Yo La Tengo's Ira Kaplan Talks 'Popular Songs'

Yo La Tengo's Ira Kaplan Talks 'Popular Songs'
Michael Lavine

After adopting the name Condo Fu--s to release the all-covers record "Fu--book" (Matador) in March and scoring the Greg Mottola-directed film "Adventureland," Yo La Tengo's studio album "Popular Songs" (which was released Sept. 8 on Matador) marks the band's third set of music in 2009. Vocalist/guitarist Ira Kaplan talks to Billboard about scoring films, using new sounds on "Popular Songs" and his love of old ad jingles.

Was there anything from the "Adventureland" score that carried over into music you were working on for "Popular Songs"?

Nothing as explicit as outtakes, but there's a lot of things we like about doing the score work, and among them is that it does end up pointing us in directions that we haven't pointed in before. One thing that I think had a lot to do with it is the decision to record the record in Hoboken [N.J.] at our own space [instead of at producer Roger Moutenot's Nashville studio]. We've done so much work recording ourselves in our own space in the last couple of years, so we've gotten extra comfortable there.

Were there any particular instruments or sounds that you knew you wanted to focus on?

We don't tend to work that way where we make a plan to concentrate on something. I think things happen a little more accidentally. In the last couple of years we bought a Hammond organ. We've used Hammond organs in the past when studios have them, but never as much as we did on this record because we were rehearsing with it. And the other thing that leaps to mind is that a couple of songs had to have string sections on them, which we've done the tiniest bit of in the past, but never to this extent.

Yo La Tengo has done a lot of shows with a fun angle, like the Freewheeling Yo La Tengo tour and a series of Hanukkah shows. What do you like about doing those types of performances?

Those are all things that we came up with as a creative way to present ourselves and to work within an environment. We had this notion of, "Wouldn't it kind of be slightly funny and slightly audacious to play eight nights in a row at Maxwell's [in Hoboken]?" And then once we had the idea, how to do it just sprung from that pretty naturally.

Will there be a particular angle for the tour in support of "Popular Songs"?

No, there isn't at the moment. There's always the thought of, "Gee, wouldn't it be great to have a string section on one night?" But I can't imagine it would be anything we'd want to tour with because it doesn't happen on enough songs. But we do like to make our shows very different from one another and, because of the fact that the three of us have played together for so long, we have a lot to draw on.

With so much music being listened to on computers and iPods, did the fact that many people listen to songs individually rather than as full albums affect the way you sequence or structure your albums?

It didn't. We thought about it and then ultimately decided to pretend it's not happening. I think the record was sequenced in a way to be listened to from start to finish.

Do you have any licensing deals for music or for songs written specifically for advertisements?

No. It's been a while since we've done that. Maybe the products we wrote music for did not take off in the right, hoped-for way [laughs]. And as far as licensing existing songs, we've done that for movies and for television but it's something we've shied away from in other venues and so far we're sticking to that. It just feels right to us. I think a lot of times it's the way we respond as music listeners that informs a lot of our decisions of what we do as a band, and as a listener it continues to bother me when I hear songs in advertising. But then I have such fond memories of advertising jingles that the thought of writing a specific jingle seems like fun.