By Jeremy Essig
By Jason Robinson
By Hans Morgenstern
By Joseph Hess
By Peter Gilstrap
By Julia Burch
By Jeremy Essig
By Nathan Smith
In their 28-year career, indie-rock godfathers Sonic Youth have experienced unprecedented success — and had unparalleled staying power. Credit this longevity to the band's stability: Guitarist/vocalist Lee Ranaldo, drummer Steve Shelley, bassist/vocalist Kim Gordon and guitarist/vocalist/her husband Thurston Moore have launched numerous side projects, completed countless world tours and released copius rarites and studio albums.
The band's Matador Records-released latest, The Eternal, marks its return to an independent label. (It had been with Geffen since 1990's Goo.) But Eternal is the perfect extension of the Sonic Youth catalog, a hybrid of resonant guitar textures and jammy, jazzed-out, free-form experimentation. The album evokes Daydream Nation's unpredictable explosiveness and the near-psychedelic, extended harmonies of Washing Machine, but it isn't a musical progression as much as it is a lateral move. That in particular is Sonic Youth's trademark: Although each new album the band releases might contain heavier guitars, additional harmonies or more noise, they all maintain that nebulous Sonic Youth quality. There's something special about the dreamy pop blasts that the band creates together; instead of their dueling talents triggering a compromise, it feels as though collaboration enriches the Sonic Youth sound.
As Sonic Youth's bassist and one of its songwriters, Kim Gordon has long been an inspiration to younger musicians. As one of the few females in a respected, long-running rock band, Gordon is thought of as the cool, MILF-y matriarch of indie rock. But unlike many women, she's praised as much for her musical contributions as she is for her good looks and hushed, lusty voice. Her contributions to the band have rarely been as pronounced as they are on Eternal, on which she sings lead on several tracks, and her imposing bass lines sweep boldly through the din.
A prolific visual artist, Gordon is also accomplished in many other disciplines — including painting, drawing, writing, producing and organizing both art and music events. She's also fronted two successful fashion lines, X-Girl and the new Mirror/Dash, which is sold at Urban Outfitters. On the eve of Sonic Youth's current tour, we spoke with Gordon about how she balances her multiple interests with life on the road. She has a reputation as being private — even aloof — in interviews, but we found her to be inviting, engaging and downright giggly.
Jaime Lees: You have so many different projects. How do you decide what you're going to work on? Is it deadlines?
Kim Gordon: Yeah, deadlines. Exactly. Well, with the art stuff, some things you have to create [on deadline], either projects with someone or sometimes you get asked for a show. I work on ideas and stuff, but when it really comes down to it, it's all about a deadline.
Do you complete your art first and then look for a show for it, or do you hear about an interesting show and want to create something for it?
It's kind of a little of both. Right now I'm in this show in Graz in Austria, a group show. I don't usually like group shows, but this one was interesting. I like the curator [Diedrich Diederichsen]. He's a writer before he's a curator. [Along with] my friend, Jutta Koether, who's an artist, they asked us if we wanted to do a collaboration.
So how can you spend half of your life on the road and still be painting?
Well, this has been a really busy spring, but generally we just tour around a record. We're not one of those bands that goes on tour for a year or something. We have a daughter, and Lee has kids so, you know, I try and tour around her school schedule. We've been gone a lot this spring already, so it's hard. And I think it's actually harder for moms to leave their kids. I know some people say, "How come people don't make a big deal about asking fathers what it's like to go on the road?" It is hard for them, too, but I think it's easier if you have one parent at home that's taking care of it.
Do you bring her [daughter Coco] with you on tour?
Sometimes. But as she's gotten older she's been able to stay home with someone. And she prefers to stay home. [Laughs]
When you're out touring and you get to each new city, do you have something you like to do there? You know, like some people like to find the city's best restaurant or used bookstore or whatever.
Oh yeah, we're totally into picking out good restaurants. And actually, Mark [Ibold, of Pavement fame], who is playing bass with us now, he's really great at looking up food websites, and he always knows about places to try. But when we first started touring, it was always like, "Where's the good barbecue place?" [Laughs] So when we get to a city, sometimes we'll get day rooms at a hotel. We usually have a few hours during the day to hang out before we do sound check, and sometimes we have interviews.
So you have sound check and then you go do your dinner thing before the show?