Sonic Youth

THIS is a reprint of an interview with Sonic Youth I did for Airstrip*6 fanzine in mid 1987. Note fake Americanisms and early cut-and-paste plagiarism.

* * *


Thurston Moore, one quarter of  this week’s ‘Best Band in the World Ever’, Sonic Youth, darts round the table and half yells, half belches into my tape recorder.

Everyone’s a critic.

We’re in Nottingham for the second night of the UK leg of Sonic Youth’s Sister tour – I’ve yet to hear the album itself – and ever since the band arrived in Britain earlier in the week, it’s been wall-to-wall interviews.

Add to the interview OD a bad sound for the gig they’ve played minutes earlier, the remnants of some fierce transatlantic jet-lag, a couple of bottles of Johnny Walker firewater and the result isn’t exactly the best situation for your friendly neighbourhood fanzine ediot.

The previous night at the Town & Country Club in London had been everything anyone could ask for. It was a swirling, twirling delirious circus of a gig, everything that rock’n’roll should be and more besides. As if to emphasise that, the venerable old granddaddy of punk himself put in an appearance too. As the man Moore said, “Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Jimmy Osterburg!”

“Cuz Ah wanna be your dawg …”

The best rock’n’roll singer in the world backed by the best rock’n’roll band in the world? I do know that, if Iggy had a band like Sonic Youth behind him permanently, Bowie and his Glass Spider tour wouldn’t be worth a pinch of shit.

Search & Destroy would’ve been nice, but heck, I touched the great man’s leather clad arse during a bit of mid-song crowd surfing. What do I care?

So let’s not mess around here. Do the Sonic Youth have any plans to record with Iggy Pop?

“Record with Iggy?” Kim Gordon has a little chuckle to herself. “Not that I know of.”

“I’ve got plans but I haven’t told nobody,” says Moore.

It turns out that the Youth were rehearsing for the tour in the same complex as Iggy and just happened to be trying to work out the second verse of I Wanna Be Your Dog when the great man himself appeared. T-shirts were exchanged and Iggy was signed up for the gig.

Given the choice, is there anyone else you’d like to work with?

“Maybe Mo Tucker?” offers Gordon.

This isn’t really happening, is it?

Luckily, Mark Sinker asked them what band they would leave Sonic Youth to join in an interview which appeared in the NME the week after.

“Steve [Shelley] thinks for a long time.

‘The Stones maybe.’

‘The Stones! Oh man!’

Everyone cracks up.

‘But I’d still like Charlie to be in the band.’

‘The Stones could use you, they could use you real bad.’

What about you Thurston?

‘I would leave if ..’

‘If the Flag reunited,’ says Steve, trying to get his own back.

‘Yeah, the Flag. If Black Flag got back together and asked me to sing, I’d be gone. I’d be out of here on the next plane home.’


‘The GTOs. Or the Jesus and Mary Chain.’

Lee Renaldo, what group would you join, if you could?

‘I don’t think I would join any.’

‘Lee would join the Dead. If Jerry called you up and said, Lee, I’ve been listening to those old Sonic Youth records, how about going on our tour of India with us?’

‘India maybe. India would be the key word.’”

Back in the awkward and difficult Airstrip interview, I ask Gordon if the band have ever thought of moving over to London like the Swans did last year.

“Well, the Swans live in New York. They like to think they live over here.”

This is really fucking hard work. I press on, regardless.

Do you think you’re gradually coming out of that stage where you’re lumped together with bands like the Swans and Big Black?

“We should be put in with REM, U2 and the Police,” bellows Thurston from across the room.

“We should never have been put together like that, that’s the English press,” says Gordon a little irritably. “People don’t care what we’re called or where we’re from. It’s not important anymore. The more they know us, the less important it is.”

She continued in the NME:

“‘In England, it’s particularly hard to retain your own feeling of what you are .. because everything seems to be made very self-conscious here. No matter how hard you try not to, no matter what you do. It’s just a different sensibility, a different way of communicating.’”

Sonic Youth get theorised to death in the music press. But really, if you want to understand them, you just need to listen to them. Anything else is just so much fluff. A Melody Maker interview with the band by the Stud Brothers the following week found the writer opining:

“There’s no polemic to Sonic Youth other than the fact they exist. They’re like some exclusive mysterious club and, like all scarce resources, they’re invaluable. In a world where alternatives abound, a filthy contradiction, only single groups count ..”

Out of context or not, that’s just bollocks, isn’t it? Then again, the NME piece found Renaldo telling Sinker: “Music and food are the healing forces of the universe. In a world where all matter is endowed with Sonic Life, sound is a means of change.”

Hey Lee, you’ve got the Grateful Dead gig, let’s dial down the mystical mumbo-jumbo. Please.

Back in Nottingham, I ask a very reluctant Renaldo about the ideas behind his From Here To Infinity solo project.

“To fuck everything up!”

Nice one Thurston.

“It’s about sound textures and repeated patterns ..”

Were you pleased with the way people reacted to it last night? Nobody really seemed to know how to react to it.

“That’s okay.”


Okay, what about Ciccone Youth then? What did Madonna think of a bunch of scruffy NYC punk rockers covering one of her songs?

“REM, Police, Foreigner, U2!”

Nice one Thurston.

“We had very little feedback,” says Steve Shelley, who’s finally finished whatever he was doing and is now sitting in on the interview, God bless him. “We heard that she had heard it, and wouldn’t sue us if we put it out.” He shrugs. “She maybe thought it was quite a cool thing.”

“It wasn’t making fun of her,” adds Gordon.

“She didn’t take it in a bad way and we didn’t mean it in a bad way at all,” says the drummer.

Thurston Moore seems to have something he needs to get off his chest. He wobbles across the room, grabs the tape recorder and shouts into it:

“Fuck off! Fuuuuuuck off! Fuck awwwwwf! Kim changed her hair colour because she wanted to look like Sting. Ha ha ha hahahahahahah!”

Nice one Thurston.

Um, what about that tour with the Buttholes then? Why didn’t that come off? That would’ve been great.

Shelley grins a boyish grin.

“We were thinking of doing a date with them but it just didn’t work out. And anyway, it’s best if the Buttholes just play with themselves.”

“You don’t want to follow the Buttholes,” explains Gordon. “Their show now is such a spectacle it’s unreal. They’ve got films and slideshows and all sorts of weird stuff.”

Scaredy cats.

So that’s about it. Not one of my best interviews. For what it’s worth, Kim Gordon and Steve Shelley seemed pleasant enough, if a little tired, Lee Renaldo seemed like he would’ve been more sarcastic if he could have been bothered and as for Thurston Moore, well, we’ve all been there, haven’t we?

“I think Steve looks like a young Michael Stipe, and I think Kim is a transsexual Sting. Lee is a deranged Peter Buck and you can just call me Boner. From U2.

“That’s our new image. Please, please trust us.”

[This piece first appeared in Airstrip*6 fanzine in mid 1987. The very smart photo at the top is taken from the Sydney Morning Herald, but they haven’t credited a snapper, so I’m not able to either]


Filed under expletive undeleted, interviews

10 responses to “Sonic Youth

  1. “Come on down to the store you can buy some more and more…”

    So true…

    “beyond on this good is the terror” Ian Curtis, JD– Heart and Soul

  2. “Note fake Americanisms and early cut-and-paste plagiarism.”

    Hahaha, great.

    The older Sonic Youth gets the younger they become. Their music seems like it could be written today and no one would be able to tell.

  3. ‘Pinch of shit’…that’s just nasty.

    Who are this band? Are they new?

  4. I was kidding, you know. Of course I’ve heard of them! Never really listened to them though…you know I missed punk altogether. Same goes for man here. We are punk ignorant…

  5. I wasn’t defending Bowie, by the way, not really bothered about him. Just objecting to the mental image of the pinch of shit…yeugh.

  6. undeleted

    Well, it was 20-odd years ago when I wrote it, Foxy. I thought I was being cool by adopting daft Amnericanisms. How wrong I was.

    I think we’ll have to agree to diasgree about Bowie though. Vastly over-rated, I reckon ..

    Sonic Youth have been going for, ooh, about 30 years now. They do guitar rock, a bit arty but also a bit dumb too. They’re very good. I’d be surprised if your man wasn’t into them, they’re definitely a band for men of a certain age.

    I’d recommend Sister or Daydream Nation as a good starting point if you’ve not heard them before. I have no idea whether you’ll like them or not – think a punk rock Led Zep and you’ll be more or less in the right ballpark.

    There I go again ..

    Once again JR, you make a very good point – they’re not called Sonic Youth for nothing. Are you a fan then? No offence mate, but that surprises me. I’m not sure why.

    I’ve not heard any of their later stuff since Goo, so I guess I’m not that much of a fan – but I loved them ‘back in the day’. I’d really like to get the stuff I used to have though – Halloween (appropriately enough, tonight), Death Valley 69, EVOL, all that stuff.

    I got Sister again and it still sounds great. I’ll definitely write it up as a Hip Replacement piece at some point.

    Glad you enjoyed the piece and thanks for the comments.

  7. undeleted

    Duh. Once again you are baffling me with your esoteric humour. I’m sorry, I thought it was a bit strange you not knowing them.

    iSpace or maybe even MyTube is your friend. Just had a quick look and here is a suitably spooky one from their early years.

    Happy Halloween!

  8. To me a special day
    remember you
    Me 16 year old brat
    Sonic Youth painted my hat

    Also did an fanzine interview the tape of which I dont have
    One of the Nottingham crowd did video the show VHS I have

    I thought they where the shit
    I behaved like a messed up ….
    Totally blown away

    they where so cool
    and not just in that they be Americans with a loud wondrous noise
    but they where obviously really tired when interviewed
    just a bunch of geeks who love music really impressed with Lee

    Amazed by Thurston on stage
    Gods visited my city that day

    Love and PAX on all Terra firma

  9. Sonic Youth painted your hat!

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