Sonic Youth is considered to be a band that in many ways reinvented rock and music in general, due to how they managed to have such a raw sound and still keep beautiful melodies in between all of the dissonance produced by instruments that are not only given an experimental nature with strange uncommon tunings but are also played in ways only they could feel like doing.
The founding members are Thurston Moore (guitar, vocals), Kim Gordon (bass, vocals, guitar) and Lee Ranaldo (guitar, vocals). They were in the beginning all the way through the end while other members such as the drummer, bassist and keybordists were more about a come and go situation. After a few drummers Steve Shelley (drums) kept the spot in 1985, and Jim O’Rourke (bass, keyboards, guitar) who was with the band from 1999 to 2005.
The band appeared in the midst of one of the most varied decade in music, the 80s was full of glam, electronic beats, synths, new wave, punk, britpop, hard rock, it was a big colorful mass of different musical experiences and they were all exploding at the same time. Sonic Youth broke away from these genres and made a sound that would become the inspiration for countless other musicians around the world.
The band had its debut in 1983 but it wasn’t until 1990s Goo and 1992s Dirty that they became a real mainstream success, in their own way.
Cheap Guitars and Priceless Tunings
Like many other bands in their humble beginnings, they were not able to get expensive great quality guitars, but the thing is that didn’t really matter if they weren’t going to use them like you’d normally would.
According to Moore and Ranaldo the idea was that using standard tuning could only get you so far in terms of creativity and different sounds, so what they decided to do was experiment with different tunings without being bound to any sort of rules. This wasn’t a one time thing or two time thing, it was a recurrent way to come up with new ideas, which meant that coming up with a new way to tune the guitar was also connected to a new song or a few.
This mindset is one of the things that gave them their original sound and also one of the reasons they get so much praise for reinventing the way you play guitar.
Sonic Youth in the Soviet Union
In an interview with vulture.com, Thurston Moore recalls one of the weirdest shows they had as a band. It was a show in Russia when it was still the Soviet Union.
In 1989, we went to the Soviet Union when it was still the Soviet Union and played some shows there. That will always stay with me because it was at a time when very few Western musicians had gone there. Nobody had ever heard of us, let alone heard us. We would play in front of audiences that were basically Russian families who were coming out for a night’s entertainment. It was like no PA to speak of, just a couple of beat-up guitar amps that we would have to sing through. We were really out of our element. People just watched us in curiosity and wonder. There was hardly any response. We were doing like drumsticks under the guitars, Confusion of Sex material. It was pretty crazy. One of the gigs just got released recently, a Live in Moscow album. It was just confusion by these Russian families sitting there. It’s a memory I’ll never forget — not just the gigs, but just the entire experience of being in the Soviet Union as this kind of sort of poor art-rock band. The food was inedible. It was really an experience and education, seeing these real failed aspects of what should have been progressive socialism but wasn’t progressive. We actually went down and played in Georgia, which was a little hipper. There were actual punk rockers.
But I did meet somebody who actually saw one of those shows. He said that it changed his life and he left the Soviet Union, came to America, and started a band called Gogol Bordello. Eugene Hutz was a kid at one of our gigs in Kiev [Ukraine] and I met him many years later. He introduced himself to me and said, “When I was a teenager, I saw you play in the Soviet Union and that was my catalyst for getting out of there and doing music and art.” If there’s anything great about going to Russia besides these funny, weird memories, it’s that.
Sonic Youth is not just an important band for rock, it’s a band that was determined to express themselves in new strange way through new methods of composition and an honest energy.
If you haven’t listened to the band give it a try, maybe start with Goo, which was their first big succesful album.
There is a very exciting yet uncertain nature about rock artists that sometimes manages to surprise us in very interesting ways. One of the most important figures in rock of the 21st century is Joshua Homme, now leading man of Queens of the Stone Age, producer, and overall “workaholic” when it comes to music.
Having collaborated with the likes of Dave Grohl, John Paul Jones and Iggy Pop, Josh doesn’t hesitate when it comes to bringing new ideas to life.
Josh was born in May 17, 1973 in Joshua Tree, CA. He started playing guitar at the very early age of nine, from there he eventually found the right people to play with to start a band, however the scene in Palm Desert was not very intense, so there was not many people to play with.
It wasn’t until these “generator parties” began where friends would gather in a secluded part of the desert where the band would plug into a power generator and jam all night, that Josh would meet his first true band.
Kyuss was Josh Homme’s first band, it was a very raw sound, very heavy but not as heavy as metal, it had a pecualiar personality with a strong bass, and very low pitched sounds.
The band ended up being one of the pioneers of stoner rock, and one of the things that made them make music like that was the place they were, the isolated, strange and beautiful place, the desert of California.
He once said in an interview with NME that:
There’s a bit of mental disrobing that goes on as you drive to the desert.” Josh muses. “I think as a musician, particularly in this day and age, you have a bit of armour on to protect yourself from grabbing hands and chatting mouths and closed ears. You do it to insulate yourself. But on the way to Joshua Tree, you take a lot of that off – which is ultimately a combination of insecurity and bravado – and you really empty your pockets of the residual of trying to protect yourselves.
Queens of The Stone Age
After Kyuss broke up, Josh Homme gave up on playing guitar for while until some casual gigs and the Dessert Sessions, (a series of “jams” made into records with several guest musicians) mad ehim recover his passion for having his own band.
With the help of former Kyuss’ drummer Alfredo Hernandez the band was born, which had Josh Homme as guitarrist and lead vocals. Although the band had many changes in its roster through the years the inclusion of bassist Nick Oliveri in 1998 and guitarrist Troy Van Leeuwen in 2002, the band reached new heights.
Queens of The Stone age maintained the desert charm while also experimenting with a lot more variety, bringing them into the spotlight of rock music. Josh’s guitar playing got a boost of personality which made the band special and unique, and it was this dark, eerie blues sound, that was also sometimes fun and quirky.
Josh says in an interview with mensjournal.com:
It’s still heavy-rock music-a little more melodic, robotic, and psychotic. We’re trying to set it up so we can play a new style of music that we like so the spectrum is a little wider. That’s the main focus-we’re still heavy rock, but also whatever else that’s good.
As the band continues to evolve, Josh begins to have new ideas as well like participating in various side projects and encouraging the band to grow in way that makes them happy.
For many people, rock is not that big today and has “died” in many ways, however among the big names that proves them wrong is Joshua Homme, who hasn’t only brought incredible music to the world but also helped other giants like the Arctic Monkeys by being an inspiration and producing an album for them.
When you think about art, you think about something beautiful, something enjoyable, entertaining, life changing, full of emotions and something timeless. Yes there are trends and the times change, but art has a special thing that makes it last almost forever.
In music the same applies, and the legacy of thousands of musicians remain even long after they are gone, a legacy that takes many shapes and forms. However a few of them manage to change a little part of the world with their art, in music more specifically rock, one guitarrist took the instrument to new heights and opened an infinite number of possibilities, his name is Eddie Van Halen.
Van Halen passed away on October 6th, 2020, in a long struggle against cancer, and people all over the world reacted with sadness but remembering him for his big mark in the history of music.
Eddie Van Halen was born on January 26, 1955. He was born in Nijmegan, Netherlands. He and his brother Alex began playing after taking piano lessons. Eddie took the drums and Alex the guitar, but they swapped places as Alex was a better drummer, and Eddie started to put a lot effort and time with the guitar, being influenced by some of the greatest such as Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page.
After playing for a while, David Lee Roth and Michael Anthony joined the band and eventually formed Mammoth. This was the moment when Eddie really started to blossom as a hard rock guitarrist, going as far as to getting the most out of tapping in a way nobody could ever think of. Even though he did not invent that way of playing, he did show the world the full potential of tapping. Not only did he managed to play with great speed and precision, he also was able to make some of the greatest guitar riffs ever, the band even changed the name to Van Halen, and while Alex was a great drummer we all know why that was.
Everyone Wants Van Halen
Eddie Van Halen became recognized as one of the greatest guitarrists out there, with his custom made guitars, bold captivating playing and a great band to back him up.
But his succes went even beyon the band as many other artists saw his talent, including Michael Jackson, who had a little song called “Beat It”. This song had some rock in it despite being a song from the king of pop, and who better to make a guitar solo than Eddie Van Halen?
He also collaborated with Brian May from Queen in the album called Star Fleet Project which was an idea from Brian May including many other artists.
Eddie Van Halen will forever be in history as one of the most influential and important figures in rock, as he not only carried the torch from all those rock bands from the 70s to the 80s but also composed in a way that changed rock music forever.
From easy but strong power chords, to blues feeling, whammy bar, classical influences and tapping, Eddie Van Halen had everything you could have as a skill and influence when playing the guitar, and it came together beautifully.
The Story of The Frankenstrat Guitar
He was also very interested in experimenting with guitars, which started with his signature Frankenstein.
In a 2016 interview with Stuart Williams from musicradar.com he talked about how it happened.
“Let me start at the beginning. When I first started playing guitar, I was at the local music store, which wasn’t even a music store, it was kind of like a Radio Shack that also sold musical instruments, it was called Lafayette Music.
“I fell in love with this hollowbody 12-string because of the neck, and the first thing I did was I took six strings off, because it was a 12-string, and I didn’t want 12! They didn’t have what I wanted in the store, so it had already started there!
“Then, I got a paper route; we didn’t have any money and my parents couldn’t afford to buy us equipment. So I saved the money from delivering papers for two and a half to three years, and bought my first real guitar, which was a ’68 Goldtop Les Paul with single-coil P-90 pickups.
“So what do I do? I take the chisel to it right away! Because I wanted a humbucking pickup! But in Pasadena, there were no Les Pauls with a humbucker in them. There was one store in northern Pasadena – a Les Paul came in and they called me right away ‘Hey, we’ve got a Les Paul!’ I walk in and I go, ‘Ah, shit! It ain’t the kind Clapton plays!’ It didn’t have humbuckers.
“So, of course, I hunted down a humbucker, took a chisel and made the hole bigger and crammed it in there. I was lucky enough to solder it back properly, then I painted it black and added binding. I did all kinds of crazy shit to it.
“The funny thing is, I only changed the bridge pickup and left the P-90 neck pickup. Since my right hand was covering the bridge pickup, when I played people were going, ‘How the fuck’s he getting that sound out of a P-90?!’ Because that’s all they could see. Little did they know that I’d stuck a humbucker in there!
“From there, I bought a Strat, and the rest of the guys in the band hated the way it sounded! And I couldn’t really handle the hum, so it was just a logical marriage to – with the humbucker – cross a Gibson with a Fender. Because I loved the vibrato bar, and that was probably the most difficult thing; trying to figure out how to keep that thing in tune. This might take a while, but I’ll try to explain…
“Everything from the bridge to the tuning peg had to be perfectly straight. The only reason a tremolo goes out of tune is because of friction. When you bring the vibrato bar down and if the string angle is wrong then it’s not gonna slide back to its original position.
“So, I would do things like take the string and put it through the tuning peg hole and wind it up instead of down, so there would be no tension on the nut to the tuning peg. I had a brass nut that I cut larger grooves into, and I put oil in it all to eliminate any friction that could cause the string to hang up.
“Another problem is Fender Strats always have the string retainers, I removed them. Again, to eliminate any other factor that would cause the string to not slide back and forth smoothly. As a result if I hit an open string too hard it would pop out of the nut.
“So, I’d have to keep my index finger on the other side of the nut to keep it from popping out! I got away with that – in the club days, through the whole first record and live on tour. That’s how I used the stock Fender tremolo until the locking tremolo was introduced.”