© Cédrick Eymenier 1999-2022

http://cedrickeymenier.com/files/gimgs/th-293_sy2.jpg
http://cedrickeymenier.com/files/gimgs/th-293_sy5.jpg
http://cedrickeymenier.com/files/gimgs/th-293_sy3.jpg
http://cedrickeymenier.com/files/gimgs/th-293_sy4.jpg

PRETTY STRAIGHT FORWARD
An Interview with Lee Ranaldo
By Audrey Fondecave and Cedrick Eymenier
itw originally made for OKFRED magazine #5 (Tokyo Japan)

Sonic Youth's photos @ Festival Rock-en-seine, 2004
By Cedrick Eymenier

"I'm gettin' lost in the slipstream
Maybe relive the same dream
Of comin' in from the cold
And losin' half of my soul
Memory disease
Across United States"

-
Lee Ranaldo (from Sonic Youth "Paper Cup Exit"- Sonic Nurse, 2004)

It's about: SY world tour - Richard Prince - Beat Generation - Glenn Branca - Crazy - Art - Godzilla - Carlos Castaneda - Andy Warhol - Getting high - Existentialism - Just say Yes! - Politics - President - Morocco - Joujouka - Repetitive - Rock'n'roll - Demon Lover - New York - Tokyo - Paris... Lee speaks loud, clear and pretty straight forward! DAYDREAM NATION

LEE
We are coming to Japan in February.
OK
And you also come back in France soon?
LEE
Either december or april 2005, hopefully soon, we like it here a lot.
OK
How is this worldwide Sonic Nurse tour? Are you still enjoyed doing all these gigs?
LEE
We have been all over the places, we started in Australia and New Zealand and we just did maybe the longest US Tour we've done in quite a few years and now we are in Europe and then we will go to Mexico for the first time and Japan after that. It's been going fantastic I've to say, we've been working really hard, there has been a lot of shows but I've already put 2 or 3 shows from this tour in my top 25 ever Sonic Youth's shows. So it's been a really great summer I think we're playing really great. It is not so representative here because we have a beautiful light show and when we are indoors in a controlled situation it can be fantastic. Festival is another thing: you can go crazy and jump around... but it's been really nice pretty great summer! Everybody is very happy.
OK
Listening to all Sonic Youth discography and collaborations/side-projects would take a very long time. How do you look at this?
LEE
I don't know. We became lucky enough in the 80's to become established as a band and have more and more opportunities open up to us. And we are a group of people that most of all like to be working so we work all the time. We're doing music, we're doing books or paintings or whatever but we like to stay really busy and work a lot and we had some opportunities and you know...We are just kind of taking advantages of them basically. We are trying a lot of kind of things I mean we 're not trying to have pop hits obviously we are trying to do interesting work so it takes a lot of different form. As long as we have the opportunities we will continue.
OK
So you don't have any nostalgic feeling regarding the early 80's or another period?
LEE
Well I have a certain nostalgic regard forward, but it's a long time ago and we are still active and still creative and still happy with what we are doing now so that's always the way the band has been. We've always been happy to be where we are right now and it's still that way, we are very lucky you know. For being a band 24 years, we are not playing music from 10 or 20 years ago, we are mostly playing music we made this year, that's great!
OK
Do you have any favourite LP/period?
LEE
This is one of my favourite period! Always the most recent album is our favourite because it's the newest work and it's the work we are the least familiar with and the least bored with, it's the work we are the most excited about. My favourite period is the next one! (laughs)
OK
What do you think of recent artist such as Fennesz or Rafael Toral who use digital equipment to process their guitar? Don't you wanna try this?
LEE
Well I do a little bit of it. They are both good friends of us I performed quite frequently with Rafael for instance and Fennesz performed with us a few times. I think what both of them do is fantastic I really like it a lot. You know we do some stuff like that but mostly when we play live we are really about the electric guitar, it's a much more direct connection. It's not going to all kinds of processing and things. It's really immediate and emotional and it's connected to those aspect of rock music that we first fell in love with and we still think are very strong. I mean you go see The Stooges today and it's still really strong, and they are not processing, it's what rock'n'roll was and is all about...So for us that's what we do. A lot of different things in the studio but when we play live we mostly play pretty straight forward.
OK
It seems you are some kind of active collector of vintage guitars & amps?
LEE
Yeah, to some degree. We are not crazy obsessed but we are in a way like junkies because we have to have a lot of guitars to do what we do. We know which ones we like and most of them are old so we try and find them when we can. We don't buy the one that collectors buy that are beautiful, because we bit up the guitar so we find the old ones, the finishes are stripped off. We try to find them cheap because we like what they sound like not what they look like.
OK
Jim'O Rourke has produced the last LP of Sonic Youth...
LEE
They are still produced by Sonic Youth, Jim had a large hand on the last 2, that's for sure. But still we all produce them.
OK
Many people said Jim bring richer details to your sound. But in the end the mood remains the same.
LEE
I love the way these last 2 records sound. We have our own studio for the last 6 or 8 years, a lot of thing happened at once : the studio, Jim coming in, a new sound technician, we made a lot of improvement. Including the fact that Jim is mostly mixing the record and doing a really great job, we made the studio better, the recording better. So a lot of different things have helped us to sound much better in the last 2 records.
OK
You use some of the Nurse serie painting from Richard Prince. Do you know him for a long time?
LEE
Yeah Thurston & Kim & I pretty much met him when we all 1st move to NY like late 70's, early 80's. He was in the same situation : coming to NY to be artist and musician. He played in an early version of Glenn Branca's group before Thurston or I play with Glenn. So we 've known him for a long time and followed his career. We thought he was doing really great work but not so well known. Recently he became far more well-known and famous, his work sell for crazy money. We like what he does a lot.
OK
Richard Prince is highly prolific, why did you choose this one?
LEE
We were in the studio mixing the record and we realize we had to find a cover, it just came about you know...We've seen some of those Nurse paintings in a show and we thought they were cool and we looked forward on the web and found more and yeah these look cool. We just contact Richard about it and the funny thing he told us was that he made most of those paintings while listening to Murray Street. So we thought it was a crazy closure of the circle. It was really really cool.
OK
The art direction of your covers always use images from artists. So many great artist like Mike Kelley, Raymond Petitbon, Gerhard Richter, William Burroughs, Dan Graham, Richard Kern... Are visual contemporary art an inspiration for your music?
LEE
It's an inspiration...Kim and I are showing work in gallery and Thurston too, to a lesser degree, I mean we are really involved in the visual world. Kim & I both trained in university as visual artist and that's why we move to NY in part to do music and visual art. And over the last 8 years as our schedule has become a little bit more...not so crazy, we started making more visual art again and showing in galleries and museums and things. So it's very important to us to stay in touch with that world and to try to be part of it.
OK
Litterature, especially the Beat generation seems to be a massive influence, we can see this in your lyrics.
LEE
Those guys are very important to us and the entire underground poetry from the 40's to 80's. It's very important especially to me and Thurston. We were lucky enough to become friends with some of these guys at the end of their life : Allen (Ginsberg), William (Burroughs) and Corso, Ferlinghetti and that was a great thrill. It's not the only inspiration, obviously our interest litterally wise are wide ranging. Thurston and I have been publishing small books. I actualy have a small book that just came out this week in America. We are all really big readers, we read tons of different stuff, it's definetly something that inform our lyrics and our general thinking
OK
Hal Hartley used one of your song in his movie "Simple men".
LEE
Yeah. He used one song, he used it in a complete copie from a Godard scene from "Bande à part". He re-created the dancing scene. And we've done some soundtrack work, we did Olivier Assayas' "Demon Lover" and a few others films and now we gonna remake the theme from "Godzilla" for a remake of Godzilla film from Toho studios in Japan. They invited us to do some new soundtrack. We are all really involved in cinema and it's a great love of many of us. It's something we do when we can. I'm showing a bunch of short film I made in Alaska in a film festival in Switzerland in October. And I have 2 other groups that do concert with films. We did one at the Centre Pompidou with my wife actually.
OK
Recently?
LEE
Well I have this group called Text of Light, we played at the Pompidou like 2 years ago about 2002 and then in 2001 I did my other film thing that I do with my wife. It's a different kind of film thing.
OK
You have to do this again!
LEE
Yeah I would like to.
OK
At the Fondation Cartier they also welcome such things: poetry reading...
LEE
I love that space, that would be a really cool place to do something. I don't know how you contact those people but that would be cool.
OK
I'd like to talk about your own lyrics. I have some quotation, if you want to comment them. >THERE'S SOMETHING MOVING OVER THERE ON THE RIGHT LIKE NOTHING I'VE EVER SEEN (from ERIC'S TRIP/daydream nation 1988)
LEE
(...laughs...) Nobody ever asked about that before! Hum...Most of the Lyrics from that song are taken from an Andy Warhol Film called "Chelsea Girls". And they are taken from the words of a man nammed Eric Emmerson who was one like a Warhol sort of house's hippies. And he was really...He took a lot of acid and he was a really freaky character in Warhol's orbit. The first verse is all right from the movie, I just wrote it down. And it just became this sort of psychedelic tale and that part actually...I don't know how it came about actually...But it came out from some books by this man Carlos Castaneda about Don Juan. And Dom Juan talks about this thing...this spiritual being you see off the edge of your vision. It's something to do with that, some kind of a vision you see out of the corner of your eyes : the peripheral vision.
OK
>I'M NOT MOVING DOESNT MEAN I CANT
(from PIPELINE sonic youth - Sister - 1987)
LEE
(laughs)There is a couple of song that reference this idea of....Oh I don't know...It goes back to some philosophical stuff that I was studyin' at a time : Kierkegaard and Hegel and things like that and the notion of a man, of a being and wether...what's possible as action, it's kind of existential or something, it has to do with this existential concept, wether you can actually make action...You are not moving, standing still, you observe, that kind of zen fashion. I was reading a lot of Sartre and things like that at the time. It came out of that, I don't even remember the exact reference but I know I wrote a couple of prose piece about that same thing. One of them was : "God is a man standing still" you know not moving at all, not trying to get anywhere, just being right now. Be here now.
OK
You said "prose", that's what is interesting in your lyrics. They are like stories rather than poetry.
LEE
In that way it certainly comes out of stuff that started with people like Kerouac and Ginsberg reading with music behind. I made a whole records of stuff like that at one point, a few years ago.
OK
"Time" is some kind of a leitmotiv in your lyrics as well as cars, driving...
LEE
Yeah and I thought about another one the other day : "Getting high" was in lot of the lyrics (laughs) Not meaning like smoking...more some kind of spiritual High...A little of both probably...
OK
>THESE TIMES CAN'T ADD UP, YR LIFE IS SUCH A MESS
FORGET THE PAST, AND JUST SAY YES
HEY JONI sonic youth - daydream nation (1988)
LEE
Yeah! At that time it was Reagan and they were doing a big anti-drug campaign and the slogan was "just say No" say no to drugs. It was so negative and the whole idea was just say Yes to life. Just say Yes! (laughs)
OK
Would you say something about your last song on Sonic Nurse : "Paper Cup Exit"?
LEE
Well it was...You know we write about thing that are happening, things that we see in movies or read in the paper or whatever. Obviously, right now there is so much political stuff going on in this state. It's a really important time politically and we are all doing what we can to see Georges Bush defeated quite frankly. In the state we had a vote registration table at all our concert and things like that.
OK
He's coming to NY soon for the President campaign.
LEE
Yeah it starts on monday...But the lyrics to that respond...I was in an airplane flying back to NY and was reading some really insane stuff in the paper about all this fucked-up stuff that Georges Bush and his administration are doing both in Irak and in America and in the world. Basically they are turning back all of the good things that happen in the last 30 years, in 4 years they just like rolling it all back! So it was just sort of abstract lyric about that. Land of free speech where speech is not really free at the moment.
OK
How is NY these days?
LEE
Well it's a strange place since 9/11. NY is a big powerfull city so it just keeps going on you know but it's definetly strange and now with the republican convention and with this new talk about terrorism. You can't tell if it's the Republican using terror as a fear tactic to keep people scared so they stay in power or if it's real. It's probably some of each. NY is great on one hand but it's also occasionally quite scary. I live very very close to the World Trade Center site and Sonic youth studio is also very close and my familly live in NY. So it's a strange place at the moment, there is no doubt about that. But it's still a really important and powerfull place and culturally it's still so happening!
OK
In Japan the NY scene is getting popular. Do you feel linked to bands like Animal Collective or Black Dice?
LEE
Yeah we certainly do. We played with Black Dice a bunch and some of these other bands, also Lightning Bolt. It's really cool the music that all those people are making. Most of the band we feel linked with are that sort of underground bands, they are really unknown. I was doing an interview yesterday and they were asking what bands we are listening to and I was telling us about the various group that we took on tour this summer. They are all pretty much unfamiliar names, to us even if we exist in this crazy world where we have a big major contract and stuff, mostly we hang out with these unknown bands. And that's like : who we go to see and where we get our inspiration from.
OK
Did you already played the shows with Afurilanpo?
LEE
We gonna do 3 shows with them soon, but we didn't played with them yet.
OK
How do you know them?
LEE
I think they sent us some cds and an e-mail or ...Thursthon saw them play....oh yeah he saw them. I forget how they describe their music as "sexy cute noise" or something like that, yeah.
OK
Afurilanpo are not famous at all in Japan
LEE
Yeah there are not famous anywhere! We like to expose bands like that.
OK
Morocco is a fascination for you. You made an interview with WSB about Tanger during the international zone period.
LEE
Yeah It's his last ever interview. It's the last one he ever gave before he died. Well I have been fascinated by that place for a long time, reading Burroughs and especially reading Paul Bowles. And I became friend with some of these musicians called Joujouka. Bachir -that's the leader- lived in NY half a year because he was married to an American that was good friend with my wife. So we finally made an arrangement to go and now I've been 3 or 4 times spending lot of time there and made a small book about travelling in Morocco and especially going to Joujouka, a little village in mountains, no electricity, no running water, playing music with them, spending the night there and stuff and now I have a full-lenght book on Morocco. That's a manuscript that's gonna hopefully be published next year -I'm talking to different publisher right now- It's just something interesting to me, it's a very romantic place on one hand and it's very dark place on another hand. There's a lot of interesting music there and especially with the Joujouka guys, you know the Rolling Stones went there, Brian Jones and all that. There is in a strange way a lot of correlation between that music and rock'n'roll. I have played with them a number of time.
OK
Did you record anything?
LEE
A few different thing, nothing has been released even Sonic Youth did a concert with them where they played and then Sonic Youth played and then we played together at the end which was really cool, that was in Grenada in Spain. It seems maybe strange on one hand to play with such a group, I mean they are so different from what we do and yet it was so normal and easy I could see -from back when the Rolling Stones went there- why they reacted, because it has some relation to rock'n'roll somehow. The whole notion of this trance like state, getting into this trance, it's ecstatic. And that's what Patti Smith, Jim Morrisson and all these rock'n'roll music is about the same exact thing in a way : a repetitive cycle of music and that related to other things like Ornette Coleman and certain jazz music that got that kind of circular breazing and repetitive kind of thing.
OK
The only album you record outside NY was washing machine in Memphis Tennessee?
Did you ever think about recording somewhere else? Something like: what would happen if you were in a studio in Tanger,Marocco for recording a new album? Do you think it would change something?
LEE
It might be really cool. I don't know if it would change the music, but we would get the spirit of the place. I know we got a lot of the spirit of Memphis when we were there. Mostly we stick to NY because we all have such crazy schedule, and we have sort of a center-based there. When we record, it's like over 2/3 months, so to go somewhere else is more expensive, it's a big crazy thing. So we mostly record in NY. I would love to do something like that. We record something here in Paris with Brigitte Fontaine a few years ago, that was really interesting to be in another studio. But at this point we mostly record in our own studio, we set it up more and more to be just exactly what we need to record, it's very confortable. You don't pay 100 dollars every hours, so it's good for us.
OK
You travelled a lot, which place do you like?
LEE
We like Paris a lot. I dunno why but I feel the same way in Paris that i feel in NY, in term of the relationship to the city. It's such a different cities and yet it's more got the spirit of NY than Tokyo or London or LA or anywhere else. It's the same kind of urban city, you go on the metro, you don't need a car. It's very different but I feel very much like NY here. But we love to go to LA, to Berlin to Melbourne in Australia, we have a lot of favourite place. Some of them are small towns, or big ones...We are happy to be able to have this life where we can have friends in all these different places. Now we are going to South America, we went to Russia...
OK
What do you think about Tokyo?
LEE
We love to go to Japan. Just walk around is so much fun, a lot food...Like I said my wife lived there for a while, she does a lot of commercial work with Japanese designer. We love to spend time there.
OK
What about this place in Paris, the festival?
LEE
This place? Yeah it's ok. We have been doing such amazing shows and what we do -we have learned how to play at these festival- but it's not the best way to experience what we do, they are not intimate, sound wise great and we like to control the environnment...Last night we played in Geneva in an ancient old theater really rococo -Franz list played there on that stage!- It was the 1st rock show they ever did, it sounded so great, it was such an amazing theater and that's where the people really understand what Sonic Youth does in a way.
OK
Because in bad sound condition, you cannot hear the subtlety
LEE
Exactly. These kind of shows -in festival- you have to play twice hard and there is no subtlety at all anymore, and that's a big part of our music and we sacrifice that when we do these kind of shows.
OK
What did you played in this Tour?
LEE
We changed every night. We do a lot of the new songs in different ways and then we choose from all of the other records different songs every night. Up until this year the longest show we ever did was like 1H50 and on this Tour we're playing pretty much 2 hours every night, and it's crazy long for us and we just having so much fun on stage in doing a lot of abstraction and a lot of songs. It's been really cool. It's almost too long in way!

-
Reproduction of photos & words not permitted without permission (ADAGP)