Sonic Youth’s new album, “Murray Street” (released June 25 via DGC/Interscope), is named after the location of the veteran underground rock outfit’s downtown New York recording studio. Murray Street also happens to be a literal stone’s throw from the former site of the World Trade Center; an engine from one of the planes that hit the towers landed in the middle of the road on that horrific September morning last year.
In a matter of minutes, the epicenter of Sonic Youth’s musical world was recast as ground zero for the worst terrorist attack on American soil in history. The band had already written all of the material that eventually wound up on the album, but guitarist Thurston Moore admits the disaster outside the studio door was an intangible force to be reckoned with once it came time to record.
“We really didn’t get to look at the studio until a few weeks later,” he says, noting that a 16-man decontamination crew had to be called in to restore the equipment to working order. “Eventually, there was a certain desire to reclaim our workspace in the face of this neighborhood being destroyed. Our mood in approaching this record and actually executing it was certainly different than what it would have been prior.”
In the face of such intense working conditions, Sonic Youth nevertheless emerged with an album that largely shies away from the more anarchic, confrontational aspects of its sound. Instead, such songs as “Rain on Tin,” “Disconnection Notice,” and “The Empty Page” turn back the clock to the blissful, often smile-worthy strains of such seminal albums as 1988’s “Daydream Nation.” Continuing in the vein of 2000’s “NYC Ghosts & Flowers,” the seven-song set gets in and out in an unusually quick 45 minutes, making it one of the band’s most easily digestible albums in years.
Five tracks were born out of acoustic guitar-based songs Moore had been playing in solo performances around New York. “I had the desire to introduce them to the band because I really wanted to hear what would happen,” he says with a chuckle. “This has always been something I’ve really enjoyed, because the band takes them and somewhat destroys them or turns them into Sonic Youth songs, as opposed to some singular vision.”
Ultimately, the first seven songs put to tape made the final cut for what Moore describes as “a really cool rock’n’roll record.” The set also marks Sonic Youth’s first with noted producer/multi-instrumentalist Jim O’Rourke as a full-fledged member; O’Rourke co-produced “NYC Ghosts & Flowers” and toured with the band upon its release.
“During the songwriting process, which he was involved with for the first time, he would hear some of these classic-rock situations arise and he’d point at them,” Moore says of O’Rourke, who shares his love for such ’70s-rock oddities as Sparks and Mountain. “Normally, we would tend to bury those, and [not doing] that makes the record a bit more fun of a listen.
As for the album’s title, Moore admits he “felt a little weird” with the name “Murray Street.” “I took a picture of the street sign, which doesn’t denote anything or show destruction, but the sign is kind of bent out of shape. We used it for the back cover. It’s hardly anything we felt a need to exploit, but it was such an evocative period.”
In-store performances are being planned around the band’s summer North American tour, which kicks off Aug. 1 in Dallas and includes a free Aug. 11 show in New York’s Central Park.
By year’s end, Interscope will salute the band’s influential career by rolling out the first in a planned series of reissues: an expanded edition of the 1992 album Dirty. “It’s the full CD, and an extra disc of B-sides, eight-track demo stuff, and some loose tape we had found from the songwriting sessions,” Moore says. “There are a couple of songs that never got fully realized that were completely amazing to hear.”
Excerpted from the July 6, 2002, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com members section.
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