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Old 08.21.2006, 10:00 PM   #1
nomowish
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http://www.kittymagik.com/interviews....asp?artist=26

Words // Amy Phillips


Pix // Jens Jurgensen




 


Sonic Youth and I were both born in the summer of 1981. I used to fantasize about them playing their first gig as I entered the world: a particularly violent squall of feedback from Thurston or Lee’s guitar caused a seismic rumbling down the east coast from New York City to the Philadelphia hospital where my mother lay, and she popped me out. No, it isn’t true (they made their debut in June, and I was a C-Section baby), but we all need our creation myths, right?
I was lucky to be born then, because it set me up to be an impressionable pre-teenager when grunge hit. From the day in 1994 that I bought Experimental Jet Set Trash and No Star, I was head-over-heels in love with that band. For me they were a reason to spend countless hours and dollars at record stores; a reason to lock myself in my room with the stereo blasting; a reason to risk not getting into college (I insisted on going to see them play the night before I took the SATs—my mother knew it was useless to put up a fight). They were a reason to get up in the morning.

For years, I dreamed about the day I would meet Lee Ranaldo. He was always my favorite Sonic—the dark, mysterious voice behind so many of the Youth’s finest moments: “I Dreamed I Dream,” “In The Kingdom #19,” “Pipeline/Kill Time,” “Eric’s Trip,” “Hey Joni” “Rain King,” “Mote,” “Genetic,” “Wish Fulfillment,” “Saucer-Like,” “Skip Tracer,” “Karen Koltrane.” He’s the incurable romantic, the poet, the beatnik, the hippie dreamer among the punks. I collected all of his poetry books and memoirs, and as many of his side and solo project CDs as I could stand.
Needless to say, I was pretty nervous about this interview. OK, I was more nervous than I’d been about any interview, ever, and I’ve done quite a few of ‘em. It turns out Lee Ranaldo isn’t such a dark, mysterious dreamer after all. He’s actually just a regular guy who wears a knit ski cap and sunglasses, and was an hour late to meet me. My anxiety disappeared the instant he shook my hand.

The biggest question that I want to ask you is why don’t you sing more often on Sonic Youth records? Your songs have always been my favorite ones.
I don’t know why it works out that way. It doesn’t bother me, really. Pretty much all the music we write together, and then at the end we kind of deal them out like a deck of cards and see what happens. On the last record [Murray Street], the one I sang, “Karen Revisited,” and the one Kim sings [is] “Sympathy for the Strawberry.” At one point we each had the other one, and then we swapped. It’s kind of a weird way to work. Most people start singing and playing at the same time. But for us, what’s cool about it is that it really lets us take each piece of music and shape it as a real piece of music, not just a vehicle for the words. It allows us to approach them more structurally. I think it makes the music more interesting, in a certain way. We get all the music done and you live with these songs for months and months. And then all of a sudden, in the couple weeks before the record gets mixed, people start coming in to do their vocals, and every song goes through a change.

“I Dreamed I Dream” is a really beautiful song. Is that first EP ever going to be reissued?
It’s been our plan to reissue it for like two years now, and we’ve just been dragging our feet on it, to tell you the truth. We talk about it monthly. We’ve got all this extra material from the time, like the very first live gig that Thurston, Kim and I played with a drummer. We did a bunch of gigs as a trio without a drummer, and then after three or four months we finally got Richard Edson, and did our first gig with him, and recorded all these songs live. They’re all songs we never developed further. They’re all gonna be on it, and a bunch of other stuff. It’s in the works. It’s close to going to the mastering house to be finished.


I was at some dance club a few months ago when the DJ played a track from it, and it sounded so fresh and trendy, so much like all of those new post-punk dance groups that are all the rage these days. Yeah, it would be a good time to reissue it. That was definitely the stuff that was floating around in the air at the time. And also the drummer, Richard Edson, was definitely that kind of a drummer. He was playing in a lot of other more funky downtown rhythmic groups.
You have some more books coming out soon, right?
Soft Skull Press is gonna do a really beautiful deluxe reissue of Road Movies sometime soon, I think. There’s talk about doing another one with them. I’m doing a small press thing with this guy in Texas that’s just gonna be a little stapled-and-folded thing. And this proper one—did you see the one Thurston did, Alabama Wildman? The same company that did that is doing my next one. It’s a company out of Massachusetts called Water Row. It’s gonna be called Lengths & Breaths, and it’s short poems and long poems. It’s got all these photos by this D.C. photographer, Cynthia Connelly, who’s kind of associated with Dischord.

You do visual art as well?
Yeah, I studied art in school. That’s what my degree is, as a painter and printmaker. When I first moved to New York I was doing a lot of both. Both Kim and I were trained as art students, and came to New York doing music and art. As the band picked up, it kind of got less and less, but I’ve always done stuff over the years. Recently, I’ve really wanted to get back into it, so the last four or five years I’ve been doing a lot of printmaking and some painting, and some other things. I’ve been making these constructions with old acoustic guitars with video monitors in the sound holes and speakers in them and stuff. There are actually three of them in a big museum show in Vienna right now. I’ve got this piece based on a photo of Madonna at this gallery in Tribeca, and a series of videos from that From Here to Infinity record, that I made back then in the late ‘80s, are on display there, too. There are also these robotic instruments that this collective out in Brooklyn creates and I wrote a piece for their guitar robot.

What young bands are you listening to right now?
Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Liars, Black Dice, Lightning Bolt, Rogers Sisters. I did a record with this group from Brooklyn called Icewater Scandal. I really like them. I think that girl Andrea Hansen, their lead singer and songwriter, is really cool. I did some demo stuff with her as well, just acoustic guitar and vocals. I just worked with this really weird band from Australia called The Follow. I produced a record for them. They’re kind of a noisy rock band, sort of bordering on some major tendencies.

Do you go out a lot to see bands in the city?
Yeah, I go out when I can. I live right near here. I feel like I see a lot of shows. I’m more selective about it maybe than I once was.

I think that’s great that all of you are so supportive of young bands. On a related note, what do you feel that Sonic Youth has to offer as a band now, twenty-two years down the line? Do you ever think you don’t have anything to offer? Do you ever feel like you’re just going through the motions?
We never think that. I think I can speak for everyone. We are definitely involved in a lot of other things because we want to do a lot of other things—Thurston and I with the book stuff; Kim and I with the art stuff; Thurston and Steve and Jim with record labels and record collecting stuff. I think we’d certainly stop if we ever felt that way. But, it’s always still so inspiring and just so great when we get together and play. We play so much here [in the studio], we play so much aside from going out and touring. I think we still feel like we’re developing new ideas. I would hate to be one of these dinosaur bands like the Rolling Stones who always put out new albums, but when they tour they play all the old stuff, and maybe one song from the new record. I think that would be completely depressing. I think the new record is ten or twelve new songs, and that’s pretty much gonna be the dominant part of our set for this next tour. That’s always the way it’s been for us. We’re still the most enthusiastic about our new music. It just seems like there’s always new stuff to do.
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Old 08.21.2006, 10:11 PM   #2
Everyneurotic
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good for him.

i guess now every sy fan is going to be buying liars 7"s just because lee likes liars.
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Old 08.22.2006, 12:08 AM   #3
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thom yorke likes the liars too
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Old 08.22.2006, 12:12 AM   #4
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i wasn't all that impressed by Liars. i only heard one song.. it was a video. it was ok. but nothing absolutely geat.
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Old 08.22.2006, 12:16 AM   #5
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they were wrong so we drowned is their only good album, they said that bad moon rising was one of their biggest influences on it
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Old 08.22.2006, 02:57 AM   #6
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Lee also likes the Grateful Dead... tread carefully..
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Old 08.22.2006, 03:48 AM   #7
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well,lee is also my fav member of the band.
without him,thats not sonic youth
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Old 08.22.2006, 03:51 AM   #8
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Hey wasn't Amy Phillips the writer that wrote that review for Murray Street in which she called for them to break up?
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Old 08.22.2006, 03:56 AM   #9
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Nice read. Thanks nomowish.
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Old 08.22.2006, 04:02 AM   #10
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http://www.villagevoice.com/music/02...,36349,22.html Yeah it is! LOL
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Old 08.22.2006, 05:19 AM   #11
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didnt sonic youth take liars on tour? or at least had them open a few shows.

im not that keen on liars albums but they rock live
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Old 08.22.2006, 05:53 AM   #12
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yeah, first time i saw liars was opening for SY in 2002... i agree, they were wrong so we drowned was fucking great, i saw them live on that tour as well and they were immense
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Old 08.22.2006, 12:03 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Everyneurotic
good for him.

i guess now every sy fan is going to be buying liars 7"s just because lee likes liars.
I was just on their myspace when I found this thread...

But to be honest I didn't like them that much. My first thought was a boring Animal Collective.
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Old 08.22.2006, 12:29 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by whorefrost
Lee also likes the Grateful Dead... tread carefully..

Grateful Dead were a good band for a time. Lee has good tatse.
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Old 08.22.2006, 12:43 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by m^a(t)h
they were wrong so we drowned is their only good album, they said that bad moon rising was one of their biggest influences on it

Yeah theres alot of similar imagery in both albums, that line about "I no longer want to be a man, i want to be a horse" reminds me of the lyrics of Im Insane, its sung similarly too.

They were wrong so we drowned took me ages to listen to on its terms, but when i did i found i really loved it, its such a change from the first album.
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Old 08.22.2006, 01:35 PM   #16
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Maybe I should have said this earlier, but the headline isn't what it is because I thought "wow, oh shit, the dudes here will totally care about Lee liking Liars"
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Old 08.23.2006, 01:51 AM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wax
didnt sonic youth take liars on tour? or at least had them open a few shows.
They sure did. I didn't really like them when I saw them, but their new album kind of sparked me to give them a second chance.
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Old 08.24.2006, 10:03 AM   #18
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Lee likes Liars.
I likes Liars.
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Old 08.24.2006, 10:36 AM   #19
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i likes liars too. dums not dead is probably their finest record to date. i know thats not very trendy but its in my top 5 06 releases. i know that wouldnt be dificult or anything.
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Old 08.24.2006, 04:13 PM   #20
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Meh. I don't think it is really comparable to their other two records. I mean, I like it and all but, seriously, They Threw Us In A Trench is not capable of being fucked with.
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