Inquiring Minds

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

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RO: What explanation, if any, can you give for that fact that, coming from both positions - you know, you're an avid music fan who does this to, or I suppose I should say on the behalf of, other bands, and yet not for your own band?

JM: (Laughs a lot) Huh. I'm not sure. I think that. I don't know. I remember always reading that when bands would go on tour, it was just this trail of destruction and overnight stays in jail, you know, great stuff. You know, super exciting, glamorous, sort of rock-espionage sort of stuff, and I remember going on tour for the first time, and it was so thrilling and exciting, but when it got down to it, really mundane.

You know, driving for ten hours a day, and sleeping on somebody's floor with cats crawling all over ya, and at the same time, thinking, "This is amazing! I've never been so excited in my life!" You know, like, "I can't believe I get to do this." I guess I don't know. I guess the thrills are relative to anybody, I guess. Everybody has their own scales.

RO: In answering that first question, I know we've tangentially spiraled off from there, you mentioned that perhaps your propensity for playing covers as a group has played a factor in the fact that your sound is so cohesive, no matter where you go with it. I mean, obviously Fakebook; this year's Fuckbook; the annual fundraiser with WFMU. It's obviously a huge part of what you guys do. Where do you think that comes from? Does that just spring naturally from your love of music? I mean, a lot of people might even say that it's a bit odd for a non cover band to play as many covers as you guys do.

JM: I think it's just kind of how we came to music. I don't think any of us bought instruments and immediately began writing songs because we had to tell the world something. I think we got guitars and drums and stuff because we loved hearing people play 'em, and we wanted to imitate it. We came to song-writing that way, kind of round- about, like eventually thinking 'wow, maybe I could try that'. I think that's just kind of how we think about music. Probably, yeah.

RO: Alright. It sort of seems to point to a connection you guys have with, if you will - and this is probably going to sound a bit purple...

JM: (laughs)

RO: ...sort of the sonic zeitgeist of American music.

JM: Uh huh?

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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