21st February, 1990

David, Enclosed: full transcript of Thurston Moore i/v plus sundry comments. It’s aging really fast so you may have to keep it in the fridge or just toss it out for the cat. — Brett.

Sonic Sexx

Sonic Youth 1989

Party Fears #19, 1994

... OK, so I break the news to the missus: she’s been loaned to a friend of an acquaintance just in from the Arab Emirates for the evening. I explain that it’s urgent that I get the scratch together for my airfare to Sydney.

“Cool,” she quips, “beats the shit out of a night of off-ratings teevee, listening to you mumble and fart!”

Now, time was, when I were a-courting this lady, that nothing could tickle her more than the prospect of a quiet night in front of the tube with me whispering sweet nothings and expressing gaseous appreciation of the fine meal she’d prepared. Our romantic visions clashing, I let it drop and got on the blower to Achmed’s hotel room ... seems he’d split — got impatient and opted out for some chicken butt instead. Depraved desert dwellers! ...

Sonic Youth are undeniably a musical force. Regardless of whether taste prevents you from appreciating the full impact, its existence cannot be ignored. If dissonance blocks full passage, denial of (a)  the concept, (b) the experience and (c)  the instinct only begs the label, in my estimation, of stifling ignorance and obtuse judgement.

The grand tradition of this En Why See stream can take you back to wily old LaMonte Young and further. If you checked with the Imperial Wizard of the Noise-As-Art-Form school, he’d be amused to catch an other-worldly glimpse of the advances that have occurred and liberties taken in the name of his initial premise.

Young’s theory opened the paddock-gates for a horde of genius as well as talentless oiks. Harmonic beauty perceived (albeit subliminally or obliquely) through and beyond a wall of distortion, clank, shriek and howl. Yeah, it’s in there, but you’ve got to have the skill to pull it out and waggle its lumpy, mucus-stained body in your audience’s face.

The VU got ahold of both slimy legs and yanked; they breathed life into the sickly infant and set it loose in a sandpit surrounded by playmates like the Five and the Stooges. They grew up and handed it to NY youngsters like Television and the Ramone family.

The Youth get spawned from a No Wave slop pile and sidestep the avant-garde faggot tide. The pick up some yoho guitar tips from Branca and move on, making a digestible racket consisting of a simple jazzbluesmetalfuckenfusion.

It’s a hot jizz assault with a grounding in smarts that lasts, disc after disc. It’s without those worrying patches of diddle-oh that tend to manifest themselves as the filler track, the contractual LP and the jammin’ dance tune. I can appreciate the whole effort, but was keen to obtain any scuttlebutt from T. Moore, on their Australian tour last year, just after the release of Daydream Nation. He was keen to be off doing battle with waves (that’s a damn lie!), but managed the following from a Surfer’s Paradise motel.

This is the largest recording budget that you’ve worked with. Are you happy with the results?

“Comparatively larger, because we’ve always worked in a very economical way. This record cost us slightly more than US$30,000, which, compared to a double album being put out and distributed through a major label ... it’s nothing, it’s like a day’s work. We did it in around five weeks.

“One of the things we like to do is just produce the music; we’re interested in studio engineering. Not so much hands-on engineering ... we don’t really look for a producer, we look for a good engineer and a good studio.”

Did you set out with a particular idea for the project in mind, or did a lot of the ideas come about in the studio and rehearsals?

For the two records before this, we were in a situation where, what with touring and all, we had one month to write all the songs and another month to record, then we’d go and play them; whereupon they’d totally change and become much more fleshed out ... better. After doing that twice in a matter of two-and-a-half years or so, we decided that was a ridiculous situation. When you listen to those records, all you’re hearing, pretty much, is the structure of the composition; you’re not hearing what would have happened after playing them a hundred times.

“For Daydream Nation, we decided that we wanted to spend a little more time writing the material, play it out some and then record it ... but not to any great extent. I don’t think it would have mattered how much time we took, we actually did write more music and turned it into a double album. We’ll usually record everything that we write at one point because we feel that it’s thematically connected.”

You’ve got a lot of longer tracks this time around.

“Yeah, I think that’s what happened having a lot more time to write. We got involved with longer songs, they were able to develop that way. That was interesting for us.”

Do you think Daydream Nation is an album you would have released any time other than a US election year, or is it fairly apolitical?

“Well, it’s apolitical in the sense that it doesn’t deal with the business side of politics. It deals with politics in the sense of the relationships between men. There’s certain abstracted ideas on that, and they’re all interconnected — there’s no hardcore party-lines going on. It has a lot to do with situations such as ours: we’re in a rock band and we’re able to rise above a lot of social situations, social oppressions.”

No way it would have been called State of the Nation?

“We bounced around a lot of ideas for the title. That was a line from one of the songs that kind of rolled nicely ... all of a sudden everybody said, ’yeah, it’s connected with the mood of the record.’”

Most of the reviews of the LP that I’ve read have been glowing, it seems a logical progression from Sister. How do you answer detractors that latch onto the fact that it’s a double album, the packaging, tracks of the length and format of “Trilogy” — references they’d say hark back to concept albums of the seventies?

“It’s hard to say ... just because when we were doing it we’d say, ’these three songs together are called “Trilogy”, how are we going to work this “Trilogy” thing?’ — thinking, of course, that we’re not going to use that title on the record. We were of the frame of mind of, like, ’why not?’  It’s not something that’s at all detrimental to the music.

“We all grew up in that period of early ’70s prog-rock. I don’t think we’re copying it musically; it’s just having fun with style. We like to have people look at that and shake their heads. A double album — regardless, you’re going to have people look at that and say, ’this’d  make a  really great single album.’ That’s the way it is.

“We’re not setting out to make hit records; we work with record company people who take care of us as far as that’s concerned. Getting all the ads out, setting up shows, we enjoy doing it. It’s a lot of high falutin’ — a lot of fun.”

The three pieces of “Trilogy” have a lot of obvious instrumental arrangement differences. How do they link? Is it meant to be narrative or linear in some way?

“It works out to be narrative in a way. The whole record works out to have a narrative theme to it in as far as any commentary that the lyrics have. I think all our records do in a way, but it’s something that comes to you posthumously. After we did Bad Moon Rising — right after it came out, I was looking at it, playing it and there was a very direct theme there: Americana. That’s the most successful thing to us: actually seeing a theme that interests us appear on the record.

“With ‘Trilogy’, basically the parts to it were more connected musically because we had been using the same guitar tuning on those three songs. They went together really well.”

Oblique references to actual persons on the disc — can you clear up any of them?

“‘Hey Joni’ — Lee wrote those lyrics. I don’t think it’s Joni Mitchell. We tease him about it, but, I dunno, when he was writing the lyrics for it, there was some kind of thing about Joni Mitchell going on. Then there was ‘Hey Joni’ as a pun on ‘Hey Joe’ — ‘Hey Joni, where you going with that gun in your hand.’ Lee thought he’d call it ‘Hey Joni’, but I don’t know, you’d have to talk to him about it.

“We don’t talk out what our lyrics mean, we didn’t put a lyric sheet in with the album.”

You guys wear out drummers — or do you just like to trade them in before they get too many miles up?

“Richard Edson was our first drummer. He was more interested in getting involved in film acting, which he’s done. Bob Bert left because we were a bit too rigorous, with touring and whatnot. Steve’s been with us for quite a while and is pretty much a mainstay now. He wears us out. We’re all in our thirties and he’s a young twenty-five-year-old.”

Your rhythm section has been described as anything from “jazzy” to “perverse”. What are your own ideas? Is there a description that Kim and Steve like to apply?

“Steve’s a very real, practised drummer, whereas Kim picked up the bass when we decided to start a band. She’d played around with it earlier, but not in any real career capacity. Playing-wise, Kim’s from more of a non-musical standpoint. That combination has made the sound very unique in a way; no-one can really copy it. Kim tends to very minimal bass as opposed to any busy style that a lot of players aspire to.”

Your packaging and artwork are always interesting. There’s a difference between the packaging of, say, Sister and Daydream Nation. It seems more tightly directed. How are your final designs reached?

“Both Kim and Lee come from a visual arts background. Kim grew up going to art school, so it was pretty much her vocation almost since she was a child. But design is always different. With Sister I wanted to use a picture by Gerhard Richter, who did the photo-realist painting that’s on the cover of Daydream Nation. He had a painting of a child’s face, very romantic-looking — which I liked.

“Lee came in with what was the shape of Sister — the cross image with chance photos taking up the space behind it. It was a good idea, so I found some old postcards, magazines, images that appealed to me, and laid them out. We all shared the spaces, everyone brought stuff in and we placed them around. You can see the Scotch-tape marks and the magic marker borders.

“For the Daydream Nation cover, we all instantly thought of using a Gerhard Richter painting. We chose the candle because it seemed very ... hopeful.”

At Christmas (1988), Byron Coley mentioned a collaboration between yourself and the Borbetomagus Horns. He seemed to think it was the hottest item since the Allman’s “Mountain Jam” — you want to confirm or deny that?

“He asked if we wanted to do that, so I called those guys up. They’re just an all-out maniacal band, extremely serious about what they do. We got together, did it, it came out great. We’ve mixed it, but I think they’re nitpicking it — I got a message from New York that they might want to remix it. Why? I hate remixing.

“Byron’s going to put it out on his label, Forced Exposure. We also have our own label called Esctatic Peace.”

Which Sonic Death originally came out on.

“Yeah. SST have a side label called New Alliance, and they’ve put out a couple of Ecstatic Peace things. One was the Coachmen record — a band I was in — also a record by a New York guitar player, Rudolph Grey, called Transfixed.

There was also mention of a band featuring Lydia Lunch and Kim that opened for your last European tour.

“Harry Crews was a totally separate thing: Kim, Lydia and another woman on drums. It was like a power trio. They wrote all the songs and went on the road, but not with us.

”They named themselves after a southern US writer called Harry Crews — he’s actually a really great writer —  and wrote a lot of songs using his titles. There’s one song called ‘About The Author’. I saw them play, they were really good.”

Get to see anyone while you were here?

“Just the ones that played with us. Bored were good, another band called God, what the hell was the other one? ... Lubricated Goat. In New Zealand we played with the Verlaines. We didn’t have much of a chance to get out. It was very busy.”

When are you likely to be back?

“I imagine we will be back. To us, it was just a matter of whether it was financially feasible to come to Australia; it wasn’t so much that it was too far away. Now we can afford to do things like this tour and profit from them. I suppose if we came back again, we’d be more extensive about it ...”

The Youth are still plenty tough. Tough like staring into the bleached eyes of the less than lucid old timer behind the counter of the Military Surplus store. Perched atop a high stool, he leers, giving you a good squint at both gums, and points straight up to the sign that proudly proclaims: “Bow-hunting spoken here.”


Brett Woodward.


[ Party Fears #19 | Party Fears ]