Funny Ha Ha

B-Sides finds out why Neil Hamburger isn't Yo La Tengo's favorite comic, then gets cinematic with Undertow Records' Monahans.


I figured he wanted his name back.

We just decided to come up with a different name, just to go in and make music and see what happens. Sometimes you want to distance yourself from something you started eight years ago with different people and different circumstances. This is a way to start with a clean slate.

Neil Hamburger:  He is not afraid  of you, and he will  beat your ass.
Neil Hamburger: He is not afraid of you, and he will beat your ass.
Monahans: Sweetness follows.
Monahans: Sweetness follows.

It's hard to imagine these songs played live. It's one thing to capture a beautiful mood on record, and another thing to do that live — especially at a gig called Schlaffenfest.

It's exciting as a singer to live in the song, and not have it pre-structured. With Milton Mapes, I wrote most of the songs beforehand. With this record, we just created the songs in the studio and captured whatever that mood was. As a singer, I'm more part of a band, allowing the music to do most of the work, adding lyrics where they fit.

Tell me if you agree with this or not: You can take the band out of the Neil Young, but you can't take the Neil Young out of the band.

Yeah, that kind of applies. He's still our bread and butter, common denominator. The main difference is that Young structures songs around guitar. While there's a lot of guitar on this album, the songs really evolved from the rhythms, the beats.

I hear a fair amount of early R.E.M.

That's an influence that's going to come out. I don't know, a lot of the influences were more soundtrack-type music. Explosions in the Sky and Califone, that was something we were listening to. Even New Order, which has words, but long spaces of music you can get lost in.

I was happy you didn't jump on the whole indie-rock sea-shanty-band barge.

I guess I'm out of touch with that. I don't know where the water thing came from. If there's a theme, it's escapism, and there's something about being near the ocean that lends itself to that.

Of course, there's the Austin aquifer.

We do have a coast, and I try to make it down there once a year. When we started recording, there was so much political back and forth out there. Every song you heard had an opinion about something. This was a way of pushing against that. Low Pining is sort of about living down in the trenches and wanting to keep a distance from it, but still having a yearning. That visual of standing at the edge of an ocean and looking out over the distance kept resurfacing.

— Roy Kasten 9 p.m. Saturday, August 4. Schlafly Tap Room, 2100 Locust. $10. 314-241-2337.

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