“When it comes to interviews, that’s all people ask for, and I do my best not to answer them,” Ira Kaplan said, Yo La TengoThe jovial guitarist and singer from, at the end of our phone conversation yesterday, dodging the most usual questions: “Do you have anything more to add?”
It was not his first hesitation. I threw up a few theories on the deceptively simple title of the Hoboken trio, New Jerseythe excellent new album by, Popular songs– how the band has long been the best synthesizer in indie rock with a cool and tasteful aesthetic (read: rock-nerd), and how now, more than ever, the band seems to be playing with ideas of nostalgia and shifting media . “Well, I think…” Kaplan said, stopping. Hit one. “I’m not really going to tell you. We had the title for a while, and when we got closer [cover artist] Dario Robleto about the use of his work, the way he used physical materials in his work seemed to really resonate with the title.
Our conversation turned to the band’s current tour (Kaplan and his comrades, drummer and vocalist Georgia Hubley and bassist James McNew, perform tomorrow night at the 9:30 am Club) then back to the new album — in particular, his dramatic string arrangements by the Chicago bassist Richard evans. I told Kaplan that the creepy, plunging arrangement of “Here To Fall” – the album’s opening – reminded me of a Serge Gainsbourg song. Hit two. “I suspect that Richard was not thinking of Serge Gainsbourg. Richard made incredible records in the 50s and 60s, so maybe Serge Gainsbourg heard this [Evans] was doing. Or maybe great minds just think the same way.
Things picked up again as we were discussing “If It’s True”, a concise love song whose effervescent bassline and amorous orchestrations wouldn’t be out of place on a vintage. Impressions record: “It was a song that structurally hasn’t changed much. When we rehearsed it, I was mainly playing the piano “- not Kaplan’s loudest instrument,” he conceded – “so James carried some of the more melodic weight. He started playing this much more complicated bass line and the song was getting a lot more in the Motown bag, and it sort of started there to begin with. At an earlier stage in the band’s life, if we had a song that was really Motown, we would have found an element that would make it less, but lately we’re trying to find an element that will make it more so. “
He said sometimes a song would emerge fully formed, Athena-style, from the head of the band, like “Avalon Or Someone Very Similar”, the most dynamic part of AM pop on Popular songs. Most of the time, however, “our writing tends to be pretty loose,” Kaplan said. “Almost every song has some sort of genesis as one of those long, sprawling things.”
Given this methodology – in which the songs are more molded than written – the prolificity of Yo La Tengo may be surprising: in 2009 alone, the band released an album proper, film music (Land of adventure), and a pseudonym cover record (Condo Fucks’ Fuck book). “In some ways it becomes a decision not to do [nonalbum projects]”Kaplan said,” because someone asks you to do something and it seems like such a cool opportunity. And at one point, we realized that we hadn’t made a record for a long time. “Maybe we should say no. “
“Basically we went to Matador [Records, the band’s longtime label] and said, “If we were to release a record, what day would be right for you?” What day would you shoot for? And they looked at their record schedule and said September 8th. And we used it as the finish line.
Kaplan has stated that Yo La Tengo will be on tour until the end of 2009, a year which, no coincidence, marks the band’s 25th anniversary. And so I asked the obvious question. “Is it weird?” It’s a little weird, ”Kaplan said. “It’s like being in a long line, and you feel the line not moving, and then you look behind you and see how many people are in the line, and you say, ‘I guess I’m moving. “”
Yo La Tengo is playing with Endless Boogie tomorrow night at the 9:30 Club. Tickets are $ 20 and doors open at 7 p.m. Photo courtesy of Yo La Tengo’s MySpace page.