When Thurston Moore, founder and guitarist/singer of Sonic Youth says yes to an interview, the answers to all your questions come by e-mail. Which is nice because you can take a step back to think twice about what the London resident thinks about his music path now. Also it is such an efficient way to gradually identify more reasons why the man dwelved into all those rich and complicated mixes of influences, from jazz to no wave through blanckmetal and punk rock and moves away from the SY era. On his thirtiest or so (I do not know how many releases Thurston did outside of Sonic Youth, it must be around that figure all pieces of music work included) solo effort named « Spirit Counsel », we can really feel that flux of creativity and beauty, and from the first listening session, a lot of questions arise. Why this format? How do those sounds came up in the writing process? It is a three part CD, for three different chapters where noisy waves of guitar strings merge with repatitive symphonies (mainly performed by guitars), the whole combination is stretched to the extreme. Thurston Moore is a singer who invents. Who tries. Who is not afraid to confuse people, once again he brings the proof with that new masterpiece. The ex-member of Sonic Youth is happy to throw sounds slowly into the pot, cymbals starting gently become vivid and storm progressively to plunge the listener into a magma of blurry guitars chords, dissonant and saturated… it rubs and floats within the eardrums. The jazz references are displayed right off the bat with the first piece dedicated to the wives of a few maestros… John Coltrane, Don Cherry and Ornette Coleman? Thurston Moore pays tribute to those giants, in his own way. Let’s focus on « Spirit Counsel », with three videos that would suprise you, and let’s go through the carreer of a « Magic Man » when it comes to guitar playing. This interview will also be about the musician’s evolution before his coming to Le Bourg in Lausanne on November 6th and 7th. Thanks to Laure Anne for putting us in touch.
Suississimo: You released three singles on Cargo records SPRING SWELLS, THREE GRACES, POLLINATION… Can you talk about those three singles?
Thurston Moore: Yes, These are singles from the new album SPIRIT COUNSEL which were remixed for vinyl 7-inch release.
The B-side of each single is a New Order track « Leave me Alone », a song that is on Power, Corruption and Lies, what’s your relationship to that song, why make it a cover and a B-side on the three records?
It’s a song about clearing away the chatter of societal positioning and focusing on what the heart desires: sharing, protection, love, beauty and inspiration.
What do you like in New Order’s music?
They are a band formed in public view learning their craft while on stage and in studio and always evoking a particular emotional grace both private and urbane.
I also see in that choice the huge fan of English pop music in you? Did you make that choice to live in London because of that partly… Did you need to connect more with the country of the Beatles and the Smiths?
I would say the Beatles, a band I’m more in tune with, though I have no issue with The Smiths – but I really could not compare the two as per brilliant works in the pantheon of pop. I have more connection with the English pop music of Bowie, and the English jazz music of Tubby Hayes and the English free improvisation scene around Evan Parker, David Toop and the Feminist Improvising Group.
Can you tell me about your new songs made for the Spirit Counsel, what is « epic instrumental pieces » for you? Three records, it means that you put two songs on one side of each record?
None of the three pieces can fit on a side on an LP which is the main reason they exist on CD and other digital formats. I suppose they are « epic » in relation to classic pop rock tunes, though most of my songs have tended to be between 4 and 8 minutes. I’m working towards a 24 hour composition right now.
You are going to sell 300 records of your private collection? What are the genres represented? Why do you sell those records?
I always buy, sell and trade records – it is nothing new. The only difference is that I am friends with the World of Echo record store and wanted to help them move these weirdo LPs I was trading in. 300 records is only but a drop in the bucket – I have, through the last 50 years acquired billions of LPs etc.
Ric Ocasek died recently. So did Daniel Jonhston and Marquis de Sade’s Philippe Pascal, both of the two on a much more coming from a more alternative background? What did those first two American musicians inspire you musically? Did you know Marquis de Sade or any of the French/French Swiss alternative bands that lead the way for your music over here (YoungGods for example)?
I liked the Cars ok – their hots are undeniable and excellent and I loved that Ric produced both Suicide and the Bad Brains! Daniel was a sweetheart and a good pal to me and Sonic Youth, a truly inspired and creative soul. I am not so familiar with Marquis de Sade band but I was very enamored with the first « Swiss Wave » of bands like Kleenex/Lilliput, Eisbrau and others.
Do you consider using more machines in your music in the future?
Yes but maybe more machines like lawnmowers and electric pencil sharpeners.
I have heard about your techno album but could not find a piece of it?
Not sure it will be released.
Could you tell me about what’s it is like for you to tour as Thurston Moore Group? Do you attract new spectators, people who are not that familiar with your previous life as a Sonic Youth member?
The last few years I’ve been meeting more people at my shows who say the performance is the first time they’ve heard me play live as they were too young to experience Sonic Youth live. I love that, it makes me feel like I am in Wings.
I saw your show in Pully a few years back and it seemd to me that your music orientation live was not that different to the one you would perform with Sonic Youth… though it seems you enjoyed less saturation, feedback… Is this what we should expect from you two next shows in Lausanne?
In Lausanne there will be much more feedback, in fact I may be presenting a new piece that is ONLY feedback.
Could you tell me what really changed since you became a solo artist with a band? Much more creative freedom, more responsibilities too (in terms of business, recording and touring opportunities?)
Lots of things have changed yet the same situation is always at hand — presenting music that I love and would love to share.
Was the presence of Steve Shelley on the drums a way to maintain that line between the « old » Sonic Youth sound and your own personal approach of music back in Pully For Noise days?
Steve Shelley is simply one of the finest drummers in the history of Rock n’ Roll. I do love the connection to Sonic Youth as the group is from my heart and defines so much of who I am. As it does Steve. We are very close friends and I don’t see that changing any time soon. I love that man.
What is like to be a Sonic Youth founder at the age of Spotify, where people do not need to go to the record store to find your music out of a playlist or randomly, does that change your perception of how your discography lives its own life out of the promo circuits?
Music can exist in any medium but there is only one format that brings all the senses into play – the physical document.
Yourself, are you even more avid about discovering new/old music on those streaming platforms?
Sure I listen to music streaming and beaming. Also spinning. Also in the trees, the wind, the breeze…
I have heard that you were deejaying sometimes. What’s your best starter? Rock n’Roll? Reggae? Rap?
Anything that fits on a seven inch single.
By the way, what is your take on the rap scene that is taking over many other popular genres in the US? As a pop music fan, do you understand that? Why is it so according to you?
Rap is essential music that crosses all borders, it is the voice of happiness, anger, beauty and despair. It is a language of resilience and celebration. What’s not to like? I’ve heard it from it’s very beginning in the streets of NYC and am constantly intrigued by it’s organic creative existence.
Do you miss being in Sonic Youth sometimes?
We existed for 30 + years and I feel great moving forward. I recall fondly the days of SY and hold it dear in my heart, but no, I do not miss it so much because in a very real way it is always there.
Isn’t it more about what you can explore with the different guitars you actually use, right? As if it is the experience of exploring the sounds that is more satisfying that repeating the same types of effects with a specific guitar?
This is true. I am always more interested in investigating the various properties of each guitar as they are all singular machines of noise.
Who are the guitarists that you admire? All timers? Recent ones?
Pat Place, Ron Asheton, Christina Carter, Lita Ford, Jimmy Page, Lee Ranaldo, Cheetah Chrome, Richard Lloyd, Gina Birch, Viv Albertine, Patti Smith, Steve Jones, James Sedwards, Andres Segovia, Gene Moore, Prince, Jimi Hendrix, Rachel Aggs.
Once my colleague Aurelie Sfez interviewed you in 2005 during that exhibit about John Lennon in Paris, she asked you about your favorite pop artists, you named Emerson, Lake and Palmer… who are the ones you still love from the pop world?
ELP are definitely an old school favourite though I never listen t them. I’d say King Crimson, Yes, Montrose, Sparks, Roxy Music, T Rex the greats like that from the past. These days it’s more people like Solange, Billie Eilish, Lana Del Rey as far as high profile pop people.
I could name three songs that I played on commercial radio and that were Sonic Youth songs, « Dirty Boots », « 100% » and « Sugar Kane », what is you personal Sonic Youth’s definition of a hit single?
We never really had a hit per se – but Kool Thing was closest I suppose. Hits are for squares, anyway.
What do you feel about this world, politics, ecology, migrants lost at sea?
The idea of No Borders is virtually impossible in a contemporary democratic, even progressive, perspective. But it is an ideal that can be presented for a much more humanitarian concept of nature. Nature has and will always be about migration and the elected officials need to have a basic understanding of this. Unfortunately most of the elections in so-called democracies are compromised. Which is why people rising up to take care of matters, people like Greta Thunberg and her call to recognize the Climate Crisis, are incredibly important to our survival.
Written by David Glaser
Photo of Thurston Moore by Vera Marmelo.