Who they are 2004:
Thurston Moore – guitar, vocals
Kim Gordon – bass, guitar, vocals
Lee Ranaldo – guitar vocals
Steve Shelley – drums
Jim O’rourke – good times
Their new CD is called SONIC NURSE
(Noise Fest, 1st mini-LP, Confusion Is Sex, Kill Yr Idols,
The group began in 1981 downtown New York City with this line-up:
Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, Lee Ranaldo and Richard Edson on drums. Ann
Demarinis, keyboards, played early on for a very short bit and is documented
on the first recorded appearance of the band on the Noise Fest cassette
released by ZG Magazine in 1982. The Noise Fest was at a NYC art gallery
where Thurston curated 9 days of experimental rock music. After Anne left,
Lee joined. This is the band that made the 1st eponymously titled mini-LP
released in 1982 by Neutral Records, a label founded by NYC
guitar/composer Glen Branca. Richard then ran away to be a movie star.
Lee and Thurston awoke in 1976/77 NYC to CBGB/Max’s firestorm:
Television, Patti Smith, Suicide, Ramones, etc. – Kim was in L.A. studying as a
visual artist living down the block from a young Darby Crash and Germs
rehearsals. She came to NYC, met up with Thurston and they started playing
during the era (1978/79) dubbed no wave. They joined forces with Lee. With
cheap guitars tuned to various hot rodded tunings they wrote songs. Richard
Edson left to be replaced by Bob Bert, and for an interim, Jim Sclavunos.
These drummers helped record the 1983 lp “Confusion Is Sex” again on
Black Flag, The Minutemen, Meat Puppets and Butthole Surfers
became contemporaries and Sonic Youth bought a van and crashed around
the USA all through the 1980s playing in front of small, completely freaked
Bob Bert toured with the band as it travailed through Europe
throughout early 1983. They released an EP called “Kill Yr Idols” only in
Germany (Zensor Records) and from the Euro tour a self-released cassette
titled “Sonic Death” (Ecstatic Peace, Thurston’s own label, which he still
(Bad Moon Rising, Flower/Halloween, Evol)
After sending tapes to specific independent record labels (remember,
at this time there weren’t many dealing with underground music as such, and
most of them seemed to reside in the U.K.)–they got a call from Blast First –
a new label in London who had been dealing with Lydia Lunch – who Thurston
had been playing with in a band called In Limbo (also featuring Richard Edson-
drums and Jim Sclavunos-sax). They recorded the “Bad Moon Rising” LP and
Blast First released it. Gerard Cosloy, who had interest in the band, started
work at a label in the U.S. called Homestead and released it statewide. They
also released a 12″ entitled “Flower/Halloween”—– they went to London
and destroyed. At that point the U.K. scene was touting the death of the
electric guitar and Sonic Youth, in a New York minute, wiped that concept
out. They encouraged Blast First to bring over Big Black and the Butthole
Surfers to further the explosion of recognition for the new U.S. underground.
Things have not been the same since.
Upon return to the U.S. from the 1984 touring Bob Bert up and left
(later to join post-SY noise freaksters Pussy Galore). Steve Shelley, from
Michigan, was asked to join after sending cassettes of his bands the
Crucifucks and Spastic Rhythm Tarts to Thurston. Lee and Thurston saw
Steve play a hardcore matinee at CBGB with the Crucifucks and knew he
was the choice.
Black Flag had a label called SST in L.A. and in the mid ’80s this was
considered the premier vanguard of underground, independent music being
made in the USA. SST signed Sonic Youth in 1986, who left Homestead but
stayed with Blast First for the U.K. and Europe.– Sonic Youth recorded
“Evol” expanding on their dusted, mesa-boogie explorations of the American
landscape and all it’s mysteries. At this time the Sub Pop label included SY’s
“Kill Yr Idols” track on it’s prescient Sub Pop 100 compilation.
(Sister, The White(y) Album, Daydream Nation)
In 1987 they recorded “Sister” – this LP touched on themes of hyper-
irreality and dislocution.
After touring non-stop they stopped and decided to leave SST for a
record deal with Enigma (now defunct) and recorded “The White(y) Album”
under the aegis of Ciccone Youth – an idea borne from the fact of Madonna,
who at one point was making out with a friend of theirs to becoming a
superstar on the cover of Time magazine. It was an effort to create music
that was completely studio based and skullfucked. Mike Watt, while sitting in
on the “Bad Moon Rising” sessions helped formulate the idea recording a
cover version of Madonna’s “Burning Up” while Ciccone Youth recorded “Into
The Groove” (as “Into The Groove(y)”)—that was where the Madonna
flirtation ended (save for the cover art) and the rest of the session was
complete out/machine groove/psyche.
Sonic Youth then recorded “Daydream Nation” a double lp which
encapsulated all that had been brewing musically and lyrically with the band
through the 1980s. They toured incessantly round the globe, even doing a
run through the Soviet Union.
At decade’s end they departed company with Blast First and Enigma
and signed to a major label, Geffen. This was considered insane by many on
watch as their was really no history of independent underground bands,
besides maybe REM, succeeding within the realms of the corporate music
industry which they helped build an alternative to.
(Goo, Dirty, TV Shit)
They released the LP “Goo” in 1990 and spent that summer blasting
across America with Neil Young and Crazy Horse on the Ragged Glory tour.
With “alternative rock” and “grunge” sweeping the nation (Nirvana sold a
zillion records and the industry was a new deal – sort of) Sonic Youth recorded
“Dirty” in 1992 and raged globally on the Pretty Fucking Dirty tour from
whence the live TV Shit 12″ (featuring Eye of the Boredoms) on Ecstatic
Peace came from.
(Experimental Jet Set, Trash And No Star)
SY toured and toured and in 1994 they released the odd and rather
zapped LP “Experimental Jet Set, Trash And No Star”
In 1995 they headlined Lollapalooza and toured with REM.
(Washing Machine, A Thousand Leaves, SYR 1, 2 + 3,
Silver Session (for Jason Knuth)
In 1996 they released “Washing Machine” recorded in the deep south
of Memphis, Tennessee.
In 1997 Sonic Youth built a studio, played the Tibetan Freedom Festival for the
2nd year running and recorded soundtrack music for Richard Linklater and
Eric Bogosian’s Suburbia film. They also recorded a series of EPs on their
own homegrown label SYR (Anagrama, Slaapkamers met Slagroom, and
Invito al Cielo). This music was extrapolated, mostly instrumental forays into
wild improvisatory meditations and sub/conscious structural creations. This
work helped develop the 1998 lp “A Thousand Leaves” as well as the Silver
Session (for Jason Knuth) CD in benefit to suicide prevention awareness.
1999-2004: (NYC Ghosts & Flowers, Goodbye 20th Century, Murray
Street, Sonic Nurse)
In the summer of 1999 Sonic Youth were liberated from all the signature sound
tools they developed for the last 12 years or so. They came home and
picked up hammers + nails and started afresh writing the LP entitled “NYC
Ghosts & Flowers.”
Jim O’Rourke helped out on that LP and actually toured with Sonic Youth during
this time. With additional input from Bay Area percussionist William Winant
the band recorded an homage to an array of 20th Century new music
composers (John Cage, Pauline Oliveros, Christian Wolff, Takehisa Kosugi,
Yoko Ono, Steve Rich and others) entitled “Goodbye 20th Century” released
on their own SYR imprint. This expanded line up toured playing these pieces
across Europe. Jim continued working with the band participating in the
writing/arranging of the subsequent “Murray Street” LP as well as recording
music for Olivier Assayas’ Demonlover film- all amidst the ruined landscape of
the World Trade Center. They curated the first stateside All Tomorrow’s
Parties festival in L.A. spring 2002 and toured hard throughout the summer.
The band regrouped for 2003’s Coachella Festival and did a short tour with
Wilco. They then finished the summer off doing a handful of gigs with, and by
invitation of, Iggy & the Stooges. Injected with fire they cut the current
motherfucker of an LP for June 2004 release “Sonic Nurse.”
www.sonicyouth.com | www.geffen.com