- 22 Jan 20
Hot Press sat down with noise rock legend Kim Gordon to chat about her solo debut 'No Home Record' and more...
The heartache within indie-rock was widespread and intense when in 2011, the golden couple of anti-corporate noise-pop, Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore, announced their separation. The details of the split subsequently surfaced and were grubby indeed. Moore had been conducting an affair with a younger (also married) woman.
Gordon found out after picking up her husband’s phone one afternoon to check the time and stumbling upon an illicit text message. She confronted him; they went for counselling. And he continued to see the other woman.
“Thurston was carrying on this whole double life with her,” Gordon would say to Elle. “He was really like a lost soul.”
She laid it all out in her subsequent memoir, Girl In A Band (the title deriving from a lyric in Sonic Youth’s final album The Eternal: “What’s it like to be a girl in a band? / I don’t quite understand”). It opens with an excruciating chronicling of Sonic Youth’s final tour – following the rumbling of Moore’s infidelity, when the group were still contractually obligated to play a handful of shows in South America.
Gordon describes her soon to be ex-husband as awkwardly upbeat and determined to go out on a high. She, the wronged party, was left to stew in silence.
“I thought about saying something,” she remembers of Sonic Youth’s final gig, in Sao Paolo. “I didn’t.”
Four years on from the book, Gordon is starting over with a fantastic first solo LP, No Home Record. Given the painful ending to her collaboration with Moore, it’s surprising just how evocative it is of classic Sonic Youth. Gordon’s laconic vocals are front and centre; she demonstrates the same gift for cathartic melodies as displayed on such SU faves as ‘Swimsuit Issue’ and ‘Tunic (Song For Karen)’.
The parallels are often on purpose. ‘Hungry Baby’ from the new album scrutinises sexual harassment within the music industry in the era of #MeToo. It harks back to a previous occasion she addressed the subject, with the aforementioned ‘Swimsuit Issue’ in 1992. At that time, nobody thanked her for it.
“‘Swimsuit Issue’ caused quite the stir,” Gordon remembers. “It was kind of embarrassing for me because we had just signed to Geffen. And we’d got a lot of flack for that. When this prominent A&R person was called out for sexual harassment, it was a good opportunity to make a point. But apart from the one person being called out, nothing changed… That’s the culture. It’s gross.”
She wrote in her memoir about Geffen executives telling the band that Gordon should stand centre stage, the better to draw the male gaze. She shrugs. “It’s kind of embedded, I guess.”
Gordon grew up in Los Angeles, where her father was a UCLA professor of sociology. In 1980, at age 27, she took a bus to New York hoping to pursue a career in the arts. There, with no prior musical experience, she fell in with the city’s noise-rock scene. Soon she was dating Moore, with whom she started Sonic Youth. They married, had a daughter (model Coco) and toured the world.
And then everything fell apart and so Gordon moved back west, to the city of her childhood. No Home Record is, among other things, a rumination on how she and Southern California have changed in the intervening decades.
“LA is such a great place as a songwriter. You’re always in your car, always a voyeur. Everything is very branded here. Even the yoga is branded. It’s all raw material to be used.”
She doesn’t miss the music industry – the endless tours, the promotional cycles, the soundchecks, the backstage hangs. Still, she look backs fondly on Sonic Youth. And she appreciates it was band that very many people hold dearly. But it can be hard making sense of that day to day.
“I’m grateful in an abstract way,” she proffers. “If it weren’t for Sonic Youth I wouldn’t be where I am. People wouldn’t have the interest. It is a little abstract to process that.”
Sonic Youth is a closed chapter in her life. Moore lives in London now with his new partner, book editor Eva Prinz (it was their affair that ended his marriage). He and Gordon are not reconciled. Asked recently if she had forgiven him she replied that for that to happen, he would have to seek forgiveness in the first place.
“The Dalai Lama said you don’t have to forgive someone if you can have empathy for them. And if the Dalai Lama said it…”
“If you loved someone, you can try to understand them,” she continued. “I empathise, but at the same time, you have to protect yourself from trauma and getting hurt again. You can’t really forgive someone if they don’t say they’re sorry.”
Was it difficult laying all those feelings out in print?
“It’s just like the album – I was surprised what a big deal it was,” she tells Hot Press. “When you spend that long talking about yourself you develop imposter syndrome. You feel as if you’re being overvalued. It was stressful. I also had two museum shows in three months. That was overwhelming.”
Her commitment to visual arts is one of the reasons Gordon hasn’t got around to a solo record sooner (plus there is her noise-rock side project Body/Head). As an artist she is constantly in demand. Earlier this year she was in Dublin to unveil an exhibition of her pieces at IMMA, entitled She Bites Her Tender Mind. It was her second visit within 12 months, following a site trip to the Kilmainham exhibition space in 2018.
“It’s a wonderful museum with a really good programme. I want to go back and drive the west coast. The first time, for my site visit, was right after the Repeal vote. It was so incredibly sunny and warm and people were out in the park.”
Things are less sunny back home. I remind her of Sonic Youth’s 1992 indie-disco standard, ‘Youth Against Fascism’. In the dim, distant and oh-so-naive post-grunge era, the song’s call-to-arms against right-wing extremism felt vaguely quaint – as if fascism was something we didn’t have to worry about. But just like ‘Swimsuit Issue’, it has proven remarkably prescient. Sonic Youth recognised something hiding in plain sight all along.
“The United States has never been closer than it is now to having an authoritarian president,” she says. “A president who thinks he’s above the law and wants to use the government for his own ends.”
No Home Record is out now. Kim Gordon will tour the album this year.