We’ve Got A File On You: Kim Gordon

Danielle Neu

We’ve Got A File On You: Kim Gordon

Danielle Neu

We’ve Got A File On You features interviews in which artists share the stories behind the extracurricular activities that dot their careers: acting gigs, guest appearances, random internet ephemera, etc.

Kim Gordon never planned on being a musician. Throughout her nearly 50-year career, Gordon has done every conceivable thing that could fall under the art umbrella: painting, curating exhibits, writing for art magazines, making music, filming music videos, designing clothing lines. When she graduated from Otis College of Art and Design in 1977 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, Gordon set her sights on the visual arts and moved to New York City to get her hands dirty, an experience the city promised anyone with enough drive and imperturbation.

Gordon didn’t pick up her first instrument, a guitar, until she was 27. When she did, the goal wasn’t to create life-changing songs or perfect her playing style, but to treat it as any other instrument of art – a tool designed for expression, pushing boundaries, and creating without a formal end goal.

It’s her brooding, unpredictable snarl in Sonic Youth, however, that catapulted Gordon into the ears and hearts of listeners around the world. As the band aged with aloof grace, so did its fans; Sonic Youth reminded them that art is not something created solely by or for the youth, but a lifestyle you embody and chase and try until your hands and brain give out. For Gordon, the point of it all is to see how many different ways you can view the world as it morphs and slips through your fingers.

Perhaps this is what’s made Gordon’s music career so alluring as it takes shape in countless styles and bands: Sonic Youth, Body/Head, Free Kitten, Glitterbust, and every collaboration in between. Now, she’s poised to release her best solo album yet, The Collective, this Friday. Gordon deadpans and whispers over deeply ominous hip-hop beats, letting the bass sludge drip off her fingers while drum loops distort electric guitar and keys until they’re unrecognizable. It’s dirty and loud and overwhelming; yet once its 40-minute runtime concludes, you immediately miss its suffocating noise.

Over Zoom, the perennial it-girl spent just shy of an hour revisiting highlighted items from her CVS receipt-length resume, often in short, uninhibited answers, while lounging on her couch. Chiming in occasionally was her dog, an Australian Shepherd eager to curl up and overhear the conversation, and old memories that bubbled up just as abruptly as his whines. Revisit that conversation below.

The Collective & “BYE BYE” (2024)

Your new solo album, The Collective, opens with “BYE BYE,” which has this grimey, undeniable beat that sounds like it’s straight out of Earl Sweatshirt’s Doris while you rattle off items packed in a suitcase. How did that song come about?

KIM GORDON: With the whole record, basically I worked with Justin Raisen as my collaborator and producer, and I told him I wanted to have more beats, to be beat-oriented on this record. He would send me beats, and that one really stood out. The music was so compelling that I felt like if I tried to make the vocals equally intense it wouldn’t work, so I decided to pick something really mundane, like a packing list, just to contrast it. It’s partially real and partially not.

Were you influenced by rap when writing it? I know you’re a fan of Vince Staples, Nas, and ’90s hip-hop in general, especially when it veers towards a more minimal sound.

GORDON: Not really, or at least not directly. There’s one beat in the record that’s very Schoolly D [laughs] so maybe there. Mostly, though, I didn’t think about it. I’ve been very inspired by rhythm and the sense of delivery, whether spoken or otherwise. It’s about using space.

How much of that was improvisational or the result of toying around on these instruments?

GORDON: I’d say about half of the beats and the sound Justin came up with, but then I would go in and do a quick guitar sound that was all improvised. For the vocals, I had some lyrics, like “BYE BYE” was written out. But a lot of the other lyrics were improvised.

Collaborating With Daughter Coco Gordon-Moore (Ongoing)

Your daughter Coco Gordon-Moore is the star of your “BYE BYE” video as well as “Hungry Baby” from No Home Record. [Note: In the time since this interview, Coco has appeared in Gordon’s “I’m A Man” video too.] Whose idea was it for her to be cast in those music videos?

GORDON: Actually, both of those videos were directed by Clara Balzary, and it was her idea. Both times, she wanted to work with Coco. The “Hungry Baby” video was done after we’d done our videos and she just wanted to work with Coco because she had this idea. For “BYE BYE,” she had a whole dek made for a short. She sent it to me and it seemed like it would work with the song.

What is it like working with your daughter and seeing her act through these scenes set to your own music?

GORDON: [laughs] Well, she was so good at it! She’s really good on camera. It was a challenge of how to approach music videos and not make them – I mean, this one actually has a really ’90s vibe to it in a way in that it’s telling a story. It reminds me a bit of how Tamra Davis would make videos for us, actually. It’s very hard to do, to tell a story in a short amount of time like that. [Clara] had it really worked out, the whole storyboard and all that. But no, it’s a fun way to spend time with Coco.

Do you see a part of yourself in Coco, especially when she gravitates towards the arts in different ways?

GORDON: Not really [laughs]. She seems so much more confident than I was when I started out doing things. At the same time, it just feels natural and organic.

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Learning An Instrument For The First Time (1981)

Back before Sonic Youth, you formed the short-lived band CKM with Christine Hahn and Miranda Stanton and fell in love with the sound of “no-wave” bands happening around then. What inspired you to pick up the guitar then, at age 27, after never having played an instrument prior?

GORDON: It’s funny you say that because I honestly had no desire to play music. I just fell into it. It was through this art project by my friend Dan Graham, this artist. He wanted an all-girl group for his mirror-audience performer piece. Debbie Harry and Patti Smith didn’t start playing music until they were 27 or 28 as well, so it wasn’t that unusual. It’s kinda like this avant-garde aspect of music in New York and the lineage of that has always been outside of the mainstream in terms of this idea that it’s a youth thing. It wasn’t like that. With the Velvet Underground, they were young when they started, but it wasn’t about being young and cheerful or whatever, sweet and melodic, you know. It was about being attuned to lifestyle, as in the tradition of blues and jazz. It was more like when the generation of hardcore bands started. We were always the oldest around all of those people, like Mudhoney and stuff. Being in New York, it was always a little different. It’s so different from LA and the industry here. It wasn’t something I really thought about.

I think there’s a feeling of liberation when you pick up a new hobby or teach yourself something new once you’re an adult, especially when you’re no longer in that daily learning mindset of school. You do it just to do it. It’s less about learning songs or chords and following a teacher’s lesson, but more of an art form that’s meant to be an outlet.

GORDON: Yeah, because so many people got into music through punk, that wasn’t about playing your instrument. It’s an anti-corporate thing. In New York, people like Tom Verlaine and Richard Hell, that actually came out of the poetry scene and the whole Beat scene. And then in England, the McClaren influence was almost hippie-ish in a way. He was influenced by situationists and the whole ’68 thing in France. It was all kinds of anti-corporate, anti-mainstream culture.

Honestly, I never learned how to play properly. Like, I moved to New York City to make art. The thing I liked about music is that I didn’t know anything about it. I didn’t have the self-consciousness that I have about art-making. I basically see myself as a visual artist who makes music, or a visual artist who writes. It’s not like I’m a writer or I’m a musician in the conventional sense.

The Making Of “Death Valley ’69,” Sonic Youth’s First Music Video (1985)

Sonic Youth’s first music video was “Death Valley ’69” in 1985, four years after you started the band. Because you in particular have always been so drawn to art throughout your life, it surprised me that the band didn’t release any music videos before that one. Was it just a matter of scrounging up enough money to film one? Was there just no interest?

GORDON: It was both [laughs]. We were not that into MTV because it seemed like suddenly it wasn’t enough to have music. You had to have this whole thing. It reinforced mainstream and corporate culture in a way. It was something that wasn’t readily accessible to us, and we just didn’t really have the money until then.

Sonic Youth’s Last Show (2011)

Then fast forward to 2011, when Sonic Youth played its last shows that fall and the final one took place at SWU Festival in Brazil. In your memoir, you described having to take Xanax to make it through your final practices and feeling incredibly alone onstage during that show. In general, saying goodbye to anyone or anything that’s been a major part of your life is incredibly hard, I think because we as humans want to be a little bit in denial. There’s a formality to goodbyes that suggests the door is closed for good, and whether we want it to be or not, it feels so abrupt, stressful, and concrete. Do you feel a similar way?

GORDON: Right, well none of that has changed [laughs]. I talked about it in my book. I don’t think about it much anymore.

Of course. I’m speaking more generally about closing chapters in your life and how it feels to do so. This many years in, have you found there to be any upsides or difficulties in moving on from formerly major parts of your life?

GORDON: You know, it’s difficult. When I moved to LA from Northampton. On the one hand, I was super glad to get out of there because I didn’t have a reason to be there anymore, my daughter was off to college. I have super close friends who still live there, so that was difficult. And I have some old friends here [in LA] and my nieces who I’m close to, and a good friend moved out here after I did. Even though I grew up here, I still have a sense of wondering where is my home and where do I belong. That’s why I called the last record No Home Record [laughs] but you just have to enjoy the new things after you make those changes.

Like thinking of it as creating space for something new.

GORDON: Yeah, I guess so. Like there’s something about moving into an empty house that’s kinda cool. It feels like open possibilities, and then it gets filled up with stuff. You have to realize that you’re always the same person no matter where you go.

Forming (And Reviving) Free Kitten (1992)

When you and Julia Cafritz formed Free Kitten in 1992 to work on alt-rock songs together, you eventually brought Yoshimi P-We from Boredoms and Mark Ibold from Pavement into the fold. Why did you decide to start a new band while Sonic Youth was still ongoing? It seems like it would free up your brain to create new ideas and songs, especially for any material that didn’t make sense within the scope of Sonic Youth.

GORDON: Oh god, everyone in Sonic Youth had multiple side projects. You can’t expect one band – it’s like expecting one person to fulfill all your needs. Julia and I started first and we were inspired by Royal Trux and the fact that you only needed two people to start a band. It was just fun. It was a reason to hang out and do stuff. I’d also do stuff with Yoshimi later and then Mark. Just different personalities make different kinds of music. At least that’s the way we made music, where people bring their sensibilities.

Was anything a pleasant surprise in that regard since you aren’t totally sure what will come from working with different people?

GORDON: Nothing was really a surprise. Actually, I was surprised recently because someone wanted to license this Free Kitten song “Never Gonna Sleep,” so I relistened to it and realized the drums on it — it’s very drum and bass kinda, like it loops in a way — and the drums that Justin [Raisen] made on “Murdered Out,” which was the first thing he had sent me from stuff I’d done at his studio for some other project that he took and made a loop with the drums, that they were very similar. Something about that sound of the drums. I think that’s what I was really drawn to when he sent it to me.

Anyway, that doesn’t exactly answer your question, but it was all a surprise because we didn’t know how the music would come out. Because I know the sensibilities of Julia and Yoshimi and Mark, it wasn’t really a surprise. We wanted to actually be surprised by unexpected things.

More than a decade passed between your sophomore album, Sentimental Education, and your third and most recent album, Inherit. What prompted y’all to regroup a little over a decade at that point?

GORDON: We just missed Yoshimi [laughs] so we devised a plan for her to come and hang out with us for a week or something. That was basically it.

Starting Glitterbust With Pro Surfer Alex Knost (2016)

When you and pro surfer Alex Knost teamed up to form Glitterbust in 2016, you released your sole album with basically no context. It seemed so unexpected, especially for music people who had never heard of this surfer before. How did you two meet and what did you first bond over?

GORDON: [laughs] We just met through my gallerist, actually, because she and her husband are surfers. I don’t know. She said he was an old soul, and I wanted to be open, so I was just like, “I guess this is how people play music in LA.” He had played me some of his weird 8-track recordings. Who knows? It was a one-off project that really didn’t mean much.

When you went into it, did you know that it was always going to be a one-off project?

GORDON: Oh yeah. We recorded one day on some 8-track and that was sort of fun, but I don’t know, I never really think these things through. Like, “Ugh, now we have to make it a record. And blah blah blah.” I just didn’t have any desire to take it any further. But actually, the video his friend made for one song came out really good.

Do you remember when you met Alex for the first time and what you ended up bonding over or talking about?

GORDON: I don’t actually remember. So, just music I’d guess. Talking about music. He was obsessed with Kurt [Cobain]. I think he had a bit of a Kurt complex like a lot of young people do.

Sonic Youth’s “Kool Thing” Soundtracking That Iconic Simple Men Dance Scene (1992)

In Hal Hartley’s movie Simple Men, there’s a famous scene — arguably the most famous scene from any of his movies — where the characters break into a dance sequence to Sonic Youth’s “Kool Thing.” Did you have any involvement in that?

GORDON: No, we didn’t have any involvement. Actually, I don’t know if we’re really even that into it. Obviously he had to ask us to license it and we agreed and all that, but we just thought it was strange. That movie had such a strange self-consciousness to it and, I don’t know, I don’t think I felt like “Kool Thing” really went with it?

Definitely, it’s such an unexpected sync. I think that works in its favor though. Usually when directors do a rock or vaguely punk dance scene in a movie, the characters try too hard to mosh or look edgy. His homage to Band Of Outsiders adds this fluid, almost drunken charm to the dance moves. The best modern day equivalent that comes to mind is something like Jenna Ortega’s dance to the Cramps as Wednesday Addams.

GORDON: Yeah, I haven’t seen it in so long really. Probably if I saw it now I’d feel differently about it.

What’s your personal pick for the best use of your music in film or TV?

GORDON: We really liked this French director Olivier Assayas who used “Tunic” in Irma Vep. He made it really loud. He said he wanted it to be like a character in the movie, and we were impressed that he made it that loud [laughs]. We ended up becoming friends and he asked us to do the soundtrack for Demonlover which was really fun. That was also a parallel character to what was going on. He basically sent us dailies a lot and we just recorded a bunch of stuff and hung microphones out the window to record sounds. It was really fun to be involved with music for something from the very beginning, because normally it’s the very last thing that happens for a movie.

Especially creating music for him back then in his career, because his recent movies have been fairly quiet: Personal Shopper, Clouds Of Sils Maria, Non-Fiction.

GORDON: Yeah. He did use this band from Toronto. It’s not called the Clean. The singer is really good. I can’t remember what movie it is. Anyway, his brother writes about music and I think he was a DJ. So for Olivier, music is a big part of his life, I think.

Playing Herself In A Gilmore Girls Episode (2006)

Then comes your acting appearances on screen. Your first TV show appearance was in 2006 on Gilmore Girls, where you, Thurston, and Coco are playing a stripped-down version of “What A Waste” on the Stars Hollow town square. Were you a fan of that show at the time?

GORDON: Yes, of course. We watched it with our daughter, and they used to name drop us all the time, as well as others like Vincent Gallo once. We messaged them saying, like, “Do you want to use a song or something?” I guess they were leaving the show that seventh season and nobody knew, so they invited us on to play along with Sparks and a couple other people. So that was a lark.

Hah, I was curious who contacted who for that cameo to happen. The mental image of you three watching the show together on the couch and hearing your band referenced constantly is so funny and cute. Once on set, were any of the Gilmore Girls actors already familiar with you and your music?

GORDON: I don’t know. I don’t think so? Only the directors or creators seemed to.

Making TV Cameos On Gossip Girl, Girls, And More (2009-2017)

You ended up having a run of appearances on TV shows, specifically ones with “Girls” in the title which is mildly amusing: Gossip Girl in 2009 where Sonic Youth played Rufus’ wedding, and Girls in 2014 where you were in a rehab support group.

GORDON: I know, that was weird, right? And we watched Gossip Girl, too! They asked us to play on the show. And then I was on Girls, which was also fun.

All three ended up being quite huge for their eras. Was it strange appearing on these major, primetime shows that millions of people tuned in for?

GORDON: It was weird. I think the most notoriety we ever gained from being on a show was The Simpsons. People from all walks of life really watch The Simpsons.

Right, you’ve been turned into an animated, Simpsons-ified version of yourself, which is a pop culture honor in itself. That wasn’t even your only animated appearance either! You also did that Animals spot.

GORDON: Oh yeah, I did a song for Animals! That was a good song, I thought.

It was! I loved that show, wish it got more seasons. What’s it like voicing an animated character? Any advice for someone doing a small part as a voice actor?

GORDON: I don’t know, honestly. I only did it once. For The Simpsons, we went some place up by Rockefeller Center. They probably did all of the voiceovers there.

Performing On Saturday Night Live For Fred Armisen’s Final Episode (2013)

While Sonic Youth never played Saturday Night Live as the musical guest, you did perform on Fred Armisen’s final SNL episode in 2013. When looking it up for this, I was surprised by just how many celebrities were there for that episode.

GORDON: Oh yeah, there was this funny room with all of us hanging out together: Steve Jones, Carrie [Brownstein], Aimee Mann, J Mascis. I didn’t know Steve Jones, but I knew everyone else already. That was weird because everyone up there, the cast were really nice, but they kept asking, “You were on the show before, right?” And I kept having to tell them no [laughs]. I’d been up there a couple times to see friends play, like I remember being there for Nirvana. Our recording schedule, the way everything worked was all geared around Coco’s school. We would start touring as soon as school ended, but SNL always ends in May or whenever, so it just never really worked out.

Did they ever try reaching out to Sonic Youth to ask?

GORDON: I don’t remember. I’m sure they tried to get us on the show. But I don’t think we ever really sold enough records to be on the show, since that’s how those things go.

Writing Her Memoir Girl In A Band (2015)

In your memoir, Girl In A Band, you revisit different eras of your life and your experiences within your different bands. Were there any memories that you had almost forgotten about until sitting down to write your book?

GORDON: Probably. It’s not like I remember it now though. Writing does help me think, though, and you can start remembering things. I couldn’t recall something specific right now.

Did you have any journals from your childhood or adulthood that you’ve held on to and referred to?

GORDON: No. I’ve always believed in, like, self-editing. The things that are important will float to the surface. I couldn’t tell you what most of my songs sound like, but I’m always surprised when I hear one and I think, “Oh, that wasn’t so bad.” It’s kinda like that.

Acting In Gus Van Sant Films (2005 & 2018)

The very first film you acted in was Last Days when Gus Van Sant cast you as a record executive, which is a somewhat fictionalized spin on Kurt Cobain’s final weeks before his death.

GORDON: Actually, I don’t know if that was my first film. I think it was Boarding Gate with Olivier Assayas maybe.

Could it be that it was filmed before Last Days? Because I think it screened a year or two afterwards. What was it like shooting with Gus on that set?

GORDON: I knew Gus a little bit, so that was cool working with him. He’s just very open. He’s into improv, and we basically just rehearsed the scene a couple times and then shot it. I improvised what I said, and he would suggest making it shorter or something. When we shot it, it was just Harris Savides, that incredible DP who unfortunately died, a sound person, and Gus, so it was very intimate. Yeah, it was fun! I liked it.

Gus cast you again more than a decade later in his film Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot where you ended up doing a scene with Beth Ditto, of all people, for that too. What’s your working relationship like with Gus?

GORDON: Beth is great. She’s a natural. That was really fun, too. Joaquin and — gosh, who is the other actor? He was really good. Anyway, they were both super sweet and generous about my acting. I thought that was a pretty good movie, but it didn’t get as much attention as it should have.

Oh, Jonah Hill! It was Jonah Hill. And Udo Kier, who’s great, such a character. One would think the movie would be more bleak and depressing given the subject matter, but it wasn’t. He was able to achieve this special tone.

Working With Cult-Favorite Directors (Ongoing)

Since then, you’ve starred in a number of films in varying roles, like Boarding Gate, Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There, and the German horror film The Nightmare. What film role do you look back on most fondly?

GORDON: I’ve been very lucky: I worked with Gus, Todd Haynes, Olivier Assayas, all my favorites. I liked Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot a lot. Boarding Gate was tough because I had to learn Cantonese, which was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. It was just for the few lines. And I had to act next to the Robert Mitchum of Hong Kong cinema.

Did they give you a dialogue coach for that?

GORDON: No. They sent me the lines because I was on tour at the time. Every day, I sat down and tried to memorize the lines. I had a friend, my friend’s brother is married to a Chinese woman and — I think they slowed the tape down for me because it was so fast. It was so hard — and that helped. But when I got there, Olivier was just like, “Oh, you can just do it in English! This is Hong Kong.” And I was like, “No, I’m gonna do it in Chinese.”

Is there a director you would like to work with that you haven’t yet?

GORDON: I like Claire Denis a lot. She did a video for us, and I like her movies a lot. I love Catherine Breillat, but her English is terrible and she’s kinda brutal with her actors [laughs]. She used this Body/Head song in her new film L’Été Dernier and I got to meet her in Paris. She’s really such a character. Sweet.

Directing The Breeders’ “Cannonball” Video (1993)

You flipped to behind the camera when you co-directed the Breeders’ music video for “Cannonball,” which boasts one of the best basslines of all time. How did you and Spike Jonze come up with the idea for that video?

GORDON: A great song. I think Kim asked me because she didn’t trust anybody. She’s very skeptical of the man or any music authority people. But I didn’t have a production company or anything but Spike did, so I asked him.

Was the music video, the layout, the rolling ball all your idea?

GORDON: The mirror was my idea, which I took from this artist Dan Graham. He used to do this piece with a mirror behind him where he would stand there and describe the audience, then turn around and describe himself describing the audience, all very self-conscious and what not. So I had this idea to put the mirror behind the band. Also I had this idea to bring in some element of the film performance; they put on weird clothes and stuff. I don’t know why I thought that was good. I guess because music videos always have people changing their clothes? Spike’s idea was the genius idea: the bowling ball. He brought in this literal aspect to it for the cannonball, which was great.

Collaborating With Peaches, Cypress Hill, and Beck (2015, 1993, & 2013)

You’ve done too many musical collaborations to get into them all, but I did want to pick a few highlights. Your part on Peaches’ song “Close Up” is the most in line with your current solo sound. In the song’s music video, you play her wrestling coach while these increasingly ridiculous things happen. What do you remember from shooting that video?

GORDON: I hated that video, actually. It’s just not my aesthetic at all.

It’s very Peaches.

GORDON: Yes, very Peaches.

Sonic Youth and Cypress Hill recorded “I Love You Mary Jane” together for the 1993 film Judgement Night, but the soundtrack ended up being far more popular than the movie itself. At that point, Sonic Youth had already had Chuck from Public Enemy sing on “Kool Thing” so you weren’t new to rap and rock collaborations, but it still took some work to figure out the song. In an oral history of the soundtrack for Rolling Stone, you said things started taking off once the excessive amount of weed in the studio was overpowering. How was it?

GORDON: So much weed and listening to the bass sound, the sub zero, sub sound. Just being so stoned. I think it was a couple days of recording together, or we were with them a couple days at least. They expected us to do this noisy thing. “Do your noisy shit!” But we didn’t want to make a bad Cypress Hill song. Honestly, I didn’t like that soundtrack. Most of the way rock and rap was supposed to mesh just sounds, I don’t know, not good to me. It sounded kinda corny. I shouldn’t say that, but yeah. Cypress Hill picked the song title. We just kinda went with their lead. We didn’t want to fuck up the Cypress Hill song.

In 2013, Beck released a standalone 15-minute-long song called “I Won’t Be Long,” on which you do some spoken word. It stands out in his catalog as a dreamy space-rock song, but has largely been forgotten since then. Did he approach you with that spoken word part in mind?

GORDON: I don’t even remember doing that. It’s funny you bring that up. I don’t even remember what the song sounds like.

He didn’t put it on an album or anything, but I was taken aback by how well it holds up. It’s a pretty song. What do you remember from that?

GORDON: Yeah nothing. Just being in the studio and recording. I was in LA, but I hadn’t moved here yet. I don’t know what I was doing here at the time.

Appearing In Short Films Like No Alternative Girls (1994)

In Tamra Davis’ 1994 short film No Alternative Girls, the director asks you, Courtney Love, Kathleen Hanna, and Julia Cafritz for your opinion on “female performers who use their sexuality to sell their music.” You answered by saying, “The more sexy a performer tries to make herself in a conventional way, like Janet Jackson, the more generic she’s become.” Has your opinion changed since then?

GORDON: I guess I still feel like that [laughs]. It’s just that different things can be sexy. It’s not like I have a problem with it, it’s just less interesting?

So the keyword for you there is “conventional”?


Where do you think the line is between self expression, sexual liberation, and using our human bodies as art? Do you think those things overlap?

GORDON: Oh I don’t know. People can do what they want. Sometimes people make it their subject matter, yeah. Obviously the clothes a performer wears, musicians, has always been — a vaudevillian type of history comes out of it in a way. There’s always been this playing with gender within it, with Little Richard and later Mick Jagger, David Bowie. I always felt like when men are onstage they’re more free to express what would be called a feminine side and interact with one another in a way that — you know, like when men play sports and they hit each other on that butt — is close. I like seeing how people use their clothes. I guess I could call it fashion? I like seeing how they use or subvert fashion. It’s not about being chic. It’s about being an entertainer.

So when you said, “The more sexy a performer tries to make herself in a conventional way, like–”

GORDON: I guess what I meant was that, well, the sexiest thing I ever saw was this band that opened up for us in Detroit called Universal Indians. It’s this droney, experimental noise band. Two of the people went on to be Wolf Eyes. This girl Gretchen was wearing kinda baggy corduroy pants and maybe a flannel shirt or t-shirt, and she had this rock that she was using as a slide on her guitar? I thought something about it was just sexy.

Maybe it’s just that things that are conventional are not that stimulating. You know, someone like Billie Eilish. She’s fun to watch and people like her because she’s not doing that. She’s doing something different with her looks. Debbie Harry was always funny and had a sense of irony about her dressing. Her whole thing was that Blondie was a cartoon character. There’s not that much humor, not that there has to be.

MTV Bans Sonic Youth’s “100%” Music Video (1992)

MTV banned Sonic Youth’s “100%” music video because you’re wearing a bootleg Rolling Stones shirt with “eat me” written on it. Right away, you knew that was hypocritical because MTV aired other music videos that had angsty lyrics or sexually provocative images.

GORDON: I was never sure if it was what it said or if it was because it was a bootleg Rolling Stones shirt? I don’t know.

The whole thing feels very of the time, that’s for sure. Where, if at all, do you think the line for censorship should be drawn in public art?

GORDON: Pretty much no, never. Art that’s super violent, even then, it’s something that usually doesn’t have a very big audience anyway. I just don’t believe in censorship.

Kim’s Bedroom (2000)

You curated the exhibit Kim’s Bedroom at MU in 2000 as a way to highlight visual arts, photography, video, fashion, and of course music. The project included a lot: an exhibition, a music performance, a film night, and a publication that came with a CD. What were your takeaways from organizing that exhibition?

GORDON: The exhibit Kim’s Bedroom at MU in Holland was done so well. I think the person who was the director was interested in New York downtown. So some of the people who were in the catalog or the book wrote small pieces. They weren’t in the visual aspect of the exhibit. Anyway, it was just a collection of people I knew, really.

Revisiting the list of artists you invited to be a part of the project, it’s clear just how expansive your interests and influences were: Jim O’Rourke, Cat Power, John Fahey, Sofia Coppola, Richard Kern, Susan Cianciolo, Tamra Davis. Was there anyone you asked to participate that you were nervous might say no?

GORDON: There was a CD and John Fahey I think submitted something on the CD, but not everybody did or was asked to. I remember being nervous about asking Mary Gaitskill about it, but I think she did something.

You’ve always considered yourself to be an artist first and a musician second, but I don’t think the average music fan knows just how deep your output within the art world goes: drawing, painting, curating exhibits, building installations, creating collages, writing for publications like Artforum, and beyond. Have you ever felt like you’ve had to sacrifice your artistic pursuits, or even your initial art career, because of how dominant Sonic Youth ended up becoming?

GORDON: Yes, I suppose it was kinda difficult to have a full-time art career and a full-time music career. But around the early 2000s, that’s when I felt very motivated to pursue doing more visual art.

Founding The Clothing Line X-Girl (1993)

You co-founded X-Girl in 1993 when Mike D of Beastie Boys asked if you were interested in creating your own clothing line. What was the initial appeal of doing that?

GORDON: It actually wasn’t Mike D of the Beastie Boys who asked me and my friend Daisy Von Furth if we wanted to do a girl’s line. Mike and the Beastie Boys were somewhat involved with XLARGE. But it was somebody that we knew who worked at the store, a friend of ours who knew us and would overhear us talking about bootcut corduroy, Levi’s from the ’70s, and trying to find perfect t-shirts, things like that. That’s the person who actually asked us, his name is Eric.

Why did you pick Mike Mills to design the X-Girl logo?

GORDON: Mike Mills was just this graphic designer then. I don’t know how we found him. Maybe Daisey found him? This was way before he started doing films. So he designed a lot of the T-shirts for us as well as the logo.

When you returned to X-Girl in 2016, what did you want to do differently the second time around?

GORDON: We didn’t actually do anything in 2016. We sold the line to the Japanese, I think in the mid-’90s, and basically had nothing to do with it after that.

The Collective is out 3/8 on Matador.

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