Posted September 8, 2020 by Jeff in Tunes

New Yo La Tengo EP Pays Tribute to Japanese Artist

Yo La Tengo photo by Noah Kalina
Yo La Tengo photo by Noah Kalina

The members of indie rock act Yo La Tengo met artist Yoshitomo Nara in 2003 and would see him at his art shows and the band’s concerts. 

“We DJ’d at an opening at the Asia Society, and on another occasion he drew a picture of [singer-drummer] Georgia [Hubley] strangling me on a Gloomy pencil case that became one of Georgia’s prized possessions until it was stolen from her at the bar at the K-West hotel in Shepherd’s Bush,” says Yo La Tengo singer-guitarist Ira Kaplan in a press release about the band’s forthcoming album, Sleepless Night. “To make the catalogue of his 2020 exhibit at LACMA more personal, the idea came up to include an LP of some of Nara’s favorite songs as part of a deluxe edition. We were asked to provide one side of the LP and that one track be a new composition with the other side being another six songs selected by Nara, in their original versions.”

On Oct. 9, Matador Records will release the album which features one new tune (“Bleeding”) plus covers of songs by the Byrds, the Delmore Brothers, Bob Dylan, Ronnie Lane and the Flying Machine. 

The band just shared a new single from the EP, a cover of the Byrds’ twangy mid-tempo ballad “Wasn’t Born To Follow.” 

The tracks on Sleepless Night were initially released as one side of an LP included within a limited-edition catalogue (published by LACMA and DelMonico Books/Prestel) for the LACMA exhibition, Yoshitomo Nara, the first international retrospective for the Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara. 

This Matador version of the EP is a single-sided 12-inch with original cover art by Nara, a drawing of the band by Hubley, and an illustration by [singer-bassist James] McNew etched on the record’s flip.

“I probably was introduced to ‘Blues Stay Away from Me on NRBQ’s Workshop LP, working backwards to the Louvin Brothers and the Delmore Brothers with a detour to Doug Sahm and Band,” says Kaplan. “Our version was recorded by Mark Nevers in February 2011. Charlie Louvin had died just a couple of days before. We were on a tour with William Tyler that came to an end in Nashville. The three of us and William and Kurt Wagner threw together an arrangement of ‘Blues Stay Away from Me’ as a tribute and closed our show at the Exit/In with it. Since we were hanging around Nashville for a few days before going home, we went to Mark’s studio and recorded it.” 

“Wasn’t Born to Follow” was recorded by Gene Holder as part of the sessions that resulted in Stuff Like That There. It features Dave Schramm on lead guitar. Kaplan says he heard the Byrds’ song for the first time when his mom took him and a bunch of friends to see Easy Rider

“One kid was forbidden by his parents from joining us, as was my younger brother,” says Kaplan. “My dad took my brother to see Butch Cassidy instead, and I’m guessing my friend stayed home and did homework.”
Ronnie Lane didn’t write “Roll On Babe,” but it’s his version Yo La Tengo covers. McNew recorded it in Hoboken, and the song was among the songs Hubley played when the group DJed at the Asia Society.
While making And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out in Nashville, Roger Moutenot recorded the band’s takes on Dylan’s “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry” for a John Peel birthday show. 

“As best as we can tell, we sent the one and only copy of the master to England,” says Kaplan. “Yes, we’re as dumbfounded as you are, if not more so. After a lot of sleuthing, we came up with this.”
“Bleeding” was written by us, recorded in Hoboken by McNew, who also recorded the Flying Machine’s “Smile a Little Smile for Me” for Michael Shelley’s Super Hit Tsunami!, available to people who pledged to WFMU’s 2019 fundraising marathon.

Just weeks ago, Yo La Tengo released We Have Amnesia Sometimes, a collection of five instrumental compositions that the group recorded in the spring during socially distanced sessions at its rehearsal space in Hoboken. Out now digitally, a vinyl edition will be available at a later date via Egon. This fall, Matador will reissue Yo La Tengo’s Electr-o-pura as part of its Revisionist History series. Now in a gatefold sleeve and cut from the original 58-minute master, the new reissue is pressed for the first time on two LPs to ensure the highest quality of audio the album has had on vinyl to date.

Yo La Tengo photo by Noah Kalina


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected]