Thurston Moore's New Day: Inside His Upbeat Rock & Roll Solo Album

Sonic Youth frontman on his move to London, new band and misunderstood relationship to black metal

Thurston Moore Credit: Andy Sheppard/Redferns via Getty Images

"Playing with this group made me want to create something really positive, because the music was really positive," Thurston Moore says. "Originally, the working title was Detonation, which has a different vibe to it." He laughs.

The group that put Moore on the path to positivity features Nought guitarist James Sedwards, My Bloody Valentine bassist Debbie Googe and Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley. Together, they made a record that pits lush, anxious guitar lines against propulsive post-punk rhythms in a surprisingly direct manner, uncovering the essence of his Sonic Youth recordings while keeping experimental tangents to a minimum. Songs like the intensely romantic "Forevermore," darkly acoustic "Vocabularies" and indie rocker "The Best Day" present Moore in his most refined state.

The album cover features a picture Moore's father took of his mother swimming with her dog in a lake in the 1940s. "I called it The Best Day," he says. "It was this idea of trying to extol some positivity into releasing this record."

Rolling Stone recently caught up with the singer-songwriter, who has been living in London for the past year, to find out how The Best Day came together. He also discussed the reaction he got to comments he made about black metal while promoting Caught on Tape – Full Bleed, the noise record he made with drummer John Moloney that's slated for early next year and how he's adjusted to life as an Englishman. "I had this fantasy in '78 of going either to London or Los Angeles because I felt it fit my 18-year-old musical dream better than New York, where I eventually settled," he says with a laugh. "Now I got to London."

How did the band on The Best Day come together?
When I moved here, one of the first places I lived was in this shared flat, and there were all musicians there. One of them was this guitarist who was teaching kids how to play Led Zeppelin riffs. I was really kind of intrigued by that. When I met him he was this really sweet, gentle Englishman, James Sedwards. I just would talk about music with him late into the night. And he's really into high-technique guitar playing, which is something I don't really have much interest in. But at the same time, his favorite bands are the Fall and My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth, and things like this. He likes more of that rough, marginalized sound [laughs]. But also, he's a total shredder.

I was just starting to write some solo songs and thinking about playing with some musicians here. And I facetiously started a band called Thurston Moore U.K., and I called him because he seemed like the right guy for the job. I just showed him some of my rudimentary song ideas, and he got it immediately. And we just started playing duos around London.

How did Steve Shelley and Debbie Googe get involved?
Lee Ranaldo's band with Steve Shelley and Alan Licht played a club here called the Garage. It's a place that I played in the past with Sonic Youth, so I asked Lee if I could open up with this duo and we played this instrumental music that I had written. And Steve Shelley was into it and said if we needed a drummer to play on this stuff, he would fly over. I said, "Well, that's great." So I kept that in mind.

And James one day said, "I have an idea for the perfect bass player: Deb Googe from My Bloody Valentine." She's not doing anything these days, because My Bloody Valentine pretty much ran through their reunion gigs for the last couple years and had been in a place of hiatus. I thought that was a good idea.

I know Deb from when Sonic Youth used to play with My Bloody Valentine. In fact, we played with them when they first started, really early on, in Scotland, when they were first what you might call a "shoegaze" band, before they became sort of Dinosaur Jr.-ized and started buying Jazzmasters and playing at high volume and blaring all these beautiful music and ideas together and created their masterpieces. I never saw that coming.

Did you write the songs on The Best Day with these musicians in mind or were you just writing what came out?
I was writing how I was feeling without thinking so much of what other musicians I would play with. But I certainly knew that Steve would be completely perfect for it, only because Steve and I have such ESP through so many years of playing together. James proves to himself to be the perfect person, as well. And when Deb and Steve locked in together, I knew right away it was really rock & roll magic. It was immediately astounding to me, and it opened up the songs in a way I was unprepared for. It encouraged me to write lyrics that I think were a lot stronger than I probably would've.
How did the lyrics on The Best Day come together?
A song like "Speak to the Wild," which is the first song on the record, I could never tell you where that came from. It was just basically writing the music and then sort of hearing the words and the lines come to me as I would play it over and over again, and then I would refine them. That's pretty much how I've always written from the beginning, even though I didn't quite regard it in that way.

The second song on the record, "Forevermore," is fairly verbose. There's these lines that serve a bit of a gothic overtone to it. I tend to want to sing about things that inform me in my life with my upbringing as an American Catholic and what that means. I've always employed that a lot in my lyrics, even in Sonic Youth with the early days. The verses in the song are somewhat loaded and basically the chorus is "That's why I love you forevermore/That's why I want you forevermore." It's like, well why? Well because of these things that are being sung in the verse that are sort of intense and gothic. It's playing with the weight of the words and something I like to do.

I go through periods where I think maybe I should devote more percentage of my time to working as a writer – a vocation that has even less revenue [laughs]. But again, nobody's doing this to get rich. That's for sure.

The last song on the album, "Germs Burn," alludes to Germs singer Darby Crash. You covered that group's "Communist Eyes" on Chelsea Light Moving. Why are you so into him lately?
I've always had a fascinating love affair with the short life of Darby Crash, only because I recognize something in him that I felt resonated with me. We are the same age, or we were the same age. The Germs were interesting to me only because they were so young at the time. When I first heard the Germs, it was astounding to me how great that music was. The fact that Darby Crash was writing these lyrics that were so unlike any other punk rock lyric styling, in fact any rock & roll lyric styling that I had ever experienced. They were really kind of amazing. They were dealing with all these different ideas of personal control and wild, long lines that he would just cram into the microphone. If you see live footage of Darby Crash and knowing his lyrics, he's basically getting three words out of 30 at a time, but if you look at his lyric sheet it's this really remarkable spiel that he has.

You also have an experimental record titled Full Bleed coming out with drummer John Maloney next year. When it was announced, the label used a quote from you that said, "black metal is music made by pussies of the lowest order," which has rankled headbangers online. Were you trying to be provocative?
That was really taken out of context. It was really funny how people got tweaked by that. I was answering a question. How do you answer a question about black metal? Black metal, it doesn't even consider itself music. In fact, it doesn't want to be confused with any kind of music because it's something else entirely. It's a voided concept from its start [laughs]. It's all about complete disintegration of existence. It's a music that uses the elements of rock instrumentation but it's so anti-everything that, for me, it doesn't matter what you say about it because it doesn't exist. I figured I would just write something ridiculous about it. And boy, did black-metal devotees get really upset by it. You're not supposed to be alive, so why are you getting upset?

Earlier this year, you played on a black metal album, Twilight's III: Beneath Trident's Tomb. What did you take from that experience?
There are certain stylistic maneuvers within black metal that really informed me as a guitarist and I use in my own playing. And I think some of the people who are seriously involved with that scene realized this about me and reached out to me. That's certainly true of Neill [who records as "Imperial"] from Krieg, who sings on Twilight. He's a true black metal aficionado and devotee and he's a real important exponent of that music, and he reached out to me and wanted to know if I would take part in this project. And I think it was a little bit of a risk for those guys having somebody who's not exactly 100 percent in the scene to get involved. But I think they trusted my integrity with it.

Sonic Youth once recorded a song titled "Non-Metal Dude Wearing Metal Tee."
And as somebody else said, "Sonic Youth had a song called 'Satan Is Boring' – he's been attacking our lord ever since the Eighties!" I super enjoyed making that record. That's a wild community. It takes a lot of stamina to keep up with those guys because they're monsters.

It seems like you're happy with The Best Day, too.
I'm really happy with this record. We just did a few shows recently, some European festivals and the band is killer. It's so much fun playing with this band. I think it's something that's just happened, which is some good grace. I feel good about it.

Do you think this lineup is going to stick?
I hope so. I've learned to take one day at a time with these things, but it seems like we all like each other. So I have my fingers crossed.