Interview: Thurston Moore Discovers ‘Trees Outside The Academy’

Thurston MooreIn his late teens, entrepreneurial Connecticut-raised guitarist-vocalist Thurston Moore was determined to go city bound, experience the wondrous joys New York afforded and obtain a modicum of prosperity. There, he met his attractive leggy flaxen- blonde life partner, Kim Gordon, plus a few explorative youths, who’d mutually get involved professionally to reach an esteemed status infrequently attained by such ostensibly outré artistes. If co-founding legendary noise rockers, Sonic Youth, wasn’t enough, he befriended a gaggle of likeminded interdependent nonconformists (including free jazz dignitary, William Hooker) and set up Ecstatic Peace Records.

Recently, lanky busybody Moore dropped his belated second solo album, Trees Outside The Academy, an illuminating navigation fraught with the same penetratingly obscurant symphonies his primary outfit continually delivers in spades. Yet there’s a halcyon acoustical solemnity somewhat foreign to Sonic Youth that differentiates this abstruse solo affair. It’s fair to say he remains lucidly vibrant despite arriving at the ripe golden age of 50.


Precociously intellectualized no wave junkies sprung forth by lower Manhattan’s late ’70s noise addicts and neo-punk fugitives, Sonic Youth began inauspiciously as a jaggedly clamorous art gallery aggregate unafraid of discerningly exploiting the Big Apple’s miscreant subterranean jungle. From the onset, guitarists Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo challengingly fused dissonantly de-tuned cacophonies and acrimoniously blared rock scrums with a calmly embellished sublimity, naively influencing shoegazers, grungemeisters, and scree-pop denizens of all stripes.

Peruse their early back-catalog for valiantly scabrous hit-or-miss endeavors, then move past ’85’s gruesomely perturbed primal conquest Bad Moon Rising to the acrimoniously convulsive corrosiveness of twin pillars Evol and Sister before ingesting the startlingly jolted investigations swamping cherished ’88 magnum opus, Daydream Nation. The latter contains fiery MC5-nuzzled anthem “Teen Age Riot” and explosive hardcore peculiarity “Silver Rocket,” durably combustible fugues that blew away expectations and sent shock waves through the nascent post-punk underground.

Moore explained the magical happenstance that brought Sonic Youth together in thorough discourse.

“In 1980, living downtown, everyone knew each other. It was more of a small town vibe. The no wave scene centered around Max’s Kansas City, CBGB’s, the Mudd Club. Then, bigger places like Hurrah, Danceteria and Peppermint Lounge started hopping. Kim and I were there. I met Lee because he played in a band I was in earlier. At that time, I was in The Coachmen and he was in Flux. We played CB’s audition night together, had a similar vibe, and kept an eye on each other. I noticed him in (discordant freeform mentor) Glenn Branca’s band. He was a very interesting guitar experimentalist I knew peripherally. Glenn had put an ad in Soho Weekly for a guitarist. I didn’t get the job, but Kim knew him. She said Glenn wanted to rein me in ’cause I was too wild. Lee didn’t join us then. We had another girl doing keyboards and used Dave Keay, The Coachmen drummer.”

Asked to curate an experimental music festival at Spring Street’s White Columns gallery, a nightly fling turned into nine exhilarating nights juxtaposing weird punks with the likes of masticating old guard provocateurs, MARS (re-formed under witty pseudonym, Don King). Branca did a new piece with full ensemble, the formative Sonic Youth performed, and Ranaldo (with Flux drummer in tow) rendered “Avoidance Behavior,” the harshest, loudest, most intense festival offering.

“Our keyboardist decided not to play, so East Village kid, Richard Edson, whom we found on recommendation, joined. He was acting in Jim Jarmusch’s film, Stranger Than Paradise. We got another gallery gig and asked Lee, who was our age and doing similar music, to join.” Moore adds, “The name Sonic Youth had no cache at the start. Ed left so we picked up drummer Bob Bert (future Chrome Cranks/ Knoxville Girls/ International Shades consort). He was critical. He answered a flyer I’d put up all over town. We hired him on the spot. He was our Jersey connection and played with a few Maxwell’s acquaintances. We were touring quite a bit through Europe. He tired of it and probably wanted to change direction anyway. Then, Pussy Galore came to Hoboken from DC and he joined them, providing clattering drums and a radiator. I was going to CBGB’s hardcore matinee shows and Steve Shelley (entered the fold). He was in Lansing, Michigan’s hardcore band, Crucifucks, a radicalized unit with an older singer who had absurdist lyrics like ‘Hinckley had a vision,’ ‘Democracy spawns bad taste,’ and “Cops For Fertilizer.” I bought the Crucifucks’ demo tape from the back of Maximum Rock And Roll and he wrote me. He was also in very good avant-garde troupe, Strange Fruit. He was gonna leave Crucifucks for San Francisco, but took my advice and headed for New York.”