Interview: Thurston Moore Discovers ‘Trees Outside The Academy’


As for Moore’s solo ventures, ’95’s minimalist Psychic Hearts benefited from short, fast, sharp tunes and lyric-driven perspicacity. Its skeletal riff fabric and frantic repetition beg comparisons to The Fall. Meanwhile, ’07’s versatile Trees Outside The Academy elevates solemn dirges, mystic pop and surreal instrumentals with pastoral acoustic accouterments. “Tough yet sweet New York City girl,” violinist Samara Lubelski, brings further melodic mellifluence and gorgeously subtle touches while Sonic Youth partner, Shelley, keeps time. Charalambides’ Christina Carter enjoins Moore on lovely Anglo-folk duet, “Honest James,” and Sunburned Hand Of The Man’s John Moloney piles on propulsive skins to hastening rampage “Wonderful Witches.”

Concerning similarities and variances to his main band, Moore infers, “I feel freer. As far as lyrics go, they’re not shared enterprises. I’m sensitive that Sonic Youth’s a democratic vision. So there’s a different vibe. Psychic Hearts was ‘first thought-best thought’ and was done in two days. Trees is completely different. Instead of a second guitar, there’s violin. I’m a different person in a different world informed by rural Massachusetts instead of New York. ‘Honest James’ and ‘American Coffin’ are influenced by the culture of tragedy in America. We’re dealing with the conflict to do the right thing while war looms. War’s always informative for every artist unless they ignore it and hope it goes away. You try to rise above and write intellectually from that perspective. But I don’t have any conscientious ideas when I’m writing. It’s ‘of the time.’ Lyrics play with language. I always loved Blue Oyster Cult’s ‘experiments that failed.’ That was a great line. They had a mystical scientist vibe going through songs. I always reference Tyranny & Mutation as a heavy document in my life. I’ve wanted to do a cover of their ‘Career Of Evil.’ In Sonic Youth, I usually transpose songs from acoustic to electric. I didn’t make that move on Trees and that gave it a distinctive sound. Playing live, I’ll do a handful of songs on electric guitar.”

Trees Outside The Academy maintains a trebly tone due to the quiet ambience and echoing open space at old friend (and Dinosaur Jr. mastermind) J. Mascis’ Bisquetten Studio, located beside Paradise Pond across from Smith College in bucolic Amherst. Moore dabbled with calling the album Zero Hour, but let that slide. Serendipitous straight-up love trinket, “Fri/end,” shows appreciation for the married life, the striking instrumental title cut hearkens back to classic Pete Townshend a la Tommy, and skittishly bittersweet sanctuary “Off Work” burrows into the mind’s recessive nooks. Just keep an eye out for the disgruntled “language meanies” infiltrating “Wonderful Witches.”

Moore elucidates, “The language poets of St. Mark’s Poetry Center came onto the scene with an academic take on poetic verse. What preceded them—Frank O’Hara and Allen Ginsberg—was a more confessional style celebrated by Ted Berrigan, the big man on campus at St. Mark’s. But academic nerds came in with ideas of how poems don’t need narrative sense. It was about how words looked on the line. It’s an interesting approach I’m respectful of. But Berrigan, back in the day, talked about the influx of language poets and said, ‘Watch out for those cold-hearted language meanies.’ He thought they were tight asses with shirts buttoned up to the neck. And he was a bearded cigarette-smoking hamburger-munching free soul.”

When asked whom he hates more, elitist avant- garde snobs or anti-intellectual pop stars, Moore laughs, then answers, “I love ’em both equally. I have a soft spot for pretentious intellectuals. But if they become totally insufferable, I run the other way. I’ll call their bluff. If they put on airs of superiority, I’ll take them to task. That’s when you steal their hubcaps. Money’s the great equalizer.”


Should Sonic Youth be considered for the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame alongside pioneering ’80s groups The Minutemen, Replacements, and Black Flag? Or will the powers-that-be skip these true innovators and only give props to better-received contemporaries U2 and REM?

Moore insists, “There’s a committee the industry lobbies. Our management has talked about being considered. But you have to start six to eight years before consideration is granted. As a contemporary working band… I mean, is (cross-grained funk-soul legend) Bobby Byrd in? Probably not. But Madonna’s in.”

In springtime ’08, a pictorial essay venerating the late ’70s no wave scene, rigidly edited by Moore and journalist Byron Coley, will see the light of day. Only the true architects of no wave will be featured: MARS, D.N.A., Lydia Lunch, James Chance, and Teenage Jesus & The Jerks. Moore felt he had the obligatory authority to unleash such a vital collection since he lived through the entire scene and witnessed firsthand the oft-times unheralded originators involved. Almost all of the snapshots are said to have been unpublished.

Now distributed by colossal Universal Records, Moore’s thriving Ecstatic Peace label is home to some of the absolute finest youthful bands making the scene. There’s Nashville garage-punks Be Your Own Pet, abrasive Hartford menaces Magik Markers, Bushwick-via-Ann Arbor nihilists Awesome Color, and Boston psych-blues spankers Black Helicopter, a veritable wellspring of reliable musical artistry sure to please any gourmandizing freak.

Controversially, Sonic Youth plan to release a comprehensive Starbuck’s compilation assembled by artists, novelists, actors, and musicians who’ve name-checked the invigorating crew over the years.

Moore defends the corporate-sponsored accord by asserting, “Tower Records went bankrupt. Places to buy recordings are drying up. Starbuck’s loved the idea. But we needed to give them one exclusive song, so we did a real outsider tune. We had a photo of a young yuppie businessman wearing iPod headphones, slouched back, looking out the window. We also had pictures they’d never consent to use. A college kid slumped over, sleeping on a Starbuck’s table with homework. A homeless guy slumped on a chair with Starbuck’s cups at his feet.”

It appears obvious Sonic Youth would appeal more to the slumbering university student and the down-and-out vagrant drifter than the typical slick Starbuck’s customer, but don’t underestimate the enormous impact they’ve already had on business professionals. Aren’t they the ones who initially bought Nirvana’s Nevermind when they were young over a decade ago?

Catch Thurston Moore at downtown Manhattan’s Knitting Factory, Jan. 8, headlining a one-off gig with fellow Ecstatic Peace compatriots MV & EE with the Golden Road, Tall Firs and Religious Knives.