Kim Gordon will surprise you. The best advice she’s ever been given was how to make salad dressing. That coming from the front woman for Sonic Youth, the poster girl for punk rock in the 90s, is kind of humbling. Blonde hair in her face, tiny white dress over ripped tights and boots. We wanted to be her or even just be friends with her. We still do. It’s hard to tell when Gordon is being very matter of fact or teasing you. We wish we knew her well enough to know.
French label Surface to Air like her too. They saw her wearing a pair of their shoes and they asked if she’d be interested in a collaboration. She was. The 12-piece capsule line with Gordon is part of their music-based collaborations and includes silk dresses and pants, jersey T-shirts with punk sentiment and, of course, a stacked heel ankle boot. “The kind of clothes that make a girl or woman’s personality come forward without trying so hard,” she says.
How would you describe the collection with Surface to Air?
Ultra casual but something that other people can project their imagination on, still, mysterious quiet, loud, slow, fast.
What kind of woman is it for?
Someone who is OK with being part of a process, the collaboration of consumption and production. Le jeune fickle* in all of us as consumers.
“Three pairs of pants and three shirts can go a long way if they’re made well…”: You once quoted this passage from Jacob Slichter’s book So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star. Having read the book and led the life, what chapters would your version have that his did not?
I don’t remember saying this. Sometimes journalists just edit what you say so much that you didn’t actually mean what they arranged on the page.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Los Angeles and spent a lot of time out on the beach past Malibu. My father was a professor and dean at UCLA in sociology and education. My mother made clothes and sold them out of our house out of wild fabrics that were made from wood cuts on silk, chiffon and velvet. Her family is one of the first Californians. There is a street named after them called Swall Drive. I wrote a song with that name once. My brother was a genius poet who belonged to another century and became schizophrenic.
Your mum was a seamstress. Has fashion always been part of you?
My mother grew up very poor in the Depression so either bought my clothes at thrift stores or made them so fashion seemed out of reach. Although when I lived in Hong Kong I was obsessed with an English mod store where I bought several pairs of bell bottoms, my favourite was red corduroy.
Your personal style came to define an era and you are, and have been, the inspiration for so many magazine shoots (including some of ours). Was your style a conscious thing?
No it was hidden but evolved out of makers and lack of money as well as loving Anita Pallenberg and others from the 60 and 70s. As a middle class girl, though, I couldn’t really buy into the whole punk look. I love Godard and more situationalist fashion
How important was this or did it become to Sonic Youth’s image?
You said in an interview in the late 90s that after preparing to be an artist your whole life, being a musician seemed more appealing. What was it that drew you towards music?
It was more that I was trying to escape the mantle of conceptual art.
How did you come to meet your Sonic Youth band mates?
I met Thurston through a friend I was playing music with, she thought we would hit it off. Then we met Lee, etc.
You’ve taken the path less travelled; what were the best times and was there times when you craved something more mundane?
We think of you as a nonconformist. Is this how you see yourself?
Yes I would. Unconventional although I have that annoying habit that most women have … trying to please. But I also have a problem with rules and authority.
We are asking all our nonconformists if going it alone cements their happiness. Has it for you?
No it’s always a struggle. In fact I mistrust sometimes things that are so simple but brilliant.
You’ve worked with some amazing people. What collaboration has been the most rewarding?
With my friend, artist Jutta Koether.
What’s your best memory of the 80s?
Playing in the desert with Sonic Youth.
What’s been your greatest adventure?
Being a mum.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
How to make salad dressing.
How would you describe falling in love?
Something that is surreal.
What are your words to live by?
Listen to your instincts about people and avoid sexual predators.
What inspires you in life? In work?
Art, movies, seeing something funny in the urban landscape.
You once said, “Boys are sometimes really silly and girls can be silly too but at least you all know what you’re laughing at together”. What did you get from Harry Crews? What was special about it and that time?
I don’t think I said that exactly. I meant it’s different, it’s just about personalities. I hated playing with all girls in Harry Crews, they grossed me out. I liked playing with Julie Cafritz and Yoshimi and Mark Ibold in Free Kitten because we had more in common.
How do you think the role of women in music has changed in the last two decades?
There are many women involved with the experimental music scene which before seemed mostly about male record collectors.
What women in the industry today do you think are most exciting?