Nick Zinner isn't sure how he and his fellow Yeah Yeah Yeahs — drummer Brian Chase and frontwoman Karen O, playing Outside Lands on Saturday — came up with their urgent new CD, “Mosquito,” and tracks such as the loping “Despair,” squealing “Area 52,” and “Subway,” a delicate ode to the trio's native New York City. But he thinks it has something to do with their busy schedule and outside interests. Recently, O composed the soundtrack to the Spike Jonze film “Where the Wild Things Are,” plus an opera, “Stop the Virgens,” while Zinner curated a “41 Strings” Big Apple performance, published a fourth volume of his photography called “Please Take Me Off the Guest List” and shot a Lee jeans ad campaign.
You've said that 2010 was a really bad year for you. Yeah. It had some ups, but for the most part there were a lot of downs. There was a [romantic] breakup, and I don't know what breakup is good for anybody. So it was just a bleak year, a bleak time.
The band was a decade old then. Were you at a creative crossroads? Definitely. We were all just sort of unsure of what we were going to do, or if we were going to do anything at all. We played a few shows that year, some 10-year anniversary shows, and that was fun. But there was just this looking uncertainty about everything.
Was the idea of a band breakup broached? Nah. We don't really talk about things that way. But we're not very good at planning — we don't really plan things other than a few months out. And while that's probably incredibly daunting for most people — and ourselves at times, as well — I do feel like it has also, in some weird way, contributed to us being around now for 13 years.
Did you actually hook up three times with The Africa Express collective that Damon Albarn popularized? Oh, my God. That changed my life! In February of 2010, I went to Ethiopia with 20 other artists and spent a week there, playing with some of the best musicians I've ever seen. Then they invited me to play one of their shows, on a beach in Spain for 40,000 people. The morning of the show, there was a two-hour practice, and they said, “Hey, do you want to play with Amadou and Mariam? Do you want to write a song with so-and-so?” And to jump into an experience like that — where it's just relying purely on intuition, collaboration and really just the moment — was pretty amazing.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival
Where: Lands End Stage, Outside Lands
When: 6:30 p.m. Saturday