If anything good can come out of the Sonic Youth hiatus announced last year after Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon’s marital split, it’s Lee Ranaldo’s new solo record. The guitarist and vocalist comes to San Francisco on April 11 at Brick & Mortar for only the second show since the release of Between the Times & Tides, his first song-based solo release.
We spoke with Ranaldo about his new album during a phone from New York.
Sonic Youth is on an undefined hiatus—you called it a “prolonged hibernation” in another interview. Have there been any changes in the status?
No changes at all. We’re really not discussing it with each other at this point. We’re just kind of letting things be for the moment.
I’m sure you get asked that a lot. Are you worried it’s never going to end unless there is some finality to the situation?
I don’t know. Maybe people will get sick of asking it. I doubt there’s going to be any finality for a very long time.
It seems like your new solo record was fairly organic process. Was it an easy project for you?
I don’t know if I’d say easy. I wanted to do a record like this for a long time and it just finally happened on its own. It was a pretty natural process. It was an awful lot of work, but it was really fun work at every stage. It wasn’t ever anything that I was trying to push myself to do, which a couple of times in the past I tried to do and it wasn’t the right way to go about it. In this case, songs just started springing, I started sort of defining them on guitar and one thing let to another. It kind of did just follow a natural course, which was nice.
Did you take a different approach compared to one of your other projects or a Sonic Youth record?
A lot of songs that I work on start on acoustic guitar. That’s pretty much how these songs started—on acoustic guitar in my living room or wherever I was—and they kind of just built up from there. In the last few years, I’ve been really working on a lot of projects that are more abstract or experimental in nature. I wasn’t even really looking around for this kind of thing to happen, so the fact that it happened on it’s own accord makes it more special in a way. These songs just popped out and demanded to be finished and I just kind of followed along.
Is there any track on the album that pushed you out of your comfort zone?
There’s one track that’s kind of a ballad called “Stranded.” It was the one that pushed me the hardest to complete because it wasn’t a gentle track and demanded sort of a heartfelt vocal. Even on a record where I’m singing all 10 songs, that one really felt like it was putting me a little bit more out there than the ones that have a band behind them. To me, that was the most risky song to complete.
You’re playing a small venue in San Francisco. Does that spur emotions that are different than what you are used to compared to some of the larger events you have played?
With this band, we’re starting pretty humbly. We’re doing a bunch of shows opening for M. Ward and just doing it slowly. We didn’t want to make any assumptions with these first shows. We just wanted to go into some small, comfortable clubs, play some of the music and see what people think of it.
What’s the motivation to go out and tour like you are about to do? I’m sure you could easily just stay in New York at this point of your career and do your projects there.
That’s tempting (laughs). I think the motivation is that I have a new record that I’m really proud of and it’s a totally different situation for me. I felt like it would be fun to go out and do a bunch of shows and just try it out. I’m just going to take it one step at a time. I’m really, really happy with these songs and I’m just looking to present them a bunch of times.
I’m already working on new songs. In a way, going out on the road is being countered by this pull of having new songs I’d like to work on, but I know I’m going to be out on the road the next couple of months. Right now, I’m having fun playing the songs. It’s a novel experience to be leading a band.
Lee Ranaldo performs at Brick & Mortar on April 11. Tickets are $15 to $20. Doors open at 8pm and the show starts at 9pm. He performs at an Amoeba in-store at 6pm on April 12. More info.