Interview: Thurston Moore Of Sonic Youth

Thurston Moore. i i

Thurston Moore. (Andrew Kesin) hide caption

itoggle caption (Andrew Kesin)
Thurston Moore.

Thurston Moore.

(Andrew Kesin)

Thurston Moore is a musician who, aside from being in the legendary band Sonic Youth, has collaborated with everyone from Glenn Branca to Lydia Lunch to Mike Watt. Moore is also a writer, poet, ardent supporter of bold weirdos and fiery rockers, and owner of Ecstatic Peace Records. It was announced recently that an offshoot of the label — Ecstatic Peace Library — will begin publishing art books in 2010.

Sonic Youth became one of my favorite bands in 1991. I saw the group play in Seattle, with Nirvana and STP opening. The whole time I watched Thurston play, I kept thinking: A guitar is the weapon, a guitar is the quill. That same year, on a family trip to Maine, my aunt was so impressed by the cover of SY's record Goo that she bizarrely faxed the artwork to a handful of friends. Sonic Youth had broken through to my relatives, and its music made me feel audacious enough to begin my own process of breaking away.

The dozen or so times that I've been fortunate enough to see Moore play music — either with SY or solo — it's been all angles and attack, beauty and restlessness. I always leave feeling inspired.

This interview took place over email.

CARRIE BROWNSTEIN: Does the end of this decade feel important, or like nothing at all? If it does feel different, how does it feel different than the culmination of other decades?

THURSTON MOORE: I don't even think of the 2000s or whatever it's called as a specific decade, really. The decades of the last century each had such significant cultural developments, I feel like there's some kind of worldwide exhaustion to event-charged identity. But regardless of that, I do feel like this past decade was really the birth of Internet culture, as lousy as that sounds. Everything everyone does in communication, music, art, literature and activism is part and parcel to the Internet. That's undeniably big. I think the overall sense is that it is still nascent, and that the forthcoming decades are going to look at this time as "quaint."

CARRIE BROWNSTEIN: What was there before YouTube?

THURSTON MOORE: What was there before eBay? The effect these instant-gratification systems have on our daily life as consumptive animals is one where the hunter stays home and gets fat so the punk-rock hordes can roll him/her over and make way for killer rock 'n' roll.

Thurston Moore "The Shape Is In A Trance" from Trees Outside The Academy (Ecstatic Peace):

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CARRIE BROWNSTEIN: How can we reconcile our nostalgic yearnings with new technologies, when in some ways they replace what we used to know and how we used to experience music?

THURSTON MOORE: I don't think they so much replace as reconfigure. Nothing can replace the aesthetic heft of an LP, or the sensual comfort of analog grooves being so charged by the physical friction of a diamond stylus.

Hush Arbors "Devil Made You High" from Yankee Reality (Ecstatic Peace):

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CARRIE BROWNSTEIN: What is your favorite means, method or context for listening to recorded music?

THURSTON MOORE: Sometimes I like it live and I like it fast, and sometimes I like it mixed and I like it weird.

CARRIE BROWNSTEIN: What's the last band or artist you discovered while shopping for records?

THURSTON MOORE: The last couple of years, I've been delving into the sub-world of international black-metal records, and every once in a while will hit on something so genuinely bizarro, without any purposeful notion to be as such, that I want to run away and change my name and reappear as a demon noise lover.

CARRIE BROWNSTEIN: What's the last band or artist you discovered from listening to an MP3?

THURSTON MOORE: Someone just sent me MP3s of this Australian band Sherlock's Daughter, which was pretty sweet.

CARRIE BROWNSTEIN: In a time when one can easily manipulate an album's sequence, or bypass the purchase of an album and buy only one or two songs, how does that affect the process of making and sequencing an album? Why is it still important for musicians to put out albums and make artwork for that album? Or is it not important?

THURSTON MOORE: I want to make an album that can be looked at as either an audio experience, be it CD or vinyl (or both) incorporated into a book, which would also include a film presentation (DVD) — and make it beautiful as an object. I like feeling and smelling and looking at records and books as much as, if not more than, actually hearing/seeing/reading them.

Samara Lubelski "Field the Mine" from Future Slip (Ecstatic Peace) Produced by Thurston Moore:

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CARRIE BROWNSTEIN: You have always been someone who has approached music and art from multiple perspectives and via various media. Lately, it seems like many musicians are in multiple bands. In this day and age, is there less of a need or a viability in having one singular project? Or, have musicians always cross-pollinated and we just have more access to them now? How have your other projects helped with the longevity and creative output of Sonic Youth?

THURSTON MOORE: SY is a democratic band in the sense that no one is going to control any bit of songwriting regardless of how complete it is when brought to rehearsal. We all figured that by having Sonic youth as a forum specifically for the sake of collaboration, that allows us to work outside it so as to fetishize the personal desires each of us may have.

CARRIE BROWNSTEIN: How do you shape and curate Ecstatic Peace?

THURSTON MOORE: The most important and passionate aspect of Ecstatic Peace is when I design the card-sized ad that runs every month in the back pages of The Wire.

CARRIE BROWNSTEIN: What is a record label's role in the community where it's based? Or does it need to have a physical presence?

THURSTON MOORE: It creates a true sense of activism in the culture.

CARRIE BROWNSTEIN: What's the most punk-rock thing you've witnessed lately?

THURSTON MOORE: Iggy & The Stooges' premiere of the Raw Power line-up (James Williamson on guitar) at this fest in Sao Paolo. Iggy was in feral freakout mode, creating an unhinged performance of violence and suggestion.

CARRIE BROWNSTEIN: How does living outside of New York City help you to understand and appreciate it?

THURSTON MOORE: It has proven that I'm really bored not being in the city — though I do like the colors, I guess.

CARRIE BROWNSTEIN: What is a band or artist you're particularly excited about right now?

THURSTON MOORE: Yellow Tears, Yoga, Marblebog — those are three I like.

CARRIE BROWNSTEIN: What do you miss about 10 years ago? Twenty years ago? What don't you miss?

THURSTON MOORE: I really don't miss too much, except now I feel like I have less of a shelf life physically, which is a new feeling and kind of crazy.

CARRIE BROWNSTEIN: What is the last song you danced to?

THURSTON MOORE: I was just playing the 2CD reissue of The Slits' Cut LP — I danced around to that. A girl I know started dancing when I put on Can's Ege Bamyasi LP, and it was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen.

CARRIE BROWNSTEIN: What's the last book you read or film you saw that made you want to go home and play music?

THURSTON MOORE: I think it was probably reading Foam of the Daze by Boris Vian — the surreality and romantic energy of it, and its love of Duke Ellington, made me want to play.

Little Claw "Human Taste" from Human Taste (Ecstatic Peace):

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