Sonic Youth, guitar hacks and an open mind: The experimental guitarist discusses his unending quest for freedom in frequencies.
A musician, composer, visual artist, writer and producer, Lee Ranaldo is best known as part of seminal underground rock outfit Sonic Youth. Growing up in Long Island, he developed a love for psychedelic rock and early punk before finding his way into New York City’s thriving avant-garde and no wave scene in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. After performing in a number of groups, including Glenn Branca’s electric guitar orchestra, he cofounded Sonic Youth alongside Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon. During the band’s 30-year run, Ranaldo’s role was often understated – he contributed a few songs to each album – and absolutely essential, as his textural guitar work provided a counterweight to Moore and Gordon’s hypnotic back-and-forth. And while Sonic Youth remained his primary gig during those years, Ranaldo always found the time to release his own work (his debut solo LP, From Here To Infinity, surfaced in 1987) and collaborate with other artists, including Christian Marclay, Alan Licht, Jim O’Rourke, Nels Cline, William Hooker, his wife Leah Singer and countless others. Many of these endeavors were experimental in nature, but following the dissolution of Sonic Youth in 2011, some of his more recent offerings, including 2012’s Between the Times and the Tides, 2013’s Last Night On Earth (with new band the Dust) and 2017’s Electric Trim (which was also released as a live album in 2018) have been relatively pop-oriented. Outside of his own musical compositions, Ranaldo has produced albums for several bands, written numerous books and exhibited his audio-visual work at a variety of galleries and museums around the globe. In this Fireside Chat, the prolific artist details his life in music and discusses his unending quest for freedom in frequencies.