that’s that Christian makes stuff that’s fun to look at and pleasure-inducing. She’s the queen of fantastic, feel-good designs. Whether she likes it or not, it is truly a joy for me to wear her costumes, like the name Christian JOY.
Do you ever wear the costumes more than once? Where do they live after you’ve performed in them?
I generally wear Christian’s costumes to their costume graves. I like them shiny and new but I love them all weathered and war-torn. The beloved studded black leather Zero jacket lives with me in my closet at home, and my heart literally skips a beat whenever I uncloak it from its garment bag. The rest are in a costume cemetery of big plastic bins in a storage space in Los Angeles.
Look for Karen O’s solo album debut, Crush Songs, out Sept. 9th.