Nothing simple about Kim Gordon and Body/Head
NORTH ADAMS -- For 30 years, Kim Gordon played a large part in one of the most innovative and transformative rock bands -- Sonic Youth.
On Saturday at 8 p.m., the bassist and singer will play a show at MASS MOcA in North Adams with her new group, Body/Head, a collaboration between her and Northampton-based guitarist Bill Nace.
Gordon also calls nearby Northampton home. "It's a good place to raise kids," she said in a phone interview on Wednesday.
Gordon has been playing with Nace ever since splitting up with husband and Sonic Youth co-founder Thurston Moore in 2011. The split broke up the band, with Moore and Gordon going onto solo projects. Guitarist Lee Ranaldo has also recorded solo and toured with Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley.
Body/Head builds on both the more contemplative and noisier aspects of Sonic Youth, whose best work is defined on eight landmark albums recorded between 1983 and 1994.
Sonic Youth was part of a contingent of the most creative bands of the 1980's who couldn't be categorized or marketed.
Gordon described Sonic Youth's sound as "experimental." It was a new sound which they helped heralded, and later described by the mass media under the banner of alternative rock.
The group took the punk sounds of the Ramones and late ‘70s and burgeoning hardcore punk sound of the 1980s, and combined it with echos of the Velvet Underground, new-wave, classic rock influence and a new dynamic still largely unreplicated. Albums like "Daydream Nation," "Sister," "Goo" and "Bad Moon Rising" captured the group's spirit.
Gordon cites the 1970s New York rock band Television as a major influence. She names hardcore bands like Minor Threat, Black Flag and Negative Approach as influencing the group, which is ironic because Minor Threat and Fugazi singer Ian MacKaye later cited Sonic Youth as his own major influence.
In a hardcore-type of breakdown in the middle of "Kool Thing" on the band's 1990 album, "Goo," Gordon plays one of her most memorable bass parts, after she asks Public Enemy rapper if he would lift women from "male, white, corporate oppression."
Growing up in California in the 1960s, she listened to the jazz records of Billie Holiday and John Coltrane that her parents played. Her mother's family were among the first to settle California, she said.
As a child, Gordon liked Bob Dylan, Buffalo Springfield and Joni Mitchell, and thinks hardcore punk was "sped-up folk music."
She cites Sonic Youth's contemporaries Dinosaur Jr., Minutemen and Meat Puppets, groups which took punk in a different direction, as bands that Sonic Youth related to.
Gordon, who studied fine art in college, said she thinks she might have gone to Mass MoCA for a concert years ago. She has been playing at a lot of museum venues with Body/Head.
She said the more "abstract" type of music her new group performs fits the museum setting. "It's a different type of atmosphere," she said.
The group is influenced heavily by French director and writer Catherine Breillat. The dialogue in her films about female sexuality and the power struggle between men and women, and the "power struggle within yourself and your body," have made an impression on Gordon, she said.
Gordon's own lyrics on Sonic Youth albums explore sexuality and a woman's place in American society.
As a female rock pioneer at a time when females weren't so common in rock bands, Gordon received a lot of attention for her prominent place in the band.
Gordon remembers the band touring with Neil Young, and getting a lot of second-looks from Young's road crew who "thought it was weird" seeing a woman in a rock band, she said. She rejects the idea that she co-led the group. "We were a democracy," she said.
While there are more women rockers, corporate executives and politicians these days, Gordon doesn't think the male-female relationship has developed markedly since she was writing about it in the 1980s.
"I don't think it's changed that much," Gordon said. "The dynamic in the relationship doesn't seem that it is evolving."
For Gordon, sexuality is still at the forefront of her thoughts. "Everything revolves around it," she said. "People are pretty occupied by sexuality and power struggles."
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