How does who you play with affect how you drum?

Chelsea Light Moving photo

After Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore got divorced, the Sonic Youth members went to their separate bands. Gordon has the experimental duo Body/Head, Lee Ranaldo and Steve Shelley are together in the song-y Lee Ranaldo and the Dust, and Moore formed Chelsea Light Moving, the punkest of the post-SY bands. Moore told Rolling Stone, “It's always been a band; I was playing with most of them on my last tour, for [2011's] Demolished Thoughts. It just never had a name. I didn't want to do a record under my own name again because I wanted to take the spotlight off my name. I was craving anonymity.” His interests in unusual tunings, punk rock, noise and Beat poetry are self-titled albums hallmarks, so it’s not quite anonymous, but according to drummer John Moloney, they’re more of a band than that description. Chelsea Light Moving plays One Eyed Jacks tonight.

When the band toured Demolished Thoughts, it did so as an acoustic group complete with a harp. It evolved into an electric project, one that made Moloney happy. "I was let off the leash," he says. "I'm a heavy hitter. I like to play like that. I went from having a mellow gig to sweating through my clothes on the first song."

Unlike emerging bands for which the band is a social circle, a personal support group, an aphrodisiac, an avenue to self-definition as well as an artistic expression, Chelsea Light Moving is just about music. “We’ve all been in that situation,” Moloney says, but the members all live in different cities and come together to play. They’ve spent much of the last two and a half years on tour together, but everybody has other gigs. Moloney has five. Songwriting happens when it can, but it’s done as a group and with no preparation. The members don’t swap work tapes or files. “It’s all in the moment,” Moloney says. “Thurston will come in with riffs, and we’ll work on stuff and suggest ways it could go. It’s spur of the moment. We generally go in cold.” 

The closest they came to preparation was pulling out a copy of GI to listen to The Germs’ “Communist Eyes” and figure out the parts. The decision to do it came out of nowhere in the studio, and they knocked it out in two or three takes before it could become studied.  “It was basically a trip down Memory Lane, so it was pretty cool,” he says. “That Germs record is pretty essential for me as a drummer; you can tell it’s more of a vibe.”

Moore’s interest in poetry is essential to Chelsea Light Moving. “Frank O’Hara’s Hit” references the death of the great, quintessentially New York poet, and “Burroughs” is addressed to the Beat novelist William Burroughs. Moloney shares Moore’s affection but not to the same degree. “I’m more interested in some things than he is,” Moloney says. “I have a working knowledge of that stuff - I’m more into the performance angle of it live. The poetry, the performance and visual definitely all stand together in the same room.”

That doesn’t mean he’s listening to the words when playing. When I ask him if the words affect how he plays, he says, point blank, “No,” but that doesn’t mean the voice isn’t important. “The only thing I have going through my monitor onstage is Thurston’s vocal,” he says. “I listen to it as an instrument for something that I play off of or against, or listen for certain cues. If the vocals aren’t there, I start messing up. I know what the words are, but I don’t pay much mind to them.”

Just as the cadence of the words affect how he plays, so does the guitar. Moloney was a fan of Sonic Youth before meeting Moore, so he’s had years of listening to his guitar and particularly how it sits next to Steve Shelley’s drums. That history affects what he plays, as does Moore’s history as a player.

“There’s a certain style that he plays in, and I can trust that that style will be the same all time,” he says. “There’s a certain way I’m used to listening to him play guitar, and it’s natural for me to play along those lines. I play with J. Mascis [of Dinosaur Jr.] too and it’s a totally different thing too.”