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More Punk Than Punk - I Just Wanna Destroy

Interview found on the liner notes of the Moore/Surgal/Winant live CD "Lost To The City/Noise To Nowhere", out on Intakt Records (Switzerland). Thurston Moore (+) interviewed by Suzanne Zahnd (*), February 1999.


> (*) The group you're involved with, Sonic Youth, has always been a pop band. On the other hand you go into the direction of free improvised music. Are you still interested in song structures?
> (+) We generally take sections of improvisations and create songs or song ideas from them. Composition may be instigated by improvisation. We didn't want to abandon working and experimenting with song structure because that's something we're particularly interested in. Contemporary experimental rock musicians are full on into free improvisation right now as a transitional gesture from post Nirvana fallout. It's great because for a lot of them it is their first foray into music making and it begins with this attitude of radical rebellion. And it utilizes techniques of free improvisation and multigenre art music as its basis to more punk than punk. That wasn't happening when I was younger. Which means that John Zorn and Eugene Chadbourne and Derek bailey and John Stevens, Han Bennink, Peter Brötzmann et al have become as radical to punk as Darby Crash or Kurt Cobain.

> (*) Is it possible to reinvent the guitar?
> (+) There are a lot of open aspects in playing electric guitar. A lot of it has not so much to do with the guitar but with the person who is playing it. Sonny Sharrock opened it up very much. Rudolph Gray. Haino Keiji. Glen Branca. Ray Russell. Sonic Youth was interested from early on in reconfiguring the guitar with the strings, the tunings, the electronics, etc. A lot of it was a kind of reckless experimentation - we didn't have serious acoustic ideas, we just were having fun. At the time we were completely influenced by our immediate surroundings and that was New York City in the late 70s, early 80s. A completely wild downtown music scene. I think now that we're older and a bit more sophisticated, and because of the years we played together, there is more complexity involved and it has become more serious. Or at least more serious on a mature level.

> (*) There is discussion about the «right to exist» for guitar rock.
> (+) I like to see people not look at the guitar as such an icon of the music. I certainly don't. I only played it because it was there. Maybe when I was a little kid I saw the guitar as an emblem. Now I really like to see new genres and subgenres of rock music that don't play the guitar at all. I'm so attached to it and identify so much with it, that I can't get rid of it now. I maintain playing it, in a sense, just to make a gesture. I carry so much baggage in this worn out item that it makes me want to play it more, to show people that it's wrong to think that any working device is outmoded at all. Because it really has to be more than the instrument. The electric guitar will always be the most important sounding tool in rock and no shyster entrepreneur can eradicate that.

> (*) What do sound, noise, feedback, distortion and loudspeaker hums mean in your concept? Part of your sound architecture?
> (+) ????

> (*) Is Sonic Youth your headquarters? Do you have any other side projects?
> (+) Throughout the 80s Sonic Youth was active almost all the year round. We were always together recording and touring. As time went by we slowed down a bit, had children etc. - touring was in conflict with domestic lifestyles we were developing. And that's when we just naturally became more active in the music community we live in. We did do other projects in the early 80s but we were complete unknowns like any other creative musician in town so it was hardly news. Lee Ranaldo would work with Arto Lindsay and Rudolph Grey - I would do work with Lydia Lunch - we both played with Glen Branca, Rhys Chatham and others. In the late 80s, early 90s we got very active in enjoying community music. You could go out and see Arto Lindsay play with Lee Ranaldo or Susie Ibarra or Han Bennink and myself with Milford Graves or Thomas Chapin or Peter Kowald or Kim Gordon with Ikue Mori or William Parker or DJ Olive or Yoko Ono and Steve Shelley working with Cat Power and Tim Foljahn and Beck - different people of different areas of music playing together. That's what has become most exciting in the last few years. Many New York people say there is nothing going on anymore, there are no more bands. But it's the contrary - it's very exciting and different - it's not so much a band scene that's dominant but a variety of players in ad hoc configurations. A practice historically associated with the free improviser genre of Derek Bailey, John Zorn and others - now it is part of the experimental youth free rock DJ whatever scene - and it's very underground. Experimental, improvised music is still far below the radar of entertainment mainstream but it has become the vanguard. Which is great - when we started we were part of the burgeoning USA underground band scene but we were still derided by punk rock purists as an "art" band - now being "art" has a hip cachet and punk is for posers. - Go figure.

> (*) What about your Ecstatic Peace! label?
> (+) It's a vanity label, a bedroom label. I just make a few hundred copies of each record. I started out doing cassettes around 1983 of Lydia Lunch and Michael Gira (The Swans). When I had more money I started recording the New York avant-garde - saxophonists like Frank Lowe, Arthur Doyle and others. Basically I'm releasing recordings by people I know that normally wouldn't have an opportunity. In the mid-80s I became more involved with the history of avant-garde music in New York City. Radical avant-garde and free-jazz players attracted me more and more. From this world I started to research the European musicians. FMP-Brötzmann-school, Irène Schweizer. There were a few people involved with that in New York. Certainly John Zorn, who had a little place on the Lower East Side really early on. I used to go there as it was some place to go and people were playing music and they had beards! And they were playing this plink-plonk improv music. I had no interest at the time - I just wanted to be bashed in the head with Lydia's guitar and start a band with Cheetah Chrome. It seemed like cool music, albeit by a bunch of old guys, but I applied no history to it and in retrospect hearing it with that void of knowledge makes it more mysterious than it already is. Right now in New York City it's the hip thing to hear free music, bands like the No Neck Blues Band or White Out or Test. Contemporary rock'n'roll is so teeny-bop lame - they don't want have anything to do with it. Musicians such as DJ Spooky and DJ Olive want to deconstruct rock'n'roll and rock history, formulating something very new for a new century. I think that's kind of a romantic viewpoint. To me it's always in flux anyway, changing - that's its nature. Trust me, you can't stop the rock.
 

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