Me and the muse: Thurston Moore on his sources of inspiration

The former Sonic Youth frontman on letting ideas gestate in his head, doing weird things to guitars and being galvanised by a new producer

Thurston Moore, 58, has been a key figure in alternative music since co-founding the band Sonic Youth in 1981. Now based in London, he runs the Ecstatic Peace! record label and library, publishes poetry and records as a solo artist with bassist Debbie Googe from My Bloody Valentine, guitarist James Sedwards and Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley in his band.

I used to think that making music had to involve practising every day and writing every day. It took me years to realise that I’m better contemplating every day and that’s OK. I scribble down notes wherever I am, on the train or at home, let ideas gestate, let shit happen. Eventually, I will take myself to a place of solitude, then everything bursts out.

It’s good to start with a title. I’ve been teaching poetry in summer schools at Naropa University in Colorado, founded by the Tibetan Buddhist Chögyam Trungpa, a close associate of the monk who told David Bowie in the 60s to do music rather than join a monastery. Much of the teaching there is about consciousness, so I was thinking where mine is and I realised it’s rock and roll. I get my peace searching secondhand stores! So for the new album, that title, Rock’n’roll Consciousness, spoke to me, then the songs started coming.

Doing weird things to a guitar was the start of making music for me as a teenager. My dad was a pianist, so there was a lot of classical repertoire at home. I didn’t have a troubled childhood; I just loved how music could be made very simply. It’s easy for anyone to strum open strings while turning a tuning peg or stick screwdrivers under the guitar’s bridge to find an interesting sound. You can be experimental without having money.

Knowing your band really well can make magic happen. Before I toured Daydream Nation with Sonic Youth in 2007 [playing the 1988 album for the Don’t Look Back concert series], I was amazed how complicated and sophisticated the guitars sounded on the original album – as I knew those parts hadn’t been complicated at all. Then I realised that we’d known each other so well as a band that our parts would just bleed into each other. That’s happening again with my new band and it’s all about those relationships.

Writing poetry can help you write lyrics. They’re different: poetry is about the words on the page, the line breaks, the visual architecture, but not rhyme, whereas lyrics really need rhyme to serve the song. I usually take poems I’ve written in my notebooks, then reconstruct and reconfigure them, like cut up, but I don’t do it blindly. The words come from the same writer and same state of mind too, so I trust it.

Working with a new producer is galvanising. I’ve made my new album with producer Paul Epworth [of Adele’s 21 and 25], at the Church Studios in London – very appropriate for Rock’n’Roll Consciousness! We did nine songs in six days. He was fastidious about getting everything to sound to the best of its capacity, especially when he was miking the drums – I loved that, as he’s a drummer himself. To work somewhere that highly functioning was such an honour for me, although we didn’t discuss the other people he works with. Still, Adele is one of the most incredible musicians of our times. I’d be, hey, if I can use Adele’s mic, I’ll be happy.

Rock’n’roll Consciousness will be released on 28 April (Caroline International). Moore plays London’s Jazz Cafe on Tuesday 11 April; a UK tour follows in June

Five records that shaped me

The Kingsmen: ‘the sound of the electric guitar was the most magnificent thing.’
The Kingsmen: ‘the sound of the electric guitar was the most magnificent thing.’ Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives

The Kingsmen
Louie Louie (1963)
I was five or six when I heard this; it was my older brother’s single. The sound of the electric guitar was the most magnificent thing. Also, the idea of a band was so exciting. I immediately decided I’d start a band called the Shorthairs.

Brian Eno
Here Come the Warm Jets (1974)
The magic of the lyrics meant so much to me as a teenager. Later, I read Eno had just put the words together to sound good, that they didn’t make sense. I felt really let down at first, but he created real adventure in language and I’m OK with that now!

Blitzkrieg Bop (1976)
They made music on such minimalist lines at the same time as the classical minimalists and were so high concept, while also being post-Gary Glitter glam. They remind you how literate really direct music can be.

Dinosaur Jr
You’re Living All Over Me (1987)
To hear a musician who’d come out of US hardcore and Oi!, and not be afraid to play great guitar histrionics and be heartfelt in songwriting, at that point of my career in Sonic Youth, really astounded me.

A Seat at the Table (2016)
I’ve just travelled from the west to east coast of America with my 22-year-old daughter and this played all the way. Rock’s not experimental in the mainstream these days, maybe because it comes from a place of privilege. R&B really is.


Interview by Jude Rogers

The GuardianTramp

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