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Throughout her 38 years working in music, Kim Gordon has consistently been at the precipice of what’s next. Her band Sonic Youth, which formed in 1981, continues to be a touchstone for modern music. The group’s classic albums like Daydream Nation and Goo quickly became a blueprint for what would later be labeled “alternative music” with vicious guitar riffs and tones as well as Gordon’s inimitable, almost spoken-word vocal delivery.
Before and after the band’s dissolution in 2011, Gordon has continued to push boundaries. She’s created avant-garde soundscapes with her band Body/Head, wrote candidly about her life in the New York Times best-selling memoir Girl In A Band, showcased her artwork in the Andy Warhol Museum, and the list goes on and on.
One thing she hasn’t done these past 38 years is release a solo album. That changed last week with her debut album No Home Record.
Like everything she’s done, No Home Record sheds nostalgia in favor of something completely new. It’s a record packed with noisy distortion and mangled riffs, held together by gritty electronic production. Hearing it out of context, you’d assume her contemporaries were modern acts like Yves Tumor and JPEGMAFIA instead of Nirvana or the Pixies.
Gordon wasn’t seeking a solo project. In 2016, producer Justin Raisen sent her a demo of what she calls “trashy drump loops” and sampling some of Gordon’s vocal outtakes. Quickly identifying a kindred spirit, the two got to work on what would become the song “Murdered Out.”
There are looming themes on the record having to do with displacement. Like Gordon returning to her hometown of Los Angeles, but finding the city to be a different place from when she left – while also acknowledging some of the city’s harsher aspects that were always there, just more exaggerated than they once were.
Recently, KEXP had the chance to talk with Gordon about these foreboding themes, the sonic palette of the record, and how she keeps herself fresh artistically. Read the interview below.
KEXP: There are big themes on No Home Record having to do with displacement, like returning to your hometown of Los Angeles to record, but finding the city to be different from when you left. You hear this on songs like the opener "Sketch Artist" and "Don't Play It." And sonically, the record is very noisy and experimental with distorted electronic production. How did you see the music and themes working together on the record? And does the album feel like Los Angeles to you?
Kim Gordon: I guess so. I don't know, honestly. But I did find ideas from driving around. It is kind of a transient city. That's its DNA. L.A. is about money and good times. L.A. I think of as adventure, seeking your fortune, or gold-digging... I think people go because they think it's some kind of haven or utopia. Like New York, there's a lot of mythology around it and. I feel like it's exported a lot of its aesthetics. Health food and body consciousness. I mean, obviously, that's universal now in many ways in urban centers. But I feel it was something that kind of started there and now it's sort of out of control [laughs]. You know, the line "get your life back" [I wrote] after seeing a sandwich sidewalk sign in Atwater, which is pretty hipster, that had these plastic letters. It said, "get your life back yoga." It just made me think about how everything can be branded now. And is.
Were you trying to contrast sort of that glossy aesthetic of Los Angeles sonically on the record?
It's kind of more like contrasting my more sort of lo-fi, sort of trashy aesthetic with Justin [Raisen]'s electronic knowledge. He likes to take things really far and extreme and kind of junk up electronics with sounds and I like that [laughs]. It just seemed to kind of go together. I hadn't really thought about it as a contrast with L.A. aesthetics so much, but there is definitely a certain smoothness about contemporary music today that I just kind of want to break.
You mentioned Justin Raisen who you worked on the record with and I know the impetus for the album kind of came in 2016 when he sent you the instrumental for "Murdered Out," which came out that year and is on this album as well. What was it about that original instrumental that struck you? And what did you want to evoke with your contributions to the track?
Well, I wasn't actually exactly instrumental 'cause he'd taken some vocals that I'd done in the studio for this other project, these leftovers, and kinda put it to this trashy drum loop.I don't know, I just kind of felt like, "Oh yeah, he gets it." You know, it's sort of punk, but not really. It's something different. So I went back and I did more. I don't know. It felt extreme in a way that I liked.
There's an interesting dichotomy on the song "Air BnB", where you're singing about this kind of placid, homogenous comfort of these rental spaces backed with mangled guitars. You express a fascination with that whole model, with how every Air BnB has the same decor. In the song, you call it an "American idea." Could you talk a bit more about that and what the Air BnB idea symbolizes to you?
Well, the American idea thing I just kind of threw in because [laughs] maybe I'd run out of lyrics. But I read somewhere that Trump had copyrighted that slogan, or those two words, "American idea." And I was like, "Wow, that's fascinating.".
But it is kind of a different, I guess... You could say, because people – especially younger people, or I guess we refer to them as millennials – they can't afford to buy houses, but they know what a good lifestyle is. That you can get a place for a weekend or if you're traveling, it's sort of advertising a certain haven or something. I just became interested in looking at these images of Air BnBs online because everything seemed to match and things seem to over the years get kind of more and more generic.
You mentioned already "get your life back yoga sign," And on that song, "Get Yr Life Back," you go back and forth between talking about the end of capitalism and this imagery of blood overflowing in the streets, contrasted with doing yoga and fake eyelashes and cocoa butter. It feels like a pretty pressing point. Like the contrast of lifestyle and wellness marketing with the often chaotic world we live in. Can you speak more about what you're observing and what inspired these lyrics and what you're thinking about them?
Well, there's just an insane amount of homeless people in L.A. I wouldn't say it's quite seems normalized, but I mean, the hovels have grown and become quite elaborate. So it's almost like becoming this permanent situation because things can't be done fast enough about it. But at the same time, it's next to a juice place or a coffee place that sells four dollar coffees.
I don't know. I grew up listening to early [Bob] Dylan records and just that "I'm just gonna make a song that sort of comments about shit, but in sort of an abstract poetic way," basically. So I just started collecting these lines and it was kind of interesting to see where they brushed up against each other.
One thing I've always appreciated about your music and art is that no matter the medium or genre, your work always feels modern or forward-thinking, hardly ever nostalgic. From Sonic Youth through the art exhibit you had in the Andy Warhol Museum. How do you keep yourself fresh and progressive artistically?
I don't know. The only way I know how to do things is the way I do them. But I just feel like I have a lot of inner territory I haven't explored yet [laughs].
You know, sometimes you don't know until you make it. Whether you write it or you play it or some other formation of an idea, in kind of a three dimensional way or something, that it can then inspire you to think of something else or kind of add on to it. For me, I sometimes work intuitively. I mean, I'll think and think about it with an art project and kind of hand-wringing and be tortured. And then I'll just kind of go, "Screw it." And then once I start moving forward on it, I can't really stop because I would just become paralyzed and overthinking it.
You just have to trust your muse, right?
Yeah, I mean, you know, music I don't really know that much about. So it's easier for me not to become self-conscious.
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