Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Tuning in to tunings talk

Let's be honest: I was never likely to be disappointed by Thurston Moore's "masterclass" on Steve Lamacq's 6Music show.

After power problems (during which Lamacq joked that they were replicating the chaos of early Sonic Youth shows), it was a delight to be able to hear him play a handful of stone-cold classics - 'Tom Violence', 'Cotton Crown', '100%' and 'Sunday' - even if he readily admitted they're hard to do on a single guitar, given that much of the effect comes from the interplay between the instruments.

The masterclass aspect of the interview was sufficiently untechnical as to avoid alienating non-musicians like me. Moore spoke about the experimentation with tunings that has become an integral part of his signature guitar sound, stressing that it initially arose out of necessity (making cheap "pawnshop" guitars, which were all he and his bandmates could afford, sound decent) and that it was inspired by Glenn Branca and Rhys Chatham, both of whom they encountered and played with in early-80s New York. Those distinctive tunings, of course, frequently made it a challenge to recreate recorded material in the live environment. He managed to play the four Sonic Youth songs using just two guitars, but understandably confessed he'd had to dig out old notebooks to reacquaint himself with the tunings.

Moore evidently remains bemused at the thought of being considered a guitar idol, and argued that his style is more defined by instinct, feel and confidence, rather than technical ability. Spoken like a true punk - even if the first song he ever wrote, the heavily Ramones-influenced 'I Don't Have To Mow The Lawn No More' (of which we were treated to a snippet), has four chords, not three. "I was already too progressive for those guys", he laughed.

Other points of interest in the conversation included: the fact that after a while Sonic Youth realised they'd developed a kind of formula - verse, chorus, verse, chorus, noise wig-out, verse, chorus - and that they should start breaking with the trope; the band's ultra-pragmatic motivations for signing with a major label - proper accounting, health insurance and simply being able to pay the rent; and the reason why he never got into drugs - "I never understood why you would spend money on something that wasn't a record".

Moore also spoke about life after Sonic Youth and his new collaboration with Nought's James Sedwards, My Bloody Valentine's Deb Googe and his old mucker Steve Shelley under the banner The Thurston Moore Band, revealing his love of taking the orthodox guitar-bass-drums set-up and using it to make unorthodox music. The show ended with a rendition of new song 'Turn On', which was just about the best promotional tool for new LP Rock 'N' Roll Consciousness you could imagine.

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