Girl in a Band: Kim Gordon

Q&A with Sonic Youth bassist about her new memoir

For 30 years, Kim Gordon played bass in Sonic Youth. All but three of them she spent married to bandmate Thurston Moore, a union that ended infamously in 2011. The NYC act disbanded that same year. Friday, she talks to Austin City Limits Executive Producer Terry Lickona at Book People to promote her new memoir, Girl In a Band.

Its title a jab at the question repeatedly asked of her in group interviews – “What’s it like to be a girl in a band?” – the personal read recounts the 61-year-old’s formative years, with reflections on friends like Kurt Cobain and non-friends like Courtney Love, later unfolding the detailed unraveling of her marriage. A must-read for fans of Gordon or her band, the narrative casts the musician in a different light of unforeseen vulnerability and blazing candor.

Austin Chronicle: What prompted your writing this memoir?

Kim Gordon: Well, I wasn’t doing anything else [laughs]. Kidding. I hadn’t really thought of it, but a couple editors started inquiring. I think because Patti Smith’s book [Just Kids] did so well publishers were trying to figure out what else could possibly work.

AC: Seems like the time was right for you to share your story.

KG: Yeah. After the breakup, writing was a good way for me to kind of figure out how I was feeling or thinking about things, while also giving distance from those things.

AC: By “breakup,” are you referring to the dissolution of Sonic Youth or your marriage?

KG: Both – my relationship with Thurston, and, consequently, also the band.

AC: You were, at times, extremely forthright about some personal life events like your marriage. Was that openness enlightening or cathartic for you?

KG: It was. But it’s not like I totally opened myself up. I mean writing is a lot different than talking about something. It’s easier, I think, right?

AC: You’re asking a writer.

KG: [Laughs] True.

AC: You didn’t hold back with your opinions of certain folks. Are you nervous about some peoples’ reactions after reading your book?

KG: I’m a little nervous about things getting pulled out of context, like in the press. Like, The Guardian ran some “10 Things You Didn’t Know About Kim Gordon”-type list, which surprised me for them, and of course they only pulled the really gossipy parts. But, I think I was pretty evenhanded. I was more so making sociological observations of the scene.

AC: Like your comments on Courtney Love?

KG: I mean, her reputation… Like, everyone’s seen Courtney for 20 years now, or whatever. People assumed I was her friend. But I wasn’t salacious, and didn’t write anything people didn’t already know. The public assumes things about people, so I wanted to clear the air.

AC: In the book, you write, “After thirty years of playing in a band, it sounds sort of stupid to say, ‘I’m not a musician,’” admitting you sometimes see yourself as a “lowercase rock star.” How do you view yourself more accurately?

KG: A lot of what I do is tinged from a performance aspect, but I definitely identify first with being a visual artist.

AC: Your memoir reminds readers how many other art forms you’re involved with besides music, like visual art, fashion, acting, and dance.

KG: Yeah, the press release was like, “Kim Gordon: Actress! Director! Fashion designer!” [Laughs.] I really respect people who do those things full-time, and here I am, like, “I directed a couple music videos.” But why bother correcting it? It’s all hyperbole.

AC: I particularly enjoyed reading about your early passion for dance. Are you still involved with the art form?

KG: Oh, thanks! Yeah, I recently did this project with artist Nick Mauss, who was doing this ongoing deconstructed piece with ballet dancers in London. Another performer, Juliana Huxtable, and I wrote music for them. Every day would be slightly different, and the dancers started improvising too – which, for ballerinas, is a whole new world. So it was really fun.

AC: You’ve also formed a new band with Bill Nace, Body/Head. Will you be touring?

KG: I’m not sure if or when we’ll tour. I don’t really care about doing that sort of thing anymore – getting in the van and playing cities back-to-back. I’ve been concentrating more on art shows and my upcoming book tour lately. Hopefully this summer we’ll record some more.

AC: Meanwhile, your daughter Coco, with whom you’re extremely close, has been away at college. How’s that been for you?

KG: It’s horrible! [Laughs.] No, I mean, it was difficult when she left, for sure. She’s been in school for two years now, but it’s still always hard when she leaves. When I first took her to college, I continued on, visiting friends in Malibu, just because I didn’t want to go home to an empty house! I mean, you want your child to go out into the world, but yeah, the timing of her leaving was definitely tough.

AC: In 1999, Sonic Youth helped close a beloved Austin venue with a pair of shows at Liberty Lunch.

KG: Yeah! I remember that! We’d just played a festival on the West coast where somebody stole our truck with all our equipment in it. Once we got to Austin, we immediately went to the music store and bought replacement stuff. It was funny though, because some of the pedals were cheap, and the guitars sounded off because they were brand new and cheesy-sounding.

AC: I don’t want to reveal anything to those who haven’t yet read your memoir, but its last paragraph is intriguing, to say the least. In it, I can’t help but wonder who you’re writing about.

KG: It’s not like I’m gonna tell you [laughs].

AC: Yeah, I know, but I thought maybe just a hint?

KG: Nah. Maybe I’m setting it up for a sequel.

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Kim Gordon, Sonic Youth, Thurston Moore, Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love, Patti Smith, Nick Mauss, Juliana Huxtable, Bill Nace, Body/Head, Liberty Lunch

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