Thurston Moore webchat – your questions answered on black metal, the Fall and the joy of disco

Last modified: 12: 42 PM GMT+0

Ahead of new album, By the Fire, Moore talked about where he ate in New York, the power of Jimi Hendrix, and his newfound love of home recording during the pandemic

Final thoughts

Our time is up, sadly.

User avatar for ThurstonMoore Guardian contributor

I feel like I could engage in conversation all day in regards to certainly music and culture and people's interest in my experience with it, and I can only say that at this point in my life, I release music to be socially engaged in communication. So in that respect, music is for me an entirely political interconnection, a political act. I find now while we're dealing as a community with being in a situation where we're being asked to work together socially while in isolation, it's a real challenge, and I think the communiques of media, journalism, and music through recordings online and offline are extremely important for connectivity. So I appreciate speaking to you!

Metal heads

chashumen says:

I saw your discussion with Necrobutcher of Mayhem on YouTube. What attracted you to that kind of music? (I’m a huge fan myself). Do you listen to other metal bakes too? Would be interest to know who you enjoy these days.

User avatar for ThurstonMoore Guardian contributor

I was always into heavy metal from the early 70s, and even getting into punk rock, the relationship between the raging guitars in a lot of the punk rock music of the Ramones or Pistols or the Clash was correlative to what I liked in heavy metal: Judas Priest, Sabbath, the Stooges. As far as more contemporary metal, I was a huge enthusiast of the band Venom when they first appeared, out of Nottingham I think – there was something about Venom and even some New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands that had a bit of a good connection with what I liked in underground hardcore music. They've always been part of my enjoyment of music. I was certainly the one person in Sonic Youth who flew that flag. And encouraged more metallic action in Sonic Youth. I knew about black metal quite early on, hearing about the church burnings in Norway when Kerrang! reported on it, and hearing Mayhem, and being amazed about what they were up to - it went beyond metal, and punk rock, and became this other music that was in defiance of being genre-ised. It was so curious - it existed almost as a noise music. So I always followed the black metal scene to the point where it became so international and completely underground, where the most important recordings existed through a community of cassette dealers. I started amassing cassettes from the Soviet Union to Greece, France, South America, all these different regions had different flavours of the black metal world. I didn't want to be part of the universe though, I was happy to sit apart. I was happy to meet Necrobutcher though because I wanted to publish his memoir, which we did.

For me I was always interested in music that worked on the extreme margins of culture, and black metal prided itself on being so extreme that a lot of the artists refused to actually document themselves, for fear of being confused with music. For me that was far more radical than the Sex Pistols saying they weren't into music but instead chaos - this was a community that said, we have nothing to do with music, we're something else entirely. Ok, how do I process this? You're using guitars and drums and amplifiers, but it's entirely something else. I was looking for artists who were issuing cassettes that sounded like the recording microphone was attached to the back of a wild dog running around the studio. Who would make a record like this? Sometimes it would just be a blur of insanity.

If you look at the legions of black metal artist names, there's thousands of them. How many have actually played a gig, or are real humans? We don't know! It's a world unto its own. It's a world that wants nothing to do with the standardised world of humanity. Maybe they know something we don't!


hhhhssss asks:

There are loads of horrible dance-rock or electro-rock crossovers that sound like a feeble attempt at relevance. But there is occasionally some fantastic stuff as well. Sonic Youth’s music always seemed to me perfect to introduce some computerized elements. I can imagine a blissed out extended Sugar Kane mixed with the sort of stuff that Four Tet does. For such an experimental band, you largely stuck to a traditional set up. Was there ever any discussion about experimenting with electronics and samples, and if not why not?

User avatar for ThurstonMoore Guardian contributor

I don't find myself working in that context so much, and it has only to do with my not having the technical ability as such. It's a shame, because I agree with the writer, that there's some of the most remarkable music being made in that context. And to interact with the more traditional experimental music that I work with, it has the potential to be really interesting. So in that respect I have a lot of curiosity with working further with this musician named Wobbly, who is a pure electronic musician that plays on a few tracks on our new record By the Fire. He's also known as Jon Leidecker, part of the Negativland contingent in San Francisco, the culture jammers. And he has been an adjunct member of the group for a year or so, he lives in San Francisco so it's a long distance relationship, but the work I've done with him is exactly the work they would hope to hear, I think. He has mixed a couple of live tracks that were made for this album, and it's coming out on a limited edition marijuana leaf die-cut picture disc 7-inch. Which is potentially very dangerous for your turntable, but if you're careful, you can hear this kind of collaboration at work. I agree – there's so much potential in the well worn experimentation that I've been involved with, with traditional rock instrumentation, and pure electronic music.


jonnoh asks:

Have your music tastes changed over the years – do you find yourself listening to more classical/different genres? Any particular lockdown favs?

User avatar for ThurstonMoore Guardian contributor

My listening has got to the point where I close my eyes, I go over to where the records are shelved, and I pull something out and that's the choice. I leave it up to the magic of chance at this point. Because I don't find myself playing records all that much, compared with my younger years. I think it has to do with because I've decoded so much of what music sounds like that I'm more interested in the other aspects of the recording – the vibrational aspects of holding the record, and smelling it, and listening to it is a close third. There are all these things about records that I appreciate more than playing, and maybe thats why I have such a disinterest in streaming – I'm interested in the physicality. I prefer experiencing music in a live format: going to a club and experiencing music in a community, and experiencing all its mysteries, in a way. It's the thing I miss most being in quarantine, that experience.

But I still buy new records, and people send me their recordings, and I check them out. I enjoyed listening to that newly uncovered Stooges live record – it was fantastic to hear, the time I played it. I do play records whenever my love, who lives with me, and I sit and play Scrabble. We put on music, and I generally find I play classical music, or Indian raga music, and some more experimental free improvisation recording. But nothing too clangorous to tell you the truth. Free improvisation engages the brain in a certain way, but it can create a bit of a disturbance. I find raga music to be really kind of the ultimate listening experience, during quarantine – it has a very true, spiritual nature in it, that takes you away from the anxieties and questions about how we're getting through these days.

Vinyl dreams

stuartfield2 asks:

What is your most precious vinyl record?

User avatar for ThurstonMoore Guardian contributor

It may very well be the first Patti Smith 7-inch of Hey Joe backed with Piss Factory. I sent away for it as soon as it was announced in small ads in some New York City music papers, there was a magazine at the time called Rock Scene where I possibly saw this ad. I was intrigued because I knew her to be a writer, and I read her record reviews since the early 70s in Creem and Rolling Stone and Crawdaddy and Fusion and Hit Parade and Rock Scene. And she made a record, with another rock writer Lenny Kaye, and I was very curious about what a rock writer would sound like making rock. She was so intriguing with her writing and her poetry was published in these magazines too. I got a 7 inch in the mail, and she had signed the white sleeve. Hearing that record was a life changing event – it was so raw and minimal and stark, when most music was so overblown and grandiose. And so the fact that it had this poetic recitation on the record, it really set itself apart from anything else. It was so underground, like being on a street corner on New York City rather than riding with the Valkyries with Uriah Heep or something. I still have that 7-inch with that signed sleeve, in my 7-inch box. Boxes.

That's emotionally. Monetarily, I don't know what the most expensive precious record is, to tell you the truth. I always wanted to find the lost cylinder of Buddy Bolden, the jazz trumpeter of the 1920s. I'm still looking for that. He's the great New Orleans jazz trumpeter that Louis Armstrong talks about hearing as a child, he's considered to be the father of jazz and popular music in the USA. He recorded a cylinder recording early in the century that's yet to be found – that's on my want list.

Thurston searches for gems in his Stoke Newington pop-up record store, Ecstatic Peace Library.
Thurston searches for gems in his Stoke Newington pop-up record store, Ecstatic Peace Library. Photograph: Sarah Lee/The Guardian


chaoticink asks:

Did you ever want to be a full time, revolving, Fall member? And what is your favourite Fall track? Ta, and keep safe

User avatar for ThurstonMoore Guardian contributor

My favourite Fall track is difficult because there's quite a few – I'm going to say Psycho Mafia. Sonic Youth covered it on a Peel Session, and we did an entire Peel Session in the 1980s where we covered all Fall songs – Psycho Mafia, My New House, we ever did a cover of Victoria as covered by the Fall. I never really fancied myself being in the Fall because I never really wanted to be in a band where there was one leader – that's all there is to it. But as far as leaders go, Mark E Smith is one of the most legendary, by far. A remarkable individual and lyricist and frontman and singer and character and raconteur. Sonic Youth played some shows with the Fall early on, I remember flying from the US to Iceland and then to Europe to play shows with the Fall in 1983 or 1982. And becoming friendly with some of the Fall people – certainly Brix is a good friend. Mark would always make disparaging comments about Sonic Youth and myself in the press, as he was wont to do, but that was part of his modus operandi. By far one of the most significant bands coming out of the late 1970s, is the Fall. Undeniable. I'd play with them now, maybe. I loved both books by the Hanley brothers, their memoirs about the Fall, they're both fantastic. Highly recommended.

Thurston goes disco

WarringtonBomble asks:

Can you name an album you love that people maybe wouldn’t expect you to love?

User avatar for ThurstonMoore Guardian contributor

There's a record from the late 70s, early 80s, the first album by Dr Buzzard's Original Savannah Band. It was the group where a lot of recognised important African-American contemporary funk and pop artists came out of, particularly August Darnell. They were a bit of a disco band who came out of the Bronx in New York, they had a very urban vibe which I liked, living in New York. They had a dance hit, Cherchez La Femme. I bought that record because it was this cool, Bronx, New York record and they were playing the same venues downtown as No Wave bands like DNA – I remember talking to Arto Lindsay about them, and he agreed: "yeah that's a critical record". I think people would be surprised a stone classic disco album is one of my favourite records of all time.

But I was always pro disco. Punk rock had this anti disco sentiment being expressed quite a bit, and I understood why that was because disco referenced an embrace of wealth and glamour at a time when punk was about kicking against that and extolling the glory of its poverty and its resistance to monied allusions. But disco to me was community oriented, and brought together a lot of energy from not only the African-American communities of America but also the gay communities of America. The fact that music went global, and was from a gay aesthetic, I thought that was fantastic. I think that is reason alone for the music's significance. Disco, like punk rock, continues to be an ongoing source of inspiration for so much of popular music, so I find it fairly eternal. Can you be fairly eternal?!

1234Ramones asks:

Ever been to Nantwich?

User avatar for ThurstonMoore Guardian contributor

No, I've never been there as far as I know! Because I don't know what the fuck it is.

Keeping busy in lockdown times

hicharliebea says:

Hi Thurston. excited for the new album. have you picked up any new quarantine hobbies? i saw you play germs burn on kexp in march and went out and bought a guitar the next day. i suck. hope you are well!!

User avatar for ThurstonMoore Guardian contributor

I didn't realise quarantine hobbies was a thing! I have taught myself how to record music on a digital recording machine, at home, I never was interested in recording at home, I always liked the idea of going to a studio and working in collaboration with its engineer, and keeping that process outside of my home. I found that I needed to take care of this situation since quarantine prohibited me from using a studio. So I have a small digital 8 track machine, and I learned just enough to record and mix on it with the most minimum of effort. I use the same reverb effect on everything I do, and I like it! I'm a big fan of economy, when it comes to recording. So I've been enjoying that - it has become a hobby. I've been recording a lot of new music on this little digital machine.

A lot of music I've been making is instrumental music for a film project that a young British artist has asked me to be involved with. So that's what I've primarily been doing. I would love to tell you who... but I know enough not to say anything until names are signed on pieces of paper. The first thing I recorded on this machine as soon as quarantine happened is a song called Strawberry Moon, because at the beginning the moon was in a phase called strawberry moon, so I put up the instrumental on my Bandcamp page as the first thing I'd done during quarantine – so that is out there.

I've also been writing a book, about music, and my own personal experience with it, and trying to talk about my discovering and inspirations and intrigues with being a musician and starting Sonic Youth in 1980. So I've been writing that, and I hope to publish it on the other side of the quarantine age. It's titled Sonic Life.

Here’s Thurston at home, contemplating your questions.
Here’s Thurston at home, contemplating your questions. Photograph: Thurston Moore

The Guardian’s Laura Snapes asks:

I know you encountered Lizzy Mercier Descloux in your early years in New York. What are your memories of her? And why do you think she’s eluded the cultural canonisation of many (much less talented!) figures of that era?

User avatar for ThurstonMoore Guardian contributor

Lizzy Mercier Descloux was in New York in the late 70s. I was curious about her because she was doing work with Patti Smith and Richard Hell, and I had a book of her writing, her poetry, and there was a picture of her standing alongside Patti. And so I was curious about her work because of my interest in Patti Smith. And I really liked her very first record called Press Color, it had this evocative black and white photo on the front that was really conducive to the No Wave aesthetic I was living amongst. I went to see her play in a small club, and it was good, but I never met her. I would learn more about her much later, after she passed away, and I found out how significant she was in punk history. She was involved in the Paris punk scene from day one, and that scene was very much aligned with the London scene – Malcolm McLaren came out of art school in Paris, and the connection was really in tandem. There's a great photo of Siouxsie Sioux and you can see a young Lizzy sitting behind them. She was in with the more romantic and intellectualised aspect of the punk scene, and the fact she got more involved in funk music and music from the African diaspora was really smart and genuine – she had this really interesting career and it was really sad she passed away at such a young age. I wish I had met her.

riccardoc says:

I really loved your work with Jim O’Rourke, will you be considering working with him again in the future?

User avatar for ThurstonMoore Guardian contributor

Jim O'Rourke lives in Japan, and I don't! I think if he reached out to me we could start that conversation – I'll leave it at that.

Goresonic asks

Hi Thurston, just wanted to ask if you miss New York, its music scene? Do you feel that there are a lot of things that have changed in this city the last couple of years? Which was your favourite restaurant in East Village?

User avatar for ThurstonMoore Guardian contributor

I miss New York all the time. A lot of it has to do with memory, with friends who are still there, with my daughter who is in her mid-20s and lives in Brooklyn. But I don't feel like the New York I lived in exists so much any more. And that doesn't worry me or bother me, because New York City was always about flux, about change, and I realised that early on, moving there in '77 and knowing by '87 it was quite a different city, and by '97, markedly different. I never returned, but it will always be my home city – it's where I learned just about everything in my life. I can still stand on the street in certain parts of that city and flash back to 1978, so I always hold it dear. I think the music scene is not only different in New York City but in the world over, due to the paradigm shift in how we interact with music.

My favourite restaurant in the East Village would have to be a place called Leskho's – it was kind of the place where all the poverty stricken noise rockers would convene at to have their Polish-American breakfast. 735 2nd Avenue, at 7th Street, on the corner. I remember this beautiful Judaic food. Challah bread French toast, stuffed cabbage... I subsisted on Polish-American food for a decade because it was afforded.

Tomassi asks:

I’ve really got into Wipers lately – seems like they were a huge influence on some of your peers – Dinosaur Jr and Nirvana particularly. You a fan?

User avatar for ThurstonMoore Guardian contributor

I am a fan of the Wipers, but I must say I came in rather late. I knew that they were this band in the 80s out of Portland, Oregon, that a lot of people I respected, respected themselves. I became very curious about the Wipers at some point, and hearing their first 7-inches and records I could see why people loved them so much. Fantastic. At some point I found myself covering one of their songs for a Wipers tribute record.

I like the punk-melodic sensibility of Greg Sage, it was really distinctive and genuine. And so I got really into listening to them, but on the late end, and maybe I found my head too steeped at the time in experimental music rather than pure punk music, which I loved, but I stopped listening to so much after 80, 81. People like J Mascis turned me onto the Wipers, but what really turned me on to them was a lot of bands like Bratmobile in the riot grrrl scene. Bratmobile had this funny song – it was this really significant group, and the singer Alison Wolf had these lyrics that went "I don't sit at home and listen to the Wipers". Like, I have to listen to the Wipers to be cool. Ah, so the Wipers must be cool in that case! It made me want to investigate the band, after hearing her make fun of all her friends for listening to them. That was my circuit! I did a cover on this album called 14 Songs for Greg Sage and the Wipers, that was some time in the 90s. There's songs like Over the Edge, Return of the Rat – they're great, classic, incredible tunes.

We're off … with Hendrix

CaptainBeefparts asks:

Let’s talk about Jimi. Was there any particular song that influenced you - say, Voodoo Chile?

User avatar for ThurstonMoore Guardian contributor

I have a brother who is five years older than I am, and so when we could procure record albums Jimi was pretty early on. My brother is a fantastic high technique guitar player, unlike myself, I'm completely self-vocabularised. But I gleaned everything initially about guitar from him. And he brought Jimi Hendrix to the house.

The song by Hendrix that stuck with me was Crosstown Traffic. I think a lot of it had to do with Jimi's singing and lyrics as much as his guitar virtuosity. There's one line that went "tyre tracks all across your back, I can see where you had your fun". As a 13 year old I wasn't quite sure what that alluded to but it sounded really exciting! Like, what is he talking about? But I love that song, the way he sings do-do-do-do with his guitar going do-do-do too. A beautiful, crazy, rock-pop tune by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, for sure. I liked all the fun allegories he had in that song, like the traffic jam straight up ahead, the signals turning green to red. It was a primer for me in terms of how to have fun with lyrics, whilst shredding.

We live, as you may have heard, in unprecedented times. And yet some reassuring constants remain. The seasons will still turn. Disco will be re-revived. And Thurston Moore will continue to release records, as he has done since the turn of the 1980s. His latest, By the Fire, arrives this Friday.

Recorded in London right up to the wire of lockdown, it takes inspiration from jazz great Albert Ayler’s mantra that “music is the healing force of the universe”. Says Moore: “This recording offers songs as flames of rainbow energy, where the power of love becomes our call. These are love songs in a time where creativity is our dignity, our demonstration against the forces of oppression.” Some are just Moore alone with his guitar; others feature a band with My Bloody Valentine’s Deb Googe and Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley among their number.

You can ask Moore about By the Fire – or his work with Sonic Youth, his labels Ecstatic Peace Library and the Daydream Library Series, his record shop, his adventures in the New York punk scene, his oft-tweeted views on American politics, and anything else you fancy – when he joins us for a virtual Guardian webchat at 12.30pm BST on Wednesday 23 September.

Post your questions in the comments section below. And, in the meantime, cue up his new song Cantaloupe and soak up the rainbow energy.

Thurston Moore: Cantaloupe – video



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