As I noted in a recent article, the Fender Jazzmaster is a guitar for those who dare to be different.
Thurston Moore epitomizes that ethos. The former Sonic Youth guitarist continues to push the boundaries of guitar-based music, and has influenced a generation of players in the process.
In the early days of Sonic Youth, he, along with fellow guitarist Lee Ranaldo made an immediate impression by attacking their axes with screwdrivers and drumsticks. But, their unconventional approach was more than just theatre. Moore’s experimentations with noise and feedback had a profound impact. Without them, the likes of Nirvana probably wouldn’t exist.
The 34th greatest guitarist of all time according to Rolling Stone, Moore has a thing or two to say about the art of playing. He’s got a unique perspective, and is very good at expressing it. Today, with that in mind, I’ve compiled some of his sage wisdom, on everything from practicing to songwriting.
On guitar practice (via The Guardian)
"I used to think that making music had to involve practicing every day and writing every day. It took me years to realize that I’m better contemplating every day and that’s OK. I scribble down notes wherever I am, on the train or at home, let ideas gestate, let s--t happen. Eventually, I will take myself to a place of solitude, then everything bursts out."
On experimentation (via The Guardian)
“Doing weird things to a guitar was the start of making music for me as a teenager. My dad was a pianist, so there was a lot of classical repertoire at home. I didn’t have a troubled childhood; I just loved how music could be made very simply. It’s easy for anyone to strum open strings while turning a tuning peg or stick screwdrivers under the guitar’s bridge to find an interesting sound. You can be experimental without having money.”
On musical freedom (via Another Man)
“I’m not a high-technique player, and I never really took music courses, or theory courses, or whatever. I just learned how to play from the bottom up, and create my own idea; my own reality with my guitar. So I was able to employ that in free improvisation. It’s always a learning exercise for me. But I like composition, too. I like writing songs, I like rock and roll, I like hardcore, I like noise! [laughs] I like this stuff, and to me you should be able to do whatever you want to do. I never want to feel like I’m slumming it in somebody else’s chosen genre of practice. I just play what I want to play… but I would never call myself a jazz musician. I guess I would call myself a rock musician… but even then, I can’t even play ‘Smoke on the Water’ all the way through!”
On embracing different kinds of music (via Another Man)
“As far as anything that has a semblance of punk-rock, or traditional rock and roll, I don’t feel like there’s too much more there that I can really glean from. I’ve very much decoded it – I don’t find myself wanting to actually go and see punk-rock bands, or even rock and roll bands. I’m more interested in seeing something else, so I’ll just see music that is outside of my sphere of practice a lot of times. Music from different parts of the world – in a way I find it to be like an endless well of inspiration, and intrigue, and information. That gives me more inspiration and ideas to feed into my own songwriting.”
On balancing sonic expression and songcraft (via NBHAP)
“Last time I saw Neil Young in New York City, he was playing all his great Neil Young songs, but in some of them he would get into these long noise eruptions. It was amazing and I would be really appreciative of it. People sitting in front of me got really upset because he wouldn’t stop doing it. One guy got up and started yelling. I thought it was interesting because he had no interest or consideration to what was Neil was trying to do in terms of free sonic expression. It’s all music, isn’t it? It’s all sound.
“The artist is working with sound as a painter is working with paint. That’s my feeling of it while this gentleman was all about the value of the song. He felt like it was devalued or his time was being wasted. You do have a certain responsibility and respect for people who pay money to buy your records and listen to your music. I do think about these things.”
Are you a Thurston Moore fan? And how do you feel about the question of sonic experimentation versus songwriting. Tell me your stories in the comments.
For many of us, it’s hard to imagine smashing a precious instrument. The Who’s Pete Townshend isn’t like you or I, though. Back in the day, smashing guitars was par for the course for him.
If you’re playing electric guitar in 2019, you owe a debt to Jimmy Page.