QnA – Ira Kaplan, Yo La Tengo

September 24, 2009 § Leave a comment

Published: Music Australia Guide #69, September 2009.


From their noise-pop roots in the mid 1980s, Hoboken, New Jersey’s Yo La Tengo have gone on to become one indie rock’s most versatile, eclectic and enduring acts. On the eve of releasing 12th album Popular Songs, co-founder and songwriter Ira Kaplan tells Dan Rule that scoring films has taught his old band new tricks.

You’ve always had a very free approach to music.
“We like to think as little as possible about an album when we’re working on it. Obviously a lot of thought goes into it, but the thoughts are more about the details. The overriding aspect, or the idea is something we don’t end up paying that much attention to.”

There’s a real economy, almost reductiveness, to your lyrics.
“I think the band always grapple with, simultaneously wanting to communicate and wanting to not communicate. So I think there is an element, always, of not wanting to say too much. I said before about concentrating on details, and I think our lyrics are very detail-oriented. Hopefully, by using very small, specific moments, you arrive at something kind of truthful.”

You have scored a bunch of films now, like Old Joy and Junebug. I get the feeling there must be quite a polarity between that and the way you usually work as a band.
“Yeah, well that’s one of the appeals of doing the soundtracks, you know, that it is different. We do a lot of things different to what our usual way of working and that’s precisely the appeal. On the soundtracks, we’ve – to a certain extent – been working to order. Directors have a vision for us and we try and meet that vision. I think it’s expanded our range and made us feel even freer about creating any sound at any moment. It’s like we can put anything on our record and it’s still us.”

I believe you’re a fan of Chris Knox (New Zealand punk legend and founder of Tall Dwarfs)? I noticed you contributed a track to his tribute album.
“Hearing Tall Dwarfs was just profound for me. The music form New Zealand through that period was and remains gigantically important all of us in the band. Hearing Tall Dwarfs and getting to know Chris and Alec and getting to play with them, those were just a whole wave of really important experiences in our life.”

You’re a band who have existed on either side of the ‘digital revolution’. Do you think of it in those terms of ‘revolution’? Has is changed the way you operate in a significant way?
“I wouldn’t say it’s changed things for us in a huge way. One of the reasons the group has lasted as long as it has is because of how slowly we move. We kind of exist, in a lot of ways, just oblivious to what’s going on around us. We do move (laughs), but we move slowly.”

Popular Songs is out via Remote Control

Visit: yolatengo.com

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