Thurston Moore interview: Sonic Youth frontman talks to Your Move ahead of Liverpool gig
As one quarter of Sonic Youth, Thurston Moore was responsible for some of alternative rock’s most enduring tracks, influencing countless bands with his groundbreaking guitar tunings and DIY ethos.
Ahead of the release of his new album this month and a special gig at St George’s Hall to celebrate the 50th anniversary of ‘The Mersey Sound’, Your Move sat down with Thurston to find out about his formative experiences with the guitar, playing Liverpool for the third time and taking a very special trip to Adrian Henri’s home.
Interview by Lawrence Saunders
What got you into music initially?
My father played classical piano and taught music as well as philosophy and art but the electric guitar stole my heart when I first saw my older brother Gene playing his own Fender. He’s the eldest, I’m the youngest and we have a beautiful sister Sue between us.
When we were kids Gene locked up his guitar and his bedroom door but I figured out how to break into both locks and carefully close up everything again before he came home so he never found out. That would happen nearly every day for a decade or so.
After all this time, one could argue that it could’ve actually been those locks that drew me to the guitar. It was during the ‘locksmith era’ that I started experimenting with alternative tunings.
You came to Liverpool in 1990 with Sonic Youth and with The Thurston Moore Group in 2015. How much do you enjoy playing Liverpool?
I love Liverpool! My group played Sound City in 2015 on a stage right after Sean Lennon’s band. Sound City was a memorable sunny day in Liverpool.
The Flaming Lips and loads of friends were there and made it a very special trip for us. Sean jumped back on stage too and took some great photos of the band.
Apart from your performances, what else stands out from your time in our city?
It’s a good thing there are records, lyrics, poetry and art. We can see and hear what we’ve been doing all this time.
During the 2015 visit to Liverpool before the gig, my partner Eva Prinz asked me if we could skip soundcheck and go over and visit the archives of another great Liverpool musician and artist – Adrian Henri.
Our guitar tech covered for me that afternoon and Eva and I visited Adrian’s home and archives with his widow Catherine Marcangeli. We spent the whole day poring over his poetry and art, and then later on Eva went back to join Catherine in her other office and kept texting over Adrian’s lines and images that had me salivating. You know you love an artist when their work does that to you!
Experiencing his work is the ultimate insider’s guide to Liverpool’s art happenings. He captured the city’s beatific soul, its sky, sound, heart and other surprises living around every corner there.
I guess after 25 years I’m all the more curious about Liverpool.
“I guess after 25 years I’m all the more curious about Liverpool.”
How did you become aware of the Liverpool Poets and their ‘Mersey Sound’ anthology?
I found out about the Liverpool Poets when I began reading Jean Jacques Lebel and British poets such as Tom Raworth, and everyone referred to the scene in Liverpool. ‘The Mersey Sound’ poets were around during an incredible era exploding with new ideas.
The work itself you can read and still feel, but when you delve into those scenes you find they’re replete with the hippest invitations, most outlandish photos, and even the titles of the events around that time where clothes might’ve been optional, are exceptionally fun and funny. Come to the ‘Theatre under the Table’, enjoy the ‘Edible Rainbow’, the ‘Space Structure Workshop’ or the ‘Endless Love Room’.
The happenings were art in the event themselves, like an event where the artist explains pictures to a dead hare. Magical times.
Oh can you imagine Adrian walking over and handing you one of his hand painted love hearts? I can.
Did the work of the Liverpool Poets impact on your musical output?
Adrian’s presence and joie de vivre had a huge impact, I would say, on the vibrations of music from that time. He performed on the same stages as Led Zeppelin and other bands influencing me.
People don’t really know his work so well but back then his name was heard in the coolest circles. John Peel put out his record and his work and his performances were legendary.
Your upcoming show at St George’s Hall has been billed as a “musical response to The Mersey Sound”. How does one go about creating a reply to a collection of poems through song?
Many of the songs we have been writing lately come from poems. There is a poet in London called Radieux Radio, who sends me sweet lines and I place them into my songs. The other day, when I was looking for a title, Radieux randomly texted one word: ‘telepathy’. It was the perfectly timed title.
What can fans expect from your performance?
Maybe I should read something! I’ll play some of the heavy new licks from my new album ‘Rock N Roll Consciousness’ and other new pieces.
When can fans get hold of the new album?
The release date is 28 April. We’re all really thrilled for this one.
We recorded it in the spring inside a church and it’s a very good document of my life in the UK [Thurston lives in London]. Full of poetry and magic.