Posted September 14, 2015 by Jeff in Tunes

Thurston Moore: Emanating positivity on The Best Day

Thurston Moore
Thurston Moore

Last year, Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore released The Best Day, his first solo album since 2010’s Demolished Thoughts. It retains his signature distorted guitar tones but features a more direct approach in terms of the songwriting. With Sonic Youth on hiatus, Moore phoned us from Connecticut where he was visiting family in advance of a short Midwestern tour.

I think you now live in London. Talk about what your days are like. How busy are you?
I have the band that I’ve been playing with for the last couple of years there. We put out a record last fall. I focus on that. I’m involved with book publishing as well. I have an imprint called Ecstatic Peace!. I’m getting that more in gear again with putting out some books of art and photography and poetry. That costs a lot of money. I try to save up and do it when I can. The band is very active. We’ve been touring quite a bit. Not a month goes by where there aren’t some gigs here or there. This Midwestern thing takes us through Ohio and Michigan and Illinois. We’re doing ten days. I stay pretty busy. This last couple of weeks has been the first time when I’m not doing that. I feel like I need to be packing or racing off to a soundcheck. It’s a weird anxiety.

When you began making music, did you anticipate becoming interested in multiple disciplines?
When I was a teenager and I wanted to move to New York, it was about being in a band, but the model for me was someone like Patti Smith. She was also a poet and she was publishing. That was more interesting to me. It was coming out of the whole New York history of Andy Warhol’s Factory where people could be painters and they were playing music. It was a multi-disciplinarian kind of artistic lifestyle. John Cage validated that big time, coming out of Black Mountain College and doing interdisciplinary activities, especially when he would have musicians on stage with films and dancers. That’s where all the disciplines come together in one happening. That person would be called a polymath, which is not a word I like that much. It’s a descriptive word for someone who doesn’t work exclusively in one field. I want to take time to focus on writing and publishing. Finding the minutes in the day to do everything is almost impossible. I’ve been playing music and touring and making records since the early ‘80s. Maybe I should go somewhere else and do something else.

Looking back on Sonic Youth’s legacy, are you content with what the band achieved? Should the band be inducted into the Rock Hall?
I don’t think about it too much. I know it gets brought up once in a while. If something like that were to happen, I’ll make my decisions about it on that day. Some days, I want to do the Johnny Rotten approach. I don’t really want to belong to a club that would accept me, although that’s more of a Groucho Marx kind of line.  At the same time, any kind of honor in respect to what you’re doing is just that — it’s an honor. I would accept any honor. I certainly don’t live for it and it doesn’t define me. I think we had a lot of years to do a lot of work and go through a lot of changes and progress as we grew. We got together at a young age. We went through a couple of decades of growing together and the music changing, different information coming into the band — taking risks and succeeding and failing. I like the fact that the last record we did was called The Eternal. I think that worked out nice. I don’t know where we would have gone further. In a way, there were a lot of things I wanted to do musically and I felt the band was able to accomplish that with some kind of compromise because it was always democratic. I felt like I was getting bored with democracy. I needed complete control and, for better or worse, that’s what’s happening right now.

 I’m calling the shots. It’s a different kind of band. It certainly sounds a little like Sonic Youth because it’s me.

You have such a unique guitar sound. How did you go about developing it?
That’s just because I never really played real guitar. I took a couple of rudimentary lessons. I taught myself to play.  As soon as I mastered the bar cord, I figured I could write songs like the Ramones or the Sex Pistols. As soon as I started seeing bands like Teenage Jesus and the Jerks or watching Glenn Branca play it gave me complete license to approach the guitar in whatever way I wanted. I started using it as my own instrument. I didn’t want to think of it as Jimmy Page or Eric Clapton or any kind of high technique player. I admired that stuff but it wasn’t what my ambition was. I know some traditional aspects of playing guitar but I can’t pick it up and start playing “Dark Star” by the Grateful Dead or something. I’ve tuned to alternate tunings. That creates a whole other world of approach. That’s what I do. I created something for myself that is functional. It allows me to go different places. I like to play improvised music. I never have to be correct because I don’t play licks. I don’t’ play traditional licks. It’s funny when I find myself in guitar magazines and they want to discuss or analyze my guitar playing. I hate going into music stores and guitar stores. I can’t afford to buy more guitars and I don’t have a fetish about them. Sometimes, people I play with do. [Guitarist] James Edwards eats, sleeps and breathes guitars. Every town we go to, he goes to a guitar store. That’s great. I go to bookstores. Or used record stores. Or Goodwill. That’s what I like.

I like the title track. Who is the “man” in that tune?
Well, I’m talking about this universal character. In a way, my personal perspective is in it. It’s like a writer sitting down and creating a character. He has to know who this character is. He has to have some kind of vibe from the writer. Like Jonathan Franzen writing about this typical American individual. Or David Foster Wallace. Even somebody like Eminem when he writes with a pseudonym. He doesn’t really do that kind of carnage but there’s something in his intellect that’s telling about who he is as a person and an artist. To make a long answer shorter, aspects of that character have to come from my own experience.

You’ve said you wanted to bring some positivity to the songs. Can you talk about that?
I just feel like it’s always this shared exercise. It’s something you’re doing that you want it to be this thing that brings a certain attitude. I have no problem with people doing really destructive art like black metal that has this idea of being nihilistic and dehumanizing. In a way, if you process that kind of music and art, it affects you emotionally. I realized when I was making this record that I didn’t want it to be something that was emanating some nihilism or negativity. I find that seductive and alluring and appealing. I like film and music and literature that deals with the darker side of the human condition. I’ve done that myself. I got into this notion that it’s maybe a more holistic thing to create work that has this emanation of positivity. It’s a choice. I felt like it’s a good thing for me now as a person. It’s neither here nor there. I still feel that way. The next record is much more expansive and heavier. It’s a little darker but it’s not a negative record. It’s a very celebratory record. It deals with mystic interests. It won’t be out until next year sometime. It’s really huge. We recorded it in this huge church in London that’s run by this guy Paul Epworth. He’s famous for doing these records by Adele and that was a great experience. The record is done but I still have to mix it.

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Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].