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Thurston Plugs Back In

Chelsea Light Moving w/Speedy Ortiz

Tralf Music Hall

Friday, Sept 13, 7pm. $15.

Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore brings his new band to Buffalo for the first time

For Sonic Youth co-founder Thurston Moore, starting a new band was as simple as putting down an acoustic guitar and picking up an electric one.

Since the release of Moore’s deeply personal solo album Trees Outside the Academy in 2007, his first solo album since 1995’s Psychic Hearts, the 55-year-old musician has boomeranged back and forth between solo and band projects. In 2011 his marriage to Sonic Youth bassist Kim Gordon ended, as did their illustrious band. This major change in Moore’s life happened just after the release of his third solo album, Demolished Thoughts, an anxious record about lost time and deteriorating happiness, written mostly on acoustic guitars, harps, violins, upright bass, and drums. As far as Moore’s solo material goes, this sort of production was normal, yet still abnormal in relation to the experimental no-wave alternative rock the musician spent years pushing into the world through Sonic Youth.

At the end of his tour in support of Demolished Thoughts, the guitarist put down the shining 12-string acoustic guitar and returned to the electric guitar. He asked violinist Samara Lubelski, who had toured with him several times in support of his solo material, to put down her violin and pick up a bass guitar. He asked touring drummer John Moloney of Sun Burned Hand of a Man—a group that Moore describes as “freak-freestyle improv”—to permanently join his new band, along with guitarist Keith Wood, who was signed to Moore’s label, Ecstatic Peace!, under the name Hush Arbors. Together the four musicians formed Chelsea Light Moving, a project that has returned Moore to his signature, raw, no-wave sound. On Friday, September 13, Moore will bring his new band to the Tralf Music Hall for its first performance in Buffalo. We had the chance to talk to him about the band’s genesis, countercultures past and present, and the place of protest in music today.

AV: The members of Chelsea Light Moving seem to have emerged from a pool of people you were touring with on your solo material.

Moore: Yeah, it’s been the same group of people I’ve been working with. I think on that last tour for Demolished Thoughts, I had been focused on playing my acoustic guitar, really investigating it. A lot of it was in contrast to playing with Sonic Youth. I kind of started busting out the electric guitar on the last solo tour, started introducing songs from Psychic Hearts, and started actually writing songs too.

AV: Has it been refreshing to return to an electric guitar?

Moore: Yeah, it’s fun. Sonic Youth was just beginning to go into hiatus right then, so I didn’t really have that place to write songs like that. I started doing it and we started playing them live and I was really digging it. I wanted to give the band a name instead of doing it under my own name. I wanted to create a distance from that spotlight of me-me-me-me. I liked the idea of a band, too.

AV: So was there a feeling that starting this band would lend you some anonymity?

Moore: Well, yeah, I think I was seeking some kind of anonymity, but it’s for better or worse, you know? Because when you go on tour under a new band name it creates a little bit of an obscurity. It can be a challenge to fill up a room with a new band name, as opposed to Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth. There was a little bit of a trade-off but I liked the idea of a band. It’s more unified.

AV: Where did the name come from?

Moore: I decided to call the band Chelsea Light Moving because I had been reading this book called Love Goes to Buildings on Fire by Will Hermes, which is a history of New York underground music from 1972 to around 1978. He talked about Philip Glass starting a moving company. [Glass] had a van and he took a classified ad out in a local paper and he called the moving company ‘Chelsea Light Moving.’ He started the moving company so he could make some coin to rent out a concert hall to put on a performance. As soon as I saw that, I really liked it.

AV: It’s a very gentle name, whereas the music is not so gentle at all.

Moore: Yeah, I liked that kind of paradox. It sounds like a British shoegazing band name, but it most definitely is not that. The music is more about immediacy and first-thought-best-thought as far as songwriting goes. The first batch of songs we recorded really quickly.

AV: How does the songwriting for this band compare to writing with Sonic Youth?

Moore: I think basically I wanted to have fun and write songs that dealt with getting into the simplicity of the riff. I like working as a democracy as a band, and Sonic Youth was certainly that. That’s what I really liked about Sonic Youth—that everyone really brought something to the table no matter who brought in the structure. Sonic Youth worked in a way where someone would bring in a structural idea and it would be completely modified. Then it was just playing, like just improvising and creating song ideas. That was even more interesting because it felt magical. For the most part, [Chelsea Light Moving] is me coming up with song ideas and just sort of saying this is what we’re doing. I still don’t tell Keith or John or Samara what to play in any notational way, I’m not writing their music. I let them come up with their parts, but I will have the final say on whether that is going to fly or not. And usually it does, I mean, that’s why I’m playing with them, because they have sharp musical minds. But the rest of the band calls me dad.

AV: Do you like that role?

Moore: [Laughs] It’s okay, I’m getting used to it. You know, I’m the old guy in the band, too. These guys are all in their 30s and early 40s—it’s not a young man’s band by any means—but they’re much younger than I am. I’m 55.

AV: What does it feel like then to get up on stage and rock out to heavy, chaotic songs like “Alighted”?

Moore: “Alighted” is the kind of song I really dig writing and playing, and it’s also the kind of song that I probably would never have gotten away with in Sonic Youth. It has a certain direct movement in it. It really reflects my interest and love for hardcore and heavy metal, which has always been there, but a lot of times it got sort of diffused in Sonic Youth. Now it’s just really in-your-face.

AV: When I listen to “Lip” you sound kind of fed up; it’s a very frank song. The chorus is “get fucking mad/too fucking bad.”

Moore: Those lyrics do have a certain cynicism to them. I wrote them during the Occupy Wall Street protests, which I was completely supportive of and really into. I like the attempts at anarchy, and the idea of it being sort of a street-school of ideas. I thought it was contemporary and defining itself outside of the old guard of protests and resistance that had existed historically. The old guard of protests became mollified by the machine of power and money, it didn’t really have much effect any more, so there needed to be a new way of bringing attention to any kind of injustice that goes on socially. I was really inspired and impressed by it. “Lip” was written about wanting to give power to anger in the face of injustice.

AV: But the record isn’t only about present countercultures, it’s about past countercultures as well, right?

Moore: Yeah. I deal a lot with that culture anyway; I’m very involved with 20th-century poetry studies. I teach at Naropa University in the summer time, which is the university that Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman helped found in 1974. That’s something that’s very big-time for me. That whole Buffalo literary scene that kind of revolves around Robert Creeley; that is big news for me. I’m also an archivist for underground poetry publications, so in a way, that was like source material for my lyric writing and songwriting. I wrote a song based on the last words of William S. Burroughs, about love being a real cure for pain, as if it was a drug, so I wrote some simple lines about that—having fun with it and referring to him as Billy—and we called the song “Burroughs.” I was really into reading about Frank O’Hara, a great American poet. He was really important in what is called the New York School of poetry. I was reading about when he was killed in a dune buggy accident on Fire Island and I realized that he died on my birthday, July 25. So I wrote the song “Frank O’Hara Hit.” I’m just trying to embrace this fascination I have with this culture and this lineage that I place my work in. When we first started playing these songs and recording them, I referred to the music as “Burroughs-rock.”

AV: I find it difficult to find good protest music right now. Are there any musicians who you feel are making significant protest music?

Moore: Well, certainly the people we know about like Tom Morello, he’s the most obvious one. I think it’s a difficult situation because you don’t want to create celebrity out of protest. It becomes a little conflicted because celebrities should have nothing to do with protest, but at the same time, celebrities can draw attention to ideas that should be expressed. When things get hot and heavy sometimes you’ll see some organized musical situations happen, like Bruce Springsteen will get involved, Neil Young will get involved. Certainly Patti Smith has been really interesting in her later years as an artist and she focuses on that in the live context, in the way of trying to encourage people to get involved. It’s a lot to ask for somebody to articulate the material of radical politics. If only Noam Chomsky was the lead singer of a band.

AV: I would listen to that band.

Moore: [Laughs] Yeah, but you’ll have to rely on text and interviews instead. To bring that kind of thing into context for youth culture is a little tricky because it becomes entertainment or it’s like getting into the form of entertainment. There is always a balancing act there. It’s a different landscape culturally and politically now. There is a lot of interconnectivity in the world right now, so you get people like Bradley Manning a.k.a. Chelsea Manning…to me he’s the rock star right now. He’s incarcerated for blowing the whistle. I love that term. It’s musical; it’s like plugging a guitar in. I wish I had called the band the Whistleblowers now.

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