Yo La Tengo out of their element on ‘Fade’
You can’t believe most of what you see in the video for “I’ll Be Around,” the soft, percolating single from Yo La Tengo’s recent “Fade.” The man shown singing and playing guitar isn’t guitarist Ira Kaplan but Superchunk’s Mac McCaughan. The lyrics listed on screen don’t match up with the ones being sung. A domestic scene gets violated by an unspecified secret coming home to roost. But there’s something that Kaplan promises you can trust: the recipes for spicy tortilla soup and tortilla de España that flash by.
“They are most assuredly real,” says Kaplan. “We had never made the tortilla before, but [bassist] James [McNew] has. Which, if you pore over the video carefully, you’ll see James is definitely taking the lead on the tortilla. The soup we had not made before. . . . It’s kind of a cold-weather dish, and we have had all-too-few cooked meals this year. But it was really good, and we would cheerfully make it again.”
And so the Yo La Tengo fan who watches the video and takes copious notes could duplicate the meal in the video? “Well,” Kaplan adds, “if you can cook with the finesse of the three of us, yes.”
That’s Yo La Tengo in a nutshell: equal parts finesse, noise, warmth, and a wry, cockeyed sense of humor. (This is a band, after all, with an album titled “I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass.”) It’s served the Hoboken, N.J., group, which plays the Bank of America Pavilion on Tuesday, well for nearly 30 years, 13 albums, and plenty of interstitial releases.
“We barely stop working for very long,” says Kaplan. “I think one of our natural rhythms is to do other things as a band. And I think, we have found, the only way we make a record — what we refer to as a ‘real’ record — is by deciding it’s time and focusing on it. Otherwise, we find ourselves perfectly happy being distracted by soundtrack stuff or live film scores, [side project] the Condo [expletive], any of the various things that we’ll do that occupy our time in between records.”
“Fade” itself marks a notable disruption for the band: It’s the first Yo La Tengo album in 20 years without producer Roger Moutenot. “One of the reasons we kept working with him is we thought that, almost paradoxically, it would help us to make different types of records by working with the same producer,” says Kaplan. “If we kept working with Roger, we would take our shared experience and build on that.”
But “Fade” producer John McEntire (from Tortoise and the Sea and Cake) reintroducing some traditional studio practices that Yo La Tengo had let go of with Moutenot still offered up challenges. “It was an interesting process,” Kaplan says, “because I think over time we’ve kind of built up — and I’d say I’m probably the biggest offender in this regard — [habits that are] almost like. . . Rather than I don’t like to use headphones, I can’t use headphones. I don’t like to get caught with rules about doing things. I don’t mind having preferences, but to have things that I won’t do, I’m glad to have been disabused of that.”
“I think they were really excited to have a fresh approach,” says McEntire. “I always wanted to give them the option to do it the way that maybe they were more comfortable with: not wearing headphones, isolation [between instruments], and stuff like that. But we ultimately realized that it would be better in the long run for everything to kind of follow these more standard procedures, based on what we wanted to be doing with the mixes.”
But even the new producer is a longtime friend, having played with Seam on a European tour with Yo La Tengo in 1992, not long after bassist McNew joined the band to lock in the current lineup, along with drummer/singer (and wife to Kaplan) Georgia Hubley. When asked if McNew still gets ribbed for being the new guy two decades later, Kaplan notes that the impending closing of legendary Hoboken rock club Maxwell’s did so almost by accident.
“We did a [Maxwell’s] show a couple weeks ago,” says Kaplan. “We went back to the set that we did the very first time we played and picked a song that we almost never, ever play, to the point that we suspected that we had never done it with James before. It turned out that wasn’t true, that we had done it in the year 2000 or something.
“But it is funny when it does come up, especially with the Maxwell’s thing, where we’ve been in deep reminiscence mode, these memories that precede his time in the band, even though he joined in 1991. The time before he was in the group is practically nonexistent. But once in a while it does come up.”