After alt-rock trailblazers Sonic Youth split in 2011 due to the acrimonious divorce of lead members Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore, Gordon chose to lay all myths to bed – of her life, her music and her 29 years of marriage. She told her full and frank truth in her no-holds-barred 2015 memoir, Girl In A Band. It makes for very colourful reading. Taking in her time at art school, moving to the “post apocalyptic hell” of ’80s Manhattan, the forming of a band that bred the scene that gave us Nirvana, and the messy end of 27 years of marriage, it’s an essential document detailing a life lived at the heart of alternative culture.
Watch our video interview with Kim Gordon above
While we have Gordon in the NME basement, we have to ask her how she feels about the potential of her story being turned into a movie – especially in the light of the success of recent biopics Rocketman and Bohemian Rhapsody.
“That would be very cool,” she says. “I’d have to be involved in some way, of course. It couldn’t be a conventional biopic.”
And who would you Gordon in a dream scenario? “Kristen Stewart,” she replies. Wow. Do we know if Kristen can shred on bass? “Well, there wouldn’t be any music parts,” Gordon continues, “because that almost never comes off.”
As any movie would show, Gordon has always seen herself as an artist first and a musician second. No wonder then that her new debut solo album ‘No Home Record’ is closer to an art project than your average ‘rock album’. To launch the album, the below glossy promo shot of Gordon in a plush apartment was shared – and soon became a meme. It’s more akin to the sleeve of a Davina McCall self-help book in your local branch of The Works than an image of a grunge icon. It’s poking fun at the tropes of consumerism, as is the record within. A collage of unusual and harsh sounds backing a Warhol-like smattering of familiar advertising slogans, ‘No Home Record’ finds Gordon wondering between pop and conceptual art to take aim at everything from the impending “fall of capitalism” to the fetishisation of the home in tacky Air BnBs. Just when you think you’ve got to know an artist, they still find ways to surprise you. We sat down with Gordon in London, to find out what keeps her moving.
You’ve always said that visual art comes to you first, ahead of music. At what point did you have the compulsion to make a solo record?
“I don’t imagine myself as a solo artist making a solo record. I say that because my background is going to art school. I know that means something different in America than it does here, but my idea is that I’m not a musician and I wasn’t trained as a musician. A lot of people I knew started playing post-punk or fell into it because of punk rock, but to me I found the no wave scene quite inspiring. It seemed more free to me back then than what was happening in the art world – which was becoming very commercialised.”
But now the situation is the other way around?
“On this record, it’s come the closest to merging my art practice with music. One way that’s made it really fun in the process of promoting it is having Loretta Fahrenholz, this young filmmaker, do the videos. It’s made me feel like my art community was with me.”
I was intrigued by the song ‘Air BnB’ and what you said about that phenomenon – how it’s taking the idea of ‘the home’ and turning it into a fantasy.
“Yeah, it’s turning it into a utopia – but there’s also something very generic about them. They become less like a home, and now they’re very much like hotel rooms and all the same. it has something to do with a lifestyle. I saw some online in LA and it had a lot to do with sunsets and surfboards and stuff like that.”
I went to an Air BnB once in Berlin and was expecting just a bed and the basics, but there were vintage cameras and old jackets everywhere like you were stepping into this new life.
“So you kind of felt like Bohemian Berliner? How did that make you feel?”
“Yeah! In truth, I haven’t stayed in many but the more minimal they are then the better. I don’t want to feel like I’m staying in someone else’s home.”
Do you feel as if the commodification of the everyday was easier to draw upon because you were in L.A. rather than New York?
“Well, one of the cliches of L.A. is that it’s a very voyeuristic city. You know; you’re always in a car looking at something from a distance. You’re also near Hollywood, which is a place where they make fantasies and create fiction.”
So that and advertising are part of the landscape?
“Exactly. There’s a famous Andy Warhol quote where he talks about the inside being the outside and the outside being the inside, and I always find it interesting how in advertising a lot of the one liners that you see look like fragmented poetry. It seems super-personal, but there’s not a person that you know behind it. It’s this uber-unconsciousness that’s supposed to reach out to you.”
So if there is a message to this record, what is it? Or it just mirroring that emptiness?
“The message of the record is that the end of capitalism is coming and that Trump is going to be the person who drives it into the ground. I remember when the [Berlin] Wall came down and this general feeling in the ‘Western World was that Communism didn’t work and that this proves it’. What came out of it was just lots of corruption, and we’re just that way already with lots of corruption.”
Is Trump just the manifestation of capitalism becoming as bloated as it can be?
“Totally, yeah – but he’s also not good at it! Which is funny.”
“The message of the record is that the end of capitalism is coming and that Trump is going to be the person who drives it into the ground”
We’re approaching the end of the decade. What would you define this decade by?
“I don’t know. It’s such a mess. I can’t tell what it is. I find it weird how they label generations. We’ve had X, Y and Z and now we’re already at the end of the alphabet. That doesn’t seem very good…”
How are you looking to start the next decade?
“We’ll be doing some touring next year. In January, I have a show at 303 Gallery in New York, so after that I’ll be able to focus on putting a band together and performing.”
Do you think you’ll perform differently as a solo artist?
“Maybe! Because there will be some backing tracks, and I think I’m just going to do it as a performance artist maybe.”
Do you listen to much contemporary rock n’ roll?
What do you look for in other music? What would you say is the common thread between all the artists you just mentioned?
“With those artists it feels kind of timeless. While still being totally original, it reminds me of Jackson C Frank. Something about their voices feels kind of timeless.”
Do you see much fakery in music? With the Instagram generation, it’s easy to copy a punk lifestyle and aesthetic and put a hashtag on it.
“Well, there’s a certain aspect to the irreverence to sound that I like. You can just take what you need. You know, take a reverb effect off this record and put it on this song over here. That’s kind of junky in a way and I like that. But mostly I don’t pay attention to the music industry. I should.”
“Mostly I don’t pay attention to the music industry. It feels a lot apart from the world of when Sonic Youth was together and playing”
It’s dark out there…
“Yeah! It feels a lot apart from the world of when Sonic Youth was together and playing. One would pay more attention to that, although I didn’t actually read Rolling Stone or any of those.”
Do you ever hear your influence in other artists?
“Sometimes, actually. Once during this photo shoot they were playing a playlist that started with Deerhunter and went into all this other music. At one point I thought, ‘Is Sonic Youth’ and then ‘Is this My Bloody Valentine?’ It was this band DIIV, and they sounded kind of interesting.”
How do you feel when people hold you up as an example of how women in rock can behave and not take any shit? What’s it like to be put on that pedestal?
“I always like to put the bar a little low! Put your expectations down. That’s heavy. I feel that people often project a lot of that stuff, so I’m not entirely comfortable with it.”
That’s what was cool about the book [Girl In A Band]. You were laying a lot of myths to rest and saying how it really was. Did that feel like an act of closure? Did that answer a lot of questions that you never have to answer again?
“I hope so! Sometimes I get lazy and feel like some things don’t need to get articulated, or I don’t really care enough to – but it’s healthy sometimes. I should do it more.”
What else are you working on at the moment?
“There’s also this improv soundtrack that I recorded with Steve Gunn & John Truscinski to this Warhol film called Kiss. That was part of an exhibition I had in Pittsburg and there was a record that came out of it. We’ll tour with it too a little bit.”
‘No Home Record‘ by Kim Gordon is out now.