The Yeah Yeah Yeahs had two very clear goals in mind when releasing their Is Is EP: Cut down on the sheen and pump up the sexy.
"We had these [old] songs lying around that we loved and [they] seemed to belong together, so we always wanted to put them out as their own release," frontwoman Karen O told MTV News backstage at the Virgin Festival in Baltimore. "And it just felt good to follow the second record with this really raw EP that beckons to our earlier music with a sexuality that sort of trumps all of our previous music. Taking some of the stuff we learned on Show Your Bones, we were able to up the ante. It seemed like we were able to articulate the music in a more mature way, but also let it be as raw as we are."."
Culled from a handful of songs the band worked on while touring in support of 2003's Fever to Tell, the new EP strikes a perfect balance between that album's sweat-and-vomit-drenched rock and last year's more-polished Bones, with an added emphasis on heavy-breathing horndoggery.
The first single, "Down Boy," slithers along on a come-hither synth line and O's breathy delivery, "Kiss Kiss" is a chugging fist-pumper, and "Rockers to Swallow" is all slash-'n-trash guitar abuse. It's pretty excellent, especially when you consider that the band had left most of these songs for dead.
"The songs go back three years or so," guitarist Nick Zinner said. "Some of them we only played once or twice live and then put them to sleep. But this time we woke them up and put some new clothes on them — some hot new clothes — and sent them out into the world."
And since it's more backward-looking than forward-leaning, Is Is is already being heralded by many of the YYY's fans as a welcome move away from the shinier territory they mined on Bones (see "Are The Yeah Yeah Yeahs Anxious About Bones? No No No",) which was received with less-than-stellar sales and some fairly middling reviews.
"There were definitely songs [on Bones] we hoped would hit harder or reach more people, but that's the way it goes," Zinner said. "I think for us it was, musically, a really bold and adventurous and difficult step in every way, and sometimes when you just totally switch things up, it confuses people. But this EP isn't a reaction to that."
"We went through a dark tunnel and came out the other side," O added. "You don't want to complain about being in a rock and roll band, because no one will sympathize with you. But we went through the harder times and came out stronger from it. [The EP] felt like a good thing to throw out there because ... the morale in the band was so strong after getting through the second record, so this was almost like a treat for us."
So while some YYY fans might consider Is Is a step backward (in the best possible way, of course), the band just see it as the next logical step in their ongoing musical journey, a much-needed cleaning out of their closets. And, of course, being the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, you're never quite sure what you're going to find in there.
"We filmed two shows of us playing the EP [at Brooklyn's Glasslands Gallery] in complete darkness," O explained. "It just seemed appropriate for the music, to kind of strip away the self-consciousness of anyone in the club by making it dark. And also, to make it anonymous, we made everyone wear masks.
"We were hoping people would be having sex in the corner of the room," she continued. "And maybe people were, because I couldn't see anything."
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