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How the Yeah Yeah Yeahs turned Kansas City into 'the edge of the world'

Megan Mantia/Instagram
Vocalist, songwriter and artist Karen Orzolek, better known as Karen O, is the frontwoman of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The trio also includes guitarist and keyboardist Nick Zinner and drummer Brian Chase.

Indie rock band the Yeah Yeah Yeahs released a music video on June 1 called “Spitting Off the Edge of the World.” It was shot in Kansas City.

Now playing in Times Square in New York City: the Yeah Yeah Yeahs video "Spitting off the Edge of the World," featuring Perfume Genius.

The video was directed and produced by two Kansas City Art Institute graduates and filmed in Kansas City.

“The shoot in Kansas City was dream-like,” the band's frontwoman Karen Orzolek, known as Karen O, said in a statement, “the dreams you have after eating something really greasy right before bed; bizarre, poetic, and intense.”

Director and artist Cody Critcheloe, now based in New York, and Megan Mantia, now a Los Angeles-based producer and art director, filmed in a stretch of land near the Kansas City International Airport, a former Kansas City, Kansas, punk venue, and atop a downtown Kansas City building, among other locations.

Critcheloe and Mantia are longtime collaborators, starting about 15 years ago in Kansas City with the art performance band SSION.

“He did a film that was funded by Grand Arts, and he convinced me to be the coordinator of it before I knew what a producer even was," said Mantia.

"And he was like, ‘I know you can do it. I know you have these skills,’" she added. "And it kind of led to the rest of my life.”

Megan Mantia/Instagram
Kansas City provides a lot of versatility for scenes, and, says producer Megan Mantia, you can "fake a wide variety of landscapes" from prairie to lakes to downtown cityscapes.

The video, for a single from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' first new album in nearly a decade (scheduled to be released on Sept. 30), also continues a 20-year connection with Critcheloe and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

In 2002, Critcheloe was a KCAI student visiting New York City when he first met singer Karen Orzolek, known as Karen O. As he told DIY, he was “literally carrying around a backpack full of VHS tapes with all my stop-motion animations to give out to people.” And he handed her one of his tapes.

Critcheloe was tapped to design the artwork for the band’s 2003 debut album, “Fever to Tell,” with a subway-inspired graffiti cover.

Indie rock band Yeah Yeah Yeahs's 2003 debut album, "Fever to Tell" featured artwork by Cody Critcheloe.
Interscope Records
Indie rock band Yeah Yeah Yeahs's 2003 debut album, "Fever to Tell" featured artwork by Cody Critcheloe.

Since then, he’s performed his own music with SSION and directed music videos for other artists such as Kylie Minogue, Robyn, Peaches, and Gossip, and now, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

Mantia said she returns to Kansas City at least once a year for projects with Critcheloe and Christopher Good (who served as one of the associate producers on the video).

“Cody and I do spend a lot of our effort and time bringing projects here and working here,” Mantia said, “and championing how wonderful it is to work in Kansas City.”

Kansas City, she said, provides more freedom than Los Angeles, with fewer permits and a supportive community.

“And, you know, it allows us to do a lot of the magic that you see in our videos,” she said. “We couldn’t pull them off at all in other cities.”

For example, she said, a farmer who was “thrilled to have an artistic project happening on his farm” and didn’t mind the crew building a temporary mud pit on his property.

Megan Mantia/Instagram
Singer Karen O is featured on top of a limousine in the video. A cold snap hit Kansas City the week of filming in March, says Mantia, and temps dipped down into the teens.

“I'm so proud of them,” said Succotash chef and owner Beth Barden, credited as one of the two caterers on the Yeah Yeah Yeahs video.

“I think the world of both of them and just really wanted to be able to make this as successful for them as possible with just any small bit of help I could give,” Barden said.

Critcheloe worked at Barden's restaurant years ago in the City Market (she moved in 2009 to her current location at 2601 Holmes). She's done production catering for bands and commercial shoots and a season’s worth of catering for “Queer Eye.”

In March, when Barden pulled up to cater an outdoor shoot, the crew was filming frontwoman Karen Orzolek standing on top of a limousine on the land near the airport.

“So it was like pulling into a side street in the middle of nowhere that went from just like rural idyllic to like this amazing kind of beautiful like cinematic punk kind of experience,” she said. “It was great.”

Megan Mantia/Instagram
In one scene, a cast of extras rocks out to a Yeah Yeah Yeah performance at the site of a former punk venue in Kansas City, Kansas.

Another bit of movie magic: recreating FOKL, a former DIY punk venue in a Kansas City, Kansas, basement. Ramos Upholstery is now housed on-site, and Mantia said they opened up the basement for the shoot.

“And it was kind of a return to what FOKL used to be, some of the original spray paint was on the walls,” Mantia said.

“And so some of the people who used to live there came to the shoot and were extras," she said. "And then their return to the basement was to see a private show by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs for like 40 people.”

That footage is at the end of the video, she said, “so you just see the joy in the room. Like all of that was very real and it’s really special.”

"We love this video so much it hurts, thank you to the cream of the crop who worked on it," the Yeah Yeah Yeahs posted on Instagram. "Watch, stream, repeat."

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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