Clip: Yo La Tengo's Mother Lode
Yo La Tengo's Mother Lode
The Hoboken trio's latest album showcases a record-store-sized record
By David Downs
Article Published Oct 18, 2006
The key to understanding veteran indie-rock trio Yo La Tengo lies in
the size of its members' record collections. They collect everything.
"You could probably fit it all in a small-to-medium-size record
store," bassist James McNew says. "With proper shelving and wall
displays, of course."
Of course. Not only does the Hoboken band draw from perhaps seventy
years of American music from jazz to rock to modern indie, but it
takes the time to listen to it all, and then record its own stuff at a
tempo befitting a slow Monday afternoon at a record store.
I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass, which came out last
month on Matador, bucks the modern music industry timetable
completely. Instead of working from home on the cheap and mastering
quickly at the label's studio, Yo La Tengo spent a month in a
Nashville studio earlier this year. Engineer and producer Roger
Moutenot owns the studio, and has worked with the band for fourteen
years of its twenty-year existence.
"It's a total luxury, I know," McNew says. "We'll arrive at the studio
with more ideas, and it leaves the recording process maybe a little
more spontaneous. A lot of times you're hearing us figuring something
out or solving a problem as it happens."
Indeed, ... Beat Your Ass opens and closes with extended guitar jams
that trade concision for improvisational noodling that actually pays
off. In the middle, a U-Haul truck's worth of instruments fabricate
Caribbean beats, brooding piano interludes, and a dozen other genres
that don't include house and hip-hop. McNew is supposed to play bass,
but each member of this band can pick up just about any instrument.
If the sound of ... Beat Your Ass veers hard into '60s and '70s
pop-rock, McNew won't verify it by giving details about which vintage
instruments went into the recording. "All weapons are secret weapons,"
he says. Then he hints, "There are things that are pretty old which
are a part of our show, like this '60s organ made by Ace Tone. Those
are very hard to come by, and I feel as though we have changed the
market somewhat for them. We're not just collectors. We use them."
And that might be a good way to sum up Yo La Tengo's latest. It has
the depth of a record collection that's getting some serious use.