Eight years ago, with Yeah Yeah Yeahs at the height of their powers, Karen O documented her romantic obsessions on a basic tape machine in her New York apartment and a number of hotel rooms
Twenty-seven, in case you haven’t heard, is an important year for rock stars. It’s when they die. Or, in Karen O’s conveniently symmetrical case, when they “live how you’re supposed to live.”
For O (born Karen Lee Orzolek to a Korean mother and Polish father), this golden year fell between 2006 and 2007, and it was then that she wrote and recorded ‘Crush Songs’, a collection of home demos that would become her debut solo album some eight years later, released September 2014 via Julian Casablancas’ Cult Records.
I briefly met O in the summer of ’06, as a wide-eye intern at Reading Festival. I was arranging a photo shoot with Yeah Yeah Yeahs and three teenage fans who’d won a competition to introduce the band on the main stage that evening. I remember that O appeared more bashful than the starstruck kids – not what I was expecting after three years of watching her screech across stages in wrecked Chuck Taylors and tattered mini skirts, pumping sweat and posturing with a devilish grin of smeared lipstick, her glittery eye shadow smudged and on the move across her face. Of course, she did all of that come show time, dressed partly as an emerald green dragon in purple leggings, with flames burning up her Cons.
I can’t imagine there’ll be much of that tonight, at O’s second and final London show in support of ‘Crush Songs’. It’s been an understated tour for what she calls “a small, little record”, in venues her band outgrew even before their debut album was released in 2003.
Demure in a ball gown and uncharacteristically still, O has spent the last couple of weeks watching people make out to her songs; her threadbare, scratchy almost-songs, preserved in their newborn state by an eavesdropping tape machine.