Yo La Tengo tours on the edge of stardom

By Noah Lopez

Arizona Summer Wildcat

Hoboken, New Jersey's Yo La Tengo has released seven albums since 1986, including their latest, and one of 1995's finest, Electr-o-pura. The band's atmosphere of Velvet Undergroundy guitar textures and droning organ has earned them a steadily following over the years, leading to a spot on Lollapalooza's second stage this summer. The band ─Georgia Hubley, Ira Kaplan and James McNew ─were in town this past weekend for a show at the DPC, but the Wildcat talked to bassist McNew from his Texas hotel room days before their appearance.

Wildcat: So, did you just finish touring Europe or something like that?

JM: Well, last week we played in London. We were supporting Stereolab for a few shows.

WC: How was that?

JM: It was a lot of fun. I mean the fabled second slot in Europe is all that great, but it's always fun playing with Stereolab. Actually, we just got finished touring Texas. That was really great.

WC: So, are you a full-fledged member of Yo La Tengo now?

JM: Uh, yeah. I have been for about four years now.

WC: Oh, sorry. For some reason I didn't think you were an actual member. I thought it was like Georgia and Ira's band, with bass acompaniment by James McNew or something. Sorry.

JM: It happens all the time.

WC: I saw you guys play in Austin a couple months ago, and it was such a great show. A lot of times it seemed like you were tuning up or just playing really loose, but then eventually things would pull together into some sort of incredible experience. How would you describe your live structure?

JM: Like that, hopefully. That was the first time we'd played for a long time. Our shows now are like that show, but maybe a little longer.

WC: What else do you have going on for the rest of the year?

JM: A lot of touring. We'll join up with Lollapalooza for a week, that should be interesting.

WC: Do you really tour that much?

JM: Once we start, we usually tour for a long time. It's been awhile. We took a year off to recover and record, but I think we'll be touring for a long time for this album.

WC: You've seen a lot of the other bands on Matador do pretty well, like Pavement or Liz Phair. Jon Spencer. Do you want that kind of success also or is the band content just being everybody's little secret?

JM: Are we everybody's secret? I don't know. We don't even think about that kind of stuff. If a million people start liking us, that's OK, but for us our thinking is more like 'We've got to get the oil changed in the van today. We're going to Alburquerque tomorrow, they've got some pretty good restaurants there.' You know?

WC: What's the songwriting process like. Do the songs tend to come out of jams, or are they really planned out, or...

JM: A lot of songs start out from jamming or improvisations, and then we'll go back and say "what was that you did here" and then it's a matter of trying to piece the songs together that way. In the past, Georgia might come in with a song that she's written, but that really didn't happen on Electr-o-pura.

WC: Electr-o-pura seems more restrained and controlled than your last album, Painful, yet a lot of it is pretty similar.

JM: Yeah. It's pretty different than most of our stuff, but at the same time if I had to compare it to any of our, uh, what's the word I'm looking for, catalog?

WC: Discography?

JM: No. Whatever, I would have to compare it to Painful.

WC: What are you listening to on the road?

JM: Let's see, what were we listening to yesterday? I don't remember. We listened to this tape that a friend of ours made from Georgia and Ira's record collection. They tried to remember where every song came from, which was pretty difficult. I don't know what else. We're rabid music fans though, I can tell you that much.

WC: What's in your concert rider?

JM: Bottled water, fresh fruits, vegetables. Towels, on occasion. That's always nice.

WC: Pretty much just the standard stuff.

JM: Yeah, I always read about other bands who have a lot of crazy stuff in their rider, but for us nothing really stands out.

WC: You don't insist on getting new pairs of underwear, or anything like that?

JM: No, you try to keep yourself grounded, and once you start getting free underwear it's hard to do that.

WC: Oh, but that's my dream. My goal in life is to get free underwear.

JM: I can tell that my underwear quote is going to be like the main quote here. It'll be in a box or something.

WC: What do you think about bands like My Bloody Valentine and Flying Saucer Attack that work within the same noise fields that Yo La Tengo does?

JM: Well, I like those bands a lot. We toured with My Bloody Valentine a few years ago. Actually, the very last time they played, three years ago, we opened for them.

WC: Your press release is written as though you're a group of filmmakers, but it's partly true isn't it? Hasn't Georgia made a couple movies or something like that?

JM: Georgia actually comes from a very vaunted family of animators. Her parents and sister especially. When she was a little girl her voice ended up on a lot of cartoons. Some Blockbusters have collections of their work actually, it's pretty amazing. Hubley Animation. So that part is true, I can't speak for the rest of it, though.

WC: What about the part about you drunkenly covering Martha Quinn's interview with Stiv Bators, and your jerky photography setting the ground work for MTV's style for years to come?

JM: (With a note of insincerity) Uh, yeah. That's true too.

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