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Yo La Tengo

by James Hadfield

Special To The Japan Times

They had you playing just after noon today. Do you find it’s hard to be switched on so early in the morning?

Ira Kaplan (guitar, vocals): Well, luckily we’re so completely turned around: we’ve been on tour all month, working very hard, and then thrown into this. At this point, it could be any time of any day, maybe of any year. On the one hand we’re very tired, but on the other hand it really wouldn’t have felt any different if we were playing at 10:30 at night. I think we’ve lost all sense of time and space.

James McNew (bass, drums, vocals): Time is really just a construct at this point, I think. We’re awake, we get a few hours of sleep, and it has this momentum to it. I thought playing today was greatly aided by this momentum, and the fact that nobody was distracted. (Laughs.) No one had the energy to be distracted, and I think the totality of ourselves and our group was completely focussed on what we played and what we did, just breathing it and living it as we were doing it, and it felt really great. That said, I would love to go to bed. (Laughs.)

Do you know when that’s going to happen?

JM: It could happen at any moment.

Some of the songs you did today were extremely intimate. Do you ever have misgivings about playing that kind of stuff on the main stage at a major festival?

IK: As I said, we’ve been doing this all month. We hope to come back to Japan next year and do our own shows, and when we do that every one is wildly different from the one before and the one after. This month, we’ve been playing all festivals, and opening shows for Belle and Sebastian, so basically we’ve worked from a template. This and the Pitchfork [Music] Festival in Chicago were definitely the biggest stages, but we’d already tried this out on some big stages, and felt it was working. Anybody can play an intimate song in an intimate setting, but to do that in a surrounding that maybe it doesn’t feel natural — I think that’s a strength of our group. I’ve been really proud that we’ve been able to make that work.

Do you think that your latest album, “Fade,” harks back to some of your earlier material? I felt like it has a lot in common with 1995′s “Electr-O-Pura.”

IK: I don’t think we thought that until we started hearing it from other people. I can’t speak for James, but I don’t even know what most of “Electr-O-Pura” sounds like. It’s not like it’s Thursday night and we’re like, “What do you want to listen to tonight? We could listen to Charles Mingus, we could listen to Lambchop … let’s listen to ‘Electr-O-Pura’!” Those records: We make them, the songs are alive to us because we play them live, but I’m not sure we’re the best people to ask about what those records sound like.

JM: I’ve heard our records in a restaurant, like in a bar or a party-type situation, and it takes me a moment to recognize, “Ah, that’s us! What is this? Oh, right.” The songs change with us: we make a record and then it’s done. Songs that we worked so hard to finish and put on a record 20 years ago, we’ve still being playing for the past 20 years, and so they change a little — tone changes, tempo changes. I thought about the connection between “Electr-O-Pura” and “Fade,” and I think it’s mostly rhythmic. I think that “Electr-O-Pura” introduced a more rhythmic playing for us, and a lot of that is on “Fade” as well, but it’s not something we thought about. It came subconsciously.

Just personally, I feel like I kind of rediscovered Yo La Tengo with this album. Do you think you’ve won back many other listeners with “Fade”?

JM: I hope so! (Laughs.)

IK: It seems like people like this record.

I’m not in any way putting down the others…

IK: No, no, I understand. And even if you were, it’s cool.

JM: It’s a continuum.

IK: This time it did kind of have more of a unified quality. When we sequenced the record, I think we tried to emphasize that aspect of it. We could have put the record together in a way that made it feel like it jumped around a little more, but we tried to make it as cohesive as possible. With other ones, maybe we did enjoy the idea that you have no idea what the next song is going to sound like.