Catching Up With... Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore
Three hours north of New York City in
Northampton, Mass., Thurston Moore is fresh out of
parent-teacher conferences with his 14-year-old daughter. “She’ll
be 15 in July,” he says. “Today was her last day of
school. Kim [Gordon-Moore] and I went
and each kid gave a presentation
to show their parents their school year of accomplishments. It was
actually very sweet. It’s a good way to connect the academics of
your kid and yourself.”
Moore, now 51 years old, has been performing in one of the most influential bands of the past 30 years. A father, a rock legend, a husband and a man with increasingly scholarly interests other than music, he's a man looking at the second half of life. Paste caught up with Moore after wrapping up tour rehearsals with the rest of his band at his Northampton home, and discussed everything from live experimentation to the thrill of collecting to the inspiration for Sonic Youth's latest album, The Eternal. All this, and mortality too.
Paste: How were rehearsals?
Moore: Well, we’ve set up in our living room up here, keep the dogs in the other room, closed the doors and [started] trying to figure out these songs we wrote last fall and recorded in the winter. We haven’t really played too much since then, so it is very interesting trying to rediscover the songs.
Paste: Does the experimental, live twist treatment that songs will end up receiving during your shows stem from rehearsing such twists or is the process a bit more natural and creatively organic?
Moore: Sometimes it comes along in rehearsals. All of a sudden, you’re like, “I wish I would’ve played that on the record!” It certainly happens live, you know, to the extent where, by the end of the tour, you wish you could start over again because all those people you played to at the beginning of the tour have no idea how insane it's gotten. [laughs] It really just develops, you know?
Paste: Obviously, you’ve been playing guitar for a long time. Any guitar player that has been playing as long as you builds a catalog of techniques and different ways of going about creating different sounds. But because it is more of an artistic pursuit, something not as easily archived as journals, books or records, are you able to reach back and categorically utilize your skills, talents and abilities as a guitar player?
Moore: I feel like there are certain things that I come up with that I employ on certain songs when needed. They certainly are not traditional, because I don’t know how to play traditional guitar that much. It is the same thing with tunings. [Sonic Youth has] a collection of tunings that we sort of go into and use as opposed to the one standard tuning that most orthodox players use. I certainly get inspiration to play music from even just the aesthetic heft of a book as opposed to actually reading the content. The actuality of things will always be inspirational to me as well as what’s inside. But sometimes, I feel like I play better when I move objects away from me and out of my life. But then again, sometimes I feel more inspired to play when I have certain acquisitions at hand. I’m not sure what is better or worse.
I’m in a mood right now where I want to get rid of everything. I’m getting to a point in my life where I would love to divest so much of what I’ve acquired through my 51 years of life. I’m a little pack ratty, you know? I have so much shit, you know? [laughs] I’ve never really gotten rid of too much. I’ve got hundreds of boxes of books and stuff that I would like to pass forward somehow, or turn into some other kind of value like money. My real dream is to open an Ecstatic Peace [Moore’s record label] used record and bookstore with a small performance space. That would be ideal.
Paste: One might say, “Does Thurston Moore need to dream about anything? Couldn’t he just get up and do whatever it is he wants to do?”
Moore: [laughs] I don’t torture myself with things I don’t have, that’s for sure. I’m completely grateful for what I have, but I’ve always wondered what it is like to be a completely solvent person. We are sort of able to pay the rent and put our kid in school, but we’ve never had a windfall or anything. How that could have affected us, I guess I’ll never know, but it’s funny when I go record shopping or book shopping with people. Imagine if you are Sean Penn or something. If you were into something, you just get it. And once you reach that sort of place where you can easily acquire anything because you have so much money, there is not so much fascination involved anymore. Money can really equal hate. [laughs] There’s no mystery to the process anymore.
Paste: And to that, one might argue that you could be feeling the same way after playing music for so long: There is no mystery left after three decades, The Eternal serving as your 19th studio album. Do you ever want to shred to pieces everything you’ve ever known about music and start again?
Moore: I’ve never really hit that wall. There is some criticism out there that says we must have, but I don’t feel like any of us have. I’ve never felt burnt out. In fact, I feel like we are just wrapping up an apprenticeship and now we are ready to move on to the next level. But it’s weird. With the advent of YouTube, I keep getting introduced to my past. People send me these links of us in 1983 in Milan, Italy and I ask myself, “Who the fuck shot that in 1983?” We were only together for a few years. We were so young, and we were completely crashing, anarchistic noise. It looks and sounds completely wild, and I’m often in awe that we made that happen.
I would never want to fool myself into thinking we could be that again because you are only that once, and I sort of like the idea that we progressed in a way that was never dictated in any way other than what we wanted to do. Being together as long as we have, there is a history there that is somewhat significant. Just recently, the issue of your past becoming a whole other world and the opportunity to be inspired by yourself has become a reality for us. We sort of did that a year or so ago when we went out and played the entire Daydream Nation album live. We were not that band anymore, but we had to reconnect with that band and it was as if we were covering ourselves. It was major inspiration for making The Eternal. It’s becoming this new dynamic for us—having ghosts of ourselves hanging around. At first, I was just so anti-nostalgia. I didn’t want to keep talking or thinking about New York City in the late-‘70s and early-‘80s and what it meant. But, in a way, there is something very engaging, romantic and sort of exciting about it.
Paste: Is The Eternal Sonic Youth’s midlife crisis?
Moore: [laughs] We should be having one at this point, so maybe it is! I used to dread the idea of going out on the road, but I’ve truly devoted myself to doing this and I’m very grateful. I do have a certain dream about not [touring] anymore and becoming someone more involved with book publishing. It has always been something that is there for me, and those types of opportunities are totally there. It would be incredibly easy to cultivate, but there are only so many minutes in the day where I can do anything and music is getting most of it right now. Unless the band decides to call it quits. I don’t think that is going to happen too soon, but it has to happen at some point, doesn’t it? Someone has to die, right? [laughs]