The highly influential and consistently great New Jersey band, Yo La Tengo, will be releasing their highly anticipated new album “There’s a Riot Goin’ On” on March 16th.
“Riot” is their first album of all original material in five years and finds them exploring some new territory for the ever-adventurous trio. Hot off the heels of a huge free show in Central Park over the summer and eight straight sold-out Hannukah shows at the Bowery Ballroom, the band will be playing a (sort of) hometown show at Brooklyn Steel on April 6th to celebrate the album’s release.
I had the chance to speak with multi-instrumentalist James McNew about the new album and Yo La Tengo’s upcoming tour.
First off, I love the new album so much. There is such a minimalist approach where there is a lot of space to the arrangements and you really get to hear the skeletons of the songs. What was the writing and recording process like this time around?
The writing and recording processes were one and the same. In fact, much of what’s on the album is the sound of us figuring out and playing something for the first time. We found we were able to preserve a lot of spontaneity in the spirit of the songs. It was a new and strange and exciting way for us to write and work on an album.
Yo La Tengo produced the album together and it was mixed by John McEntire (Broken Social Scene, Tortoise). It’s definitely a headphones record and you can hear some of his sensibilities shine through. You also worked with him on your last record, “Fade”. What has it been like working with him?
It’s always a pleasure to work with John. He is a frighteningly talented person.
The title of the new record, “There’s a Riot Goin’ On”, shares the same title as the classic Sly and the Family Stone album. Both your album and Sly’s were released during complicated times in our country’s history. Was that title always in the back of your minds while recording the album?
Yes, I think it had been in our minds since January or February of 2017.
You brought back your famous Hanukkah shows this year. Each show had secret surprise guests that were only revealed as doors opened each night. I was able to go to the night with The Sadies and the comedy duo Brothers Italiano (Jon Glaser and H. Jon Benjamin). It was so great! How long does it usually take to plan and book the surprise guests for those shows?
It takes several months, and it goes right up until the last minute. And in the case of 2017, it took about five years of thinking about doing it again.
Did you miss having the residency at Hoboken, New Jersey’s legendary venue Maxwell’s?
Yes and no. Maxwell’s was YLT’s spiritual home, and we loved the people who worked there. When it closed, we felt it wouldn’t make sense to do it anywhere else. But everything worked out great at Bowery Ballroom, we felt at home and the staff & crew were very welcoming.
What can fans expect from the upcoming Yo La Tengo tour?
New songs, old songs, and lots of stuff we don’t even know about yet.
Check out some new singles from the new Yo La Tengo album“There’s a Riot Goin’ On”, which will be released on March 16th through Matador records, and make sure to get tickets for their Brooklyn Steel show here.