For three decades, Kim Gordon helped shape the sound of underground music with her band Sonic Youth, whose wall-of-dissonant-sound approach was known as "no wave," in contrast to the poppier 80's "New Wave" sound. Gordon played bass and guitar, wrote and sang; she touched on topics that were rare in rock music — female desire, eating disorders, workplace sexual harassment.
Sonic Youth split up in the early 2010s, when Gordon separated from her husband and bandmate Thurston Moore. On Friday, Gordon released the first solo album of her career, No Home Record. Some of the sounds are familiar, but in other ways the record marks a clear break from her work with Sonic Youth.
For one thing, Gordon tells NPR's Ari Shapiro, this was the first time she relied on a producer as part of the creative process. Justin Raisen has worked with pop acts like Charli XCX and Sky Ferreira, and once told an interviewer he tried to manifest a collaboration with Kim Gordon by chanting her name.
"I never worked with a producer in this collaborative way. I guess I was just skeptical of producers, and it comes from years of being a post-punker," Gordon explains. ""I kind of just looked at it as an experiment, and he made it really fun. It was almost like a challenge — like, OK, make a song out of this, motherf*****."
Gordon says she associates this mode of music-making with Los Angeles, where she now lives after spending much of her career in New York, embedded in its creative scenes. Her new hometown's influence is there in the lyrics, too: The idea for song "Get Yr Life Back" comes from a sign she spotted in L.A.'s Atwater neighborhood.
"I was walking down the street, and there was one of those plastic sandwich signs with plastic letters, and it said "GET YOUR LIFE BACK YOGA." And it just struck me, anything can be branded," she says. "You see a big logo in a juice place that says "Be Here Now" — taking eastern philosophy and making branding taglines out of it. It's kind of funny."
Even in her time with Sonic Youth, Gordon's career has long been split between music and visual art, and in recent years she's spent more time in galleries than recording studios. Still, she says that on this album it's clear that those parts of her life sometimes blend.
"I always sort try to keep them apart but I feel like they're merging more together," she says. "Like that song 'Air BnB': I've been kind of obsessing over looking at Airbnb's online. I really see them as contemporary landscapes, interior landscapes, how everything sort of matches. The whole image, it just kind of looks like art to me."