Q&A: Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore

Sonic Youth
Photo: Michael Schmelling

It sounds strange to say, but you guys are kind of the new kids at this Matador party.

We are. We’re kind of the new kids, but we probably have more of a history with some of the principles of Matador than anybody on the label, which is kind of funny. Sonic Youth recorded for [Matador co-owner] Gerard [Cosloy’s] previous label, Homestead, really early on. Gerard was a champion of the band from really early on, when he was living in Boston and doing a fanzine called Conflict. In fact, I remember Gerard calling me from Boston in the ’80s at some point, saying how he was offered this job at Dutch East India to run their in-house label, Homestead. He was a little on the fence if he should do it, and I said, “It’s an opportunity you should probably entertain. If it doesn’t work out, you’re still a man of independent means if you wish to be.” And he did do it. So we did Bad Moon Rising with him on Homestead and a couple of other things. And we had some connections there with Dinosaur and Big Black and then we went to SST Records and in some sense brought Dinosaur with us, which I think maybe was a bit of a perturbance to Gerard at the time. And then he and Chris [Lombardi] decided to start their own company with Matador. And the rest is history.

What comes to mind when you hear the words “Matador Records”?

Gerard has always been recognized as somebody who, in business parlance, has ears. So I always knew that Matador would make its mark, just because I knew Gerard knew what he was doing and was a very smart person who had a really good business acumen. I wasn’t really surprised at all by whatever successes they had.

In the back of your mind, did you ever feel like Sonic Youth could end up back with him at Matador?

Not really, because when we signed with Geffen and we were part of their DGC label it was all sort of exciting. It seemed like a golden rainbow. And, of course, within a matter of years the industry started tanking in on itself. But I never really thought we would be in a situation where we would be hooking up with Matador. I never really thought about it. It really wasn’t until a year and a half ago, when we were kind of thinking about what we would do post-DGC, and it was all about looking at secure independents such as Merge and Barsuk and Matador. I was immediately of the mind to work with Matador, only because it was in my neighborhood—it was in New York City—and I knew just about everybody there. And I knew it was a strong company, and I liked the personality of it. And as soon as we kind of let it be known that we were free agents, Gerard contacted me and said, “If you have any interest in talking to us we would certainly be interested in talking to you.” That was really exciting for me. I had lost contact with Gerard, more or less, through the years, but we knew each other from an early time. And we kind of have an understanding of each other’s personalities and our kind of lust for music, etcetera. We just really connect. We have, certainly, a difference of opinion as far as what’s hot and what’s not. But I felt really happy about getting that e-mail from Gerard. And right at that moment I was like, well, this is what I think we should do—do a record with Matador. It made so much sense to me.

And as fate would have it you’re on the label in time for its 21st birthday party. Are you hanging out in Vegas for the whole fest?

We can’t. We’re gonna fly into Vegas and play our night and then—I don’t know what Lee and Steve are going to do—but Kim and I have to fly back to LA because we’re part of this Plastic Ono Band event that’s going on in LA. We’re doing one of the nights there. The night we’re doing it it’s me and Kim and Lady Gaga. So Yoko and Gaga are stealing us away from the Matador celebration. I would love to hang out in Vegas the whole time and be part of the Matador thing, but at the same time I wouldn’t want to miss the Plastic Ono Band thing. So it’s kind of a good conflict to have, I guess.

You guys have played Vegas a few times over the years—a couple shows in the early ’90s and then some more recently. What do you think of a Vegas casino as the host site?

(Laughs.) Well, I think it makes a lot of sense because there’s a certain absurd fun-time that goes on in Vegas for people of our generation. Why not, you know? It could have been anywhere, I guess, but Vegas makes a lot of sense. I’ve always had a good time there. I’ve always found that there were pretty good record stores there. That’s one of the main reasons I go out on tour, anyway, just so I can hit record stores.

In terms of your setlist: Most of the bands will probably focus on their Matador material. With just one Matador album to work with, will yours be more of a retrospective?

We’ll probably sort of focus on that [The Eternal]. One thing that’s been happening this last year, especially since Mark has been preoccupied with Pavement’s reunion, is that for the shows where he’s not available we just go out and do a set of music that doesn’t really go past 1991. That’s been a lot of fun for us and for the audience. It’s almost like we’re reuniting without breaking up. We always stayed away from doing that, because we didn’t want to be, like, Sonic Youth nostalgia act. But I don’t feel like I’m playing oldies—I just feel like I’m playing our songs. But for Matador, Mark will be available to us, so it’ll be more of a mix between stuff from The Eternal and older material.

Do you have any favorite Matador albums?

Well, certainly [Pavement’s] Slanted and Enchanted is a magnificent record that sticks with me. [Cat Power’s] Chan Marshall’s last record of original compositions, The Greatest, I thought was a really wonderful record. And they’ve done records by bands that are maybe a bit more marginal that I really like, like Bardo Pond.

Do you have plans for future Matador releases?

I’m working on a solo record right now, a fully fleshed-out recording of a bunch of new material I’ve been working on for the last year or so. I’m gonna record that end of October into November and try to get it out at some point in the new year, through Matador. I’ve liked working with Matador quite a bit. I really liked working with the publicist, Nils [Bernstein]. I think Chris and Gerard have a really good sense of what they’re doing. And all the in-house people there are good people—very devotional.

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Spencer Patterson

Spencer Patterson is the Editor of Las Vegas Weekly, having previously served as Managing Editor, Arts & Entertainment Editor and ...

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