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Old 09.22.2019, 12:06 AM   #2
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"They came into this new sound"

Sonic Youth supported Young and Crazy Horse on the legendary Weld tour. Guitarist LEE RANALDO recalls tour-bus kitchen etiquette, how Kurt Cobain inspired Young and the "real, raw energy" of the Horse unleashed

"We saw them pretty much every night for the three months we toured together. It was fascinating to see how serious they were about what they did. Every night we would hear all the guys backstage doing vocal warm-ups and harmony parts. They were very united, and followed Neil anywhere instinctively and flexibly.

"Their use of feedback was amazing. They would do long stretches that were not songs, just them improvising, and we related to that so heavily. We would end our sets with 'Expressway To Yr. Skull', which had a long, open ending where we played with feedback and sound. Neil would be warming up with stretching excercises almost underneath the stage as we played it, and as we came off he'd say how inspiring it was. Thurston [Moore] suggested to him he should put out a record of just his feedback explorations. We always hoped that inspired Arc.

"You could tell the Gulf War was very much on Neil's mind the whole tour. He was opening with Hendrix's version of 'The Star-Spangled Banner' and playing 'Blowin' In The Wind'. He was tying yellow ribbons on those oversized mic-stands from the Rust Never Sleeps tour that he brought back for those shows. We played an amazing show at the military academy in West Point. The crowd was almost all military cadets, and he did a long, wild version of 'Blowin' In The Wind' that was very pointed towards the Gulf War. But even at West Point, I don't remember any conflict. They got where he was coming from. In general, Neil's beloved.

"It was weeks before we actually met Neil, and had dinner with him and Crazy Horse on his bus. They had an occasionally old-school, male rock'n'roll ethos. But it was so easy to sit and start talking about our many mutual inspirations. Poncho had wide interests, and was a really good cook. Neil's bus was outfitted with an excellent kitchen, and in every town Poncho would send out for vegetables and things and make dinner for Neil. One time Kim [Gordon] did, too. Neil was quite forthcoming. He wanted to know about the scene that we came out of.

"Was there symbiosis between the punk scene and Neil and Crazy Horse then? Oh, definitely. Neil never lost respect with the punk crowd, because he was a punk himself, in the way he played. I always thought The Clash's one-note solo on 'Tommy Gun' was their version of 'Down By The River' or 'Cowgirl In The Sand'. And by the mid-'80s, bands like Dinosaur Jr, with J Mascis especially, were ripping off Neil, informed by hardcore and punk. On some level, Neil was leading the way. I don't know how two-way it was. But Neil told us he was too immersed in his own thing to pay any attention to the current scene. 1991 was the first tour that he ever took an opening act, with us and bands such as Social Distortion. That started his re-emergence into the rock community.

"What did I think of Neil making that connection explicit later in the '90s, with his tribute to Kurt in Sleeps With Angels, then essentially replacing Crazy Horse with Pearl Jam on Mirror Ball? We were touring with him and Nirvana were coming into everyone's consciousness, and mentioning this great new band to him. Certainly he was inspired by Nirvana and Kurt, and what they were up against. Sleeps With Angels speaks all about that. He took inspiration from this new movement, and in some ways it was a natural progression to hook up with Pearl Jam. Although to be frank, we should have been the ones to make Mirror Ball!

"I think they were just following their own rock'n'roll dream. It just happened that it came around to being relevant again. I think they were in a little bubble in terms of what they were doing, and that was really self-protective on Neil's part. He wasn't interested in the glitz of the wider music world, he wanted to follow this vision he had of being a rock'n'roll poet and musician, and Crazy Horse were his protective armour.

"If he came back to using Crazy Horse much more on his '90s records, I think it's partly because in the period that we saw the beginning of, they came into this new sound. It wasn't like the Crazy Horse of Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. It was a bigger, arena sound. And Ragged Glory is the pinnacle of capturing that. They always did play live in the studio, but they refined it to an incredible degree, and he wanted to milk it as much as he could.

"Neil's sound man, Tim Mulligan, is a genius for how he mixes Crazy Horse. They play in these big ice-hockey arenas that most people can't make sound good. And Neil's music sounds like it was born to be played in those places, with its big, reverberant sound and that soaring lead guitar. We talk about Crazy Horse being this primitive rock band, but the sound on stage always sounds state of the art. Not too refined, and not too scuzzy.

"In a weird way, that sound has aspects of being very specific and particular to them, and at the same time very generic. What's distinctive about Crazy Horse is Neil's songs and inspirational role. But also that they've held onto something that is not distinctive: being a rock'n'roll band, and keeping the real, raw energy of what it should be. It was always a little crappy around the edges. They never learned how to cut corners or get more slick in their playing. They never tried to fancy it up; they were just playing chords, and letting the music speak for itself. Those guys started simple, and were wise enough not to change. Part of the beauty of Crazy Horse is the way they do the same thing. And sometimes the world just comes back to them for a while, like in the early '90s? That's exactly what it was. It came around full circle."

Nick Hasted
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Lee Ranaldo is working on the follow-up to 2017's Electric Trim album


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