By Vish KhannaSonic Youth fans clamouring for more than a couple Lee Ranaldo songs per record will be ecstatic about Between the Times and the Tides, a stellar rock'n'roll debut from the gifted songwriter. Ranaldo has been prolific beyond Sonic Youth, but until now, his discography has primarily reflected his interests in noise, jazz and exploratory guitar experimentation. As a published poet with a keen ear for language, Ranaldo has a knack for conveying cool ideas without sounding detached. Airy, vaguely psychedelic and meaningful, Beyond the Times is a gorgeous exhibition from a thoughtful, voracious artist relishing a whole new outlet.
In your liner notes, you suggest that these songs came together rather organically and unexpectedly. Clearly a lot of thought has gone into the lyrics, arrangements and sounds though. Can you clarify what the process was like? I was invited to do a concert in the south of France in the spring of 2010 and they requested specifically an all-acoustic concert, which was kind of an unusual request. I don't do that often, even though I've always been an acoustic player. While I was practicing for the gig, "Lost" just kind of popped out of the guitar one day and I thought, "Well, that's interesting." Two weeks later, I started the concert with it, which was fun and empowering. Somehow doing that opened up a faucet and all summer songs just kind of popped out of the acoustic guitar and I kept collecting and working on them, and by the end of the summer, I had a group of songs I was pleased with. By the fall, I was in our studio making demos and really thought I'd make a guitar and voice record – something simple I could do on my own. As I started getting into it, I thought, "This song could use a rhythm section" and I got a little more serious about it, calling in favours from people to play on it. It just built up really gradually; it was a very pleasurable process, in that I didn't have any assumptions at any point. I was just following behind these songs and one thing led to another.
Is there a side of you that shines through here that might surprise people? Well, I don't know; I hope so. To my mind, it's a little more traditional songwriting than some of the experimental stuff that we do in Sonic Youth, which isn't to say that Sonic Youth don't have great forays into traditional songwriting. But I think people who know my work in Sonic Youth or other solo stuff I've done are expecting nosier, experimental, out there, soundscape-y kind of stuff, maybe forgetting that another side of what I love, and Sonic Youth love, is a good pop or rock song as well. The genesis of these songs was very simple acoustic guitar parts and I really wanted to go with that; I didn't want to make a big, complicated deal out of them. I just wanted to see them through as pure and simple songs.
There's been a great deal of speculation about the future of Sonic Youth, particularly with the news that Thurston and Kim have separated. You guys put out your first record together 30 years ago this month. Have you spent much time reflecting about the band? The first thing I'd say is that 30 years has been a pretty awesome run. We've done so much stuff and had so many amazing things happen to us that's it's been fantastic. Obviously, Thurston and Kim are going through a very sensitive, private time right now and we all wish them the best. The press has been pretty respectful since the announcement and that's great; we're not really talking about the future of the band to the press or to each other at the moment. There are a lot of other things happening that need to be resolved before we can even figure out what would happen to Sonic Youth in the future. "We're on hiatus" is the best we can honestly say and I think it'll be a while before we venture to discuss what might happen in the future in one direction or another. Everybody's busy doing other things, surviving and working, but there are obviously some personal issues that need to be resolved before we can figure out what might happen. I understand the question and take it as a note of caring from so many people. It's appreciated and one of the highest compliments we can be paid.
What are your future plans looking like? We're starting pretty humbly with our touring band: Steve Shelley on drums, Alan Licht on guitar and Irwin Menken on bass. We've only played three shows so far; we're going out to Mexico City, Los Angeles and San Francisco soon. About a month later, we're touring up and down the East coast. I definitely have it in mind to come up and do some Canadian shows. I'd love to play Toronto, Montreal and Calgary, Vancouver and Winnipeg, and wherever we could. Looks like we're going to Europe in June. We're taking it as slowly and humbly as befits a new band and just seeing what happens. I'm really excited about the record; I love how it came out and all the people who helped me out with it, and I would just love for people to hear it at this point.
Read a review of Between the Times and the Tideshere.