Inquiring Minds

Inquiring Minds: A Lengthy Chat With Yo La Tengo Bassist James McNew

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RO: Do you think that the fact that the VU was that kind of band might play a role in the fact that you guys became that kind of band? I know, at least at the outset, you obviously weren't involved for the first couple records, but Ira at least has been pretty vocal about establishing the VU as one of the primary motivations for him to begin making music.

JM: Oh, they had the same impact on me. I had this kind of fairy tale story of hearing them for the first time, where my ninth grade English teacher gave me a copy of White Light, White Heat to listen to, and I stopped paying attention to school like that day, and that kind of just blew my mind forever. Like what you were talking about, that record has the super intense stuff, and then pretty stuff as well, within the span of a really short album.

Yeah, they made an enormous impression on me, and I think bands that were influenced by the Velvet Underground had a huge impact on me, too. Bands like the Feelies and Big Star, it just goes on and on, the depth of impact they had on me and on a lot of people.

RO: What effect do you think the fact that you guys have been together for so long has on your ability to function that way as a unit, or do you think your ability to function that way as a unit is one of the reasons you've stayed together for so long?

JM: (laughs) I don't know. You know, I'm sure the two are not unrelated. Yeah, you might be on to something there. I don't think we think about it so much. I think we don't question it, we don't question the fact that we've been playing together for so long and that we love it. We try not to demystify it, I guess. There's something that's really fun to think that, I don't know, maybe it's magic. And I'll think "Yeah, sure, it's magic. I'm fine with that.

RO: I frequently get the impression, when doing interviews with artists, that everybody other than the artist thinks much more about what's potentially going on behind the scenes with their music.

JM: (laughs) Uh huh.

RO: You guys are just there doing your thing, having fun with it, making music that feel right to you when you're making it, and we all sit back and concoct these elaborate conspiracy theories about why everything is the way it is. Does it ever get irritating or is it just amusing?

JM: Oh, I think that's awesome, because, so many times, and I'm sure it's with almost any group, the real answers are just so dull that anything you supply with your own imagination is going to completely eclipse the truth. I support that one million percent. I've done it my whole life with pretty much any record that I love, or have been obsessed with. I'll create an entire back story, and it just comes to me naturally. I'm all in favor of that.

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Nicholas L. Hall is a husband and father who earns his keep playing a video game that controls the U.S. power grid. He also writes for the Houston Press about food, booze and music, in an attempt to keep the demons at bay. When he's not busy keeping your lights on, he can usually be found making various messes in the kitchen, with apologies to his wife.
Contact: Nicholas L. Hall