Kim Gordon: ‘I'm not a badass, whatever that means’

The musician, 66, on her mysterious mother, learning to go solo, and being vulnerable

As a kid I was very shy and really good at playing by myself. I wasn’t very verbal. I lived beneath the shadow of my older brother, Keller, who was very verbal, and mean to me.

My dad was a sociologist. He had a self-deprecating sense of humour, was a great cook and a very gentle and understanding person. He was very humble. I would look at the titles of his books, like Men at Work, and be mystified by what it meant. My mum was kind of mysterious. She didn’t really talk about herself. I mostly learned about her from my aunts and their family. I felt like her head was always somewhere else. For a while she made these bohemian clothes out of this beautiful hand-printed fabric and sold them out of the house.

I hated to be told what to do, I was pretty independent. My mother took advantage of that and left me alone to play when I was a toddler. I feel like I was left alone too much, so I tried to be more interactive with my daughter, Coco, now 25. I talked to her more about my childhood. But I think I’m still mysterious to Coco – a lot of times I get lazy about communicating stuff.

My first memory is when I was about three or four at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. I spent hours playing with coloured blocks. Art was an area I felt comfortable with and which I excelled at. I was good with my hands, making things out of clay. I felt like it was my own space. I was free to express myself.

People may find it surprising that I’m soft on the inside. I’m not like a badass, whatever that means. People have this idea about “strong women” – it has to do with being willing to take risks. The hardest thing is being vulnerable enough to open yourself up to do your work, but not to rely on that as a kind of gimmick.

I admire people who make great melancholy melodies, but if I get one it’s because I’ve stumbled upon it. I like a lot of rap music, that way of working – the layering, starting with the rhythm, almost spoken-word. That seems more natural for me as a non-singer singer.

Writing about my divorce [from her former Sonic Youth bandmate Thurston Moore, in her memoir Girl in a Band] was cathartic – it allowed me constructive space to think about it. It’s part of my story and I wanted to make something positive out of it. It initiated a story of, “How did I get to where I am?”

My relationship with my brother shaped me in terms of my “strategy”. I’m used to being around a big personality and feeling I don’t have to be that person out front. That’s why it’s been difficult doing this solo record – I’m not used to that. I don’t know what it’s going to be like when I go on tour, it might be a lot of pressure.

I feel pretty good in my life right now. I’m not a super cheerful, upbeat person, but I’m fairly consistent and try not to get too down, though I like to allow myself a certain amount of that.

Kim Gordon’s debut solo album, No Home Record, is out on Matador. She plays at All Points East 2020 (


Chris Hall

The GuardianTramp

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