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.
Bare Is My Mind?
Bobby Bare Jr. covers up with his ace Pixies and Breeders tribute act.
By Jaime Lees
Published: January 2, 2008
Call him what you will — Charles Thompson, Black Francis or Frank Black, but as the frontman of the Pixies, ol’ what’s-his-name deserves a little praise. From 1985 to 1993 Black pulled lead singing and songwriting duties for America’s preeminent alternative band — and is credited with bringing killer caterwauls, magnetic guitar hooks and paranoid, UFO-themed lyrics to the masses. The Pixies reigned over college radio and youth culture for a time, and the bands that followed in its sonic wake still hail the power of the quartet as a revelation. (Most famously, its loud/quiet/loud dynamic was claimed to be the sound inspiration for a blue-eyed, blond-haired guy fronting some band called Nirvana.)
Nashville singer-songwriter Bobby Bare Jr. counts himself among the Pixies’ many fans. As the son of country musician Bobby Bare, he grew up around music and has the distinction of receiving a Grammy nomination at the age of five. First fronting the rock band Bare Jr. — and now as a solo artist churning out stripped-down, bittersweet compositions that push the envelope of alt-country — Bare has found genuine success throughout his entire career.
But for now, Bare has put all solo and future plans on pause in order to squeeze one more project into his busy schedule: His very own Pixies cover band, Is She Weird, Is She White. (Appropriately, it’s currently touring with a Guided By Voices cover band, the Teenage FBI.) Bare’s Pixies covers can sound much different than the originals, often changing the tempo or the tone of the songs — making these interpretations insightful, if not asking the audience to listen again with fresh ears.
Which begs the question: Why would Bare, a renowned solo artist and pedigreed musician, start a cover band? That scene is usually a schlocky, dirty world populated by balding has-beens and portly never-beens. Why would Bare take the chance of sullying his good name — and embrace another artist’s music?
“Because the Pixies fuckin’ rock!” Bare explains, enthralled.
And indeed, his love of Black Francis is well-documented. The lyrics to “Dig Down,” a song found on Bare’s first solo album, Young Criminals’ Starvation League, include Francis in an exalted list of historical rock icons. Bare sings about all of the distinguished dudes who have used up all the soul and original ideas in the world of rock & roll, listing Francis in a pantheon of recognized legends including Pete Townshend, Jimi Hendrix, Chuck Berry and the Beatles.
When we catch up with Mr. Bare via phone, he seems honest and charmingly childlike, as though he can’t contain any emotion — be it excitement or insecurity. He comes off as a hyperactive kid on a sugar high when talking about music that thrills him, and he’s eager to relay fanboy stories of Frank Black and the Pixies (like a fantastic, “freaked out” moment when he sang background vocals on a recent Frank Black record). And of course, Bare’s most eager to discuss his past and future work — and undying love for the Pixies.
Bobby Bare Jr.: I obviously have been a fan for a long, long, long, long time. Because it’s like, I don’t know, do you dress up for Halloween?
Jaime Lees: Oh, hell yeah.
It’s exactly like dressing up for Halloween, for a musician. It’s just fun to be somebody else.
How do you have time to get all of this done?
It’s a whole lot of work. Usually for a real set you learn fifteen songs — like, for an hour [long] set. If you learn fifteen Pixies songs you’ve only learned 30 minutes worth of music. So, you know, we’ve got to learn twenty-something songs. And we do some Breeders songs.
What’s your favorite to sing? Or what do you most look forward to?
What songs? The ones like “Gigantic,” where I just play guitar. ‘Cause I never, ever get to just play guitar in any band. So that’s what’s fun to me.
Are the people who come to the shows your fans? Or Pixies fans? Or a mix?
Um, I think they’re just mostly Pixies fans. We’ve only done this in Nashville. This is going to be our first show out of town.
The St. Louis one is?
Yeah. We’ve only done probably four of these. It’s me; the former drummer from […And You Will Know Us By the] Trail of Dead [Doni Schroader]; and Beth Cameron, both of whom are also in a band called Forget Cassettes. And a girl named Leah [Paxton] who’s been in bands with the other two people.
How did you get hooked up with the Guided By Voices tribute band?
It’s other people who have been in my band. It’s my drummer from my last tour who is also the drummer for Clem Snide [Ben Martin]. The guitar player is William Tyler; he’s in Lambchop and the Silver Jews.
Did you go see any of their [Pixies] reunion tour shows?
Yes, I saw three of them. I played Sasquatch in Seattle and Austin City Limits in Austin where they were the headlining band….But they played the Ryman Auditorium [in Nashville] and that was the best show I’ve ever seen anybody do anywhere. Seeing them at a festival where there’s 75,000 people was just OK, but at the Ryman it was transcendent.
Did you hear any of the new Breeders album yet?
No! When did it come out?
It didn’t come out yet, but they leaked a single online last week.
Oh, wow. Is it good?
It’s really good. It’s sort of like, sleepy-time Breeders, you know? It’s really pretty. They said that they’re going to have a whole U.S. tour in the spring and do South By Southwest…
For the Breeders? Holy cow. Awesome. Isn’t there supposed to be a Pixies album, too?
I don’t know. No one ever gives a straight answer on that crap.
Do you think anybody will come out and see us?
Heck yeah. We’re big here on fun shows…So are you gonna call yourself Bare Robert or something?
Naw, I’ll just be Bobby.
9 p.m. Thursday, January 3. Off Broadway, 3509 Lemp Avenue. $10. 314-773-3363
Ian MacKaye takes on new venues.
8:30 p.m. Monday, November 5. White Flag Projects, 4568 Manchester Avenue. $5. 314-531-3442.
By Jaime Lees
Published: October 31, 2007
On an Even(s) Keel
As the frontman of the legendary punk bands Fugazi and Minor Threat and co-founder of Dischord Records, Ian MacKaye has proven himself to be both a prolific songwriter and a keen businessman. He birthed the highly respected independent label nearly three decades ago and it has since grown to be the very nucleus of do-it-yourself punk-rock culture. MacKaye’s unwavering integrity and sincerity in the face of the shady corporate music business reveal his career path to be nothing short of inspirational. Viewed as the moral and dignified godfather of the hardcore and straight-edge scenes, MacKaye seems to start accidental revolutions by simply speaking his mind and doing his work.
With the much-missed Fugazi on indefinite hiatus, MacKaye has plenty of other projects to cultivate. In addition to speaking engagements, running the label and giving interviews, MacKaye is busy scheduling tour dates for his newest band, the Evens, a lo-fi (yet still intense) duo with Amy Farina, formerly of Washington D.C.’s the Warmers. Though the Evens could easily cash in their punk-royalty status in exchange for the best gigs in town, the band schedules the dates by itself and prefers to play small, non-traditional venues including art galleries, libraries and community centers.
Calling from Dischord House, the headquarters of his label, MacKaye is instantly likable. He seems smart, affable and warm. In conversation he’s quick, but not rude. Funny, though not sarcastic. In this and every other forum, it is clear that MacKaye takes what he does very seriously.
“I work really hard,” he says. “[Other] people, they punch out for the day and they go home. I never punch out. I’m never off the clock, in a way. The fact that I haven’t separated my work from myself — it has its pluses and it also has its negatives.” The lure, however, is clear. “I wake up every morning having something to do and wanting to do it.”
Aside from the advantage of keeping costs down for fans, MacKaye reveals another purpose in booking alternative venues: “So we can be liberated from the rock world, which is pretty constricting when you get right down to it. I mean, you think about the kind of venues or the kind of establishments where music can be presented, and ultimately it’s pretty limited and largely dictated by one of two industries, you know — and that’s the rock industry and the alcohol industry. And since we don’t feel beholden to either, then why not break free?”
When MacKaye is questioned about his constant work and touring, he pushes off any concern. “I like places, I like people! I like going somewhere. I like that fact that music is a point of gathering that can effectively work anywhere.” Here he further clarifies: “I guess I don’t feel ever burned out at all. I just feel fortunate to be able to go play music.” — Jaime Lees
[FOR EXTENDED INTERVIEW CLICK HERE]