Yo La Tengo Covers Itself in Portland

That tree is real, and it's in our backyard. Let local photographer Carlie Armstrong tell you about it.

Yo La Tengo—every record geek's favorite band of record geeks—is releasing its 13th album, Fade, on Jan. 15. For the cover, the New Jersey trio posed in front of a big-ass tree. That big-ass tree happens to be a Portland native. And so is the photographer. Her name is Carlie Armstrong, who's portfolio includes portraits of fellow indie music icons Chan Marshall and James Mercer, among others. And while it's not as scandalous as some other album covers from national bands shot in town, it is breathtaking in its own way. Armstrong answered a few questions via email about how she got hooked up with the cult legends, and just where she found that arboreal miracle. (Turns out, not in a Seussian dreamscape, surprisingly.)

Willamette Week: How did you end up shooting the album cover?

Carlie Armstrong: I was asked to shoot YLT through their amazing Matador Records publicist, Nils Bernstein. I was fortunate to meet him earlier this year when I was photographing Chan Marshall of Cat Power for Frankie Magazine

Where the heck is that tree located?

That glorious and crazy tree is in Overlook Park, in the Overlook neighborhood in north Portland. It is the largest and most amazing tree I've ever seen!

Why shoot the band there?

I decided to shoot the band there because I wanted to play with the juxtaposition of the ENORMOUS tree with the three of them, since it is a tree that would appear, without context, to be relatively normal in size - until you see how it dwarfs Ira, Georgia, and James. Also, it is just the most beautiful tree.

Did you shoot the band is any other locations that didn't make the cover?

I had the great fortune of being able to shoot the band mostly within the interesting confines of Washington High School while the Time Based Art Festival was going on. It was definitely a spooky and curious trek through the abandoned floors of the school, and we found lots of interesting ephemera left over by past students. We also traveled to the aforementioned Overlook Park, and headed over to the banks of the Willamette in North Portland. I feel like I got to show YLT a pretty decent chunk of the East Side while they were here, and we had a pretty good time running around in the sun. 

Is this your first album cover shoot?

This is my first album cover! I actually had no idea that any of the images were in the running to be the cover until after the shoot was over, so it was very flattering to hear that they felt the photograph reflected their new album enough to use it. 

What was it like working with the band?

Working with the band was fantastic. The day before I photographed them I went to their live accompaniment of Sam Green's Buckminster Fuller documentary at the TBA festival, and they were truly so talented and amazing. Meeting them afterwards and seeing how kind and humble they all were was wonderful, they are really great people! It isn't everyday that you find that to be true.  

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