In April, Kim Gordon pulled no punches about the power of music. In her first interview following her divorce from longtime bandmate Thurston Moore, she portrayed it as a personal revolution.
"Who made up all the rules in the culture? Men, white male corporate society," she said. "So why wouldn't a woman want to rebel against that?"
Since the ostensible end of Sonic Youth, Gordon has rebelled against that band's relative strictures in Body/Head, her elusive and alluring noise-guitar/haunted-vocal duo with Bill Nace. They make rock songs, sort of, as though versions of tunes with hard edges have been traced and retraced into infinity. Onstage, Gordon and Nace improvise against a video backdrop, roaming freely within phantasms of light and volume.
On Saturday, Body/Head bring their performance to North Carolina for the first time in a fundraising effort for NARAL Pro-Choice NC. A man and woman rebelling together in their own singular time, they'll provide an appropriate score for a fraught political season.
Driving back to Massachusetts after a two-night stand in Brooklyn, Gordon and Nace spoke separately about the rare chance to make experimental music at a benefit and why doing so is worth the long trip.
INDY: We've weathered a particularly rough political system in North Carolina of late, in regard not only to women's rights but also unemployment, the environment, equality at large. As you tour, what do you hear about American politics? And what do you hear about this region?
BILL NACE: I mentioned the show to someone where we live, in New England, and they said, "Oh, that's kind of intense, doing a pro-choice benefit down south. Y'all be careful." I said it was in Raleigh, but there was still this perception. It's a topic that brings up a lot of strong opinions and emotions for everyone, but someone had the perspective it's that much more intense to do this down south. It's not something I hear often, but whether or not it's true, there's a set of expectations about that issue in the South.
Yet it's not a Southern issue. It's a people's issue.
BN: It's a national issue. There's a preconceived idea that there's more of a religious reaction down South. I'm not even from New England, but New England has its own set of issues. It's seen as being very liberal, which it is, but that can also be a very on-the surface-liberalism, too. And with experimental music, or whatever you want to call this music, it's not music that all that often has a chance to do these kinds of things. It seems like it's not asked to take part in these shows.
Battles like this are the domain of folk or hardcore, it seems.
BN: Once those musics get associated with it, then those musics are the ones that are asked. But you can ask anyone involved in any kind of music, and everyone has a perspective on it. A lot of times, you want the music to stand on its own and speak for itself. In a way, doing music in any sense is political, so I like to leave it at that. But this is a cause we feel pretty strongly about. It's nice to bring what we do to that and hope it helps in any way.
How is playing music inherently political?
BN: At a certain point, it means living the life you want to live. That's a political statement, and a big one.
Bill says that experimental music often gets left out of the political benefit scenario. Has that been true for you, too?
KIM GORDON: I get asked to do benefits all the time, but I always say, "What do they think I'm going to do? Play a song?" I'm often reluctant to do them. I have done them in the past; Free Kitten did a pro-choice benefit once. But the context made sense for this. It's nice to be asked by someone who knows what they're getting.
Speaking of what they're getting into, Body/Head has steadily moved from being "Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth and Bill Nace's new duo" to a band with its own focus and interests and expectations. Are you glad it's reached that place?
KG: There wasn't a lot of thought put into it. The biggest thought was, "There's no money to be made in music, so, fuck, let's just do what we want and see how far we can take it or where it takes us." It just seems like the right time to be making music like this.
How would you label, as you put it, "music like this"?
KG: It's freeform music that gives a suggestion of songs rather than actual written songs. It takes advantage of the idea that, when you go see a show, you're seeing something that is unique for that time and place. It's never going to be repeated. It's not something you can experience by streaming. You can see a clip, but it's not the same as being in the actual place and feeling the sound in your body.
Why does the time feel right for Body/Head?
KG: It's the vocabulary of music that's been built up over the years—more dissonant bands, more eccentric music. That's become more familiar.
It would seem, however, the conservative grip on freedom or ethics hasn't loosened.
KG: Conservatism seems to go in waves. You make one step forward and then two steps back. This country was founded by religious zealots, really extreme people. Why do I always feel like America was supposed to be a predominantly liberal country? People were escaping stuff, but it was often religious utopias they were seeking out. That's a really strong genetic in the country that's too late to overcome.
In your life, has it become easier to have open discussions about issues of women's health care and rights?
KG: I don't think it ever gets easier. People need to figure out a better way to talk about it or explain it. It's something that never gets its own sound. You have to keep pushing. If socialized medicine was more of a normalized program, like in Denmark or other European countries, or if we embraced more of a social democratic government, things that made sense would filter down into other programs.
I was on the subway yesterday, and I noticed an ad for an app or text messages that could go to expectant mothers, with tips about their unborn child. I thought, "Well, that's sort of crazy, but maybe that's a good idea." It's a bypass of information for women who don't have access to clinics or other resources. Of course, that's being very optimistic about how people use the Internet.
This information about what rights people should have or demand for their health care can be taught in school, too, but school programs are held hostage by local and state powers. Their policy is not education.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Idea/action."