Interview Upbringing: Yo La Tengo

The band’s James McNew talks us through their biggest influences, old and new.

Yo La Tengo released their much anticipated new album ‘There’s A Riot Going On’ last month, an ambitious record that spans from pure noise to moments of calm and everything in between. Self-produced and recorded on the spot with no rehearsals or jamming before hand, the songs on the record came together over long stretches, sometimes up to a year occurring between the recording of different parts.

Now, with the record finally released into the world, we asked the band’s James McNew about first instruments, musical obsessions and musical habits, both good and bad.

What was the first gig you ever went to?

David Bowie, touring in support of his ‘Let’s Dance’ album. I did not care for it.

Were there a good supply of venues in your hometown?

There actually were. I was lucky enough to see some fantastic, life-changing shows growing up in Charlottesville, VA.

What was the first song you developed an obsession for?

I remember being pretty freaked out by my dad’s copy of ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone’ by The Temptations. Holds up strong today.

What’s the first song you ever bought with your own money, and why?

The first LP was “Machine Head” by Deep Purple. Do you still need to know why?

"I remember being pretty freaked out by my dad’s copy of 'Papa Was A Rolling Stone' by The Temptations."

What’s the story behind your first instrument?

My mom had a folk guitar that she admits she only played a few times, it lived in a closet in our house. One day when I was 8 or 9 I tried it out. Soon it was mine, as long as I kept taking lessons.

What’s your worst musical habit?

Constantly confusing the Faces and the Small Faces.

What inspirations outside of music have an impact on your songwriting?

Basketball, cooking, movies, driving, painting, sleeping, not sleeping.

Tell us the best advice you’ve ever been given as a musician…

“Please turn that down.”

Were any new bands/artists been particularly inspirational when you were working on ‘There’s A Riot Going On’?

Not particularly, it was made under extremely hermetic conditions. But I listened to music every single day of its production, and a great deal of that came via listening to WFMU.

And if you could be in a band from the last two decades, which would you pick, and why?

Outkast. Every reason.

Yo La Tengo’s new album ‘There’s A Riot Going On’ is out now via Matador.

Catch up with the rest of our upbringing features here.

The band are currently midway through a UK and European tour. View the dates here.

Tags: Yo La Tengo, Upbringing, Features

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