Courtesy of Matador Records
One of indie rock/post-punk’s most influential guitarists, Sonic Youth singer Thurston Moore says he “never really played real guitar.” Moore, who released his latest solo effort, The Best Day
, last year, taught himself to play guitar and developed an unconventional style that puts him in the same league as guys like Dinosaur Jr.’s J. Mascis and classic rocker Neil Young, players who take a more experimental approach to the instrument. He brings the Thurston Moore Band to the Grog Shop on Tuesday.
“As soon as I mastered the bar cord, I figured I could write songs like the Ramones or the Sex Pistols,” says Moore via phone from Connecticut, where he was visiting family. “As soon as I started seeing bands like Teenage Jesus and the Jerks or watching Glenn Branca play, I knew I could play too. New York in the ‘70s gave me complete license to approach the guitar in whatever way I wanted.”
Moore says he respects iconic players such as Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton but refers to them as “high technique players,” something he says wasn’t an aspiration.
“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,” he says. “I’ve tuned to alternate tunings. That creates a whole other world of approach. I created something for myself that is functional. It allows me to go different places. I like to play improvised music. 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 guitars. Sometimes, people I play with do. [Guitarist] James Edwards [who plays in Moore’s band] 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.”
Moore’s self-deprecating comments aside, The Best Man
, his first solo album since 2010’s Demolished Thoughts
, finds him exploring new sonic territory. The plodding opening track “Speak to the Wild,” for example, features an undulating guitar riff and Moore’s characteristic howl. It retains his signature distorted guitar tones but features a more direct approach in terms of the songwriting. It’s representative of how the album is yet another achievement in a remarkable career that dates back to the ‘80s. Now living in London, Moore continues to run Ecstatic Peace, a label that allows him to put out music and release books. His interdisciplinary approach stems from the fact that a handful of New York artists inspired him when he was a teenager.
“The model for me was someone like Patti Smith,” he says. “She was also a poet and she was publishing. That, to me, was more interesting. 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.”
While Sonic Youth is currently on hiatus, the band has left behind a remarkable legacy. And yet the group has never been nominated for induction into the Rock Hall even though it’s been eligible since 2007. So does Moore think the band deserves to be inducted?
“I don’t think about it too much,” he says. “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. Somedays, I want to do the Johnny Rotten approach and don’t really want to belong to a club that would accept me, though 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.”
From the way he describes things, it doesn’t sound like the band, which includes ex-wife Kim Gordon, will reconvene anytime soon.
“I don’t know where we would have gone further,” he says of Sonic Youth. “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 of democracy. I needed complete control and for better or worse, that’s what’s happening right now.”