Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan: “It’s a lot easier to play for strangers” | Music | Denver | Denver Westword

The first show was petrifying, ”says Ira Kaplan of Yo La Tengo’s live debut. “We threw a party and played there, and we learned – not so quickly – that it’s a lot easier to play for strangers than it is for your friends. “

When they formed Yo La Tengo in 1984, Kaplan and Georgia Hubley’s shy husband-and-wife team were an unlikely couple to get into music, an area typically dominated by egotistical extroverts.

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“In a way,” Kaplan notes, “there is no more difficult way to create a band than to play for all of your friends. Overcoming shyness in some respects is a process that continues until day in the group, to feel more comfortable, or to feel comfortable doing certain things. It’s a long process that is not necessarily over. “

“The other thing about it,” he adds, “is that in a way, you’re not even sure you want to get over it, because it’s so part of you. that we’re not the kind of band that has these alter egos at work. We’re basically a version of ourselves as performers. Then you’re like, “So that’s what I am.” of who you are a positive rather than a negative one, but don’t hide from who you are. “

Indeed. No hiding place here. Since its debut in the mid-1980s, the film produced by Clint Conley Ride the tiger, To Popular songs, his most recent effort, Yo La Tengo has always created a sort of experimental pop music that has in turn delighted, baffled, or turned off listeners – the hallmark of any great group.

The band underwent a few compositional changes until 1992, when they recruited longtime bassist James McNew, who first appeared on an album the following year, on Painful. It was the songwriting on this record that solidified the dreamy intensity of Yo La Tengo, whose combination of delicate melodies and raging sound passages proved influential for a generation of indie-rock descendants. .

From hosting an annual Hanukkah show in his hometown of Hoboken to the backing band for legendary punk icon Jad Fair of Half Japanese, Yo La Tengo has always presented themselves as a band with very idiosyncratic sensibilities but always convincing who are just trying to have fun with his music.

“I first heard Byron Coley’s name,” Kaplan recalls, explaining how he was exposed to Fair’s group. “And because of the nature of Byron, I wasn’t sure he wasn’t a band called Half Japanese. When I found out he wasn’t, I leaned over them, and the first thing I heard was Half gentlemen, not stupid, and I was completely blown away. I couldn’t believe my ears. “

At that time, Kaplan was also a music journalist, a role he humbly minimizes today. After writing to Half Japanese asking for a copy of the unlikely box set that a label had released, Fair himself contacted Kaplan and sent the original records, but they were inside the sleeves of another record, that he still has in his collection.

“I think the first time we worked with Jad, there was a guy who was having a music festival in the backyard, and he wanted us to play it,” Kaplan recalls. “He said he was trying to get Jad to play, so we said, ‘What if we play with Jad?’ So that’s what we did for this show; we supported it. ” The ultimate fruit of this collaboration was the very unique album Strange but true, for which Fair extracted absurd headlines from the lines of a newspaper.

Many critics – and, at the time, the group itself – identified I can hear the heart beating like one from 1997 as a real turning point in the artistic growth of Yo La Tengo. In fact, you can hear the sound of a band come to life and realize that they can be both creative and focused without having to let go of their identity – or sense of playfulness. An insert supplied with certain copies of I Can hear the heart beat as one included a list of fake albums from equally fake bands such as Condo Fucks, who released an album titled, with a bit of ironic self-mockery, Fuck book.

“This record went in a convoluted fashion,” explains Kaplan. “There was a bar, Magnetic Field, that we loved that was closing. It had about a hundred people. Friends of ours were going to play there last weekend, and we volunteered to open for them. just looked for a different name to play by. Given the band we were playing with, if we had played our songs, no one there probably would have liked it. I don’t know how much they liked the Condo Fucks , but they certainly wouldn’t have liked Yo the songs from La Tengo. “

And the merry joker didn’t stop there. Few years ago, Onion published an article about the death of Yo La Tengo when a building collapsed on top of the group, which had disastrous consequences for music critics near and far. The newspaper then invited the band members to perform at their Christmas party.

“It was a party, but open to the public too,” Kaplan recalls. “They started talking about the money that they could pay us. The money was not important, and we said to them, ‘You are not going to pay us what we normally get, and that is. very well. It doesn’t bother us. We “I’ll do it for another reason. So we got another idea and said,“ Here’s what we want to do: we’re going to piece together your article. ”It actually took a little bit of conviction on their part. It took them by surprise, it got bigger, and they were great in it. It created momentary confusion, and it was a good experience. “

Exploring their creativity even further, Kaplan and his company are currently on the “Spinning Wheel” tour, in which the group performs two sets at every stop on the tour – except for their appearance at next weekend’s Westword Music Showcase – and the songs are decided at random. by the spinning of a wheel, as in a game show.

“It’ll be the Condo Fucks one night,” Kaplan says. “It will be Freewheeling Yo La Tengo another night. We do dump sets. If it’s a short set, we do a second set afterwards. It just seemed like a way to give us the opportunity to play in different ways without give any kind of warning about what’s to come. It’s kind of ‘anything is possible’, and we find out when the public does. “

An audience of friends, no doubt.

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