Thurston Moore
  • Phil Sharp
  • Thurston Moore
When Sonic Youth chieftain Thurston Moore moved to north London in June of 2013 he had no set agenda for making music. Within a year, he would connect with Deb Googe of My Bloody Valentine, record a new solo album, and form a new band. The album, titled The Best Day, comes out today on Matador Records. Along with Googe playing bass, the Thurston Moore Band features guitarist James Sedwards of Nought, and Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth on drums.

Sounds on the album are shepherded along by Moore’s experimental wisdom. Crystalline noise and alternate tunings run with deviant, fulsome 12-string compositions. The title track pivots out with stabbing guitar over an inverted blues riff. Moore’s vocals have a casual ardor, then he lights into a not-so-casual guitar solo. Mr. Moore spoke Sunday from New York. We also spoke before his Seattle show at Neumos on October 4. He was quite at ease.

The seven parts of this interview are as follows:

I. John the Baptist, No Jesus?
II. Brian Eno, the Book on Lyric Writing, Reality of Death
III. Thurston’s Mother, Preternatural Core of Happiness
IV. Mimeogasm, Exploding a Mime, Anarchists
V. The Whole Thing About Being Experimental
VI. Quadruple Album, Not Such a Hot Idea
VII. I Know This Bass Player, She’s in a Band Called My Bloody Valentine

In the song “The Best Day” you sing, “John the Baptist in his view/He’s gonna wanna know the dirty truth.” What’s happening there? We’re not going to talk about Jesus are we?
Thurston Moore: That kind of lyric is directly associated with my interest in religious iconography—what it references and what that represents historically. And our relationship to the physical world, and the metaphysical world. I like playing with those things. That line just happened. When I write lyrics I have this process where it’s all about wanting to use language the same way I use music. You just gotta put pen to paper and start writing without having to have a definite idea of what you’re going to write about. Sometimes a title can exist first and it can inspire you into some kind of subject or idea. Generally, I just trust the act of writing when words start moving.

So no Jesus?
As is often the case, Jesus is up to you. What does that line mean? It almost becomes too literal to say, “John the Baptist in his view.” But I just trusted it. It sounds kinda cool [laughs]. It doesn’t have to mean anything right now. The song sort of has a tough guy pose. But John's just like everybody else. He’s trying to create this identity. It’s fun to reference language that’s communal. I like the idea of community in music and writing, and how we share ideas. These are things I talk about and teach. I’ve given poetry workshops in Boulder at Naropa University for the past four years. So I’ve been very involved in thinking about these different processes of writing. The physicality of it. Or how it references your interior state. Same thing with music, you have different motifs you use. Sometimes they reference traditional aspects of music history as well as trying to do new things.


II. Brian Eno, the Book on Lyric Writing, Reality of Death


Your lyrics make sense in a nonsensical way. I’m so glad you didn’t start talking about Jesus.
One of my favorite examples of that kind of writing is Brian Eno’s Here Come the Warm Jets record. It’s an important record for me, as young person in the '70s. A lot of it had to do with the lyrics. They’re incredible. They’re funny. They’re smart. There’s a bit of art-school knowingness about it. You can’t tell what they’re directed at. Or what their intention is. I remember thinking, “There must be all kinds of razor sharp ideas in Brian Eno’s mind.” Using language the way he does, he kind of rewrote the book on lyric writing as far as I’m concerned. It was so intriguing and I was so inspired by it. Years later I read an interview with him where he said, “The lyrics on that record were written in the moment—they’re all just about how they sound.” They were lyrics that were supposed to sound like lyrics that have meaning, but they have absolutely no meaning whatsoever." At first I was disappointed. But then I felt like there’s something about the way language works that’s the way music works. If you can use language as an abstract to create an intrigue. What does it mean? It means this purity of sound and using language as sound, and alliteration, rhythm, and color. There’s a lot of color on that record. The Beatles did that a lot. In “I am the Walrus” it’s, “Yellow matter custard dripping from a dead dog’s eye.” Those are great lyrics, but what the fuck does that mean? [Laughs]

John the Baptist was a messenger. He came before Jesus to tell people Jesus was coming, and he knows the truth. He knows Jesus isn’t all he’s cracked up to be. Shit, now I’m talking about Jesus.
I think there was this relationship between two men where it’s a recognition of reality, and there’s a respect toward the person’s teachings, which were very spiritual, obviously. So this person is spiritual for having this knowledge. That relationship was something I was referencing. The dirty truth could be any number of things. The reality that… you’re human [laughs]. And that’s going to be taken away from you pretty soon. The dirty truth is just that, the end. Death. The relationship between, and the duology in life/death.


III. Thurston’s Mother, Preternatural Core of Happiness


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So what’s “The Best Day”? What’s the tie in?
It’s inspired by that photograph I put on the cover of my mother with her best friend—her dog. They’re looking at the camera from this place of complete safety. This state of mind where there’s absolutely nothing wrong within that moment of the photo. Somebody in a place of serenity, in love with the person who’s taking the photograph, which is my father. When I saw the picture I thought, “This must have been the best day for her.” My mother’s in her mid 80s now, and like anyone who’s lived long enough you go through a lot of situations in life. Sometimes it gets turned upside down. There’s a lot of light and there’s a lot of darkness but through it all my mother always had this preternatural core of happiness in her world. And she embraces it because she knows that’s the salvation. Those are the overtones of the record for me.

Where was the picture taken?
It was taken in the 1940s, where she was born and raised in Florida, south of Miami near Coral Gables. That was her life, with my father, who she met at the University of Miami.


IV. Mimeogasm, Exploding a Mime, Anarchists


You use the word mimeogasm you in the song “Detonation.” What’s a mimeogasm? An orgasm of what?
You’d have to ask the writer. Those lyrics were written by a transgender poet friend of mine from London named Radieux Radio, who’s credited three times on the record. That song, “Vocabularies,” and “Tape.” I did a version of “Detonation” as a 7-inch earlier in the year on a small label in London called Blank Editions. I played bass, and there’s a guitar player, and a drummer friend of mine who lives in London who’s American, from the DC area. The song was based on this poem that Radieuxe Radio had written. Mimeogasm is sort of looking at this history of radicalism in London in the early '70s by these young creative types. These poets and writers. It was a gender balanced radical group of women and men who took it upon themselves to put the ideas of anarchism they were reading about into play in the face of this imbalance of power that they saw in London. A police station and a fashion house were bombed, but nobody was hurt. They weren’t about hurting people, it was about making explosive commentary. They all got busted and thrown in jail, and it changed a lot of their lives forever. I got really interested in one of them, her name was Anna Mendelssohn. She wrote poetry under that name and the name Grace Lake, which is the name of one of the instrumental tracks on The Best Day. A lot of the texts of political radicalism, in this case, anarchists’ ideas, were being distributed by stapled mimeo newsletters. Much the same as underground poetry was. Mimeogasm is that idea of mimeos creating this orgasm of information [laughs].

There’s also the word mimetic, meaning to feed on your surroundings, where mimicry comes from.
I don’t know if mimeo has a correlation to mimetic so much. I like mimesis though. There’s the mimeograph machine. It has more of a photographic copying slant. You know miming? Miming is kind of copying. But mimetic, the fact that it feeds off its surrounding is interesting. I like that.

With the title “Detonation” I saw this mimeographed picture of an explosion in my head, feeding off the imagery of itself. And now that you’re talking about miming, I see a mime exploding.
[Laughs] It’s a celebratory song. It’s about the energy of people with the intention towards reclaiming a world for the society they live in that’s not defined by capitalist concerns. You’ll have to come teach a class a Naropa for me. But don’t explode any mimes. Or come to the show and yell, “Mimeogasm,” and I’ll know it’s you.


V. The Whole Thing About Being Experimental


What’s the most difficult thing about making an album for you now? Do you get stuck in quagmires? You seem like you might relish the quagmire.
I don’t ever see recording as much of a challenge. I’m more just letting things happen. And listening to everything. I’ll dig it, or trying to put it into a place that appeals to me. I don’t ever go in with any sort of pre-ordained idea of what I want to do. In a way, the whole thing about being experimental, I never think about it as far as sounds or the way the guitars are utilized with different tunings. Or modifying them with implements using drum sticks behind the twelfth fret. Or using things other than picks to attack the strings with. A lot of that stuff is easy to do, and a lot of people do it. That’s the fun aspect. The experimental aspect is always the writing. What you can do with song structure? How things can exist and be valid as a song that has reference to traditional songwriting as well as changing the game a little bit and moving boundaries around. That’s the challenge.

When I’m in the studio doing a song, like some of these on the record, and everything’s recorded and we’re in mix mode, I’m listening really intently—first of all, to structure. I’ll cut certain phrases out. Or if I think something’s too meandering or too long, I’ll shift a section around to hear what it sounds like.

The main challenge of recording is getting a take that feels natural and genuine, and completely unforced. A lot of times I depend on first takes, because that’s when you’re doing it for the first time and things just happen that are raw and great and surprised at themselves. The more takes you do, the more self-conscious you get, you think, “I gotta do that thing again.” Then you become stiffer or studied. You start finessing your part and losing some of the spirit that was new. So the challenge is to play that first take as well as you can. Especially with me.


VI. Quadruple Album, Not Such a Hot Idea


The Best Day was originally going to be much longer, right? Weren’t you thinking of having it be a double album?
I had different ideas for this album until it actually happened. I have all these different loose tracks from all these different places. Kind of a potpourri thing I was going to put together, and it was chaotic. I don’t mind that, I like dealing with the chaotic in music - that quagmire you were speaking of. The record was going to be called Detonation. It was more of scattershot thing. But something kept me at bay with it, and I knew I couldn’t support that live so much because there are too many weird components. As soon as these musicians came together and we did this session, it changed. There are only like eight songs on the record and six of them are with the band. Two of them are me playing everything. As soon as the band thing came together, I started stripping out these other elements that were from different places - some noise pieces, and there were some tracks that were never released from the Chelsea Light Moving sessions. I was going to put them all into a two-hour record. I figured if Swans can put out a triple LP and get everybody excited, that I could put out a quadruple LP. But I think it was good idea to talk me out of that. I do listen to advice from my contemporaries [laughs]. I was like, “What do you mean no one is going to listen to this, who cares?”

Who told you not to put the four-LP album out?
Two people specifically who I listened to were my booking agent all through the years in Europe who lives in Holland, who has just retired, Carlos van Hijfte. He’s the guy in the back of Evol where it says, “Love to Carlos.” He was the guy who said, “Maybe you should have more of a focused vision for what you put out, not unlike Demolished Thoughts. I think that’s a little more what people would respond to. As opposed to some kind of mélange.” The other person is Gerard Cosloy who is one of the Matador owners. He also said, “Maybe you should peel some of these out of here, just for the sake that it’s too long.” He was like, “It’s all good, dude, but you’re asking for a lot of investment in people’s time.” It’s a different world out there. People don’t buy their albums, stare at them, and flip them over. Some people do. I do, but a lot of us don’t. That was something to recognize. So I started pulling things until it was just this London session with this group. Then I thought, “Oh, that makes sense.” And at the same time I saw the photograph and thought, “There’s the cover, and there’s the title, and there’s the vibe.” It was like this epiphany of, “Here it is.”

Did the songs on the album come together quick or slow?
They came together really fast, once they started happening. The band coming together was sort of this magical thing. I was living in London for a while, waiting for a time when I felt ready to start writing and recording. It was after doing that Chelsea Light Moving record, which was a reaction to the Demolished Thoughts. I moved out of the USA to live in a completely different country. It was a major relocation for me because I’d never lived anywhere besides Ney York City since 1976. Kim [Gordon] and I had moved to Massachusetts in the '90s so our daughter could go to a good school up there, but it was close enough so that we could go back and forth once or twice a week. New York has always been home base.


VII. I Know This Bass Player, She’s in a Band Called My Bloody Valentine


The Thurston Moore Band
  • Phil Sharp
  • The Thurston Moore Band

Support The Stranger


Why did you move to London? How did the Thurston Moore Band band fall into place?
I moved to London for lots of reasons. I was going to be there and see what happened as far as doing more music. It was so welcoming. Everybody who found out I was there was so cool. People wanted to play. I met this guitar player James Sedwards just by chance. I was living in a flat up above him and could hear him playing. He was teaching his students Zeppelin riffs. Then I talked to him. Turned out we listened to all the same records, and knew the same history. His favorite bands are Zeppelin and The Fall, and that resonated with me. He’s such a shredding guitarist I kept him in mind. When I started writing these songs I called him up and said, “Hey can I play you some of this stuff, I was curious if you wanted to maybe do some guitar duos with me.” It was all instrumentals at that point. Then we started playing around. One of the bands we opened for at a club in London was Lee Ranaldo’s band. Afterwards, drummer Steve Shelley, who was playing with Lee, said, “Man, if you need a drummer for any of this stuff call me and I’ll come over and play.” Steve loves to play. He’s the best drummer I know. Then James said, “I know the perfect bass player—my friend Deb Googe from My Bloody Valentine. She’s not doing too much these days.” MBV had finished their cycle of touring for their reunion record. She’s on call for them, she started that band with Kevin [Shields] and Bilinda [Butcher]. So I called her up and she said, “Yeah. Totally. Let’s do this.”

James said, “I know a bass player, she’s in this band called My Bloody Valentine. You may have heard of them.”
[Laughs] Yeah. I mean, Sonic Youth played with My Bloody Valentine when they first started in the mid 80s, like in Glasgow. So I remember them when they weren’t the over-amped brilliance that they became. They were feeling their way through Brit pop ideas. Then I think they were very inspired by the visitation of Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth coming into town, hearing these possibilities with Fender Jazzmasters, and amplifiers set on higher levels of stun. They became so incredible and made those amazing records.

Putting the band together was a local thing, it felt really right. The first time I heard the band play together was when we recorded the first song on the album called “Speak to the Wild.” James knew it, but Steve and Deb listened and picked it up, and we played it. I listened to the playback and knew right away, “Oh, this band is happening in a way that’s unlike anything I’ve ever done before.” The last thing I ever want to do is have a reenactment of Sonic Youth. Sonic Youth is its own beautiful thing, and I would never want or try to copy it. But there’s obvious similarities because of the way I play guitar and approach songwriting. There’s some correlation there certainly.

What studio in London did you record?
Urchin Studio. I discovered it through Jim Scalvunos, who was the drummer on Sonic Youth’s second record Confusion is Sex. I knew him from New York, he’s been living in London for years, and drums for Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. He’d heard I was in London and asked if I wanted to take part in recording on this tribute CD for Jeffrey Lee Pierce. Jeffrey was a friend of mine, so I went to the studio and did the track, “Nobody’s City” that Nick Cave and Iggy Pop sing on. I just had to come up with some guitar parts, and had a good time. I liked the studio and the engineer, I liked his vibe. For me, it was like, “Why look any further?” It was close to where I lived, and I felt good there. I hope you like the album.

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