Weekly Wire
Nashville Scene Hot Chicken No. 3

Celebrated New Jersey band Yo La Tengo returns to Nashville to record a new album

By Jim Ridley

AUGUST 30, 1999:  Yo La Tengo, the superb New Jersey trio who've kept indie rock honest now for the past decade, spent the month of July in Nashville's Alex the Great Studios recording their new album. This marked their third extended recording session in town. The first yielded 1995's Electr-O-Pura, which would've been amazing even if it hadn't included a shout-out to the Museum of Beverage Containers. The second produced 1997's stunning I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One, hailed in the current issue of Spin as one of the 90 best albums of the '90s.

That record--an unabashedly beautiful collection that referenced bossa nova, surf music, electronica, '60s British cinema, even film critic Pauline Kael--sums up all the things that make the group essential, from its natty taste in covers (The Beach Boys' "Little Honda") to its archivist's assimilation of pop culture high and low. Best of all, it commemorated Nashville's own Prince's Hot Chicken Shack in a song title, a noble tradition begun with Electr-O-Pura's "Flying Lesson (Hot Chicken #1)."

When they weren't recording, guitarist Ira Kaplan, drummer Georgia Hubley, and bassist James McNew were either dining in Nolensville Road eateries, chilling at the Hollywood 27, or passing around a bootleg of The Blair Witch Project. While mixing back home with his bandmates, McNew took some time out to answer a few questions about their stay. As it turns out, the group's return visits to Music City have less to do with music history than with a mean breast sandwich:

What's the new album called, and when is it due? Most important, will there be a "Hot Chicken #12 & 35"?

The album doesn't have a title yet, but we still have a little while to think of one. It's due out [on Matador Records] in February 2000, just after the collapse of society. We did make it back to Prince's Hot Chicken Shack a few times in July, so another song probably wouldn't be completely out of the question.

What keeps bringing you back to Nashville?

Well, besides Prince's, there's also La Hacienda, Salama Market, Las Americas, Cantrell's, the Bar-B-Licious truck, and that Iranian place on Thompson Lane [Ali Baba]. Besides that, we like working with producer Roger Moutenot, who lives in Nashville. This is the second album we've recorded at Alex the Great, a fantastic place to settle in and play some Ping-Pong.

In the studio, which SCTV character does each of you most resemble?

I think we strive to resemble three Tom Monroes, or Clay Collinses.

How arduous or spontaneous a process is recording, and was this record any more or less mapped out in advance than others?

It's both spontaneous and arduous. This time we had more ideas than totally finished songs, and kind of made it up as we went along. It was pretty exciting, and occasionally terrifying. The real credit for the more arduous side of things has to go to the people whose homes we lived in for a month.

How does Nashville barbecue measure up against the rest of the country? Is there any one 'cue joint here you'd recommend?

It's pretty damn good. If you can catch the Bar-B-Licious truck--it's not always there, as we discovered--they'll set you straight. Cantrell's was great too.

Could you find a decent radio station or record store while you were here? Or do you listen to music much when you're in the midst of recording?

I heard Eddie Bo, Ray Barretto, "The Crossover," and some very heavy techno on 91.1... Phonoluxe is too expensive, Great Escape was much better. R.I.P., Lucy's.

Bonus question: If you could eat hot chicken with one poet, one character actor, one Grand Ole Opry star, one historical figure, and one Hank Azaria character from The Simpsons, whom would you choose?

Hot chicken's really more of a solitary thing.

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