NYC Ghosts

Sonic Youth's Lee Ranaldo discusses Joey Ramone, John Fahey and Britney Spears

I'm about to start seriously player-hating on this fool in front of me.

It's two weeks ago, and we're standing in a tiny stairwell to the left of the stage at Boston's Roxy nightclub watching Sonic Youth play a show to a couple of thousand appreciative fans, which is more fun than most things, but this guy is on his way to ruining it for me. First off, he's wearing jeans and a denim shirt, which I would say is his biggest problem if he hadn't also elected to give his white kicks a go tonight. Secondly, he's oscillating his at-least-50-year-old ass so badly that he's beginning to extinguish the innate sexual urgency Thurston and Kim and Lee and Steve can still muster with their own almost-50-year-old asses.

But whatever. The band is jump-starting "Kool Thing," and I'm ditching this chump for the floor, where the kids in baggy pants and HONK IF YOU'RE HORNY T-shirts are sort of moshing and not wearing white tennis shoes. I glance onstage and notice Lee's wearing white tennis shoes. Was he wearing those when I talked to him backstage a few hours earlier?

If this photo were cropped properly, you'd see Lee Ranaldo's white sneaks.
If this photo were cropped properly, you'd see Lee Ranaldo's white sneaks.

Dallas Observer: So what's up with this little tour? You guys haven't got a new record out, and it's not like you have to worry about getting the name out there or whatever.

Lee Ranaldo: There's no specific thing; it's just to go out and play some shows at this point. We haven't been playing for a while, and we had these two weekends proposed and we said yeah.

DO: What are you playing this time out?

LR: We're playing stuff from the last record [last year's NYC Ghosts & Flowers] and stuff from all the other records, basically.

DO: You guys working on a new album?

LR: We're just starting the first processes of the next album. We've got a few things that we've been doing together, aside from a bunch of stuff that we've all been doing on our own, but we just did music at the end of the winter for this movie by Allison Anders; we did the score for the movie. And we're just about to start on a bigger project along the same lines for this French film director, where we're gonna do the score for his next film.

DO: When recording, is it obvious to you guys what material is for what projects?

LR: It's kind of a little like that. Sometimes we don't know which it's gonna be for, but certainly the stuff we write for the Geffen records or whatever are more song-oriented, and we spend a lot more time working over those pieces and a lot more time and care recording them. But they're weighted pretty equally anyway. We're really into the other stuff, and it's just that when we are in the studio, we record a lot together. And for a while the outlet seemed logically to be these records that we were putting out, these SYR records, and there's actually a backlog of stuff we could release further on that label at the moment.

DO: What kind of shape is the new full-length stuff taking?

LR: It's kind of too soon to tell. They're just kind of these long amorphous jams at the moment. I mean, there's three of them and they're structured, but I'm pretty sure none of them are done. So they'll probably mutate a bit further. But it's just kind of like playing--playing together and slowly starting to shape it into something that seems presentable.

DO: How's Geffen been about the recent stuff, say since Washing Machine, when the music seemed to really start to get away from the more rock stuff of Goo or Dirty?

LR: At this point, the companies have all merged and they've got their mind on Eminem and Britney [Spears] and whoever's selling tons of records, and I barely think they even know who we are at this point. We met with the head of the company--he made a point of coming to see us and stuff--but I don't have any idea what they think or any of that stuff. So far we're still just making records and they're still paying for them, so who knows?

DO: Do you ever step back, like when the last one came out, and think, Wow, considering the other records they release, it's a small miracle that Geffen put this out?

LR: Well, yeah, we understand that at this point. And I think they're maybe scratching their heads about why they're putting it out.

DO: On the way here I was thinking about how bizarre it is that within the last couple of months, both Joey Ramone and John Fahey have died--two guys who, in a sense, could be looked at as representing the poles of Sonic Youth's music.

LR: I suppose so. I mean, there'd be a lot of people you could put in those positions, but they work as well as anybody, I guess, in terms of two aspects of things we're interested in. Yeah, we actually heard about John dying when we were in Japan, and then Joey... [trails off]. I guess they kind of work as two poles.

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