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Sonic Youth - What A Day For A Daydream

Author: Lee Ranaldo
Wednesday, 6 February 2008
When one thinks of archetypal New York bands, few shine as brightly as Sonic Youth. From the Velvet Underground and the Loft Scene through to the Ramones and Bbgbs to the birth of no wave and later indie rock, New York has been a centre for punk expression. Lenin Simos spoke with second guitarist Lee Ranaldo on the eve of their next Australian tour.

Sonic Youth – Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, Ranaldo and, since 1985, Steve Shelley – have remained one of the most influential, most exciting and downright greatest bands ever. The band have travelled so many different paths, some of which it even trail-blazed, and to this day after some 15 studio albums and countless side projects and collaborations, the legend that is Sonic Youth lives on. After almost 30 years, its members – down-to-earth heroes, involuntary shapers of style and scene – are still having the time of their lives.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the band’s breakthrough album, Daydream Nation. The All Tomorrow’s Parties Festival and its subsidiary series of concerts, Don’t Look Back, will present a series of Australian and New Zealand shows where Sonic Youth will perform Daydream Nation in its entirety.

For some people, this is the very idea of heaven. While Sonic Youth have crafted a stack of seminal records, each of them definitive in their own way, it could only be Daydream Nation that got the go-ahead as the one to be given the Don’t Look Back treatment.

“I think in the grand scheme of everything, that’s really the record that for so many people put us on the map in such a major way,” Ranaldo says. “In a way it’s very appropriate that it’s that record. I mean it’s the first record we came to Australia on. It’s the first record we came to many places outside of the US and Europe on. Through the records that came before that – Bad Moon (Rising) [1985] and Evol [1986], and Sister [1987] – we were kind of growing and growing. Daydream is really the one that ended up on everybody’s year-end lists and all that stuff.”

At first the band were reticent to attempt to play the album in its entirety.

“Those songs were all built to be stretched out in different ways and I think for us the key was getting back inside them enough that we were comfortable enough to just stretch them out and not just be trying to reproduce them,” Ranaldo says. “I think the first few gigs we did, really the objective for us was just to get through the gig and play these songs; you know, reproduce them. And that felt a little odd, I have to say. I think we all felt like our own cover band or something like that...the first few gigs were a little bit more like performance art.”

Some fans might see the Don’t Look Back series as an opportunity to see a note, tone and picture-perfect version of a classic record from one of their favourite bands. Ranaldo sees a certain amount of jeopardy in that particular mode of thinking; the last thing Sonic Youth wants to do is end up its own simulacrum.

“I think we’ve been able to tap into what is exciting about it,” he says. “I don't think of us as very nostalgic in general as a band. The idea was a little foreign to us at first. Even though to us as fans, we could understand the thrill of like, Alright, The Stooges are gonna play Fun House, or Dinosaur [Jr.]’s gonna play You’re Living All Over Me. I mean we were totally up for seeing that stuff but when it came time to talk about us doing it, I dunno, I think we maybe just thought we would rather be doing other things. But we’ve definitely all gotten inside of it at this point.”

WHO: Sonic Youth
WHAT: Perform Daydream Nation for Don’t Look Back at the Enmore Theatre
WHEN: Monday 18 February / Tuesday 19