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The story of O
She’s one of the sassiest, not to say iconic, frontwomen in rock. Up close however, Yeah Yeah Yeahs singer Karen O is just a big pussycat. Look, we’ve even made her cry.
Stuart Clark, 13 Oct 2006
Given her deranged ballet dancer persona onstage, it’s a bit of a shock to find that off it Karen O is quiet, considered and prone to bouts of nervous giggling and hair fixing. Although not in the mood today for photos – “The ‘I haven’t slept for 48 hours look’ isn’t a good one!” – she doesn’t strike you as a woman who cares about the odd zit or fleck of grey in that now trademark bob of hers.
“They’ve let me take my straitjacket and Hannibal Lecter mask off today,” the 27-year-old deadpans. “The moment I step on stage it’s like, bam, completely different Karen. I love the sense of liberation, but not the being rushed to hospital, which sometimes goes with it.”
The ‘being rushed to hospital’ O’s referring to happened last year in Sydney when she nearly broke her back tumbling off stage into the orchestra pit. Then there was the chipped tooth and sprained arm she suffered in Japan tripping over a stage monitor.
“I’ve always loved physical performers,” Karen pleads by way of mitigation. “One of my all-time heroes is the lead singer of The Germs, Darby Crash, who could have had an alternate career as a stuntman if he’d wanted. Even before I went to high school and the floodgates opened for me musically, I was into Michael Jackson, who had the dancing thing going on. I had to give myself a bit of a talking to after what happened in Sydney, though.”
What did Karen say to herself?
“‘Calm it down lady or you’re going to end up in a wheelchair!’ Doing these festivals has been great ‘cause the big screens allow you to be a bit subtler with your movements. It’s relative, though.”
Meaning that she’s still the scourge of Health & Safety Officers the world over. Given that Darby Crash died from a heroin overdose when she was one, which of Karen’s heroes has she actually met?
“Sonic Youth,” comes the lightening response. “I tried so hard to be cool the first time we were introduced but no, I dorked out completely! How can you not when they’re the godfathers and godmother of experimental music? We did a couple of magical shows with them in Brooklyn where all their kids were running around.”