Anyone who’s ever patronized a specialty coffee shop has heard the music of Yo La Tengo. But what’s this talented New York City band doing on their off-time while touring the globe, most recently in support of 2013’s wonderful LP, Fade? Why, they’re patronizing the finest specialty coffee shops. We spoke with James McNew, who lazy folk may wish to describe as the “bass player”, and Mark Luecke, the band’s front of house sound engineer and in-house, backstage, and on-the-bus-barista about the band’s coffee travels.
Does everyone in the band/crew like coffee?
James: Mostly yes. Mark & Joe are the best at espresso, Georgia is the best on the filter.
Mark: IN the band, yes. In the crew, depends on which crew you’re with. We had a couple of Brits with us this year and there were used teabags everywhere.
What are your favorite ways to drink coffee?
James: Hot and so strong it hurts my feelings.
Mark: There is only one way to drink coffee. Use your mouth – trust me on this one.
What role does coffee play in your touring life? What is your backstage and/or bus setup?
James: I drink as much as possible until I fall asleep.
Mark: When I’m feeling uninspired I let the espresso work on the mix. It does tolerably well with kick and snare, but it’s been a real uphill battle to get it to put the guitar in the pocket and not let the vocals get completely buried.
As for our set up for the bus and backstage it’s a rebranded Saeco semi-automatic. Pulls a decent shot, doesn’t steam milk for a damn, but who wants that anyways. We’ve got the standard German grinder, what is that? Krups? Braun? It’s black and oval shaped and is NOT a burr grinder. A long grind with a lot of shaking gets pretty close. I’ve pulled a shot or two for you, Liz – you’re always nice about it, but what do you really think? I’ve got a Rancilio Rocky and a La Pavoni [lever machine] at home – hard to get better than that. Espresso Vivace‘s Dolce blend only at home.
You’ve spent most of this year on the road touring on Fade. Where are some of the most memorable places you had coffee while touring this year (or ever)?
James: On the ferry to Helsinki at 8am while all the other passengers danced and drank. Worst coffee but most memorable.
Mark: I had a lovely couple of espressos in Helsinki at Freese Coffee Co. and a nice conversation about Nordic roasting and being inspired by David Schomer. Also made it to two of the three Coffee Collective shops in Copenhagen. Those made especially nice because my wife, Julie, was with me! Coffee is always better with your spouse.
How did you find these cafes?
James: I follow [longtime tour manager] Joe Puleo from a distance of two blocks at all times.
Mark: Liz Clayton has never steered me wrong, and always replies promptly to my texts.
Conveniently, every single hip, modern coffee shop in North America and in most of the world is staffed by Yo La Tengo fans, which seems to be a symbiotic relationship to say the least, since you guys also love coffee. Do you get recognized much? Do you get a lot of free coffee? How often is a Yo La Tengo record playing while you are in the coffee shop?
James: I may get recognized but no one ever says anything or gives me anything for free. A YLT record was playing during the second-worst experience I ever had at Gimme! in Soho.
Where’s your favorite coffee shop in the world so far?
James: Vivace for sure. Coffee Collective, Kissaten Bechet, Siphon, and anywhere I can get Verve.
Mark: Vivace – Seattle, WA
Liz Clayton is the author of “Nice Coffee Time“, a regular columnist for Serious Eats: Drinks, and New York City chief at Sprudge.com. She lives in Brooklyn. Read more Liz Clayton here.
Top photo of Mark Luecke and tour manager Joe Puleo outside Tim Wendelboe courtesy of Julie Butterfield Luecke.
All loyalty card photos are from the personal collection of Joe Puleo, accumulated during Yo La Tengo’s touring.