With more than a dozen albums and nearly 30 years under their collective belt, Yo La Tengo – Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley and James McNew – have enjoyed success entirely on their own terms. They've played everywhere, from the world’s best-known concert halls and museums to dives and clubs, dominating critics’ lists, doing a "Simpsons" theme, playing the Velvet Underground in I Shot Andy Warhol, sharing stages with some of the most important musicians of our time, and even creating a holiday tradition onto themselves with their yearly series of Hanukkah shows at Hoboken, New Jersey’s legendary club Maxwells, from which they’ve donated hundreds of thousands to charity.
In 2013, Yo La Tengo released Fade, featuring 10 songs recorded at Chicago's Soma studios with producer John McEntire. The resulting collection of songs features that band's signature layered arrangements, flush with controlled guitar noise and strings; alongside gentle, whispered pop flights.
Kaplan, Hubley and McNew recently visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio, as well as the Rock Hall's Library and Archives. While here, the Rock Hall caught up with Kaplan, who shares thoughts on his first records, favorite Yo La Tengo concert, seeing the Kinks live and more.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: What was the first record you ever bought and do you still listen to it?
Ira Kaplan: First record I remember buying was the [Rolling Stones'] "Ruby Tuesday"/"Let's Spend the Night Together" 45 – and yes, I still listen to it.
RRHOF: What artists did you listen to when you were growing up and what about them appealed to you?
IK: Too many to mention. First it was the Beatles, Stones, Herman's Hermits. Later introduced by babysitters to Paul Revere & the Raiders and the Young Rascals. My listening was upended when I saw the Kinks in 1972.
RRHOF: You mentioned a number of Hall of Fame Inductees. Were you influenced by any other Hall of Fame alums?
IK: Aren't all of the above in the Hall of Fame? They're not?! But I hate the word "influence" as a synonym for "like." If I happen to think poorly of one or more inductees, who's to say that's any less influential than my favorite acts.
RRHOF: What do you remember about playing your first gig – how old were you, where was it, when was it, how’d it go, the crowd?
IK: My brother and I performed "Downtown" for my parents. The crowd loved it!
RRHOF: Do you have a favorite concert? One by someone else? And one by you?
IK: Once again, too many to mention, but the Kinks at Central Park in 1972 and Half Japanese at Folk City in 1983 are right up there. One show of ours that stands out is the Trocadero in Philadelphia in 2003, the first time we ever had members of the Sun Ra Arkestra sit in (on that night it was Danny Ray Thompson, Tyrone Hill and Dave Davis).
RRHOF: Can you talk a little about the importance of a Library and Archives dedicated to rock and roll?
IK: It makes me feel a lot less bad about myself for all those years of not throwing anything out.