Sonic Youth

We chat to the band about getting old, and what's cool now

Interview, Music feature

It’s a momentous year for Thurston Moore. The 50-year-old guitarist celebrates his 25th wedding anniversary with bandmate Kim Gordon. For the first time in two decades Sonic Youth is back on an indie label after parting ways with Geffen. And to celebrate its artistic freedom the band released its most commercial, youthful album to date: The Eternal. While driving from his New England home to a rehearsal space in Manhattan, Moore chatted to us on his mobile phone. Which is illegal there. Punk rock!

I never pictured you as a typical clock-punching commuter.
It’s a three-hour drive from where Kim and I live in western Massachusetts to New York. I do it at least once a week. Steve, Lee and Mark come up to rehearse in our basement too. We share the pain.

So the seminal New York rockers live a comfy life in the ’burbs?
There’s an apartment in Manhattan. We’ve never gotten rid of it. It has a bed and a bookshelf.

Planning a big surprise for Kim on the wedding anniversary?
Here’s what we’re doing: driving down to play a show at an Apple Store. How romantic is that?

Not very.
We’ll have our dinner of love the night prior. Maybe we’ll get iPhones out of the deal.

Why else play there?
Last time I played there, I got an iPod Mini. I was like, oh, cool. The next day, they introduced the updated version. Heeey, wait a minute! You’re just pawning off useless overstock.

Has our culture gotten past the idea that middle-aged people can’t rock?
Old people play the most radical music. Age is chi.

It’s not an issue in blues and jazz.
Rock ’n’ roll is such a young art form, it’s only now being recognised that people in their fifties and sixties are part of the fabric. We’re going to be these elderly avant-garde rockers.

Does your daughter still travel with the band?
She does. Coco’s grown up on the road since she was a baby. She’s turned 15 this year. This tour she’ll have a friend with her instead of some nanny, which was primarily one of my older nieces.

Is she into Sonic Youth?
She realises it’s not the music of her generation. In school people ask her, ‘Are you the daughter of that band?’ She’ll often say no. She doesn’t want to be in a special place among her friends. She’s cool with it, but there were years when she asked, ‘Why can’t you guys just be accountants?’

The Eternal is poppy. Ironically, many arty bands do something upbeat after leaving a major label.
The only decision was to focus on the art of the song, as opposed to two 20-minute noise opuses. Which was under consideration. Who doesn’t love that? But we wanted to make a record that was more energised in a positive way.

When I first heard it, I’d been listening to The Stones’ Emotional Rescue. You find them similar, too?
Some of our more boogie stuff, it’s more Keith Richards than anything. I’ve always loved that guitar sound. We replicate some of his chording with our weird tunings.

Big bands’ supposedly lesser albums, like Rescue, are fascinating in hindsight.
You make me want to hear it again. I had that album in my apartment when I had no money, back around ’80. I had a hot plate and a cassette player – and that tape. I splurged on it, too. I asked, ‘Should I buy this or peanut butter?’

On a similar note, I think I’m the one guy who finds Sonic Youth’s later work more interesting than Daydream Nation. Do you agree with its canonisation?
How much is too much? The only goal was to make a double album. We weren’t trying to make a statement.

So it’s perfectly OK to prefer some-thing from the late ’90s?
It has to do with your access point. With Black Sabbath, a lot of people are into the Dio years. What, are you kidding? I haven’t even heard that s***. [Former Sonic Youth bassist] Jim O’Rourke said his favourite Zeppelin album was Presence. Are you kidding me? After Physical Graffiti, the band was bogus.

Naturally, diminishing returns don’t apply to your band.
Ha – I don’t listen to my own records.
The Eternal is available in stores.

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