Having seen Thurston Moore wring glorious noise from his electric guitar by beating it with drumsticks or scraping it across scaffolding at various Sonic Youth concerts, it comes as somewhat of a surprise that his latest solo album, Demolished Thoughts, is almost entirely acoustic. Produced by fellow alt-rock icon Beck, the nine-song release features meditative violin, raindrop harp plucks and threads of fine acoustic guitar playing by Moore, who is ranked 34th on Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” list.
Moore, who performs at Big Sur’s Henry Miller Library this Thursday, reveals that he has wanted to do a mostly acoustic album for years. His underrated 2007 solo album Trees Outside the Academy was a hybrid of acoustic and electric guitar playing. “I’ve always been a great lover of acoustic guitar music, and I’ve never really thought of myself as much of an acoustic guitar player,” he says from his home in Northampton, Mass. “I think a lot of acoustic guitar music is a lot about real dexterity and traditional guitar playing skills. Those are things that in a way were somewhat destroyed and reinvented with the electric guitar, and we [Sonic Youth] were certainly a part of that activity.”
More hushed and subtle than a Sonic Youth album, Demolished Thoughts includes the elegant openers “Benediction” and “Illumine,” which features lyrics about passing clouds and breaking daylight. Moore admits that some of the songs’ charms come from Beck’s warm production.
“I think Beck’s contribution to the record is immeasurable to me, because he really was able to have a feeling for the tone of all the songs, which were for the most part very internalized and about searching,” he says. “A lot of the songs dealt with a lot of issues that were somewhat grievous in a way. He understood that, and he was able to deal with it where it was not such a gloomy recording. He was able to add a kind of sunshine to it.”
One of Demolished Thoughts’ highlights is “Space,” an appropriately otherworldly composition with lyrics about a “death wish ray” and “space police” that feels like the world of a science fiction novel distilled into a single song. According to Moore, “Space” came almost out of thin air as the guitarist was playing a progression and Beck began to add sounds from a vintage synthesizer.
While Sonic Youth has headlined 1995’s Lollapalooza and can perform in large indoor venues across the country, Moore would rather this project play places like churches and graveyards. Actually, for the musician who visited the Henry Miller Library in the summer of 2010, the non profit bookstore and art center might be the ideal spot to do his new material. “I don’t really have any aspirations to have this be existing in the same type of place as Sonic Youth,” he says. “I’d rather play in disparate locations. It’s a little harder to make money that way, but I don’t really fool myself into thinking that this is going to be a very remunerative project.”
As I prepare to ask Moore about the current state of Sonic Youth, the legendary guitarist and vocalist’s words become as distorted as the electric guitar in his main band. Then, due to a bad cell phone connection, he’s gone.
THURSTON MOORE, CASS MCCOMBS and WHITE MAGIC play 6pm Thursday, Sept. 29, at the Henry Miller Library, located a quarter mile south of Nepenthe Restaurant on Highway 1, Big Sur. $30 and fees at www.henrymiller.org and www.folkyeah.com. 667-2574.