Q&A: Thurston Moore on Chelsea Light Moving, Occupy Wall Street and the Future of Sonic Youth - Rolling Stone
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Q&A: Thurston Moore on Chelsea Light Moving, Occupy Wall Street and the Future of Sonic Youth

‘Your crystal ball is about as clear as my crystal ball is’

Chelsea Light Moving Samara Lubelski John Moloney Thurston Moore Keith WoodChelsea Light Moving Samara Lubelski John Moloney Thurston Moore Keith Wood

Chelsea Light Moving

Carlos van Hijfte

Ever since he and his wife and Sonic Youth bandmate Kim Gordon announced their split in late 2011, Thurston Moore has kept his mouth largely shut. “I wasn’t doing any press whatsoever – I kind of embargoed that,” says Moore. “Personal issues are not something I talk about. I don’t want to even think about it when it comes to media. It’s not the place for it.” Moore says he doesn’t even use his Twitter account. But he and his new, post-Sonic Youth band, Chelsea Light Moving, released their first album in March, and they’ve finally unveiled their first video. The clip for the protest hardcore track “Lip,” which you can watch below, incorporates footage of Occupy Wall Street rallies and London riots. With that, Moore decided to break his more-or-less silence and talk about the video, his new band and what may – or may not – be in store for Sonic Youth.

What inspired the Occupy theme in the “Lip” video?
It was the idea of the director, Eva Prinz. It’s a protest song I wrote for all the Occupy people I know, and she’s very involved with Occupy in a very activist way. When I went down there, there was so much celebration and theater going on, and I really responded to that. You’d go down and there was poetry being read and a library being built and an ad hoc parade would go around. So I wrote a song somewhat based on that with the chorus, “Get fucking mad/Too fucking bad.” I’m not very articulate about what the complaints are, but Eva wanted to show aspects of it as a filmmaker. The image of the burning bus in London is a very loaded image. Making a video of a song with a chorus of “Fuck fuck fuck” is a little ridiculous. You can’t show the thing. But it was a creative moment.

Where do you think that movement stands now, a year and a half later?
It’s still active in a lot of ways. It’s maybe not so populated. But how it informed so many people is really profound. It brought up the level of awareness of all this corruption. I was touring all last year and seeing Occupy Dublin and Occupy London. I would visit each of these little places. Some would be hundreds of people, some would be 10. It was kind of beautiful.

How did Chelsea Light Moving come together?
It’s always been a band; I was playing with most of them on my last tour, for [2011’s] Demolished Thoughts. It just never had a name. I didn’t want to do a record under my own name again because I wanted to take the spotlight off my name. I was craving anonymity. 

As a result of being in the news during the last year?
You know, there’s a lot of that in a way. I wanted to de-emphasize the “solo guy from Sonic Youth.” I maybe wanted to have fun with it a little more? [Chuckles] It’s against the better judgment of selling records. My label and management would have preferred I use my name; it’s easier for them to promote. I did sort of concede in having a sticker on there that says, “Thurston Moore’s new band.” I had just read [RS contributor] Will Hermes’ Love Goes to Buildings on Fire, which I really liked, and I saw this tidbit about Steve Reich and Philip Glass having a moving company called Chelsea Light Moving, because they lived in Chelsea and only wanted to do light lifting. I thought that was a really great name, especially for a British shoegazing band. We’re so decidedly not that, so I thought the juxtaposition was really fun.

Did you get permission from Glass and Reich?
No, I haven’t asked anyone. I want to ask Philip. I will at some point. I haven’t heard from anybody – I don’t think they ever registered that name. But if I’m going to get sued, I might as well get sued by Philip Glass and Steve Reich.

In light of what’s happening in your life, is playing more aggressive rock & roll in the new band an outlet for you?
I don’t find it that much more aggressive. I think it employs more traditional aggressive guitar moves. I always loved classic stylings of aspects of heavy metal, punk, hard rock and punk. Those things would be more diffused and modified in Sonic Youth, because that was the nature of Sonic Youth. I would say to Lee [Ranaldo, Sonic Youth guitarist], “Dude, you don’t know how many different Black Sabbath moves I’m trying to present.” I think Lee looked at it with amusement [laughs].

What appealed to you about returning to the two-guitar-bass-drums Sonic Youth lineup after using acoustic guitars and violins on your last two albums?
It was a situation where I didn’t have to worry about that kind of democracy. It was, “This is my band. I call the shots. You’re going to go play this and that. You guys can write your own stuff, but I’m gonna say yay or nay.” It felt liberating, also because the songs were all written on the spot in a rehearsal space in Northampton [Massachusetts].

Do you still live there, where you and Kim had a house?
I live on the road. For the first time since 1977, I have no keys to a place in New York City. I live in Florence [a village within Northampton] in a rental situation. It’s completely temporary. I’ve always lived on the road, but now I really do. It’s like, “I’m 54 going on 55 and this is who I am now.” I toy with the idea of living in different places and establishing a place where I could actually live and set up camp. But I haven’t decided yet. I’m not really in a place where I need to decide that. I’m trying to balance my personal life now. 

Were you surprised by Kim’s recent interview in Elle in which talked about your marital problems?
I’m not gonna talk about it. There’s no aspect of that I will ever talk about.

So is Chelsea Light Moving your full-time band now?
It is. I think names define things, and I’m gonna keep the name whether I have the same members or not, and I’ll keep it as my name for my rock & roll music. If Sonic Youth ever plays again, that will be Sonic Youth, obviously.

Is that a possibility at this point?
Um, yeah. I would never say I don’t see why not. Life changes from time to time and who knows what will happen in the future. Your crystal ball is about as clear as my crystal ball is. Really – seriously. It’s not something I think about right now. It’s in stasis, for reasons that are obvious.

What do you make of current indie rock, like Vampire Weekend, the National or Spoon?
I’m totally open to it. I give a listen here or there. But I don’t have much to say about it. Vampire Weekend just made a record that everyone says is great, and I’m really glad to hear that! [Laughs] But I don’t know their music that well. I heard their first record and thought it was kind of interesting. But I tend to go for much more outsider kind of sounds and approaches. The band that made me think they had it going on was this all-girl band from London called Savages. I saw a couple of their gigs and totally dug it. It hit a lot of the marks that have always resonated with me – the early Rough Trade sound, Joy Division, early Swell Maps.

And I’m a sucker for Tegan and Sara. Chelsea Light Moving opened for them at SXSW this year and I was like, “Wow, all these young chicks here to see us.” And as we played, they were all looking at their phones and I thought, “This is the most disinterested audience I’ve ever played for in my life.” Then Tegan and Sara came out and destroyed the place. The audience put their phones down and sang along on every song. I have nothing but respect for any band that does that.


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