Photography: Parri Thomas
“I still feel like a young girl when I’m writing and playing music, but I have so much more confidence now that I didn’t have back then.”
Kim Gordon never really slows down. Since the end of Sonic Youth – and her marriage to Thurston Moore – she’s moved to Los Angeles, held art exhibitions, toured and recorded as one half of Body/Head, and written her outstanding memoir, Girl In A Band. Amidst this multi-disciplinary whirlwind, it could be easy to overlook another milestone: her first true solo LP, the challenging, visceral, and utterly inspirational No Home Record.
“It just hadn’t really occurred to me,” she says. “I mean, I have my art practice, and that’s something that is basically solo. I just started playing around with my guitar at home and borrowed a drum machine from a friend. It’s always nice to strip down to something basic.”
A West Coast kid in a New York band, the closure surrounding Sonic Youth freed Kim Gordon to re-settle in Los Angeles, exploring a city dominated by its dichotomy of twinkling cinematic mythology and broken down dystopia. Somehow, it’s both the Partridge Family and the Manson Family.
“As one does in LA, you drive around a lot,” she chuckles. “I’ve always been interested in how LA is sort of creepy. I mean, outwardly it’s beautiful… but underneath that, it’s dark. Which makes it. Otherwise it would be kind of boring.”
No Home Record is constantly shadowed by LA – ‘Get Yr Life Back’ was a phrase Kim saw on a chalk-board outside a hipster cafe, while ‘Sketch Artist’ was prompted by the complex homeless communities that proliferate areas of the city. “I felt like I was invading their privacy in some sort of way,” she says.
The caustic, noise-drenched rocker ‘Air BnB’ is a playfully subversive salute to the rent-a-lifestyle ethos. “I mean it’s not like I am passing judgement so much…” she says, her voice tailing off. “OK, I am doing that a little bit!” The song has a debt to a less-than-satisfactory trip to a remote Californian canyon, sharing a property with some friends. “My friend picked it because it reminded her of Columbo!” Kim laughs. “We found the house and it was sort of dead, and it had these weird wind chimes… and we thought it was kind of creepy. It had shades of Charles Manson about it”.
“I like to think of the songs as little mini-movies.”
The Air BnB by rote design aesthetic floods through her press shots, hilariously asinine pictures that both celebrate and puncture the mundanity of online group-think. “Things that start out as a good idea often turn into something else when they proliferate,” she warns. “I was kind of mesmerised by how it looked like ready-made art to me. You can rent a lifestyle, which is essentially what is appealing, I guess. It’s sort of utopian.”
Engaging with the city that enveloped her, Kim Gordon began to collect these blasts of noise, before linking with producer, Justin Raisen in the studio. A real powerhouse – he’s worked with Sky Ferreira and is locked in legal action with Lizzo – he summoned Kim into his life by using her name as a daily mantra. “He is a character,” she exclaims, her eyes darting around the room. “I mean he just seemed really open and I knew whatever I did, he would elevate or make into a song.”
It’s a partnership with a unique sense of balance. No Home Record is a spectacularly taut, ill-disciplined project, but it’s also one constructed with enormous precision – moving from glacial chimes to frenetic cyber-punk via Cramps-esque rockabilly and punk rock rage. The two would chop and change, making these deep incisions into the songs, re-arranging them in surreal and striking new ways.
“I am kind of a minimalist,” she points out. “I like to think of the songs as little mini-movies. It’s not that unlike rap music and hip-hop: it’s more about building up layers in the studio.”
“It’s hard to make political music. I think people want some leadership in a cultural way because the world is so fucked up right now. And I am not that person.”
From the outset, Kim wanted to create music that was somehow different from what she had done before. “It’s just like when I was writing the memoir,” she explains. “My biggest fear was that it was going to be conventional and I didn’t want that. It had to be something that I could relate to. I didn’t want it to be boring and I didn’t want it to be conventional.”
Kim Gordon is anything but conventional. A female musician of rare prominence in an underground still dogged by patriarchal mindsets, she’s always stood out. Take the lascivious ‘Hungry Baby’, a song that exposes sexual harassment by flipping the debate, and skewering the male viewpoint.
“Things obviously haven’t changed,” she grimaces. “It has to start when people are young, and it has to deal with this greater inequality, in both culture and in the world.”
Making large-scale statements of that nature isn’t something she finds easy. “It’s hard to make political music,” Kim points out. “I think people want some leadership in a cultural way because the world is so fucked up right now. And I am not that person.”
No Home Record is a true solo album – it’s expressive, it’s the aural equivalent of Kim Gordon thrusting things down on canvas, and seeing what sticks. What with the memoir and now this, we point out, it’s almost like she’s writing herself back into her own story.
“When I was writing the book, I actually felt like I had to really confront things instead of living in some sort of narration,” she explains, choosing each word carefully. “I still feel like a young girl when I’m writing and playing music, but I have so much more confidence now that I didn’t have back then.”
The process of making an album isn’t something that worries her, she points out. “I’m only anxious in my daily life,” Kim adds with a gentle shrug. “I mean, there’s a lot of hand-wringing but then at a certain point, I say ‘fuck it, I can’t worry about this shit any more! I just have to do something.’ That’s just part of my process.”
Having spent 40 years making music, the release of Kim Gordon’s debut solo album doesn’t phase her. “It’s a funny feeling, putting this object out in the world, even though music isn’t really an object any more,” she points out, before she smiles this long, infinite smile: “I suppose I feel kind of divorced from it.”
No Home Record is out now via Matador.
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See the video for ‘Air BnB’ here: