It’s the principle

Having posted daily from January 1 through December 2, 2014, I figured I could do with a brief respite. So now, a mere 17 1/2 months later, I’m back, though admittedly still stuck in the past.  I’ve never quite gotten over my disappointment that our “Sugarcube” video not only failed to win Video of the Year at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards, but didn’t even garner a nomination.  What could possibly explain this obvious oversight, I’ve often wondered.  Until now.  Referencing professor Bob Odenkirk’s lesson, The Foghat Principle–“Does everyone remember the Foghat rule?  Your fourth album should be double live”– our friend Joe wrote recently and asked: “How many people have come up to you over the years to tell you that Foghat Live is indeed NOT a double album?”  To which we reply, “You’re the first,” and “IT”S NOT???”  Can this be true?  A little belated research confirms its six songs total 38 minutes and change, and reside comfortably within a single disc.  Understandably, the members of the MTV Academy held us accountable for such shoddy scholarship, and indeed, at this late date, many other questions now suggest themselves.  For instance, if you want to write rock lyrics, is it truly necessary to learn about where the hobbits dwell?  On behalf of Yo La Tengo and Matador Records, all I can say is we apologize.

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Stuff Like That There

Fresh off celebrating their 30th anniversary, Yo La Tengo will release Stuff Like That There on August 28th via Matador Records and will embark on a world tour starting September 23rd in Troy, NY (see dates here).

The trio of Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley and James McNew now return as a quartet, reuniting with former member Dave Schramm on electric guitar as they revisit the original concept of their beloved Fakebook (a mix of cover songs, “covers” of Yo La Tengo songs, and brand new originals) on its 25th anniversary. This unprecedented live set-up — Ira on acoustic guitar, Georgia up-front on a small kit, and James on upright bass — marks the first occasion of this particular Yo La Tengo incarnation touring together (and since it took them 31 years to get around to doing so, could very well also be the last).

Pre-orders of Stuff Like That There are available via Matador’s webstore. While supplies last, pre-order customers can opt to purchase a Yo La Tengo full-print tote bag containing a circa 2015 cassingle (with new unreleased songs) and mystery Stuff.

The (in)formal bio for Stuff Like That There, penned by Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner, can be found below.

A1: My Heart’s Not in It (Darlene McCrea)
A2: Rickety
A3: I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry (Hank Williams)
A4: All Your Secrets (remake of track from Popular Songs)
A5: The Ballad of Red Buckets (remake of track from Electr-o-pura)
A6: Friday I’m in Love (The Cure)
A7: Before We Stopped to Think (Great Plains)
B1: Butchie’s Tune (The Lovin’ Spoonful)
B2: Automatic Doom (Special Pillow)
B3: Awhileaway
B4: I Can Feel the Ice Melting (The Parliaments)
B5: Naples (Antietam)
B6: Deeper Into Movies (remake of track from I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One)
B7: Somebody’s in Love (The Cosmic Rays with Le Sun Ra and Arkestra)

“There is power in knowledge learned and perceived jointly then presented as an original sin” (1)

Dear Miss Knishkowy,

It seems like almost every other spring one of the robins in our front yard builds a nest on our front porch. It’s always in the same spot above a column in a corner. This is one of those years. A nest appeared as it always has and in time three baby robins poked their heads above the lip of the nest with their beaks pointed to the sky, open wide and requiring. I took to calling those chicks Georgia, Ira, and James. They are in my eyes.

Like the nest, the arrival of a new Yo La Tengo record is a wonder of nature indeed. Constructing in their own fashion a nest for the making of recordings in a comfortable, familiar setting. Assembled from a variety of materials both natural and synthetic, their nest is a strong one. Yet unlike the bird’s nest held together by poop, theirs is a nest that rarely needs such an adhesive to some relief. With occasion, the splendid nature of both endeavors requires the new and its relations.

Between us I honestly wondered if either would in fact return at all following Fade and a tough winter. But I’m a dumbass. The robins showed up again this year and the trio has returned to a concept from which in nineteen ninety they made another F-word-titled record: Fakebook. It was the first record by them I ever heard.

That was nineteen ninety three or four.
It’s now twenty fifteen and I’ll be damned.
Stuff Like That There.

Time has an unfunny way of moving pretty fast as we move with it. As artists we benefit from the accumulation of experience. A professor once told me “most artists only have maybe two or three ideas through the course of their lives. Try as they might they are doomed to repeat and refine those ideas. Sometimes they turn out to be good ideas.” That guy was full of beans but the notion of it gives me pause from time to time. What if he’s right?

Stuff Like That There may well be a 25th anniversary sequel to the idea of Fakebook but to my ears it makes a case for simply returning to what moved Yo La Tengo to make things in the first place: embracing the people who they still hold close and making a spirited noise about it.

Does it not sound like fun to work with old friends like guitarist Dave Schramm and engineer Gene Holder? It also seems like a good way to try something “McNew,” like James McNew on upright bass, an elemental contribution whose significance cannot be overstated. With Fakebook as template, Stuff Like That There is a record with ties to the past which contribute to the sound they make furthered by an affinity for the sounds they love. Somehow they compose the already composed by return. It’s clear-eyed. It’s clever and concealed.

Rare is the band that can cover themselves. Rarer is the band that would even think of it and rarer still is a band that would return to the conception and re-imagine its first breakthrough record. Someone may have read recently that old quote about how “in not knowing history one is doomed to repeat it.” There’s not another band that I know that is less doomed than Yo La Tengo.

I thought it would be a good idea to listen to this record while writing the bio for it. It’s not. It is distracting. I drift away from the virtual page and fall deep into the virtual sound. Suddenly all sounds are amplified all around me, my dogs are barking and I’m in love all over again. “All Your Secrets” is playing and I hallucinate that the intro is from one of my old songs. I searched “Automatic Doom” to see what “cover” it was and it appears to be a song by either @mistersparrow or Special Pillow. My money is on the pillow though both are in the same key.

“Awhileaway” has got to be an original, I wrote one recently with the same title. Lucky for me I abandoned it. “I Can Feel The Ice Melting” turns out to be a Parliaments song. And “Naples” seems pretty dang original to me and it was originally by Antietam. “Somebody’s in Love” is a Sun Ra song. Darlene McCrea’s “My Heart’s Not In It” kicks things off and The Lovin’ Spoonful gets a nod with “Butchie’s Tune” (I still wonder who Butchie was). For me, my favorite track on the record is “Before We Stop To Think,” a cover of the great Great Plains. In a way it is the one that sums up their approach at its best.

One thing I’ve noticed is that once you learn who these songs are by originally it some how makes you seem much smarter when you can reveal its origin to another listener. Imagine yourself saying, “yes, it’s a great song and it’s by Great Plains!”
It makes you the wiser. Yo La Tengo choose sources that make you enriched if not empowered. There’s a word I swore I’d never use.

Power up, people, this is stuff like that there.

Kurt Wagner

Number one

December 2.  1987 in Copenhagen, 1997 in Strasbourg with Run On, Hanukkah 2002 at Maxwell’s with the Sun Ra Arkestra and Girls Guitar Club, 2003 in Osaka, 2006 in Madrid, Hanukkah 2010 with the Parting Gifts, Jim Gaffigan, Glenn Mercer & Bill Million, 20113 in Leuven, and our first show ever, at Maxwell’s in 1984 with Antietam.  Luis from Madrid was at one of them: We sang Happy Birthday To You and lit up all our lighters as if they were candles in a cake.





Catching fish like crazy

Last year on this date, we performed at the Le Guess Who festival (very possibly a redundant “the,” but it’s like the last week of school around here: we go home after a half day, and standards are slipping).  When we left the stage after our set, we discovered Glenn Jones and Michael Chapman in the wings.  A few twisted arms later and they were on playing “Speeding Motorcycle” with us, Glenn on one of our acoustic guitars (in the standard EADGBE tuning that he never utilizes) and Michael on electric.

Meanwhile, back in Hoboken, December 1 marked the start of Hanukkah 2010.  M. Ward played the opening set and sat in for a bunch of ours;  Todd Barry drummed on “Angst in My Pants”; Nash Kato sang the holiday standard, “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon.”  And as Ron Popeil put it so eloquently: But wait, there’s more.  Having decided there was no better way to kick off Hanukkah than with Elvis Presley’s “One Night” changed to “Eight Nights,” we asked promoter extraordinaire Todd Abramson to find us an Elvis impersonator, and before you could say “do the clam,” he had lined up Gene DiNapoli.  In 30 years, I can’t pretend we haven’t made some mistakes, but one of them was not letting an Elvis impersonator get away with just one song–we closed the night with “Wear My Ring Around Your Neck” and “Burning Love” (complete with M. Ward, a horn section, and Nash Kato on backup vocals).

I’m forced to double Popeil you, because this is also the anniversary of Ray Davies on the Maxwell’s stage.  Night 3 of Hanukkah 2002 had already been remarkable with the Fleshtones (Peter Zaremba sang “Cara-Lin” and “In the Sun” with us) and Fred Armisen.  When we finished our set with “Nuclear War” (joined by Ferecito), we didn’t yet know whether Ray had made it.  He had.  The four of us took the stage and I played it as cool as I could, barely introducing him, knowing full well that everyone in the room would recognize him.  My miscalculation was that given the sightlines at Maxwell’s, far from everyone in the room could see him.  Expecting the 200+ in the audience to react as one, instead it was more of a ripple, as more and more people realized who our guest was.  We played “This Is Where I Belong” (later the final song that Yo La Tengo would perform at Maxwell’s), “Animal Farm” and “Till the End of the Day.”




Mac in your life

We ended 2000 the way we began it, with Mac McCaughan augmenting our lineup.  Portastatic played with us in at our last two shows of the year, in Providence and Northampton, the latter 14 years ago today.  Mac did double duty, sitting in on our entire set, and much of the encore too.  (In fact, we had the whole band up there with us for a raucous “Group Grope.”)  By my rough estimate, we’ve shared the stage with Mac somewhere around 30 times, and that doesn’t include the time I borrowed his just-out-of-the-box Fender Deluxe, turned it up to 10, and recorded the solo for Portastatic’s version of “St. Elmo’s Fire.”




This nearly yearlong stroll down memory lane concludes before the bulk of our Hanukkah shows, and in some ways it’s just as well.  So much to reflect on; luckily many of those nights are recollected elsewhere on this very website.  But a few snuck in under the wire–12 years ago today was the first night of our second Hanukkah.  For me, the best moment may have been well before the doors opened.  Ronnie Spector was our surprise special guest.  In advance of her arrival for soundcheck (i.e. rehearsal), her bassist Jeremy Chatzky was making sure we were sufficiently prepped.  And then the back door to Maxwell’s opened and in strode Ronnie, larger than life (and shorter than Georgia), dressed casually and all the more regal because of how little she had to work at it.  We ran through our two songs, and the only issue I recall is Ronnie asking for more out of the monitors, which was hilarious to us because by comparison to our personal experience, her voice was booming.  Which is not to imply that we were against hearing even more of it.  Years later, I’m wondering why we did only two songs.