I was introduced to Yo La Tengo by Oneida’s Bobby Matador around the time of Painful. Bobby was at Oberlin and I was at Middlebury. This was when people wrote letters. I received a great letter from Bobby that shared the good news about a few new albums I needed to check out. Yo La Tengo’s Painful was on that list. I always listen to Bobby’s music recommendations – he’s been my guide for much of my musical life.
I was working at the radio station at Middlebury – WRMC. I was not quite the Music Director – that would come later. Painful was in the stacks and immediately became a favorite of mine. It’s wild to think they had been only releasing music for 7 years or so at that point. Then of course came Electr-O-Pura in May of 1995 – the “Tom Courtenay” single coming along in March... I was about to graduate from college and take that not-really-any-kind-of-step of moving to NYC to “rock” – which is seriously how Bobby would describe it to people. We were going to move to New York, “to rock.”
I had no idea what to call Yo La Tengo at that point in time. I had no context at all. I didn’t know how steeped in pop music history they were – and I did not know how people could craft these kinds of songs - with lyrics and music that could elevate and touch me emotionally. I still don’t really know how it’s possible to do that with their unique wit, heart and sincerity year after year.
Seeing them live at NYU around 1996 or so was an eye opener for me. They played a lot of songs I recognized but the band was performing on a different frequency. Those guitar solos completely ﬂoored me, the drumming was so grounded and powerful and there’s no better bassist I know. I think at that point they became my North Star band. In fact when Oneida’s ﬁrst album came out and I used to bring it around to stores trying to get it stocked, the counter people would ask me, “What do you guys sound like?”
“Well,” I would start painstakingly, trying really hard to be understood, “we don’t sound like Yo La Tengo – but I’d say this album is in the *spirit* of Yo La Tengo.” What I meant to say was that it was diverse in mood and feel - we were hard to pin down. The album was pretty awkward - and I have compassion for it now – but I’d say maybe it was made in the spirit of Yo La Tengo... but hmmm – maybe don’t share the results with them.
Early on in my time in NYC I ended up at the same movie that Georgia and Ira were seeing at Film Forum. I used to be able to remember the movie – but I’ve forgotten it now. I had Oneida’s ﬁrst single in my bag...“Best Friends” – it’s a good single actually! Maybe our ﬁrst great piece of music. I kept imagining walking up to them, explaining how I admired their band and I wanted to give them the single... well it never happened. They were spared.
It wasn’t until Oneida opened for Mission of Burma (did that really happen?!) at Irving Plaza and played a version of the song you’re holding in your hands that we were introduced to Yo La. James was at the show – and he liked our cover. He told the rest of Yo La about us... and we started playing with them occasionally. We opened for them a time or two - we even got to play during their legendary Hanukkah shows out at Maxwell’s before they closed their doors.
Over the years we’ve been fortunate to do a lot with our many heroes and Yo La ﬁts that bill. James McNew has performed in Oneida many times – even joining us for a tour.
I recently was in a serious car accident and have been recovering for a long time. My ﬁrst real outing was going to see Yo La Tengo at Brooklyn Steel. Their music helped me face another day of recovery.
We’re truly grateful for our years with Yo La Tengo. That “spirit” we’ve always tried to represent? You can ﬁnd a spark of it right here!