There really is no band quite like Yo La Tengo.

Having been around for almost three decades with little signs of waning, the New Jersey three-piece are in a league of their own, musically speaking. Playing by their own rules since the very start and proving that fantastic and diverse tastes can equal an extraordinary musical output, the genre-spanning group have favoured consistency and quality over the quick cash-in since the very start.

“It’s been a real fucking struggle for us not to sell out,” says bassist and vocalist James McNew.

Now 13 long players in to their career, the band of three have yet to do their fans and followers wrong. No easy feat for a group that come to prominence in the pretence-filled and trend-centric years of the 1990s.

Still, McNew, along with husband and wife bandmates Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley, have always deemed it important to ensure that their art form stays un-pressured by financial reward. “Licensing our music is just something that we wont ever do… and we’re a lot poorer for it.”

Having never sold written music for ads, Yo La Tengo might just be the last of a dying breed of musicians refusing to sell out for cash. “It’s hard. But we just won’t ever licence our music for advertising,” says the bassist.

“Don’t get us wrong, we’re very interested in the idea of composing for advertising or TV and we’ve done that in the past. But as far as giving away songs we’ve already written and recorded… the songs on our albums, we just wont give those away to advertisers.”

The musician continues stating firmly, “It’s just something that we wont ever do… and we’re a lot poorer for it. But, it’s just the way we are, it doesn’t seem right to us.”

Along with staying true to their convictions, the New Jersey natives have always managed to do whatever floated their musical fancy, as evidenced by the stylistically diverse catalogue.

From slow acoustic numbers worthy of indie-flick soundtracks and the most saccharine of mixtapes – Fakebook and And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out standing out as quieter records – to noise-fuelled math rock that’s worthy of its own indulgence (see: most of 1992’s May I Sing With Me), the trio have never felt constrained by genre.

“We’ve always sort of written what we wanted, which I guess comes across,” says the sometimes-vocalist.

Their latest release, this year’s Fade was an immersive, subtle and gripping release that was quite unlike anything the band have released before.

Receiving rave reviews and re-establishing the veterans as a musical force (in case there was ever any doubt), McAnew admits the recording process of their latest record, Fade, was as unique as the output. “[The praise] always did surprise us, it’s really nice. I don’t think we expect anything, really. So it’s always a really nice surprise when people say nice things about it.”

Produced by John McEntire of Tortoise/The Sea And The Cake fame, Yo La Tengo’s old friend served as a breath of fresh air in the studio.

“It was so great, we’d known John as a friend for a very long time, since ’91 or ’92 and we’ve been fans of his many bands and we’ve loved the records that he’s produced,” says McAnew.

“It was fun and really hard work though. It was so great being locked in a room with him for a month or so and we’re so happy with the record.”

Whatever they did worked, with many – including Tone Deaf’s reviewer – considering Fade to be one of the greatest releases of the band’s career.

Despite receiving the grandest of praise for most of their musical lives, the humble group admit they never strive for it.

“It [the praise] always did surprise us, it’s really nice. I don’t think we expect anything, really. So it’s always a really nice surprise when people say nice things about it,” says McAnew with a humility rare of an artist so accomplished.

Coming to Australia for a once-off show as part of Melbourne Festival, the bassist details how exactly he, Kaplan, and Dubley are able to translate their vast back catalogue to the stage.

“We are no stranger to long songs so the way we’ve presented it is kinda unique,” he admits.

“We’ve been playing shows that are two sets. So we’ll do the first set, which is quieter material. Then we’ll take a little break, re-set the stage and then play loud for an hour or an hour and a half – It allows for a really strong representation of what we do.”

Looking forward to returning to Melbourne for the first time since their 2010 national tour, he says: “We love coming down to Australia, it’s a hell of a flight, but it’s always worth it” – the band famous for their live covers tease that an Australian tribute might form part of the one-off set.

“We’ve definitely played a Saints song or two in our time. We’ll see, I could think of something Australian for us to cover.”

Along with being one of the most accomplished indie bands of all time, a perpetually cited influence for musicians who’ve come after, and proof that stylistic variation and an adversity to tends does not a contrarian make, the trio truly are as cool, humble, and honest as their music suggests.

Yo La Tengo will play Melbourne Music Festival on October 18th. Tickets for all shows in the festival on sale now, with prices starting from $25, with more info available at the Melbourne Festival 2013 website.

Melbourne Festival 2013 Lineup

Active Child
Amadou & Mariam
Archie Roach
British India
Caitlin Rose & Henry Wagons
The Caribs
The Cinematic Orchestra
Cody ChesnuTT
Dexter (The Avalanches)
Flight Facilities
Fuck Buttons
The Handsome Family
Hiatus Kaiyote
No Zu
Ólafur Arnalds (Iceland)
Oliver Tank
The Polyphonic Spree
Prince Rama
Quique Neira (Chile)
Ska Vendors (UK)
Songs of Wreck and Ruin – feat. Washington, Tim Rogers, and Paul Capsis
Steve Mason (UK)
Strange Tenants (Jamaica)
Werk of THISISPOPBABY (Ireland)
Yo La Tengo

Melbourne Festival 2013

11th – 27th October, 2013
Tickets on sale now.
Full details at:

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