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.
Such a domesticated visual of
Sonic Youth’s Moore is a little bizarre, but the description of his
office and library only intrigues further. “I’m surrounded by thousands
of archived poetry
magazines,” he says. “I’ve been
involved in collecting sort of radical, underground poetry journals
from the ‘60s [and] early ‘70s for over a dozen years.” His
fascination continues to grow next to overflowing boxes of records—some
of which are extremely rare—and various other repercussions
of his pack-rat nature.
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
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]