A Cross-Cultural Affair: Shintaro Sakamoto And Yo La Tengo

From Tokyo to Hoboken, and back…

One act, loves the other. So, here’s cult Japanese psychedelic musician Shintaro Sakamoto picking his standout Yo La Tengo tracks, and James McNew of the New Jersey indie veterans on his favourite Sakamoto cuts.

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“In 2000, when my band Yura Yura Teikoku appeared at Fuji Rock Festival in Japan, Yo La Tengo also appeared. Their performance at that time was great, and I became a fan. In 2005, when Yura Yura Teikoku performed at NYC for the first time, James came to our show and we became friends. 

“The music of Yo La Tengo makes me positive. It is because they are enjoying playing their favourite music, purely. And it will not change for dozens of years. I think it is the most wonderful.” Shintaro Sakamoto on Yo La Tengo

Dump – ‘NYC Tonight’
(Dump is McNew’s own home-recording project.) “The sense which changes GG Allin into a disco is great. The lyric is lovely, and the personality of James is reflected.”

(This is the original, obviously)

Yo La Tengo – ‘If It’s True’
“Although (I have lots of) favourite songs of Yo La Tengo, I love especially this. I like the part when Georgia and Ira sing by turns.” 

Yo La Tengo – ‘Stockholm Syndrome’
“This song is also a favourite. James’s vocal is very sweet and melancholy.”

Yo La Tengo – ‘Periodically Double Or Triple’
“So groovy. Nice keyboard solo and chorus.”

Yo La Tengo – ‘Nuclear War’
“Very cool (Sun Ra) cover.”

– – –

“In 2005, my friend John called to tell me he was driving to NYC, from Atlanta, because his favourite band were playing their first-ever USA gigs. He informed me he’d be staying with me, and that I’d be seeing this band with him – I accepted on both counts.

“As usual, John was right. I was blown away by Yura Yura Teikoku’s show at the small Tonic club. A large portion of the crowd packed into the place were Japanese fans, astonished – and going nuts – to be so close to their idols in such an intimate setting. We didn’t meet that night, but I remember exchanging respectful nods with the band members throughout the evening. They became my favourite band pretty quickly after that, as I began to dig into their deep back catalogue.

“When they returned to NYC in 2006, we officially met and became friends. I learned that Yo La Tengo had played on the same stage right before Yura Yura Teikoku at the Fuji Rock Festival in 2000, but we were busily packing up our gear while they played! (Come on, time machine, where are you?) Yo La Tengo played in Tokyo in 2010, and Yura Yura Teikoku opened for us – this was amazing but also absurd, as they were a hugely popular band; they just wanted to, because we were buddies. It turned out to be their final show. I think they knew, but we didn’t. It was a really incredible, emotional gesture.

“After the breakup, Sakamoto-san dedicated himself to learning the bass (which he played on his first solo LP) and steel guitar (second LP), writing songs and recording, and he retired from live performance. He didn't return to the stage until May 7th, 2014, when he played guitar with YLT for a cover version of Neil Young’s ‘Time Fades Away’. While I understand his reasons for not wanting to play live, I still hope he changes his mind one day, so people can see what I saw. And so I can see it again. I mean, come on.” James McNew on Shintaro Sakamoto

Yura Yura Teikoku – ‘Nai!!!!’ (Live at Fuji Rock Festival 2007)
“For me, this performance shows the band at full, soaring, majestic flight. Two chords flirting with infinity, and a guitar melody in 9.9! How did he do that, while singing in 4?”

Shintaro Sakamoto – ‘In A Phantom Mood’
“Sakamoto-san’s bass playing and Yuta Suganuma’s human 606 drumming get the hips swinging. Beautiful vocal arrangement/duet with LP recording engineer Soichiro Nakamura’s teenage daughter, Fuko.”

Shintaro Sakamoto – ‘My Memories Fade’
“Crystal-clear notes bounce gently off each other as Sakamoto sings a beautiful melody. Like a pond shimmering in the moonlight.”

Shintaro Sakamoto – ‘Birth of the Super Cult’
“The sound is lush, deep and mysterious. A legitimately haunting, tender melody with mournful slide guitar and a vocal treatment I can’t even begin to describe without bursting into tears.”

Shintaro Sakamoto – ‘This World Should Be More Wonderful’
“The heartbreaking sound of waving hello and goodbye at the same time.”

– – –

Online: Shintaro Sakamoto / Yo La Tengo

Yo La Tengo photo: Michael Lavine

Shintaro Sakamoto’s new album, ‘Let’s Dance Raw’, is out now on Other Music Recordings. Thanks to Alex Cull.

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