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Yo La Tengo Biography


Home > Music > Y > Yo La Tengo > Biography


Birth Place: Hoboken, New Jersey, United States
Years Active: 1984–present
Genres: Indie Rock, Experimental Rock, Noise Pop, Dream Pop


Yo La Tengo, sometimes abbreviated as YLT, is an American alternative rock band formed in Hoboken, New Jersey. Since 1992, the lineup has consisted of Ira Kaplan (guitars, piano, vocals), Georgia Hubley (drums, piano, vocals), and James McNew (bass, vocals). Kaplan and Hubley formed the band as a husband/wife duo in 1984. The band is renowned for its encyclopedic repertoire of cover songs both in live performance and on record.

The group's debut recording was a 7" single entitled “The River of Water” backed with a cover of Arthur Lee's “A House Is Not a Motel" released in late 1985 with Dave Schramm on lead guitar and Dave Rick on bass. After recording “Private Doberman” for inclusion on a Coyote Records compilation entitled “Luxury Condos Coming to Your Neighborhood,” Rick left the band and was replaced by Mike Lewis, the founding bass player of Boston garage-punk bands DMZ and Lyres, who was also a member of Brooklyn garage rock band The A-Bones throughout his tenure in YLT.

In 1986, Yo La Tengo released their first LP, “Ride the Tiger” on Coyote Records. It was produced by former Mission of Burma bassist Clint Conley, who also took over bass duties on three songs. Kaplan was credited as “naive guitar” on the sleeve. Schramm and Lewis left the band after the album's release, with Kaplan subsequently taking on the role of lead guitar and Stephan Wichnewski joining to play bass. The group's next album, 1987’s “New Wave Hot Dogs” sold poorly.

The release of “President Yo La Tengo” in 1989 did much to establish the band's reputation among rock critics who praised the band’s styling. Produced by Gene Holder of The dB's, the album was the band's last release on Coyote. Despite the positive reception of the album, sales were still poor and Wichnewski left the band not long after. Hubley and Kaplan carried on as a duo and began playing two-electric-guitar shows.

Yo La Tengo reunited with Dave Schramm in 1990 to record “Fakebook, “an album of mostly acoustic tunes, including covers of Cat Stevens, Gene Clark, The Kinks, Daniel Johnston, among others, with five original songs by the band themselves, including an acoustic version of “Barnaby Hardly Working.” Again produced by Gene Holder, the album's folk sound was a change of pace for the band.

In 1991, with Dave Schramm in tow, Yo La Tengo collaborated with Daniel Johnston on the song “Speeding Motorcycle” which was released as a single. The band also released a 7” single on Bar/None Records with the song “Walking Away from You” backed with a cover of Beat Happening's “Cast a Shadow.” Gene Holder produced the single and played the bass. The “That Is Yo La Tengo” EP released later that year included some tracks that would end up on the group's next LP.

After the release of “That Is Yo La Tengo,” James McNew (who also records under the solo moniker Dump) began playing bass with the band, forming the trio that continues to make up the band today.

The band recorded “May I Sing with Me” in Boston with Holder producing and Lou Giordano engineering. The album was released on Alias Records in 1992. Two of the album's eleven songs (“Swing for Life” and “Five-Cornered Drone”) were carried over from the “That Is Yo La Tengo” EP and featured Holder on bass. The “Upside-Down” EP was released in support of the album, rounding out the band's releases on Alias.

In 1993, Yo La Tengo began their partnership with Matador Records, releasing a 7” of the song “Shaker” which the band recorded with John Siket in New Jersey. The following LP, 1993's “Painful” was also the beginning of the band's fruitful creative partnership with producer Roger Moutenot, who has produced all of their subsequent albums. “Painful” was the first Yo La Tengo to feature McNew on every song.

The band released “Electr-O-Pura” in 1995 to similar acclaim. For the first time, all songs were credited to the band as a whole rather than individual member which became standard on all future releases. The band's 1997 LP “I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One” synthesized the group's eclectic combination of folk, punk rock, shoegazing, long instrumental noise-jams, and electronic music into a sprawling, multi-faceted style. Critical reaction was extremely positive.

With their critical reputation higher than ever before, the band toured extensively and their fan base continued to grow. In 1998, they collaborated with Jad Fair and released the album “Strange but True” to mixed reviews. The band entered the studio again in late 1999 to record their ninth LP. “And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out” was released in February 2000 to a warm reception. The album featured some intimate songs with hushed, varied instrumentation and included the 19-minute epic “Night Falls On Hoboken.”

In 2001, Yo La Tengo recorded an instrumental score for eight short undersea documentaries by Jean Painlevé, entitled “The Sounds of the Sounds of Science.” The program debuted at the San Francisco Film Festival and has been performed live approximately twelve times. The band also released an EP with covers of Sun Ra's “Nuclear War” in late 2002.

The band's tenth LP, “Summer Sun,” was released in 2003. Yo La Tengo collaborated with Yoko Ono on the 2003 charity album “Wig in a Box: Songs from and Inspired by Hedwig and the Angry Inch” in support of the Harvey Milk High School. They also composed scores for four more films, 2005's “Junebug” and “Game 6” and 2006's “Shortbus” and” Old Joy.” Their scores for these four films were collected on the 2008 compilation “They Shoot, We Score.”

Their 11th LP, “I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass,” was released in 2006 to universal acclaim. Informed by their soundtrack work, the arrangements included more strings and horns than any of the band's previous albums. In addition, the album was book-ended with two guitar jams lasting over ten minutes each.

In 2006, the band released “Yo La Tengo Is Murdering the Classics,” a compilation of their live impromptu cover-song performances on the New Jersey freeform radio station, WFMU.

In March 2008, Yo La Tengo performed under the alias Condo Fucks at Brooklyn's Magnetic Field. As Condo Fucks, the band released an album of cover songs, “Fuckbook,” on Matador in March 2009.

“Popular Songs,” the band's 12th album, was released in September 2009. The album was recorded in the band's rehearsal space in New Jersey and featured two songs with elaborate string sections, composed by jazz composer Richard Evans. It entered the Billboard 200 Albums chart at #58, the highest entry of the band's career thus far.