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thurston moore interview
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The Sonic Youth singer stands alone.Given that Sonic Youth are one of the most revered art-rock bands of all time, it's not surprising that Thurston Moore's favourite London hang-out is the bookshop at the Serpentine Gallery. He ducks in the doorway - at 6ft 6in he is pretty much eye-level with the top shelves - and starts enthusiastically thumbing through exhibition catalogues. "I love this place because artists interest me as much as rock stars do," he says. Endearingly, Moore appears to have a complete lack of artistic ability himself. When a shop assistant asks him to draw a picture in an autograph book, the 49-year-old thoughtfully sketches out a sun with a happy face on it.
Still, this interest is arguably what has shaped Sonic Youth's extraordinary longevity: in terms of career trajectory they have more in common with painters than pop stars. Twenty-six years in, they continue to make records that are as innovative, if not as culturally significant, as any of their landmark albums. They have just sold out three nights at the 3,000-capacity Roundhouse venue, playing their 1989 masterpiece, Daydream Nation. And Moore is about to release a solo record of acoustic-based, modest-sounding songs, called Trees Outside The Academy - an unexpected move for a man once notorious for attacking guitars with screwdrivers and "playing" drills.
"I wanted to do this record as a way of expressing my own personal feelings musically and visually, without it being a democratic concern," he explains of his newly contemplative direction. "Being in a band like Sonic Youth is great, but it can obviously be frustrating at times. Thereís always this desire to want to do something thatís just completely personal."
The album features appearances by Sonic Youth's drummer Steve Shelley and J Mascis of Dinosaur Jnr. Only guitarist Lee Ranaldo and Moore's wife Kim Gordon were left out. Didn't Kim mind? "Most of my work is influenced by my wife," he says, carefully; she is just inside the gallery. "We have always supported each other as far as interests outside of Sonic Youth goes."
Trees Outside The Academy was recorded at J Mascis' house in Northampton, Massachusetts, where Moore and Gordon also live. He describes the town, which they moved to in 1998 with their 13-year-old daughter Coco, as the centre of a scene that "people are calling 'new weird America'". Other local musicians include John Moloney of Sunburned Hand Of The Man and the singer Christina Carter. "A lot of people in this scene are musicians doing art, so there's this whole culture of boundary-blurring. I appreciate that because we cut our teeth with Sonic Youth by playing galleries and loft spaces."
Moore clearly finds this low-key creative milieu comforting, which is what makes Sonic Youth's next project, a compilation album for Starbucks, even stranger. The album will feature covers of the band's songs by the likes of the fashion designer Marc Jacobs and the Ally McBeal actress Portia de Rossi. Will this ever seem forgivable?
"Itís funny, because I wasnít thinking of any of that when I decided to do it. And as soon as the first person came to the Sonic Youth MySpace page and said, 'Why are you doing something with a global corporationí, I was just like, 'Well, the reason is because a global corporation called Universal Records can't distribute our records to places where people actually go anymore."
So is he doing it for the money? "I'm doing it because I like the idea of Sonic Youth records being in a place where they're not supposed to exist. And I think it's funny that people have a problem with it. Going up against political correctness will always be a punk rock gesture." Some might say it's their most radical yet.
Thurston Moore - Trees Outside The Academy, released 17 September 07 on Ecstatic Peace.
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