Thurston Moore on Exes, Money and His New Sound

Allison Stewart
Chicago Tribune (TNS)

Moore talks about his new album, his greatest fear, and the public implosion of his old life.

Thurston Moore is Skyping in from Zurich, where he’s sitting underneath a train trestle, across the street from the club where the Thurston Moore Group played the night before. Moore remembers the club’s Wi-Fi password, and is piggybacking off its connection. It’s an awkward way to do an interview, but better than when Moore’s old band, Sonic Youth, would give interviews from the road in the ‘80s, and had to cash in what little money they had for handfuls of quarters to feed into pay phones.

Sonic Youth was once the most beloved experimental rock band in the world, and Moore and the band’s co-leader Kim Gordon its most beloved couple. Moore and Gordon split in 2011 after 27 years of marriage, amid rumors that Moore was involved with another woman. Sonic Youth didn’t last very long after that. Moore has since released a handful of solo and group projects, including the propulsive, mystical new album “Rock n Roll Consciousness,” recorded with My Bloody Valentine’s Debbie Googe and Moore’s former bandmate Steve Shelley.

Moore talked about his new album, his greatest fear, and the public implosion of his old life. The following are excerpts from that conversation:

On moving to London

I sort of followed my heart there. My girlfriend was living there, and I moved in with her, and I created a life there. I formed a group there to do recordings and touring, and it has subsequently become an established group for me. I kind of allow a lot for intuition in this kind of thing, and I sort of follow that with some modicum of adult responsibility.

If anyone told him 10 years ago that he would be divorced, living in London, and playing in a new band …

I would be very suspicious of anybody saying something like that, but you never know how life will change. I’m still a U.S. citizen, I’m not going to renounce my citizenship of the USA, especially now. I feel more American than I ever felt before. It’s this familial protection of my 23-year-old daughter, who’s coming of age in a country that’s been for the most part hijacked by this agenda of divisiveness and paranoia.

On an album review that suggested he found inner happiness through musical aggression

I don’t feel like I’m an aggressive person. I’m certainly a headstrong Leo. In my later years — I mean, I’m only in my late 50s, I don’t feel that old — I’ve given more attention to aggression, which is so pointed at the self, anyway. I’ve tried to get beyond that and focus more on the act of giving, as opposed to the act of wanting. I’ve always been fearful of confrontation. That’s something that I find to be the only real fear I have, is confrontation with others who have aggression. Maybe I’m expressing aggression sonically, through guitar playing? It is very violent and aggressive sometimes.

On his new album’s comparatively accessible, almost-but-not-quite commercial sound

I equate commercialism with money, and I’ve never ever done music for money. Even when Sonic Youth would be asked to do soundtrack music, I never thought of it as a way to make money, even though that was what it was all about sometimes. So it’s very possible I’ll never become a major music star, because I don’t really care about money, even though I like to have it in my pocket — I kind of have more of a modest lifestyle. I find money really embarrassing. I was asked sometimes in Sonic Youth, “If you clean it up a little bit, you guys could be the Pink Floyd of post-punk.” And it was like, no, I want to sound like the B-side of the first Damned single. I’m not going to base what I do on any other model, really. You just have to be yourself and sort of see what happens.

On the last days of Sonic Youth

I don’t think we were thinking final record during those last years. It was never really decided that that was the case. I think maybe I personally was thinking that, because I knew my life was changing in the personal realm, and I knew it would probably change things radically, so I wasn’t really surprised that Sonic Youth ceased to be a working group. but I didn’t feel like the plug was pulled artistically on the group. I think we said quite a bit, and I feel really proud of it. It’s one of the greatest things in my life. I have it tattooed on my arm since the 1980s, “Sonic Life.” That’s my story. So when people come up to me and give me commendation about Sonic Youth and what it meant to them, that’s the best part of my day.

On whether he anticipated the negative public reaction to the breakup of his marriage and his band

No, because the only people who are important to that story are the people who are intimate with it, which is family. When it comes to people who don’t know us personally, who know us through the work, that doesn’t define my decisions in life. I understand it, believe me, but there’s not much I can say about that. All I ask for is a bit of respect for the integrity of our lives. The music stands alone. I understand how people invest a lot into what they see as this romantic world of the musician and what their life is. I get it.

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