The Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Nick Zinner on their last-minute Lollapalooza
The guitarist and self-described weird dork discusses confetti, pineapples, photography and giant eyeballs.
You might have shot spitballs at them, but deep down you had to feel for substitute teachers. Now imagine if the beloved tenured professor on campus, the literature legend with a waiting list for his lectures, was suddenly replaced with a brainy chemistry T.A.
Soon after the Beastie Boys canceled so that Adam Yauch (a.k.a. MCA) could undergo immediate cancer treatment, we rang up humbled goth-punk guitarist Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs at home in NYC to chat about coming off the bench in place of the hip-hop icons.
Some will question the band’s legitimacy as headliners, but you can be sure of one thing: The trio will bring enough flashy costumes, anthems, glitter, gargantuan riffs, inflatable eyeballs and cannons full of confetti to wow a crowd in the twilight. Well, perhaps not enough confetti.
Time Out Chicago: Walk us through your crazy week.
Nick Zinner: I first heard about MCA on a blog. It was literally eight hours after that when Lolla contacted us.
TOC: Was there something in the back of your mind saying, They’re going to ask us?
Nick Zinner: No, no. We’re playing All Points West festival [in New York] the week before, right under them. I immediately thought of that. Aside from, well, feeling awful for them. Obviously, it’s a really strange predicament. We’re incredibly honored that people thought to ask us, but at the same time nobody is capable of replacing the Beastie Boys.
TOC: Any butterflies?
Nick Zinner: Yeah. We’re all nervous. Luckily, on this last run of European festivals, there were one or two where we were headlining. It’s definitely still a very new thing for us. But I think we’re really good at it.
TOC: Any special plans for the occasion?
Nick Zinner: Not yet. We will.
TOC: I was debating which Beastie Boys song you could cover.
Nick Zinner: I was thinking of that last night, too.
TOC: “Gratitude” sounds ideal. I don’t see you guys rapping.
Nick Zinner: You never know!
TOC: You’ve added big confetti guns on this tour. No offense, but the Flaming Lips blow yours away.
Nick Zinner: We’re gonna get 20 cannons. We have custom-made confetti. Who doesn’t love confetti shaped like Ys?
TOC: Why the inflatable eyeball?
Nick Zinner: I’m not sure of the significance of it. But it’s badass, I’ll tell you that.
TOC: Any puncturing problems on the road?
Nick Zinner: Surprisingly, no. The only thing that happens is it bangs against [drummer] Brian [Chase]’s head. It’s a tough eyeball.
TOC: You take photos from the stage at every show. What catches your eye in the crowd?
Nick Zinner: I don’t look up when we play. The genesis of the photos was to document who was there. To be able to just look at our crowd.
TOC: So that was your only way to look out at the audience, just after the fact.
Nick Zinner: Yeah, documenting the people who were there. Then it became an ongoing project. I try to take the rock-show element out of it, so it’s more just people looking up, and you can’t figure out what’s going on.
TOC: But you must feel confident and on top of the world now. You’re headlining Lolla.
Nick Zinner: We’re way too insecure as people to ever think like that.
TOC: It’s funny to hear that you’re insecure. The music you make is very bold.
Nick Zinner: I think that’s the greatest story about the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. We’re able to bring out the parts of us that couldn’t be brought out in any other way and make something that’s truly bigger than us. If you meet us offstage, we’re incredibly shy and dorky and weird. Suddenly we go on stage and feel like different people.
TOC: We had planned a Beastie Boys feature. Part of that included asking local rappers to throw out some questions to their heroes. I feel bad about letting them go to waste. So here’s one. Kid Static wants to know, What is the king of all fruits?
Nick Zinner: Hmm. The pineapple. It has a natural crown.
TOC: So you’re not basing this off the flavor factor.
Nick Zinner: No, the physical. The intimidation factor.
TOC: Nobody asks the B-Boys questions about, like, their drumming. It’s goofy stuff about produce. That’s probably something you guys never have to deal with.
Nick Zinner: I wish we did!
Yeah Yeah Yeahs headline the Budweiser stage at Lollapalooza Saturday 8, 8:30pm.