He’s been a revolutionary artist his whole career, but Thurston Moore’s latest LP By The Fire shows off his complete musical pallet.
Thurston Moore throughout his career has channeled within his songs his life experiences. As a young man taking the trip down from his Connecticut home to New York City, he soaked up the punk rock and no-wave music that was pouring out of the city’s downtown clubs in the mid to late 70s.
“When I first came to New York, there were two things that really resonated with me as a teenager wanting to be involved with the underground music scene,” says Moore, calling from his home in London. “I was really, completely enamored by all the experimental music that I had heard coming out of New York City since I had first discovered The Velvet Underground in the early seventies, and then following that to the solo recordings of John Cale or Nico, and discovering their connection with people like Brian Eno, who was coming out of Roxy Music. It also connected to more outsider music—whether it be the Stooges or Captain Beefheart, these are the things that were appealing to me.”
But at the same time, Moore was also drawn to the primal immediacy that he heard in bands like The Ramones and Johnny Thunder’s seminal group, The Heartbreakers. “That first Heartbreaker’s single—“Chinese Rocks” and “Born to Lose”—just the simplistic chord structure, [it] was so minimal,” Moore reflects. “That minimalism, which was not too removed from the extreme minimalism of the first Ramones album, was a bit curious to me in how it kind of related to this whole notion of minimalism that was coming out of the art world.”
Bohemia, community, and innovation had fueled lower Manhattan’s art scene since the late 50s and 60s, providing opportunity for artists who were shunned by the glitz and glamour crowd that were gallivanting through the city’s uptown galleries. Moore’s teenage stomping grounds had since become legendary for Yoko Ono’s avant-garde dance parties and other explorative “happenings” that became launch pads for countless creative endeavors. In the 70s, a blossoming minimalist art movement became an influence on the growing music scene music, and the music scene reciprocated. Sort of.
“I don’t think the Ramones were going to see minimalist art exhibitions of artists based in SoHo,” Moore jokes, “but this idea of stripping things down to their essence and presenting them at a time when there was such a culture of things being so grandiose was thrilling and enlightening.”
Thrilling and enlightening are just two attributes that can be attributed to Moore himself. These days, he is a globally-recognized alternative rock pioneer, not only for his work with Sonic Youth, but also a prolific number of studio collaborations with like-minded artists, and his six solo LPs—the most recent of which is the radically stellar By the Fire, a raucous set of indie-psychedelia that captures all of Moore’s diverse artistry in one vessel.
“It certainly became that and I welcome it,” Moore says of the album’s all-encompassing nature. “It is a bit of a catalog of these different musical entries.”
Recorded over a series of sessions, By The Fire utilizes the full gamut of Moore’s songwriting expertise. Chunky Sabbath-esque riffs dominate songs like “Hashish” and “Cantaloupe,” while the sprawling “Locomotives” conjures Spirit Counsel, the album of “extrapolated electric guitar compositions” each an hour in length that Moore released in 2019. Including its six minute guitar drone intro, “Locomotives” clocks in at nearly 17 minutes upon reaching its epic crescendo.
Between By the Fire’s headbangers and space jams are songs that Moore describes as being “real sonic, pop rock nuggets” alongside “more contemporary, contemplative acoustic guitar music.”
“I had these different sessions that I had done, and I essentially listened to different things to create this record of chapters that’s coming from a few different places. I kind of liked that because I was always really drawn towards records like that, anyway. The Replacements had a record, I think it was Let It Be, where you can sort of hear the production value kind of shift while you play the record, and I always liked that record because of it. I think it’s a great record down the line, but that one factor of it, that one aspect of it where you could hear that production value shift, I always thought that was cool. I kind of was referencing that a little bit, and a little bit of Second Edition by Public Image Ltd. [on By the Fire].”
He may now call London home, but New York City will always be a part of Thurston Moore’s DNA, and he doesn’t worry much about the cyclical nature of it’s allure. “I think New York City has always been about a change. It’s always been about flux. Every generation has its own kind of identity there.”
His daughter Coco and several of his nieces now live and Brooklyn, and Moore is reflective when it comes to the migration of youth culture compared to his own time spent predominantly in Manhattan.
“I don’t even remember the first time I went to Brooklyn,” Moore says genuinely. “In New York in ’76-78, Brooklyn was just not on the map. I had to go into Queens early on to buy reggae records from the reggae record store way out in Jamaica.
“I guess I knew there was a Brooklyn community, but there was no real club scene that I remember. Nobody was talking about living there, anyway. That would certainly change in the 90s, and especially going into the 2000s. But yeah, my daughter lives there and I have a couple of nieces who’ve been living there for years. When I go to New York now, I’m always in Brooklyn, which is kind of interesting.”
So interesting is the synergy between Moore’s work and New York City’s constant evolution that it cannot be understated. With both come wisdom and reflection. It may be the city that never sleeps, but it always makes time to chat with an old friend when Thurston Moore comes calling.