Thanks to his outra–electro guitar shredding in Sonic Youth, Thurston Moore is held in high musical esteem from hither to yon. That pioneering post–punk trio is now on indefinite hiatus, however, and Moore has plugged his restless spirit —and his Stratocaster — into a new band.
Say hello to Chelsea Light Moving.
"We've been busy touring basically for the last two years nonstop," says drummer John Moloney, who's been one of Moore's side–project conspirators for a decade. "It was billed as 'Thurston Moore' for almost two years, and then we all decided 'Yeah, this is pretty cool, and it's actually a band.'
"Thurston wanted to change the name of the project to a band name, so that it would be perceived differently. That was cool for us."
Along with Moore and Moloney, the band includes bassist Keith Wood and violinist Samara Lubelski.
"Samara and Keith have been in Thurston's circle for a long time," Moloney reports. "Samara played on that Trees Outside the Academy record, and all three of us were in bands that were on Thurston's Ecstatic Peace label."
Moloney's first big band was called the Shit Spangled Banner, an improv/hardcore outfit whose debut record was released on Moore's label in 1996.
"The Shit Spangled Banner turned into a psychedelic improv band called The Sunburned Hand of the Man, which has been pretty renowned in certain circles," he says. "We've opened for Sonic Youth, and I became very friendly with the Sonic Youth family."
Like Moore, Moloney is from a small town in New England, and when Sonic Youth was in its heyday — the late 1980s and early '90s — the young drummer was sitting up and paying attention.
"My band was heavily influenced by Sonic Youth and the Melvins, stuff like that," Moloney continues. "I was and still am a huge Sonic Youth fan. Some of my formative musical experiences were at their concerts.
"When those guys would do an interview in a magazine, I would read it and always check out the bands they were interested in. I've always been real interested in their scene, and what they were all about. The bands they were into."
Moloney and Moore are repped on vinyl by Caught On Tape, from a series of European dates they did — just drums and guitar — in the spring of 2012. "He had some noise gigs booked after one of our band tours," explains Moloney, "so he asked me to come along and play drums. We recorded all the gigs on cassette; I took them home and edited them, and that's the Caught on Tape record."
While Chelsea Light Moving is a rock 'n' roll band that plays actual songs, guitar/drum improv is an entirely different animal. Moore thrives on improvisation — as does Moloney.
"It's kind of like improvised art: There's the stage, these are the instruments, let's see what you can do with these things. And we have a kind of telepathy built up from playing together for so long. It's sorta jazz–based in a way. But we're not playing jazz chops. It's Thurston and I listening to each other and just going for it, you know?
"But we're both pretty high energy people, mentally and physically. What I kind of akin it to is the way Jimi Hendrix would always say that Mitch Mitchell and him would push each other in that way. And if you listen to those guys playing together, you can tell that they're listening to each other and playing off each other. That's the basis of it.
"I'm not saying I'm Mitch Mitchell, by any means, or he's Hendrix, but I feel like that's the approach when I sit down. I've never discussed this with him or anything, but this is how I feel about it when we sit down to play. It's not a jazz thing, although I guess you could put a saxophone in with us and it would be kinda jazzy in a way. But it would still be insane fire music."
On the just–released album Chelsea Light Moving, blistering punk, heavy rock chops, big hooks, big beats and screamo guitars is, indeed, the stuff that insane fire music is made of.
Several tracks were recorded in a single day's session, and released in 2012 as free downloads. "Thurston wanted to release the whole record free online," Moloney explains. "Our label was interested in releasing the record when it was done, but we just didn't know when we would finish it."
With the exception of several chestnuts from Moore's catalog, Moloney says, the Chelsea Light Moving live show includes very little improv. "It's all rock 'n' roll song structure, very structured, very fun and fun to play. For myself. I love playing that kind of music as well."
Fans should expect Chelsea Light Moving to be around for a while; it's not just Thurston Moore's latest one–off whim. "I can't see that happening," Moloney says. "I'm the type of person who doesn't enter into things just to walk away a year later. Thurston's not that way either. He's one of the most committed people I have ever met in my life.
"I'm not saying he's moving on. Sonic Youth is not dead. It'll never die. They might take a break from playing shows, but Chelsea Light Moving is not a side project. All of us in the band are one hundred percent into it."