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Ira Kaplan on Yo La Tengo’s Hanukkah LP Contribution: ‘There’s Too Many Christmas Songs’

Album was inspired by band’s annual eight-night Hanukkah run

Yo La Tengo - James McNew and Ira KaplanYo La Tengo at Bowery Ballroom, New York, USA - 10 Dec 2018

Yo La Tengo's Ira Kaplan talks contributing to Hanukkah album.

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Yo La Tengo have been performing their famous eight-night Hanukkah run for the better part of 18 years, but it has nothing to do with being Jewish. “We’re not all Jewish, for one thing,” frontman Ira Kaplan tells Rolling Stone. “Even those of us that are are not religious in any way. It was more that it seemed challenging and funny to play eight nights in a row with all the hoopla over Christmas. I thought that Hanukkah could use a bit of a spotlight.”

Even so, their annual run has inspired Hanukkah+, a new collection of originals and classics produced by music supervisor Randall Poster, out November 22nd. Yo La Tengo contributed “Eight Candles,” a track with a blissful bossa nova beat and lyrics like, “They’re alive and the window’s aglow/Teasing shadows with nowhere to go.” Other songs on the record include Haim’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s “If It Be Your Will,” an original by Adam Green of the Moldy Peaches called “Dreidels Of Fire,” and a goofy rendition of “Oh Hanukkah” by Jack Black.

“In the kind of Battle of the Bands between Hanukkah and Christmas, there’s just too many Christmas songs,” Kaplan explains. “I think in the same way that doing the Hanukkah shows had an element of a joke to it, it doesn’t look like a joke at all. It’s completely serious. And yet, below the surface, there’s some kind of lightheartedness. I think the songs on the record that are humorous — like Adam Green, Jack Black and Loudon Wainwright III — are great songs, but they didn’t seem to be in the voice of our band. And I couldn’t imagine writing one.”

The band approached their friend Sam Elwitt to write a song for them. “We were instantly at a dead end,” Kaplan says. “We’ve known Sam for a long time. I just got in touch with him and said, ‘Do you by any chance have any Hanukkah material?’ I think he had actually written it previously and just hadn’t found a home for it. It’s perfect. I love the mood.”

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Yo La Tengo are currently working on a score for an upcoming LSD documentary titled Have a Good Trip, as well as preparing for their upcoming Hanukkah shows that run from December 22nd to 29th at New York’s Bowery Ballroom. “It’s something that we really love doing,” Kaplan says. “Because if we didn’t, we would never go near something that’s that work intensive.”

“This is the longest tickets have ever been available,” Kaplan adds. “We’ve already sold out six of the eight shows, which is great, but by the lofty U2-like standards of our Hanukkah shows, it’s unusual to have tickets remaining. So if people in your readership are looking to get away from their families on Christmas Eve and Christmas, we’ve got just the thing.”

Hanukkah+ Tracklist

1. Oh Hanukkah – Jack Black
2. Dreidels Of Fire – Adam Green
3. Eight Candles – Yo La Tengo
4. If It Be Your Will – HAIM
5. Sing It Now, Sing It Somehow – The Flaming Lips
6. Hanukkah In ‘96 – Alex Frankel
7. Give You Everything – Buzzy Lee
8. Dedication – Tommy Guerrero
9. Eight Nights A Week – Loudon Wainwright III
10. Hanukkah Dance – Watkins Family Hour
11. Sanctuary – Craig Wedren
12. Chad Gadya (Passover Bonus) – Jack Black

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