Wasted on the young
Art rock legends Sonic Youth tentatively called it quits in 2011, but the band’s key members have remained characteristically busy with the usual slew of side projects and collaborations. Guitarist/singer Thurston Moore’s newest group, Chelsea Light Moving, is backed by a band of his protégés and collaborators, including Keith Wood of Hush Arbors (a Virginia native), violinist and bassist Samara Lubelski, and drummer John Moloney, best known for his work with the experimental group Sunburned Hand of the Man, who often walks the fine line between transcendently moving and genuinely confusing.
“All of us had played together before in different combinations, mainly associated with Thurston’s label, Ecstatic Peace!,” Moloney explained. “We were always playing together, seeing each other on tour, crashing at the same places after a show, so for Thurston I think he wanted a band of people who were already friends.”
Chelsea Light Moving’s self-titled debut (due out on March 5 via Matador Records) will come as no great surprise to followers of Moore’s work. The album is heavy with thrashing, jangly punk riffs, underscoring Moore’s trademark vocals, which alternate between wry beat poet commentary and corny classic rock-style exclamations that would almost seem sarcastic if Moore wasn’t still able, at age 54, to imbue them with a raw, optimistic teenage energy.
“If Sonic Youth were The Beatles, Thurston would be Paul McCartney,” Moloney observed. “And I heard him say somewhere, he was talking to somebody and he said, ‘this is like my Wings.’”
Of course comparisons to Sonic Youth are obvious, but more than anything, the album resembles Moore’s 1994 solo effort Psychic Hearts. “The guitar tuning is pretty much the exact same as Psychic Hearts,” Moloney said. “We know basically that whole record, and there’s seven or eight songs or so that we’ll reliably pull from during the set. The [songs on the new record] are completely composed; if there’s any improv happening, it will happen when we play the Psychic Hearts songs.”
I was curious what percentage of the newer songs were fully pre-written by Moore, and how much was arranged by the band working together. “He’s just a riff-master of the highest quality,” Moloney said. “I’ve never played with anybody who can come up with all of those riffs off the top of his head. We started out just jamming in my practice space in the back of the record store; it’s very easy, we all make suggestions. He came in with those parts and then we built it together. [Thurston]’s process is so strange for me, because I never see him pick up a guitar when he’s not onstage. I never see him write anything. He’s the magic man, no one knows if he’s been sitting on ideas, or where these riffs come from.”
When asked if it was a major shift to play comparatively more straightforward rock songs than the improvisational, experimental noise jams Moloney has played in the past, he answered “Not at all. Rock ‘n’ roll is exactly what I want to do. I grew up listening to rock ‘n’ roll. The improv/psych stuff was just a product of our environment at the time, and we still do that. We grew up in times when everyone was into everything— you weren’t just a metalhead or an indie rocker, we were all listening to all of it together.”
I related that one of Moloney’s occasional collaborators, Mick Flower (of Vibracathedral Orchestra and Skullflower), had also recently told me that he saw no distinction between playing mellow country-folk and ear-bleeding abstract noise. Moloney responded “Exactly! When we hang out at Mick’s place in Leeds, we basically just listen to Neil Young records until somebody passes out.”
“Sonic Youth is one of my favorite bands of all time,” Moloney said. “I’ve watched [Sonic Youth drummer] Steve Shelley and studied his style. I’ve always wanted to play drums in Sonic Youth, so doing this is kind of my chance.”
Chelsea Light Moving plays at the Southern Café and Music Hall on Monday, March 4 at 8pm. Tickets are $12-15. Talk Normal opens.
WarHen Records—named for its founders, Warren Parker and Michael Hennigar—is relatively new, but has quickly made a mark on local music, releasing records by Sarah White, The Fire Tapes, and Red Rattles. “I still love buying music, especially on vinyl,” Parker said. “It sounds great, the artwork is big and I love having my records take up an entire wall at my house. I always thought it would be really cool to release a record, too, so starting a label was an idea that I had toyed with for a while, but I never really found the right partner with whom to join forces until Mike expressed interest.”
“Warren and I have been hanging out for quite a few years now and we’ve both had a lot of the same musical interests, but we also got each other into a lot of new stuff,” Hennigar added. “We’ve had a lot of interest from bands around town, which has given us a great opportunity to put out really cool records.”
WarHen will host a local showcase at the Southern on Saturday, March 2, featuring The Fire Tapes, Sarah White’s new band Josephine, Red Rattles, and Dwight Howard Johnson. Tickets are $8, and the doors open at 8pm.