SONIC KICKS: Darren Cross

DARRENCROSSSONICKICKS

Defiantly independent and creatively driven, Darren Cross is always seeking new ways to translate his ideas and influences into music. Whether it was in the heady days of indie/electro guitar punks Gerling, as a DJ and electronic music producer, as one half of folk noir duo Jep and Dep (with Jessica Cassar) or as a solo artist.

Under his own name he’s released two solo albums that have both blended and negotiated a harmonious co-existence between neo-folk acoustic guitar and Kraut/psych pop songs from a parallel universe. _Xantastic was Springsteen and Kraftwerk meeting at the crossroads while last year’s PEACER found Cross broadening his palette into more meditative folk and hypnotic cosmic dance vibes. It’s a wonderful collection of songs, always pushing and pulling and questioning musical conventions. The possibilities are endless in Cross’ world and his genius resides in the ability to pull the disparate melodies, rhythms and lyrical ideas into conventional song formats.

You can catch Cross on tour with fellow sonic traveller Jamie Hutchings through NSW in March and April as well as a show at the Petersham Bowling Club on March 10th with The Finalists and The Ramalamas.

50781424_10157437950208094_2593907771426471936_o

SONIC KICKS: THE ALBUMS THAT SHAPED ME

 

cliff-richard-and-the-young-ones-featuring-hank-marvin-living-doll-wea-2

The first album I bought.

Maybe The Young Ones with Cliff Richard… it had ‘Living Doll’ on it. I thought the Young Ones were so cool!!

a2446679232_5

An album that soundtracked a relationship.

Tortoise – TNT – I guess being in a band is a relationship right? This was Gerling’s interstate driving album. Such a great album and such a buzz that we supported Tortoise twice. Disco dancing with half of them after the shows was a rite of passage to me anyway!

R-861224-1399566903-3792.jpeg

An album that inspired me to form a band.

Probably AC/DC – T.N.T. but seeing Angus Young on Rage doing a live guitar lead at an early AC/DC concert that sounds like the foundation of ‘Thunderstruck’ really blew me away. AC/DC were the bad gang’s music at my high school.

61j5aVeuK-L

An album that reminds me of my high school years.

As a whole, probably Nirvana’s Nevermind, but that’s boring! I also really loved Living Colour’s VIVID. ‘Cult of Personality’ really blew me away. My friend gave me cassette of the album.

david-bowie-blackstar-album_1024x1024

An album I’d love to hear live and played in full.

David Bowie’s Blackstar, but it’s impossible now. I loved the album when it first came out, just before David died. I love the songs and the especially the production. Always next level. A great gift to leave us. x

R-84825-1234965728.jpeg

My favourite album cover art.

My Bloody Valentine – Loveless. it looks exactly like the album sounds. Also Pavement’s Slanted and Enchanted– The artwork on my new album PEACER is a nod to those two albums! Early 90’s – all about magenta man!

0000869568

A guilty pleasure album.

Cyndi Lauper – Essential Collection. I actually just did some shows in Europe and the album was on a plane music playlist! I forgot how great she is – her vibe, songs, voice and look. So great!! Not too guilty I guess, but yeah she’s done a few of those TV talent shows that made me wanna puke but 80’s Cyndi is top notch!

R-5018444-1401668514-2758.jpeg

The last album I bought.

Sleaford Mods – Austerity Dogs on vinyl. My friend in Berlin played this too me just recently at 4am after I had just played some shows on my latest Euro tour. I bought it the next day. Fucking amazing. FIZZI are my fave band this week.

118872933

The next album I want to buy.

Best of Tony Joe White. Another friend in Berlin did the same thing – whacked the record on the record player at 6am after a solid night of boozing! I know BT from Love Police toured him in Sydney a few time but I never made it before he passed away! Such a great album. Super groovy, almost Krautrock beats sometimes. A converted disciple I am now!

INTERVIEW: Matt Corby

911866c2ce2866251226b74234485297_XL

WINKING AT POP MUSIC

Matt Corby has come a long way from his solo folk beginnings. Here he takes us into the creative process behind his colourful new  second album, Rainbow Valley.

by Chris Familton

The album title suggests some kind of idealised nature-based community where everything exists in harmony and for Corby and his family, that’s why they’ve settled in the area of the same name, in the lush surrounds of Northern NSW. “The house is situated in an amazing tropical paradise where you only really hear birds. With that kind of silence comes a certain amount of focus. I wouldn’t have made an album that sounds like this if it was somewhere that wasn’t picturesque,” Corby believes. “It was fitting to call it Rainbow Valley because it marks the place that was needed to facilitate the record coming into existence. It’s quite a sunny feel through most of it but it does have some dark moments too. It’s quite happy in an introspective way,” he adds.

The physical process of finding inspiration and capturing those ideas has become music easier in Corby’s home, with the studio he’s set up there. “I have a space I can come to where everything is set up and ready to go with mic channels, a drum kit, synths, guitars and amps. That’s made the workflow heaps easier. I can go in there on a good week and do a couple of good songs.” 

Over a string of early EPs, Corby made his name with a strong folk sound that gained comparisons to Jeff Buckley and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young but he increasingly added soul and psychedelic influences. ARIA Awards and high charting singles followed, culminating in his debut album Telluric hitting #1 on the Australian charts. Now he’s taken the rich and modern psych-soul sound of that album and added some fascinating new angles and colours.

“I think it’s a continuation in my weird way. I never really want to make one thing again. This one is slightly more pop. It’s not necessarily pop music but it’s winking at it quite heavily. I could have gone really weird, which I naturally want to do, or have a crack and make something that is really palatable for lots of people without compromising too much,” says Corby.

The genesis of Rainbow Valley came from a few songs that didn’t make the final cut for Telluric. Corby then spent a year jamming and experimenting in his home studio with longtime friend and musical foil Alex Henriksson before he was ready to head to Byron Bay to again work with producer Dann Hume and put together the album. “Alex and I like the experimental phase and not necessarily the hard work of refining songs and trimming them and getting lyrics and melodies concise. We’d just put beats down and do fun sounding stuff. It got me to the point where when I was seriously writing songs for the album, 18 months ago, I had had all that experimentation behind me so it was easy in the moment to know what to do and reference those jams and pull bits out and use them,” Corby explains.

Corby’s creativity has evolved and matured to a point where he plays all the instruments on Rainbow Valley and he’s found the confidence and musical ability to find the sweet spot where a variety of genres blend seamlessly, where traditional and ultra modern sounds coexist and with a balance between experimentation and commercial viability.

“More and more I’m conscious of others in my creative process. I used to be against what others thought ‘fuck you, this is my art!’ Now that I’ve digested a lot of other music I understand things like what genres and time period things fit into and what referencing those does for a modern audience. It probably comes from doing music for a long time and it definitely comes into play when I make music,” Corby reflects. “When I hit something that feels good, I usually feel good because I think that other people will probably like it, which is kind of cool. Hopefully I’ve got that right on this record.”

INTERVIEW: Cash Savage & The Last Drinks

Jsena6sw

LOVE, POLITICS AND LAST DRINKS

On an autumnal morning in Prague during her European tour, Cash Savage discusses the songwriting shift on her new album Good Citizens and talks with Chris Familton about the importance of her band The Last Drinks.

The lead-up to the release of a new album can be a tricky period for an artist to negotiate. Some take it in their stride while others ride the emotions of anticipation, self-doubt and excitement. Cash Savage had of course been through album releases before but this time around it felt different given the shift in her songwriting to address socio-political issues that she felt she could no longer avoid.

“Never more so has it been such a relief to have a new record out. This album is really different for me. Through interviews I’ve had the opportunity to self-analyse that. The day it came out we got a four star review in the Guardian and a real weight lifted off me that day,” Savage reveals. “I didn’t realise I was carrying that at all and then I was floating around the rest of the day once that happened.”

Heading into the writing of Good Citizens, an album that addresses the marriage equality debate, moral decay and the inherent problems with male dominated societal structures, Savage knew that it was essential that she start writing about those issues while also still grounding many of the songs in the world of love and relationships.

“I wanted to make the album a real snapshot of how I felt at the time and part of that was that I was (and still am) in love. I knew it was going to be more political but I didn’t ever think it wouldn’t have a couple of love songs on there too. These love songs are political too, because of who I am,” she stresses, before adding “I didn’t really ever see there was a point for me to write songs like this before. I was quite happy to have drunken rants about political systems with my mates down at the pub, but I didn’t see much point putting it in my music. This time I didn’t see there was any other way around it. I had never thought I would ever write a political album so it was surprise for me!”

Making a foray into writing about these kinds of issues begs the question as to whether the process acts as a way of Savage dealing with and processing her feelings about them. “Those issues are frustrating full stop so I don’t think the songs made it more frustrating. It definitely helped for me to write about them. I’ve actually quite enjoyed contemplating the different questions that I get asked about those issues, from different people from different walks of life. For me I guess I’ve found it quite healing.” 

Over the years Savage’s band The Last Drinks have been an integral part of the sound of her records and the power and passion of her live performances. The lineup has changed as members have taken temporary leave for other musical pursuits (guitarist Joe White is a member of Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever) or for family reasons (guitarist, banjo player Brett has recently become a dad) but Savage believes the flexibility and nature of the band is its strength.

“The band has always been so organic with its changes that its never felt like it’s one sound. To have a genuine shift has given us a lot of freedom and we’ve had to re-work some arrangements. We’ve been playing some of these songs for a long time and it’s nice to mix them up a little bit. It doesn’t feel different and it does feel different at the same time. It’s been quite nice actually. There is such a camaraderie within The Last Drinks. We’re just a really good bunch of mates and there’s so much fun had on and off the stage. They’re a phenomenal live band and to be able to stand in front of them is just fucking incredible.”

SONIC KICKS: Peabody

Sonic Kicks PEABODY

Peabody are now five albums deep in a career that has seen them become a stalwart of the Sydney indie rock scene over the last 24 years. Their latest, A Redder Shade Of Rust (produced by Jamie Hutchings) finds them in fine form yet again. It’s heady, poetic and a really great balance of melody, rhythm, momentum and knotty guitars. It’s dark and churning one minute, on songs such as ‘Perfectly Fine’, before hitting a spirited punk sprint on ‘Prosthetic Heart’. Elsewhere, ‘Sometimes’ is a murky tumble through post-punk shadows and ‘Too Many Days’ heads to the desert with a Morricone twang and an exquisite chorus.

Singer and guitarist Bruno Brayovic kindly took the time to take a swing through our Sonic Kicks: Albums That Shaped Me Q&A and talks G’N’R, Ween and buying cassettes in Ashfield Mall.

MI0004399083

The first album I bought.

The Divinyls  – What a Life

I bought this on cassette (which I still have) at a small record shop next to Franklins supermarket in Ashfield Mall, when I was in Year 5. I’d seen an ad for it on TV which included snippets of Good Die Young and of course, Pleasure and Pain. I was mesmerised, and if I’m honest, probably quite excited by Chrissy Amphlett. I still am.

71nYpz++VCL._SL1400_

An album that soundtracked a relationship.

The blue album by Weezer was a a favourite of mine and my first girlfriend. I wore Buddy Holly glasses but I’m pretty sure neither of us knew what Mary Tyler Moore looked like.

71DQrKpImPL._SL1400_

An album that inspired me to form a band.

It’s a cliche but Nirvana’s Nevermind really solidified my resolve to write songs and perform them with a band (we’d already performed live at school in some capacity). The simplicity of the songs and Kurt’s vocal approach both appealed to me because they both seemed achievable. I was wrong.

71H9ZR6EGFL._SL1400_

An album that reminds me of my high school years.

Guns N Roses – Appetite For Destruction

I’d gone overseas with my parents so I managed to get it before it came out in Australia. I taped it for heaps of my friends so I was popular for about two weeks. It’s still the very copy I listen to when I whack it on the record player.

91I2CICdXkL._SL1500_

An album you’d love to hear live and played in full.

I thought Kell’s (from Singing Skies) suggestion of John Cale’s Paris 1919 was awesome. I’d love to hear that. But if I have to choose something different I think I’ll say Ween’s Chocolate & Cheese.

Midnight_Oil_-_Red_Sails_In_The_Sunset_1024x1024

My favourite album cover art.

So many to choose from. Hard to go past Midnight Oil’s Red Sails in the Sunset.

61+dW9QoFDL

A guilty pleasure album.

The Traveling Wilburys self-titled debut album. Is this cool again, or is it still daggy? I dunno, but I do know there are some killer songs on it. Some of Bob Dylan’s best songwriting moments are on here, too, including ‘Tweeter & the Monkey Man’, which George Harrison said was actually largely written by Tom Petty. Each song is better than the last, with the exception of ‘End of the Line’ which is still passable.

71gYLenm3BL._SL1417_

The last album I bought.

A vinyl reissue of Paul Kelly’s Post.

a1697053431_10

The next album I want to buy.

Piss-Up by local punk band C.O.F.F.I.N. The vinyl is sold out but I’ve been streaming it like crazy. Anyone wanna sell me a copy? Will drop pants for food… or album. These guys are insane live.

INTERVIEW: Adrianne Lenker

adrianne_lenker_h_0918_pic_shervin_lainez_2

THE OVERWHELMING SENSATION OF BEING ALIVE

Three years on the road with her band Big Thief has been a life changing experience for Adrianne Lenker and as she explains to Chris Familton, she wanted to document and archive her thoughts and emotions through that period on her new solo album abyskiss.

I made my first solo record when I was 21 and I was so much closer to my influences then. Now I’ve got farther from those influences although I’m more influenced by more things than I’ve ever been,” explains Lenker as she ponders they ways in which she’s evolved musically and personally since her debut, Hours Were The Birds, was released. “I’m 27 now and I feel like there have been so many things that have happened. When I made that record I hadn’t even met the band and I’ve spent the last three years on the road and they’ve become my family. That in itself has completely changed me. I’ve shed skins. I’ve been so influenced by the music the guys in the band have shared with me and people I’ve met on the road. My heart has been expanding with the challenges and heartbreak and the wounding and mending over that time.”

The album was predominately written on the road, something many artists choose to avoid. For Lenker, her muse has a habit of dropping in at any time and capturing the songs in certain situations can make for a difficult creative process. 

“Songs are always welcome in my soul but reality sets in sometimes and there are moments when I can’t give attention to a song that’s coming through. That can be so frustrating. Time is so fleeting and with touring pretty much all of your hours in each day are structured and everything is planned out ahead of time. Writing on the road is about stealing time from myself, finding moments to get lost in my soul,” says Lenker. “That can just be for 20 minutes or a couple of hours or for a day, but there have been so many times when an idea has been forming that I’ve felt really excited about and then we have a soundcheck or a show or a meeting. That’s happened countless times where I’ve lost ideas that I’ve loved. I also think when it doesn’t form fully it is meant to be, they’re just stepping stone ideas to get to another thing.”

Sonically, there is a clear separation in the sound of the album from the full band elements used on Big Thief recordings. “I had the intention to keep them minimal because I really wanted the acoustic guitar to shine,” explains Lenker. The approach is an effective one, drawing the listener into the intimacy of her performance and the simple details of her songs. “I just sat in front of the microphone and sang and played the songs and recorded them. There was no editing at all and we only aded one or two other elements. I was conscious to keep it like that – quiet.”

Lenker is known for her astute and sensitive approach to detailing events and the emotional impact they have. On abysskiss she again takes a magnifying glass to life experiences but places them in  the context of big picture existential questions.

“The biggest theme is the least original thing possible. Life, pain, birth, death, the cyclical nature of things. A lot of it is about questions themselves. The aching bittersweetness of being alive and the inherent duality of everything. What kind of twisted, hilarious or crazy thing brought all of this into being and how insane it is that we are brought into his world and then leave and the only guarantee we have is that we will die and lose everyone that we love. Somehow that’s what makes it so rich,” she says, with a mix of wonder and passion in her voice.

“I’m fascinated by the microcosms and explosions that are happening minute to minute within all of us. It’s creating this crazy tapestry that feels extremely gruesome, morbid, gory and bloody and also so delicate and magical and pure. The ocean exists and the most beautiful harmony exists but also war and destruction. I’m constantly overwhelmed by the sensation of being alive. That’s where it’s coming from.”

INTERVIEW: Nils Frahm

nils_frahm_alexander_schneider_h_0518
photo by Alexander Schneider

WHEN MUSIC & ELECTRICITY COLLIDE

The last decade has seen a rise in the popularity of modern classical music and its influence on other genres, particularly electronic music. One of the leading lights in the scene is German composer Nils Frahm and in a revealing conversation with Chris Familton he discusses his musical beginnings, his future and the constant flux of his live shows.

It’s 1:30am on an autumn morning in Berlin and Nils Frahm is ensconced in Saal 3, his studio in the iconic, Funkhaus, a 1950s building that previously housed world-class recording facilities and was home to GDR state radio. “I’m always a professional, always working when I’m not sleeping,” he laughs. “I like the night, it’s perfect for musicians. It’s quiet and inspiring. I’ve been in the studio for four hours and I’ve already unlearned how to speak and so it is civilising to talk a little bit.”

It’s been a big year for Frahm, with a heavy touring schedule on the back of his acclaimed All Melody album, He’s about to return to Australia for the first time in four years but don’t expect to immediately recognise songs from the album when he plays them on stage. “All the songs have changed already. I can’t go back to where I started them,” he says, with a note of satisfaction in his voice. “I deconstruct the compositions all the time and build them in a different way. I feel like the songs are ongoing compositions and when the task is to play them again, no-one could ask me to play them the same every time. I need to destroy what I did yesterday and redo it today. It needs to be a little bit different each time,” Frahm emphasises.

A hallmark of Frahm’s music is his ability to seamlessly blend electronic and acoustic instruments and still retain an organic, tactile and emotionally resonant quality in his work. “It doesn’t matter how something is played, just listen to the music,” Frahm responds, before tracing his fascination with both musical worlds back to the lounge room of his childhood home. “For me it was a natural connection to electronic music because it was always connected to my father’s hi-fi system. It was highly electronic so that connection between music and electricity was always there for me and wasn’t a separate thing. I was aware that a piano didn’t have a plug and other things did, but I thought a vinyl record player was as exciting as a piano. I liked anything that played music to my ears and made me feel amazing,” says Frahm.

“I was always curious about music and I like when I don’t really know how something is made. It can be made by an orchestra, it can be made by a synthesiser or even an algorithm. If it sounds good to my ears, and it all comes out of speakers in the end, I don’t worry. Here in my studio I’m looking at my patch bay and cables one to eight are all microphones and nine to 16 are all synthesisers. They are all the same cables. Even the acoustic piano goes through the same cable as my synthesiser and they come out of the same speakers,” explains Frahm, surveying the array of keyboards, pianos and synthesisers around him.

The conversation leads to where Frahm first had a strong emotional response to music. Not just hearing it as background music on the radio or in the endless hours of practising scales in piano lessons. “There were some songs that amazed me. ECM released John Surman, the saxophone player who played along to synthesisers and loops. It was something that burnt into my heart,” he recalls passionately. “I was crying to that song when I was a kid, and it had no lyrics or anything. It was just a harmonic motif and the timbre of the synthesiser, together with the saxophone. A truly amazing combination of a real instrument and something alien that I couldn’t understand. I heard many good examples of tasteful blends of those two worlds, even before I recorded anything, so I was very confident that it could be done and I was standing on the shoulders of heroes.”

Frahm still has All Melody tour dates stretching into 2019, but what then? He recently released Encores 1 – additional music from the same album sessions, and he hints at but doesn’t confirm that there will be more in that series. For Frahm it seems like his future is something of a mystery at the moment. “I don’t tend to plan too far ahead. I just want to survive next year and then in 2020 who knows what I’m feeling like doing then. It’s a crazy time in life and I’m meeting a lot of people around me who talk about inspiration and what they want to do in life. I hope by 2020 I’ll be smarter and can imagine something a little wiser than what I’m doing now – being the pop icon who is traveling around the world with tons of equipment and lots of people and playing these silly festivals around each corner.” 

It’s a revealing and remarkably candid insight into the decisions an artist has to make – the form, timing and responsibility of presenting their art. “I’m totally open for all of this to end, to be honest. I don’t want to be the person who just stops and takes something away from people. I can’t say I’m excited to just finish a tour in two years and then do the next album and then do a huge tour. I don’t know how many years we can go on like this. It’s really crazy man. I’m not dark about the future, I’m excited… but I’m absolutely puzzled.” says Frahm, before returning to the solitude of the early hours, the empty Funkhaus hallways and the cables and synths of his studio.

INTERVIEW: The Goon Sax

goon_sax_the_h_0518

TALKING WE’RE NOT TALKING

Brisbane trio The Goon Sax return with their second album and as Louis Forster and Riley Jones explain to Chris Familton, the desire to document their thoughts and experiences through an open musical relationship remains the driving ethos of the band. 

They were still teenagers negotiating the twin worlds of school life and being in a band when they released their debut album Up To Anything and now, facing the challenge of adulthood and the new responsibilities that come with it, The Goon Sax have found some different angles from which to write about familiar themes on its followup We’re Not Talking.

“I think growing up was definitely a big theme,” says singer/guitarist Forster. “We were writing more about love than we’d written about before. On the first record we were writing about that from an outside perspective, as a foreign concept. This time it was closer in that sense,” he reveals. “It was also about finishing school and worrying about what we were doing everyday, which we hadn’t had to do for 18 years.”

The group recorded the album down in Melbourne at Super Melody World and though they have mixed feelings about the experience, both Jones and Forster agree that it yielded positive results. “The recording process was really different because we worked with producers who had an idea of what we should sound like and we had a different idea, so the album is like both sides pulling and fighting for some middle ground which definitely makes it interesting,” reflects Jones. Forster agrees, adding, “we started writing as soon as we finished recording the first album, from 2015. It’s coming from the same place as the first record. I think there’s tension in every aspect of the record. It feels like it has so much tension and energy, that feels like it’s on the verge of falling apart or exploding which is a good thing. It didn’t seem like a good thing at the time but maybe it is now,” he says, with the benefit of hindsight.

One feature of the album is the increased democratisation of the musical relationship between the three of them. Alongside James Harrison, all members contribute lead vocals to the new album. “We definitely sing the songs that we write and then the others chime in. We recently made a rule that anyone can chime in whenever they like and so far that has worked well,” explains Jones.

That willingness to try new things on We’re Not Talking extended to the use of new instrumentation  such as strings, piano and more across its 30 minute playing time. “We wanted to experiment with drum machines a bit and have some horns and things.” says Forster. “We all wanted to sing more on each other songs. There are more group vocals and we were all having more influence on each others songs, both with the singing and the ideas we were putting forward. There are bits of Riley and James on all my songs and vice versa which wasn’t maybe there before that. It wasn’t necessarily a conscious thing but we did it at the time and it felt good.”

One common element that the newer songs share with the first album is the streak of melancholy and self-doubt that permeates their music. Is that a representative of their personalities or just the mood and tone of how their creativity is naturally expressed?

“I think to some degree it is part of our personalities but we definitely wrote about things that were difficult and that bummed us out at the time and writing about them made us feel good again. Sad music is made for a reason and maybe it’s to repurpose something you’ve gone through, “ ponders Forster. “It’s important for us to make music that feels necessary, not just for the sake of it. You need to feel like you have to do it. I like the absurdity of putting sad lyrics to happier sounding music, it just makes me laugh.” Jones has a similar take that also reflects the way she enjoys listening to music. “I like it when you can be nostalgic about those kinds of feelings and remember through the music how strongly you felt about something.”

INTERVIEW: Lee Ranaldo (2012)

65266_444634705615345_1606274220_n

The common impression of Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo is one of a polymorphic artist with ideas constantly tumbling out as spoken word, art and of course music. His collaborative projects are numerous, as are the publications of his poetry and one senses he is totally consumed by the creative process. With this in mind as we chatted over the phone from his New York home it was slightly surprising to hear that he was preparing to head to Nova Scotia in Canada for a few weeks of rest and relaxation the following day. 

“Sometimes it is nice to not have any agenda and just be out experiencing things but usually downtime involves moving from one art form to another. Usually one is a vacation from doing the other so when I’m not touring I get to work on drawings or something else in my studio.” he explains.

Having his fingers in a number of artistic pies allows Ranaldo flexibility in how he expresses himself creatively and as he explains, none of the disciplines he works in are mutually exclusive. 

“I see myself first and foremost as an artist who doesn’t work in a particular field. I’m interested in visual artists whether that’s painting, drawings and cinema and I’m interested in language whether it be writing as poems or stories or journals or lyrics and I’m interested in music and I feel like they feed each other. Its really all about tapping into creativity in whichever area you work in. I’m pretty active in visual arts these days, I’ve got work in shows in a few different places right now and I’m always writing and putting out new small books of poetry. The things feed off each other. The words end up on canvas, the music informs ideas for cinema and spoken word finds its way into some of the performance events.”

The most prominent of Ranaldo’s recent projects in the wake of the Sonic Youth hiatus enforced by Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore’s split is his solo record Between The Times & The Tides. Ranaldo has released solo works in the past but this album sees him working primarily in a standard rock band format and in fact was written and recorded prior to the current hibernation of his main band.

“This record was done during one of those periods before we found out what was going on between Thurston and Kim. Over the last decade we’ve built a lot of time into our schedule for people to work on their own projects outside Sonic Youth. I’m thankful it was done before I had any inkling of that stuff so it was done as normal without any added pressure that my band was stopping or anything like that.”

Though the album is predominantly an electric guitar, rock album, the songs started life acoustically in Ranaldo’s lounge room before undergoing a process that included the addition of a rhythm section and a number of guest appearances from friends he had collaborated with on other musical projects. 

“I wouldn’t say it came about by accident but I wasn’t really planning to make a record like this. The songs just started coming out and I performed the first couple that I wrote and that led to writing some more. I started off thinking it was going to be an acoustic and voice record and then it ended up as this rock band record so it just built in this very natural, organic way from the very first tunes that came out of my acoustic guitars in my living room,” explains Ranaldo.

“Early on I got Steve (Shelley) to play drums on a few things and right away we decided we’d try to find a bass player and put a rhythm section on some of the songs. That’s how we started tracking the record, with bass, drums and me and then I invited everyone else in to play after that, so the structures were pretty well worked out and there was a framework for people to get an idea of what I was looking for in each song. The songs were just coming out and I was following them, I wasn’t trying to make them into anything they weren’t.”

“It’s been a really fun process and just as surprising to me as any one else at this point. I still say that for me to make a more traditional singer/songwriter record like this – on one hand it is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time – on the other hand it is as experimental a phase in my career as all the other experimental things I’ve done from spoken word to noisy music to film soundtracks.” 

Though Between The Times And The Tides is a solo record there are contributions from a number of guest musicians that are essential to making the songs sound as detailed and expansive as they do.

“There is a certain group of people playing on them, a lot of friends and collaborators from various points in my life from Sonic Youth members like Steve Shelley and Jim O’Rourke to Alan Licht. Nels Cline and John Medeski also played on the album and they’ve worked with me on various other projects over the years so it was really fun to make the record and see these songs come up,” says Ranaldo enthusiastically.

Rather than collecting together a group of songs, tacking on some cover art and sending them out into the world, Ranaldo was determined to create an album in the traditional sense where there is an ebb and flow and a narrative to both the music and the packaging. Like so much of the cross-pollination in his work, the initial seed for the album came from a photograph.

“It really started with this picture of me that we used on the front cover. I was writing the first of these songs and I did an interview with some people for a documentary and one of the guys took those pictures and when he sent me that one I thought “wow, this looks it would be a really cool album cover”. That goaded me into writing the record, to wrap in this package in a sense,” explains Ranaldo. “I was very aware it was going to be an album, with a gatefold and liner notes about the sessions and the feeling that “this is going to be the last song on side one,” so there was a grouping of songs you could listen to as a side of a record. We pretty much thought we were making a vinyl record right up until it was done and then we had to prepare the CD issue. So many records these days devolve into being about one or two songs and bunch of others so we were really trying to make a group of songs that hung together in an interesting way.”

“I really wanted it to be a personal record harking back to a singer/songwriter album like they were when I was listening to records like that in the 60s and 70s, where it would be a window on somebody’s life and you hoped you’d find a commonality and shared experience from listening to it. Records then were these experiences that they’re not really now. You’d get a record and pore over the liner notes and who played on each track and they’d stay with you longer and be this real listening experience. Even if it was for no one other than me I wanted this record to be made in that kind of mindset.“

Looking back to those early years of folk rock as inspiration for the format of Between The Times And The Tides was also in keeping with the musical inspiration for the songs in their initial incarnations. 

“I was playing acoustic guitars again seriously for the first time in ages so I guess that really took me back to certain things I listened to when I was much younger, when I was predominately an acoustic guitar player – whether it was John Fahey or  Leo Kottke or David Crosby, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Velvet Underground and Reverend Gary Davis – all kinds of people that were working with open guitar tunings.”

As our conversation winds up there is the matter of addressing the elephant on the phone line, the future prospects for Sonic Youth. Together for 31 years, they are currently in a holding phase while each member explores other projects and Moore and Gordon are given the space to decide whether they can still work together artistically.

“We are all enjoying the freedom to do other things as we have done for many, many years over the lifetime of the band,” says Ranaldo. “None of us are in any way even thinking about or certainly not talking to each other about ideas of what might or might not happen. The idea of getting to that point is a long, long way off. I have no doubt that we’re all going to continue. We are all doing interesting things now and that spirit that has driven us all these years isn’t just going to dry up if we stop working together. I wouldn’t say building towards this but we’ve really prepared ourselves well by over the last ten or fifteen years being involved in lots of independent projects outside Sonic Youth. It’s easy to fill time, the challenge is filling it in a significant way and all of us get offers to do various things all year long.”

Chris Familton