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Sonic Youth Interview: Steve Shelley

After thirty years of making music, it’s hard to imagine a band remaining current, but Sonic Youth continues to defy the odds. With a meringue of avant-garde sound and pop undertones, the band’s latest album, Eternal, realizes all the facets of the group’s past success. Sonic Youth performs January 10th at The Fillmore. SFCritic spoke to drummer Steven Shelley during a phone interview.

SFCritic (SFC): I read that you don’t eat before a show unless it’s five hours in advance.

Steven Shelley (SS): Yes, that’s true.

SFC: Why?

SS: The time I got so serious about it was when we were doing the Day Dream Nation, Don’t Look Back concerts in 2007. We were playing Day Dream Nation in its entirety, which was a double album. Then we would come back for an encore, so the shows were over two hours long. The way we play that music, it was just better for me if I was empty when we played the show. (Laughs)

SFC: Looking back, given the band’s track record with drummers, were you nervous to join the group?

SS: No, I was ecstatic. I didn’t have any fear that I wouldn’t be able to do what was called upon me. You know, [former drummer] Bob Bert lived in Hoboken at the time, and he still does. We are actually neighbors and I run into him at the grocery store, so there was not that much weirdness with all that.

SFC: Did you guys ever share stories and gossip about the band?

SS: Oh, sure.

SFC: What can people expect from your performances these days?

SS: These days, this may not be much of a surprise, but we’re playing our new album, which we just released in June. That music is really fresh for us, and so that’s what we enjoy doing right now. Some other music does make its way into the show, but that sort of changes from night to night.

SFC: What is the process of making music like now? Is it the same that it has always been?

SS: It’s constantly changing, and constantly a little bit the same. Right now songs are brought in a little bit more structured than they were in the past. In the past we sort of had more time to go through jamming, and jamming until we refined one little bit of a song; whereas now, some sort of chord progression will be brought in and everyone will add themselves into it. The arrangement will still get changed as we work.

SFC: It sounds like it’s more mathematical.

SS: I don’t know if it’s mathematical, but it’s quicker. We don’t spend as much time together as we did in the 80s, or maybe the 90s. You just make use of your time in a different way.
SFC: What are you doing now instead?

SS: I run a small record label. I play music with other people. I try to hangout and play my life. Do normal things.

SFC: What is a normal thing for you?

SS: Listening to music. Going to a movie. Spending too much time on a computer.

SFC: Are you addicted to Facebook?

SS: Yeah, maybe. I hadn’t thought of that, but it might be hard to deny. I see it everyday.

SFC: I saw that you did a side projects with Samara Lubelski.

SS: She’s the violinist in Thurston’s band. Thurston put out a solo record two years ago, that I played on and Samara was on. She’s asked me to play on several of her recordings.

SFS: The music is very different from Sonic Youth. What is it like to tackle these different side projects?

SS: It’s a blast. It’s harder for me if something sounds like Sonic Youth; that would be the problem. Recently, I did some recording with Michael Rother of Neu! He was in New York, and we had him come by our studio. I also finished an album with Chris Connelly of the Revolting Cocks. A friend of mine hooked me up with Chris, and two band mates and we have a new group called, The High Confession.

SFS: Does the life of a rock star ever get tiring?

SS: I wouldn’t know. If I had to describe myself, rock star wouldn’t make the list.
Sonic Youth performs at The Fillmore on January 10th. Doors open at 8PM. This article was reproduced at SF Station.

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