Indy-greats Yo La Tengo are coming to New Zealand for the first time in a decade. Singer Ira Kaplan talks with JULE SCHERER of NZPA about the band's special relationship with New Zealand and their latest album Popular Songs.
Wellington, Jan 13 NZPA - US indy trio Yo La Tengo are often called the "quintessential critics' band". In their 25-year career they have released 12 (or 14, depending on how it is counted) highly acclaimed albums and won a devoted following. The big mainstream success, however, failed to appear.
On their latest album Popular Songs, released last September, Ira Kaplan (guitars, vocals), Georgia Hubley (drums, vocals) and James McNew (bass, vocals) featured the whole gamut of their song-writing ability. Fuzzy pop melodies follow spaced out feedback driven noise rock, peppered up with some bouncy soul tracks.
The record sounds like a Yo La Tengo best of, showcasing the different styles the band got into over the last two-and-a-half decades. But Popular Songs is far from a concept album.
"It just happens, we like playing in a variety of ways and we're really not thinking very hard about the record as a totality, we're just thinking about one song at a time," Kaplan tells NZPA.
Popular Songs was recorded in the band's own rehearsal space in the small city of Hoboken, New Jersey.
"Being not pressured on time in the studio had an impact. The main reason we did it, was we feel really comfortable playing there and we were hoping that that would have an impact on our performances," he says.
Yo La Tengo's music tends to radiate a grounded happiness that makes the band so loved by their fans.
Asked if there was a secret to this happiness, Kaplan just laughs.
"Well, we might be a happy and centred band. As people we have bad days and good days but I think the band works very well together and enjoys playing together. And I think perhaps that comes through," he says.
Yo La Tengo are known for their fondness for New Zealand's Flying Nun bands. Kaplan remembers his first encounter with the Dunedin sound.
"I think it was the Flying Nun compilation Tuatara (1985) and then in a quick succession The Chills' Kaleidoscope World (1986) and The Clean's Compilation (1987).
"One thing what I really loved about Flying Nun and the albums coming out of New Zealand was certainly the idea that you were privy to a private world.
"The fact that there was so much overlap; there were Chris Knox's contributions, recording all sorts of records and the records he made. The way the Kilgours would be in different bands and Bob Scott being in The Clean and then in The Bats.
"You could imagine how everybody knew each other and there was this kind of this secret society that you were invited to observe. It felt really magical," he says.
So it was no question for the band that they wanted to contribute to the compilation Stroke Songs for Knox, after the musician -- with whom the band toured many times -- suffered a life altering stroke last June.
"We have a large collection of Chris Knox records and this whole motion of doing the record happened while we were involved in pretty heavy touring, we had very little time to work on it but knew there was no question that we wanted to be a part of it for every possible reason," the musician says.
Over the years Yo La Tengo added another speciality to their artistic CV. Yo La Tengo are writing soundtracks, most recently for the Sundance-selected films Game 6 (directed by Michael Hoffman, written by Don DeLillo) and Junebug (directed by Phil Morrison).
Kaplan says the work on movie scores couldn't be more different from working on their own music.
"When we're working on our songs we're just working on a song and all we care about is that it sounds good to us. But when you're working on a movie you write to the specifications of what the director wants.
"For once you're not starting with a blank canvas but with your directions from your director which can take many different forms. Some of them describe in musical form what they want; others tell you more emotionally what they're after."
The band enjoyed this work enormously, because the whole process was so different from what they did normally.
Yo La Tengo concerts are always a bit like a box of assorted sweets. Not only have they a back-catalogue of their 25 year-long career to resort to, the band is also famous for knowing an array of cover songs and loves interacting with the audience.
"We are very big about being asked nicely. It's always flattering when people request a song at a show and yell them out you feel like you're a part of a continuum of people.
"It's such a rock ritual and some of those rituals are fun to take part in," Kaplan says, the band would play a lot of their new songs, "but we know a lot of songs and we do different ones every night, whatever seems right for the night -- from the old songs and the seemingly endless number of cover songs".
February 8 - The Montecristo Room - Auckland
February 9 - San Francisco Bath House - Wellington
Photos: The Label, +64 9 631 5086, Lisa@thelabel.co.nz
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