Raul Fernandez & Lee Ranaldo in Barcelona 2016 © Alex Rademakers

Lee Ranaldo grüßt lieb aus dem Proberaum

Sonic Youth sind Geschichte – es lebe Lee Ranaldo! Der nämlich tritt erneut mit Musik im Gepäck in Erscheinung, nun ist es ein Live-Album. Mehr dazu und zu vielem anderem im skug-Interview.

Mit dem Ende von Sonic Youth 2011 brach für viele Fans der weltgeilen Gruppe eine (heile) Welt zusammen. Nicht nur bezeichnete es das Ende der Ehe von Traumpaar Kim Gordon/Thurston Moore, sondern auch das einer über Jahrzehnte die Indie-Szene prägenden, ikonischen Band. Dass mit dem Ende von Sonic Youth nicht auch das Ende der famosen Ergüsse ihrer Mitglieder eintraf, zeigt vor allem Gitarrist Lee Ranaldo mit diversen (vor allem musikalischen) Projekten. Zum Beispiel sei das 2013er-Album »Last Night On Earth« mit seiner Band The Dust (Ex-Sonic Youth Steve Shelley an den Drums) erwähnt, aber auch das 2017er-Werk »Electric Trim«. Für dieses hatte Ranaldo sich wieder die Freunde von The Dust (Gitarrist Alan Licht und Bassist Tim Lüntzel, RIP, seien noch zu nennen) hinzugeholt. Zudem gastierten Sängerin Sharon Van Etten (auf etlichen Stücken zu hören) sowie Kid Millions und Nels Cline von Wilco. Aufgenommen wurde das Album zusammen mit keinem anderen als dem großartigen Raul Fernandez – elektronische Beats und Samples zeigen auf »Electric Trim« neue Facetten seiner experimentellen Techniken. Von diesem Album erschien nun eine Live-Variante auf Mute: »Electric Trim Live At Rough Trade East«. Im Oktober 2017 aufgenommen, zeigt es eine intime Soloperformanz des kurz zuvor aufgenommenen Studioalbums. Mit der Veröffentlichung dieser Live-Nummern markiert Ranaldo gleichzeitig aber auch das Ende der Tour zum Album und zieht sich für die Arbeit an neuem Material ins Studio zurück. Zum Glück war er so lieb, dem Musikkultur-Magazin skug ein paar Fragen zum Album, seiner Arbeit und noch mehr zu beantworten. Echt stark!

Lee Ranaldo © Diego Homez

skug: Congratulations on your new live album. After your brilliant, forward-going »Last Night On Earth«, »Electric Trim« was – let’s say – a more laid back one. Now you release it as a live version. How come?
Lee Ranaldo: I consider »Electric Trim« to be far more »forward-going« than »Last Night On Earth«. It doesn’t feel like a laid back album at all to me! I feel it’s a far more radical departure in terms of production and instrumentation, trying to break away from the more common »rock band« situation and try something new. But I guess every listener hears their own impression! The live album is just a fun thing to release, a document of me playing the songs from the album in a very stripped down setting. I do like the idea of presenting the songs in this style, sort of back to where they started life as intimate demos. It’s limited in number and represents, in a way, the end of my cycle for the »Electric Trim« music.

Compared to your early solo releases, your recent releases became more personal in a way that you focus a lot on concrete situations, problems etc. in your lyrics. Is that right?
My early solo releases (before »Between the Times and the Tides«) contain very few »songs«, therefore few lyrics, which always add a personal dimension to a track, no matter what the content of the actual words. I feel my lyrics have always dealt with the situations, thoughts and things that were on my mind at any given moment. In this way records function somewhat as snapshots or postcards of particular head-spaces, thought patterns or preoccupations. Perhaps the feeling you describe comes from having more of them in one place than before, for instance on Sonic Youth records? Recent lyrics for »Electric Trim« were a collaboration with author and friend Jonathan Lethem, so there are now additional points of view that I, as the singer, have adopted, that are actually in some ways less personal than before. This is another development from »Electric Trim« which is pushing the songs I make into new areas rather than re-treading older ones.

In one of your songs, »Circular«, you sing about daily routine. I guess with your old band you travelled around the world quite a lot. How has your daily routine changed since then?
The lyrics to »Circular« were an examination of sorts into the various daily routines we all fall into, often without thinking. I was trying to contrast the mundane repetitive events of our daily lives (coffee every morning, etc.) with the more charged times spent out traveling, where each day is less proscribed. Neither is inherently better. It’s just good to notice these things. My own daily routine changes very little, actually. I’m still out traveling the world a fair amount of each year, and when I’m home there is my family and work in the studio on various projects, visual or musical. This activity has been ongoing for a long time and doesn’t seem like it will change anytime soon.

How is living in the US these days, especially in New York where the new CEO of the US has his origins, too? How is the vibe in the music scene?
It’s been depressing as hell living in the USA under Trump, but he is just a sign of how deeply divided the nation is. Many of the things that one might assume would come with a modern society – a desire to protect the climate, to re-write gun laws, to push for equality across race and gender and sexual orientation, etc. – are still actively being fought against by an older, conservative guard. It’s sad and confusing and awful to see. If the music scene is a reflection of the society at large, there are many falling into camps on each side of the line. Noise music grows more harsh in the age of Trump, Pop songs more sparkly and escapist. Some artists are radicalized by the dire situation, others proceed as normal.

How was the concert in Tel Aviv and how did your fans react on that – in some circles – rather unpopular decision?
Playing in Israel, where I’ve been twice before, was not a decision undertaken lightly. I know there are groups, BDS in particular, trying to silence artists from playing in Israel. I met with representatives of that group in London before I went to Tel Aviv and was unconvinced by their ideas. To me, artists are among the most important representatives of freedom and an open viewpoint. I wanted to be there on the ground and discover the local mood for myself, and to talk with people there and understand their feelings and actions. As it happened, the show I presented there – »Songs & Stories« – included a segment of discussion with a moderator and then with the audience. Our discussion was open and frank and quite illuminating. I don’t think any artist should hesitate from going to Israel. If I could not play in places where I didn’t agree with government policies, there would be few places on Earth I could play – least of all my old country!

You just released two collaborations, one with Hificlub (»In Doubt, Shadow Him!«, on Joyful Noise) and one with the band The Callas (called »Trouble and Desire«, on Dirty Water). The release of the new live album marks the end of the work on »Electric Trim«. What can we expect now?
Yes, both of those were fun projects to work on, with musical friends that I have collaborated with for some time now. For myself, I have spent the last three months working on a new album project with both of my recent collaborators from »Electric Trim« – Raul Fernandez and Jonathan Lethem. We are crafting new music that leaps off from where »Electric Trim« ended – more electronics, more beats, more experiments – moving farther away from standard »rock band« format. It’s been a very interesting time. Where »Electric Trim« had songs that were very »full«, we are attempting to strip things down on this new music, opening up the spaces and doing a lot more with vocals than before. It’s been quite challenging but so far we are really pleased with the results. Hopefully this music will come out sometime in 2019.

Beyond that, last year I self-published a small pocket-sized book called »Some Writing on Music and Musicians«. I wanted something to sell on tour besides t-shirts and albums. The book included some longer pieces on my musical adventures in Morocco, and my first experiences in the New York music scene in the late 1970s, and many shorter pieces on friends such as Epic Soundtracks, Kim Gordon, Tony Conrad, Bob Dylan (well, he’s not a friend!). I am in the process of expanding this work to publish as a full book length work.

Lee Ranaldo: »Electric Trim Live At Rough Trade East« (Mute/[PIAS])