LOS ANGELES -- Sipping water in a sunlit café in a trendy Los Angeles neighborhood, Karen O looks like the ultimate California girl -- minus blond hair. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs singer smiles and laughs, her black bangs swept to the side.

Onstage, the 28-year-old New York transplant may don the bright, tight, slashed and spandex threads of a fashion-forward rock queen, and howl like the spawn of Siouxsie Sioux, but here, she's calm and collected.

Much has happened in four years, since the group's major-label debut, "Fever to Tell," and yearning single "Maps" launched the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and its captivating, beer-spewing frontwoman to headliner status.

Karen O (real name Karen Orzolek) settled down on the West Coast while her band mates, guitarist Nick Zinner and drummer Brian Chase, stayed in Brooklyn, N.Y. The band toured for 2½ years in support of "Fever," and it released last year's less guitar-thrashed, but still meaty, follow-up album, "Show Your Bones."

The band will be playing at this weekend's Virgin Festival in Baltimore.

Talking with The Associated Press on the cusp of last week's release of "Is Is," the band's new EP of five noisy, catchy songs written while on tour in 2004, Karen O discussed change and fame and cracked some rumors.

How is it living in L.A. and being bicoastal with the band in New York?

It's good. . . . But I'm so often in New York. I'm pretty much there once a month. My parents have a place uptown [in Manhattan]. I usually stay with them when I go back. . . . I couldn't live in New York City anymore, though. I have a hard time concentrating there; it's very distracting. It's one of the best cities in the world, it will always be home, but I just don't get work done. I feel like I'm burning through money.

Why the EP now? You guys wrote these songs a few years ago. They've also become live staples.

We had some time off, and it was something we wanted to do for posterity's sake, kind of have a document of it. These songs always felt like they belonged together. . . . We recorded them in February this year, with Nick Launay, who produced PIL's "Flowers of Romance." If we tried to record them any time before this, we wouldn't have had Nick for them, and he couldn't be a more perfect match for the music.

Are you guys working on any new songs right now?

Working here and there, without much pressure on myself. I think Nick and Brian could say the same. . . . Working pretty much nonstop as an artist, the hardest thing is to know what to do with yourself when you have some time off. You struggle with yourself to take a vacation. I just went to Martha's Vineyard. It was totally restful.

What's the most horrible thing someone in the audience has done while you've been onstage?

It was at this Boston radio show; none of our fans were there. There was this little girl in the front row -- I'll never forget her. She was kind of Goth, with black eyeliner, black outfit. She kept giving me the finger and mouthing the words "I [expletive] hate you" over and over. I kept looking straight at her; I focused on her, her and her alone. Then she kind of went away. Generally, it's been nothing but love.

It's been reported that the band wasn't getting along at one point.

There were of course some bumps in the road. I'd be worried if there weren't. We've been together about seven years. There's so much trauma, when you get that kind of popularity all of a sudden. If you can get past it, you're in good shape.

What about this story that Playboy asked you to pose for an issue?

Never, never ever would I do that. If I ever said "maybe," and I might have, it was a very naive thing to say, because the more I think about the audience of that magazine, the more I'd never do that.

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