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Thurston Moore Band
John Dee, Oslo 15.11.2015
- an interview with Thurston Moore + TMB live

Thurston Moore - the Galactic Pothealer
A dark and icy November night, and the polarbears are hunting for easy prey in the cold streets of Oslo. But inside this small venue, filled to capacity, it's warm and crowded as we scramble for refugee. Shortly thereafter a tall figure enters the stage followed by raggedy posse of bandmates, sends out a couple of ringing chords, before he snarls in the microphone "Hello, Oslo - we are the Cradle of Filth". The ice is broken and more than two hours of inspired music follows. Ranging from the early days of Psychic Hearts, through the majestic The Best Day, even including several still not released songs from next year's LP Rock 'n' Roll Consciousness. Strangely enough it all blends seamlessly together, and songs spanning over more than 20 years sounds incredibly coherent. Naturally this stems from Thurstons fertile mind as the main songsmith for the band, but what a band he has put together: Steve Shelly on drums have been working with Thurston for so long they seems almost joined by the hip musically, but even he seems to be enjoying a new freedom teamed up with bassplayer extraordinarie Deb Googe of My Bloody Valentine (and Snowpony) fame. Her fuzzed up bass-solo was one of the highlights of the evening. Last man out were guitar hero James Sedwards, a young rifforama machine perfectly in tune with Thurstons playing. Filling out and trading licks with Thurston in a fascinating way, but still quite different to the way Thurston and Lee Ranaldo used to coil their guitar-riffs in a skyward spiral. We are even treated to an improvised duo of Thurston and the amazingly sounding air went at John Dee.

Afterwards I asked Thurston if two hours was a normal gig for Thurston Moore Band, but the answer was no, even if he was sleepy after a long nights drive over the mountains from their gig in Bergen the day before, the whole band was unusually inspired this evening. This being one of the longest concerts this band had ever played. It was the end of almost a perfect day...

For me it all started quite early on this Sunday - Håvard had booked me for an interview with the man, but the deal with the management was not finalized. Then he called and said everything was settled, just phone his tour manager at this number. I did and it took me a couple of minutes to realize the voice in the phone was well known from my own record collection. We set a time, unfortunately in the middle of my own soundcheck - as DEL was playing the same afternoon to Murnaus incredible film Faust at Cinemateket in Oslo. But no matter, the possibility of spending some time with a longtime hero was worth the risk of cutting short my own soundcheck. So, after setting up our own gear, Lasse (Marhaug) and myself walked over to John Dee. After being invited into the tour bus and duly seated with a cold beer, the following talk unfolded...

Luna Kafé: Last night you played Bergen, how was that?
Thurston Moore: "Last time we played at this place inside the mountain, but this time we played this tiny little café at the Contemporary museum - Landmark. It's small - the smallest place I've played in a long time. Afterwards we went to this old Sardine factory where there was this three day Black metal festival going on. Taake was playing and we meet this guy I know who published this photo book on Black metal and a book on the Houston Rap scene. He introduced me to Kristian Espedal, the singer from Gorgoroth, and he was kind of cool even if he's been in and out of jail for bloodletting people. He showed me his artwork and gave me his book with all these paintings of weird, transgender stuff..."

LK: He is not in Gorgoroth any more. There was a trial and he lost the rights to the bandname. He and the guitarist were fighting. Allegedly they broke up when out on the town and both hurried home, and one had the password to the facebook site and the other had the password to the myspace site, and both claimed the right to the Gorgoroth name on their sites...
Thurston: "It was fun to seeing Taake play - all this guys with painted faces just going for it. A nice night in the rain in Bergen... And afterwards, when we were driving here we went over these incredible mountains, it was beautiful - totally insane."

LK: You probably will not remember this, but I did an interview with you back in 1992, when you were playing Alaska in Oslo. And the first thing I remember was that I were sitting down to interview Lee and you came by screaming "We are here to rape all the Valkyries" and sat down to do the interview.
Thurston: "I don't remember that, but I was probably under the influence of tour psychosis - a long tour for Dirty..."

LK: This is still your reason for coming to Norway?
Thurston: "I feel my name Thurston has some kind of Norwegian origin, like Torstein. So I always used to have this pendant on, the Hammer of Thor. Which I always lose, and buy a new one when I'm in Norway. Which reminds me that I need to buy one before I leave tomorrow. Kristian, the ex-Gorgoroth I met yesterday was wearing one and I wish I was wearing mine - then we would really be brothers. But this trip was especially profound for me as we were driving through the mountains in November and seeing how beautiful the country is. And I had gone to a museum in Bergen where they showed all these paintings from the 18th century up until the early 20th century. Mostly really romantic landscapes of Norway by Norwegian artists, in the thick of the mythos of Norway."

LK: So you are really enjoying Black metal then?
Thurston: "I enjoy it because it's like its own elite cult of performance, and I don't think it has any aspirations to go beyond its own community. It has a certain boundary to it, it accepts that it exist within this community of musicians. It has no agenda to go beyond this. People are very devotional to it, but with the sense that their lifestyle separates between Black metal and well, ...reality. I like that everybody has their own aesthetic that they align themselves with and the fact that it's based on something potentially really problematic, you know politically and socially... But generally, everyone I meet in that scene are pussycats. You know the sweetest people and they just really love the music. There is a certain style to it, of appearance, the long straight hair, the way they windmill their hair when they play guitar... There are all these tropes, and I like to be outside it and watch this tribe. It's a young persons scene, you don't see too many guys in their seventies doing this. You see these old, crusty punks from the seventies, Stanglers and 999 and so on, going on tour and not having aged well at all. To me this is amazing, these old warhorses going at it..."

LK: But I've heard that you are not just at the outside looking in, the vocalist in Nachtmystium writes something about you going to play with them?
Thurston: "Yes, I play with Nachtmystium (Blake Judd) in Twilight. They invited me, because they had heard me talking about certain aspects of the music and recordings, and they realized it was not just a dalliance, that I was actually very interested. For me it was very inspiring musically, even if it was very anti-musical. In the same way a lot of extreme noise-music will be, like total wall-noise. Not that I will go out and do much of that, but there are certain aspects of it I find really informative for musical ideas, so I like the extremism of it when that's your focus."

LK: You think you pull something from it - ideas for your own music?
Thurston: "I think I have to some degree. A lot of it comes from heavy metal anyway. Early on, even in early Sonic Youth I was really interested in aspects of early heavy metal, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and thinks like that. But I had thrown it all away until some point in the early eighties, when the younger bands were rediscovering it. Like Black Flag were starting to slow down and admit they were listening to Dio and such. I was not into Dio, but certainly I understood what they were doing. I remember J. Mascis were talking about how Tony Iommi were a guitarplayer that was really influential for him. I read an article once claiming two bands were the most important ones for indierock, Velvet Underground and Black Sabbath. Afterwards I was having an argument with someone called Lee Ranaldo who said he could understand the Velvet part, but did not think the Black Sabbath part was right. I said au contraire, you may not know his, but it's those kind of moves I relates to when I'm playing."

LK: Very interesting, I haven't heard heavy metal being mentioned in connection with Sonic Youth before now...
Thurston: "I think I was the only one in the band who came out of a metal appreciation. Steve loves Led Zeppelin, but before punk I was really into heavy bands. Like the first Judas Priest record... I remember my brother bringing the first Black Sabbath-record to our house, so it has always appealed to me. More so than Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young or whatever was playing at the time."

LK: A one man Black Metal band are closer to Merzbow than Dio...
Thurston: "Yeah, I think Black metal have more to do with noise-music than it has to do with metal-music. It's kind of a great fusion of the two ideas, but still it has its own thing. It doesn't care about any other people."

LK: This may be why it's so attractive to the art scene. There are so many fancy photo-books, art-books and exhibitions on the Black metal aesthetic... Also the mysticism of it.
Thurston: "It has a certain kind of disturbing nationalistic tendency which goes into the idea of wanting to reclaim paganism over Christianity, who built it churches on top of pagan land. So it's like "burn them down" and when it actually happens, it becomes big news and makes the story more intense. I don't care about that stuff so much, it's kind of funny to read about... Hearing the first Burzum-record was really curious back in the day, but it did not hit me like I had to listen to everything. It was not before years later, when it became more international, especially in France, Brazil and Russia, where the scenes were coming out of Norwegian Black metal but had different qualities to them. Like in Russia where the music was very distant and desolate, a very static sounding buzzsaw music... While Brazil was very thuggish, really brutal, and the French had a more ambient noise aspect to it. So it's all these regional takes on it, but a lot of the imagery are the same, the iconography of the thing. The shredded black and white ghoul-like images have a great look to it, and the fact that they haven't any interest in the music industry... In a way the only true Black metal only existed on cassettes, I really liked that. And the stuff you'd hear on cassettes... There were hundreds and hundreds of them. If you go to Black metal cassette sites, the lists go on and on, thousands of names. Incredible. I think there is an encyclopedia online - Encyclopedia metallum or something. It's amazing. Some of it sounds so confounding , like the way it's produced has no relation to any standards of traditional production methods at all. So you'll hear the drums sound like they are in another room three houses away... It's so off any known standard. It doesn't sound like they are trying to be avant garde, it's a new kind of idea of how to exist. But I don't go to see metal bands live, they are usually pretty bad. It's like Hip Hop. There is so much great Hip Hop on records, but when you go to those kinds of concerts it's just lame. It doesn't have that sonic quality that it did in the studio. They just can't do it."

LK: Maybe because it was not developed on stage?
Thurston: "Of course. It's not like they were criss-crossing the land in a van, playing every town. That is a big thing and you can tell when a band doesn't have that. People see David Bowie as this big artist, and he is, I would never argue that he is not, but he really is coming from a different place as far as where we came from. Where you go out and tour a lot, really learn how to play live. He did that, but much later in he's carrier. He was always going to these music buildings and trying to sell his music, hoping for a hit. He wasn't getting in a van and going across Europe, really working it like some English rock-bands were doing at the time. It's just two different ways of working, I guess. We used to complain when Nirvana became really huge and suddenly all these bands popped up. We didn't know who they were and we've been touring all over for years... Who were the Stone Temple Pilots, or Bush... They came out all ready to plug into the open door of the new punk rock, and we thought it was so unfair. There were Killdozer, Laughing Hyenas and all those bands that had been trudging the scene for years..."

LK: Like you did with Sonic Youth?
Thurston: "But we were too unorthodox to begin with. Even if we tried to write songs like Kool Thing, we couldn't, we were still too weird. There was something wrong about us..."

LK: But still you played all the small clubs, following the punk trail. How did that audience react to the early Sonic Youth?
Thurston: "In New York anything was permitted, but New York is New York... When we first came over to Europe on those first tours I think we opened up some minds. At that time there were far more diversity, more weirdness going on. In the late eighties, especially with the mass appreciation of something like Nirvana, everything became more homogenized because of that. In another way a new underground arose because they wouldn't have anything to do with the commercializing of their scene. So you started to have more radical bands of the Royal Trux and Pussy Galore type. Even Lou Barlow when he left Dinosaur jr. started doing these tape-recordings that he released on vinyl. People also started doing more noise music, less to do with the serial killer, mass murderer, degradation thing that most noise artist up till then were into. Getting rid of all that shit and thinking about it as pure sound-art. That's when it became really fascinating. You could still bring in that iconography if you wanted to play with it. Some places, like Gothenburg always had this crazy scene, with pictures of trapped prostitutes and so on, but now it was room for everything. Especially Wolf Eyes was important as they were sorts of the Metallica of noise. Metallica, when they came out didn't want to bring the puffy hair and the latex pants, just wore jeans and sneakers like regular blokes. This was a big thing, especially Cliff Burton, the bass player who died didn't dress up. He looked like he just came out of working at the petrol station when he plugged in. I think this was really inspiring for so many people and had a lot to do with why they became so popular. They were representing the audience. Wolf Eyes are much the same, ordinary Joes just playing noise music. They were really into the history of noise music, old EMB, really knew their stuff. Certainly John did."

LK: And they released lots and lots of records... And toured all the time. Most noise artist doesn't tour much, they just play their area, but Wolf Eyes was always touring.
Thurston: "In a way like Black Flag in the age of hardcore. They would play everywhere and when they played eight bands from that region would open for them. When they left town the local bands would stay on and form a scene. And then Dead Kennedys would follow and do the same thing. To tour is having this willingness to sacrifice everything and even lose money in the process. I remember touring for months and then coming home and being totally wiped out. Thinking about what we just did, going all over the world and hardly getting by from one day to the next economically, and then some guy being in a local New York band asking us what we just did. Hauling all these suitcases out from the taxi I told him about the tour and his response were "we could never do that". Then it dawned on me that most people couldn't do that, get it together and just go out. I'm sure it takes a certain sense of wanting to. You don't have to do it. I kind of like that by going to Bergen you can see Taake, for it's where they are. They are not going to come to your neighborhood..."

LK: But you are still enjoying touring?
Thurston: "More or less. I'm going to be 58 next year, and things are now downgraded from what I was used to in the nineties as I'm doing this solo project. It's a little less comfortable now, we often sleep in the tour bus instead of paying for hotel rooms."

LK: About this record you are touring with now...
Thurston: "We are not thinking this tour is about the record anymore, as it's so long since it came out. It's more between that record and the new one coming out next year."

LK: So you are playing songs from the new one also?
Thurston: "Yeah, it's almost half and half. Some people have the old record and recognize a few songs, but I don't think it's widely settled in the consciousness of the audience. The next one is very different."

LK: Different how?
Thurston: "It's more about the band. The first one was mostly me finding people to play with, James first then Deb and Steve. And we didn't play as a band before the tapes started rolling."

LK: It was just you bringing your songs to the band.
Thurston: "And they following my lead. Also I threw in some songs that the band doesn't play on... The new record is called Rock'n Roll Conciousness and we recorded it at this studio called The Church. A beautiful studio in London where Deb recorded with My Bloody Valentine in the eighties. Now it has two analogue boards, one was used by Pink Floyd in the late sixties and the other one was used by Rolling Stones for some early eighties recordings. Two great boards that are ganged together and sounds incredible. The man who runs it is Paul Epworth and he is big news. Doing Adele and Florence and the Machines and all these posh bands. I would never have asked him to use the studio, but the singer of The Pop Group, Mark Stewart, put out a new album by The Pop Group earlier this year and we were thrown together to do some interview. I have met him before, a funny guy, as tall as me and the same age. He told me about this studio where he recorded the album and about Paul. I asked him why he would go there and he said it was because he came from Bristol, as did Paul, and he used to see them play and wanted to do something with them... He gave them a great rate and did a fantastic job. And he told me to call this guy up. I didn't want to call him, he's not going to know who I am. But Mark insisted and said he really knew our scene. I called and he was very excited. So we ended up in this A+ studio in London. This time the songs were all geared for the band. I knew now how James played, how Deb played and the songs were written with that in mind. So the album has a different vibe in that respect. The songs are much longer, heavier pieces. Just six songs on the whole album."

LK: On Matador this time also?
Thurston: "Well, I'm talking to whoever that is interested and can pay that bill at The Church studio."

LK: The studio in New York is abandoned?
Thurston: "No, it still exists. Lee works there quite a lot, Steve also, as they live in close proximity to the studio. The studio exists as a place that enables us to archive all the Sonic Youth tapes, and houses a lot of the SY equipment. We sold a lot of stuff that are not necessary any more, that we used all through the nineties, but we don't foresee using it any more as things have changed so radically. It's kind of a shared studio too, used by a few other people in the area. It's not that big of an albatross, really. I don't know what will happen to it in the future."

LK: You can see yourself using it in the future then?
Thurston: "No, I have recorded there recently. A few Chelsea Light Moving songs before I moved from New York, so there are a few tracks with the band that's never been released."

LK: That band is now history, or?
Thurston: "No, I didn't have any real perimeters set for it. By using a band name, and not my own name were just a ploy to do something else. To get away from my name and being a bit anonymous. We didn't do any press for it, and Matador released it quietly. We toured a lot with it, but I knew at some point I would leave New York, and I realized that John Moloney, Keith Wood and Samara Lubelski wasn't going to move together with me. So I just knew that the next thing I would do I had to do under my own name. Not that I like that so much, Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds or something. I wanted to call it The Galactic Pothealers, the title of a Phillip K. Dick book. Maybe I'll do that, not too happy with Thurston Moore Band. It's boring. Playing with this band is cool, but I want to have the opportunity to play solo, or doing things with other people. This can be a problem sometimes, as promoters ask why we should pay this guy so much money when he was here just last week, playing in a basement for a hundred kroner. This has been a problem for many years and a gig in France recently got cancelled because I had just done a sound-poetry thing there. This is the reason for the band name... Maybe I should have a free improv name also. I don't like playing free improv gigs and being billed as Thurston More from the Sonic Youth in big letters and the guy who asked me to play with him in small print. I hate that."

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