Q+A: James McNew (Dump)

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Indie rock royalty Yo La Tengo are playing in Wellington as part of the Arts Festival this Saturday. Always a phenomenal live experience, they have been pleasing the world’s ears since 1984. They became a trio, and the band we know and love, with the addition of bass player James McNew in 1992, and that core lineup has endured since.

McNew has surprised us with an announcement that his solo project, Dump, will be making a very rare appearance in Auckland on March 18th. Dump started releasing four track recordings in the early nineties, possibly the heyday of indie lo-fi, and the first couple of those albums were re-released to much acclaim last year. Anybody with a even passing interest in Yo La Tengo, homespun indie or just great songwriting should try to get to the show if they can. We were lucky enough to get the opportunity to ask James a few questions before his long trip to our shores.

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You are playing here not only with Yo La Tengo at the New Zealand International Arts Festival, but have also announced a Dump show in Auckland. How would you describe a Dump concert to someone who has yet to see you live?

Maybe I would start by trying to change the subject? Dump shows don’t happen very often, in any part of the world. It’s extremely exciting and unusual for me to be playing at all, let alone to be playing in Auckland. I have played live Dump sets in a variety of lineups, but this one will be solo acoustic/ electronics.

I can’t remember how I first came across Dump’s debut, Superpowerless, but re-listening to it today brings me back to a glorious and very possibly rose-tinted time in my life. As a result I was very excited to find out it has been reissued and remastered along with I Can Hear Music. How did the reissues come about?

They were the idea of Thomas Morr, who runs the Morr Music label from Berlin. He really believed in doing the reissues and he convinced me. We worked hard on making them special, and I am very happy with the results.

You have written a great piece on Chris Knox’s Seizure, and are obviously quite the Flying Nun fan. Is there any current new Zealand music that has caught your attention?

I am a fan of Street Chant and Emily Edrosa, Surf City, Bachelorette, Greg Malcolm, Pumice. Music from New Zealand has had a big impact on me.

It’s been a while since we have heard a new Dump release. Have you got any plans to put something new out any time soon?

No definite plans, but I do have non-definite plans and lots of new songs.

Yo La Tengo have a vast back catalogue, and have played a huge array of covers live. With such a large amount of material to choose from, how do you go about creating a setlist for a night? And do you cater setlists for certain situations. For example, would picking songs for an Arts Festival in New Zealand create a different setlist than choosing songs to play in a club in Brooklyn?

With YLT, we always check to see what songs we played the last time we were there, and adjust accordingly. We make the set list after soundcheck every night. We also have pretty good recall as far as being able to play many of our older songs, so they’re never too far away in case we feel like adding them (or someone suggests we do). Cover songs are rarely planned, they’re more of a spontaneous thing.

Prince seems to be coming back in to the public consciousness as of late, and Dump has released an entire album of Prince covers in the past. Will any of these be getting dusted off for your Auckland show?

Unknown at press time. You just can not sleep on that guy.

I read that it annoys you when an audience talks during quiet songs, and it also annoys you if an audience is too quiet during noisy songs. Concert etiquette is quite a hot topic at the moment with more and more bands banning the use of mobile phones at their shows as they want the audience to be fully engaged and not experience the performance through a screen. Where do you stand on this?

Performance-wise, I try to be realistic about it, and focus on what’s happening onstage. It’s best not to get hung up on other people’s behavior, in general, or else you will go insane. I know this from experience.

You have appeared on a few All Tomorrow’s Parties lineups. If you got the chance to curate one of the festivals, can you name the three bands you would love to have headline?

The Happy Flowers, The Gordons, and The Incredible String Band. Hmm, I can’t figure out why I have never been asked to do such a thing.

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Listen to ‘Superpowerless’.

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5 Comments

  1. Michael McClelland says:

    Cool! Where’s the ‘Seizure’ writeup?

  2. Matt Plummer says:

    Great interview

  3. baconfat says:

    James is notoriously bad at self-promotion, but Dump actually did release a new album last year, although it was limited and LP-only:

    http://grapefruitrecordclub.com/album/dump/

    It was supposed to come out in 2012 but there were some delays so it finally came out last fall. And it is ridiculously good.

    He also released a 12″ (covering G.G. Allin) on Presspop (Japan) in 2012 and a split 7″ with Masha Qrella late last year on Morr Music (Germany).

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