April 6, 2011 SOUNDS ⁄  SONIC YOUTH

I’m probably a 6 on a Sonic Youth fandom scale (with 1 being ‘meh’ and 10 being a stalker with a Goo facial tattoo). But, you know, Sonic Youth are an important band.

The kind of band you make insane trips all around London all day for so you can ask them a list of questions you researched pretty intensively while they do other stuff, like read. They’re the kind of band where, when one of them takes a sandwich into the ensuite halfway through the interview and the other breaks a Gareth Pugh boot during the photoshoot, you tap into this keg of inner zen-ness you didn’t know you had in you. If there’s only one ageing art rock power couple in the universe who are worth two interviews in one day, it’s Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore. So that’s what we did.

If you were a time-rich kind of person (or a 9.5), you could draw up a sort of spidergram to illustrate that pretty much every post-1982 band you’ve been into had some sort of connection to Sonic Youth. Weezer, Public Enemy, Pavement, Pixies, Bikini Kill, Wilco, Le Tigre, Radiohead, Butthole Surfers, Minor Threat, Fugazi and like a gazillion more. Sonic Youth also got Geffen to sign Nirvana just in time to release a little number one record called Nevermind.

So it’s a tough call for a writer to make: while their indie credentials are, like, durrrrr, they’re like these middle-aged mega-memes with a (pretty great actually) recent record, who have guested on The Simpsons and are therefore already so plugged into the universal hipster consciousness that there’s no point adding to the trillion or so Sonic Youth-related Google results. But hey, there’s kind of no point interviewing anyone other than unsigned bands who are all like, 12 years old (so you could argue there’s no point interviewing bands of any kind, at all, ever), because a band that’s been around for almost three decades and done press tours for say, 15 albums, has stock answers for everything except left-of-field questions about really obscure books.

So here’s an interview with Sonic Youth about really obscure books, dirty movies, their relationship and their kid, Coco. We cut out the stuff they probably said to everyone else that week.

J & A

JUKE: What’s it like being this iconic rock ‘n roll couple? You’re in a minority who’ve managed to keep it together over such a long and interesting timeline

KG: Well we certainly have a lot of shared interests, but we have a lot of different interests too. Thurston really gets like certain genres of music  – like at the moment he’s really into death metal and I can appreciate some of it, but you know, not all of it. It’s interesting. We have a similar background, our dads were both academics and we definitely have a lot of shared sensibilities about things. I think we’re both interested in what each other is interested in.

JUKE: But did you take it in? In that period where every VJ and magazine in the world was pitching you as the coolest couple in the world – in the coolest band in the world?

TM: Well we never had any ambitions to be the coolest band… I mean the last thing I was as a teenager was cool! I was never considered the cool kid. I was actually kind of a nerd. But that was what resonated about punk rock because all of sudden Joey Ramone was like the coolest thing in punk rock and he was not what people in my high school thought was cool. People thought the Allman Brothers were cool.

JUKE: Did the lifestyle never take over or intrude on your relationship?

TM: I never really liked getting wasted, or drunk, or high. I mean I didn’t mind getting drunk or high, but not as a daily routine. I just didn’t like it. I mean I kind of always thought it looked like a really good time. I always kind of envied people who would go and get fucked up all the time and live on the edge like that.

JUKE: Like Mudhoney?

KG:  Those guys were intimidating.

TM: Yeah well I couldn’t afford it! I couldn’t understand how people living that way can afford to buy that much alcohol and marijuana and heroin – it’s like, where did they get the money to do that? I dunno, I never could understand how they did it.

JUKE: So the sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll never sucked you in?

TM: Not yet! [laughter] Yeah, but I like that sort of phase – a sort of total midlife breakdown crisis, where I get into risky behavioural things. That’s what happens – it’s a classic.

JUKE: Kim, you ready for this?

KG: [groans]

TM: She’s not gonna look after me?! I told her she’s gotta be prepared for a total adult meltdown and to deal with that. She’s ready.

JUKE: Looks like your daughter’s in line for moral compass duties here. Does she like your latest record? Is that the acid test?

TM: Who Coco? She actually said she likes the record. After it was all done it was playing around in the kitchen a bit because people would come round and we’d play it for them and she said to me like, “You guys made a good record”. She goes, like, “I think this is better than your last one”. She said something that was really sort of you know, kid honest? But then somebody wanted to hear it not too long ago, like last week or something and she came in and went, “Can you guys put something else on?” She’s sick of hearing it now. She likes classic rock stuff like Zeppelin and the Beatles and the Kinks and stuff and she likes the Kooks and that other British band that’s really big

KG: Who, Arctic Monkeys?

TM: Yeah, she likes Arctic Monkeys. She loves that stuff. Yeah…she likes good stuff

[Roots through cupboards]

TM: Shall I just drink from the bottle or – maybe there’s something in here. You never know what you might find. There are some books in here

[PR launches into inappropriately long anecdote about her drinking beer and going through people’s cupboards as a child. Weird out.]

JUKE: I like those castaway paperback libraries they have in tacky hotels. It’s always like loads of Jilly Cooper and Jordan autobiographies and then like some occult handbook or something.

TM: Yeah, I love that. We have a lot of books in our house. Most of them aren’t read. It takes too long to read books. It’s hard to find the time. I’ve got into collecting and reading poetry, because I feel like it’s the essence of literature. I find it easier to start writing – putting pen to paper. You start getting anxiety about it, like, what am I gonna write, what am I gonna write?! So now I put a word down and all of a sudden I’ve got something and I can refine it.

JUKE: What’s your favourite song on The Eternal? Any goosebumps?

KG: I really like that song, Poison Arrow. Um, I dunno, I like Thurston’s vocal and the lyrics?

TM: My vocal gave you goosebumps? Awww…

KG: Yeah

TM: AAAAW! I don’t think I got goosebumps on that, but I really like the way Anti-Orgasm came out. It was inspired by a German film called Eight Miles High. It came out last year and it was a biopic of this woman Uschi Obermaier, adapted from her autobiography called The Wild Life [Das Wilde Leben] and in the late 60s she was this young pin-up model in hippie Germany. And she was kind of this teenage runaway and she was really sort of gorgeous and she became this featured model and she was hitchhiking across Germany and she got picked up by these krautrockers and they took her to this infamous commune in Berlin called Commune 1 where all these people walk around naked and the police were always trying to shut them down so she joined and one of the leaders became her lover…

KG: And she brought a lot of glamour to it…

TM: Yeah all the papers were like, Uschi Obermaier’s part of this commune, so there was a funny line in the movie where one of the more outspoken hippie dudes was in bed with one of the hippie girls and he couldn’t get aroused so her boyfriend says, “Well you know what his problem is: he’s anti-orgasm.” I just thought that was such a hilarious line – sort of just took it out of that movie and made lyrics that weren’t really about that – I don’t know what they were about really – just sort of maybe me and the whole radicalism

KG: Also about being politically correct now, it’s like, you know, what IS PC anyway?

TM: Also having fun with the language of radical-speak. David Bowie did it in Flight of the Conchords where Bowie meets Bowie. [Does an impersonation]

KG: Yeah, yeah, yeah! [laughs] ‘You know Ground Control to Major Tom’ – kind of like this radical glam politic lyric, or something.

TM: Well in Anti-Orgasm it’s ‘Mission control to brain police’ and to me that’s about how your brain relates to your sexual life

KG: Erm…

TM: Well I had this motive – it wasn’t just words or whatever

TM: What’s that other book we had, Sex on the Brain?

KG: Yeah.

TM: Well that’s where that line comes from: mission control…

KG: I thought you read that afterwards

TM: Yeah well that whole brain-sex thing…


By: Lucy Stehlik

Photos: George Mavrikos & Paul Joyce

[For JUKE Vol.01]