Folk Meets Noise Meets Whatever
Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore on Nashville’s noise scene
by Jaime Lees
Sonic Youth play Friday, 25th at City Hall w/Leslie Keffer
As a singer and guitarist for America’s preeminent indie rock band, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore has devoted the better part of three decades to engaging and electrifying the alternative underground scene. A life-long booster of punk rock and punk ethics, Moore believes in doing it all (and doing it all by himself). His many projects include scoring film soundtracks, playing in other bands, releasing solo work, running his own label, guesting in documentaries and writing and editing books.
With the recent album releases of Sonic Youth’s spectacular Rather Ripped and Moore’s own deliciously lo-fi Trees Outside the Academy, he has been roundly praised as being at the top of his game. His small record label, Ecstatic Peace!, has found success with quite a few Nashville bands, most notably with the noisy garage rock of Be Your Own Pet. Moore enthusiastically describes BYOP as “totally hot” and elaborates, “I remember thinking, who are these kids? When I was 17, I was just mowing lawns and being very afraid of girls and stuff. And these guys were on the road, punking-out across the world.”
Moore claims roots in McKenzie, Tenn., and therefore, good “Tennessee radar,” so it’s no surprise that he’s tuned in to regional acts, or that Nashville is one of only five show dates for Sonic Youth in April. Between Moore’s fondness for Grimey’s New & Preloved Music and deep, historical knowledge of the Nashville underground music scene, he could easily pass as a lovably weird local noise dude.
We caught up with Moore over the phone last week, and his passion, humor and laid-back boyish charm clearly translated across the wire.
Scene: So aside from Be Your Own Pet and Turbo Fruits, who else on your label is from the area?
Moore: Well, Leslie Keffer moved to Nashville from Ohio, and she makes harsh underground noise music. She sets up her own sort of idiosyncratic kind of noise gear with radios and cassette tapes and stuff. And there’s a certain kind of pure sound that she deals with, you know? She kind of filters radio signals into this kind of noise wash and I thought it was good stuff, so I kind of reached out to her. She’s a huge Be Your Own Pet fan and we were putting their records out. And she sort of hooked up with Angela Messina—there’s this whole Nashville noise underground of bands and [Messina] was in a bunch of them, like Taiwan Deth, Tan as Fuck, The New Faggot Cunts and I think she was in Vegan Brand. [laughs]
Scene: Those band names are all…uh…poetry.
Moore: [laughs] She’s kind of an artist and poet. And she’s been on the scene for a while and she’s great. There’s also this other guy in Nashville that I really like. His name is Derek Schartung, he’s in the underground Nashville noise scene [also in Taiwan Deth] and plays really good stuff. Then there’s bands like Cherry Blossoms. They’re really great. They had a record out that was really happening. [It was] open-ended, kind of beautiful folk meets noise meets whatever.
Scene: How are you finding time to get all of the stuff done that you get done?
Moore: I’m kind of trying to figure that out myself, you know? Sometimes it gets really overwhelming and I start having anxiety attacks and I just sort of want to climb under the covers and escape it all and hope it all goes away. But the thing is, I’m so enamored by this stuff. I love it. I always wanted to be in a position where I could actually make records and make books and make cassettes and make films and write and play music…. That was my ambition as an adult…to be able to do that.
Scene: What are you doing with your down time, if you ever have any?
Moore: That doesn’t include getting together with some people doing cross-country improvised noise music in basements, which is what I really want to do? Or starting a black metal band and like completely disguising myself as a black metal guitar player in a nefarious, bleak and dim black metal band, which is also what I would love to do? Do you mean, how do I step away and what do I do? [laughs] Hmm…. I guess I sort of do what any normal person would do—I’d start watching successive episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer!
Scene: Are you doing anything today for Record Store day?
Moore: Record store day is today, isn’t it?
Scene: It is!
Moore: I was gonna come down to Grimey’s and sort of totally hang out and drink beers and get into the groove of the day, but you know what? It’s not gonna happen. I’m here and I’m babysitting my 13-year-old. Not babysitting, I’m child-rearing.
Scene: So, you produce a lot of limited-edition cassettes and LPs on Ecstatic Peace!…
Moore: Nobody buys records anymore. So it’s hard to do things on any level. It’s really super-duper slumped right now. Nobody buys records. I mean, that’s why, in a way, for me, it’s more rewarding and more fun sometimes to make real boutique edition stuff of real subterranean artists.
Scene: So about this show on Friday.
Moore: I hope people show up.
Scene: I don’t think that’s a problem for you.
Moore: Yeah, well, it’s kind of a big place. You hope people show up and have a good time. That’s all we can say, it’s gonna be a good time in a sonic way.
Indie darlings Be Your Own Pet received a lot of attention after Thurston Moore signed them to his record label, Ecstatic Peace — but they backed up his vote of confidence with hard work, constant touring and appearances at nearly every major music gathering in the country (Lollapalooza, SXSW, CMJ). However, band members Jonas Stein and John Eatherly haven’t yet run out of steam or forgotten their roots: The pair still tours as their pre-BYOP garage-pop band, Turbo Fruits (www.myspace.com/78236428). This two-man band kicks up a lot of noise and caustic boogie, and sounds a little like the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion or a punkier T. Rex.