meta-script5 Songs To Get Into Kim Gordon's Solo Work, From "Change My Brain" To "I'm A Man" |
Kim Gordon
Kim Gordon performing in 2023

Photo: Jason Squires/FilmMagic


5 Songs To Get Into Kim Gordon's Solo Work, From "Change My Brain" To "I'm A Man"

An ocean of ink has been spilled about Sonic Youth's indomitable legacy, which includes a bounty of Kim Gordon songs. With her new solo album, 'The Collective,' out in the world, press play on five great songs from her post-Sonic Youth discography.

GRAMMYs/Mar 14, 2024 - 02:11 pm

The Beastie Boys' Ad-Rock once offered a brilliant observation of Kim Gordon. "Wherever Kim ends up, she is the coolest person in the room," he told The New Yorker in 2013. "But I know her, and I know she'd rather be at home grilling hot dogs."

How much more succinctly could one put it? Since Sonic Youth tortured their first Jazzmaster, Gordon has radiated mysterious cerebral, enveloping art, while never coming across as an arteest.

Gordon's vital contributions to the band, from "'Cross the Breeze" to "Bull in the Heather" and beyond — coupled with cool you could cut with a knife — cemented her as an alternative icon.

So much so, that when she and romantic and creative partner Thurston Moore split in 2013 — which took Sonic Youth down with them — Gordon arguably won the public in the divorce.

The four members of Sonic Youth have remained active with various projects, and Gordon's have been some of the most enticing. She hit the ground running with Body/Head, a collaboration with guitarist Bill Nace — and formed another duo, Glitterbust, with fellow axeman Alex Knost.

Gordon has also released two solo albums — and the last one, especially, is turning heads. The Collective, which dropped March 8 via Matador, is like a T-bone between rap production and the shattering noise she's made her own.

As you absorb this sui generis piece of art — from opener "BYE BYE" to closer "Dream Dollar" — take a spin through five songs that act as entryways to Gordon's solo years.

"Change My Brain" (Body/Head's The Switch, 2018)

At its best, Gordon's noise is tactile, overwhelming; it's like big muscles. "Change My Brain," from Body/Head's 2018 album The Switch, is a glorious, 10-minute thicket of fuzz, with a rounded and iridescent center that undulates like a glow worm.

"Air Bnb" (No Home Record, 2019)

The top comment on the official "Air Bnb" music video is genius: "This is the best video I've ever read." It consists of a black screen, explaining that the funding just wasn't there for Gordon to crawl and cavort through a mid-century modern  rental. Instead, the video describes all the details as Gordon sings about the Air BnB that "could set me free."

But the throttling music is a mindmovie on its own: whatever's in your head is more unsettling than what Gordon and her collaborators would have come up with.

"Murdered Out" (No Home Record, 2019)

In a press statement, Gordon evocatively explained her No Home Record banger "Murdered Out."

"When I moved back to L.A., I noticed more and more cars painted with black matte spray, tinted windows, blackened logos, and black wheels," she said, considering all its cultural implications: "Like an option on a voting ballot, 'none of the above.'"

Like the foreboding whips of its namesake, "Murdered Out" is unforgiving, ominous, devoid of light. It's also utterly gripping; turn it up loud.

"BYE BYE" (The Collective, 2024)

As usual, YouTube randos sum it up better than any music writer could. "This is the hardest shopping list I've ever heard," one writes. Another: "I'm not even surprised that it's 2024 and Kim Gordon has the sickest beats in the game."

Over a serrated trap beat, Gordon relates her itinerary: purchase a suitcase, drop pants at cleaner, call the vet, call the groomer. The final item? "Vibrator, teaser, bye bye, bye bye, bye bye."

"I'm a Man" (The Collective, 2024)

Gender-flipping's been a thing since the dawn of rock 'n' roll, and it's been baked into indie from its inception. But only a select few can make it so funny.

"So what if I like the big truck? / Giddy up, giddy up!" Gordon crows, as if she's instructed ChatGPT to approximate dummy masculinity. "Don't make me have to hide/ Or explain/ What I am inside." Checkmate to the XY-chromosomed: as usual, Gordon has the last laugh.

5 Songs To Get Into Health, Ahead Of New Album Rat Wars

Thurston Moore

Photo by Vera Marmelo


Thurston Moore Talks New Album 'By The Fire,' IDLES, Greta Thunberg & Reagan-Era Privilege

The Sonic Youth founding guitarist also digs into how living abroad has affected his view of the States and how young people today—especially his own daughter—give him hope

GRAMMYs/Sep 28, 2020 - 07:45 pm

"There is a real social division, and I don't live amongst that anger so much," Thurston Moore remarks over the phone from his London home, referring to the piercing political discord that fuels the upcoming presidential election—not to mention much of 2020 itself. "I don't really believe that that is the majority of the country, let alone the world," he continues. "I think it's just the noisiest. And I say that as a noise musician."

The founding Sonic Youth guitarist, who released his seventh solo album By The Fire last week via The Daydream Library Series, is indeed not just a noise musician, but a leading pioneer of the art form, having gotten his start in the 1980s New York City no wave and experimental scenes alongside bandmates Kim Gordon, Steve Shelley and Lee Ranaldo. At that time, Moore remembers, artists had what he refers to as the "privilege" of "just making fun of and ignoring [politics]," and "protesting to some degree through hardcore bands and stuff." Today, nearly 40 years later, such immunity to current events hardly exists anymore; socioeconomic, political and racial tensions touch every facet of daily life—and it's all taking place in the backdrop of a global pandemic.

In response, Moore has unleashed By The Fire, a nine-track project that, as he puts it, "alludes to a lot of the heat that we see in the streets... But it's also essentially about the idea of communication. I wanted it to be about focusing on sitting around a fire and exchanging ideas and dialogue."

Musically, By The Fire, which features Deb Googe (My Bloody Valentine) and Sonic Youth's Shelley, reflects Moore's penchant for both pop-minded, college-rock cuts (opener "Hashish" and its follow-up "Cantaloupe") and lengthier instrumental musings ("Locomotives" and chaotic album closer "Venus").  

Below, Moore dives deeper into the duel meaning of By The Fire (which he and the rest of the band recorded immediately prior to quarantine), how living abroad has affected his view of the States and how young people today—including his own daughter—give him hope for the future.

<style>.embed-container { position: relative; padding-bottom: 56.25%; height: 0; overflow: hidden; max-width: 100%; } .embed-container iframe, .embed-container object, .embed-container embed { position: absolute; top: 0; left: 0; width: 100%; height: 100%; }</style><div class='embed-container'><iframe src='' frameborder='0' allowfullscreen></iframe></div>

You’ve been living in London for almost a decade now. How has living abroad changed or affected your perspective of the U.S. in the last eight years?

I relocated here at a time when I thought the U.S.A. was in a place of having a bit of dignity as representation, let's put it that way, with the Obama Administration, the Obama-Biden Administration. And so, I don't think anybody at all foresaw the turn of events that happened in 2016, and it was a surprise to just everyone, especially here, living here.

But the fact that it happened at the same time when this country was dealing with this whole selling of Brexit, which was based on this idea of economics, but was sold through this fear of immigration. So, it had this nefarious subtext to it.

I think we just go through these cycles through history, that you can see, where totalitarianism comes to a head. And these fascistic aesthetics come into play, where divisiveness in the culture happens, and through the outpouring of subserving, where people who feather their own nest, as far as being this billionaire elite, and the real estate of the world, and this kind of control mechanisms.

So, in some ways, it's not surprising when you look at it historically, and thinking that, with some resilience and some resistance and with some activism, which we always have expressed, especially in youth culture, that we can bring it back into a situation that's more progressive and humanitarian-conscious. I think the big difference now, and that the pandemic, where we're all in this quarantine state and it's a global affair, that's a big difference, from when you can look at it, and history books, to some degree.

Because it points to a problem that we have that's more essential to the earth. It's about the health of the earth and how we're so much a part of nature, whether we like it or not. And that defines a lot of our existence.

<style>.embed-container { position: relative; padding-bottom: 56.25%; height: 0; overflow: hidden; max-width: 100%; } .embed-container iframe, .embed-container object, .embed-container embed { position: absolute; top: 0; left: 0; width: 100%; height: 100%; }</style><div class='embed-container'><iframe src='' frameborder='0' allowfullscreen></iframe></div>

I think a lot of what's going on with our social crisis is, of just the people who are on the margins, and have historically been on the margins, just through means of being oppressed, having to rise up and be angry. And, in support, so many people joining in with that fight, people who have the privilege of not being in a situation, to join in on that fight, as well.

It almost becomes secondary to the health of the planet. Because with the planet in a mode of destruction for the next 10 to 20 years, that will override any other situation. I mean, if you don't have a habitable world, it doesn't matter who you are. And so, that, to me, is something that's very significant and distinctive to what's going on right now. So when I see young people, particularly a very high-profile person like Greta Thunberg, really coming out and drawing as much cogent attention to this, it just does my heart good.

I saw an interview a few years ago with Naomi Klein, she's an essayist on politics, and focusing a lot on climate activism. And she said, when the U.S.A.'s really swung to this right-wing agenda that was exemplified by what the administration is now, she felt like a lot of people did, very, somewhat hopeless. And do you even deal with such inanity?

But then, to see somebody like this young girl from Sweden, Greta Thunberg, who Naomi said, "I'd never even heard of two months prior, all of a sudden becoming such a force of critical information," that just made her feel good about prospects. And so, I feel the same way.

<style>.embed-container { position: relative; padding-bottom: 56.25%; height: 0; overflow: hidden; max-width: 100%; } .embed-container iframe, .embed-container object, .embed-container embed { position: absolute; top: 0; left: 0; width: 100%; height: 100%; }</style><div class='embed-container'><iframe src='' frameborder='0' allowfullscreen></iframe></div>

I really feel, for the most part, the people that I come across are desirous of living in harmony, and wanting to have some more non-hierarchical socialized way of living, where everybody has equal value when it comes to healthcare. I rarely come across somebody who is so deluded by the fact that maybe it would be better off if we just allowed ourselves to be told what to do by this authority of this billionaire class. I don't really know people like this, but I know they're out there, because I see them on social media, screaming and yelling "Trump."

There is a real social division, and I don't live amongst that anger so much. But I certainly do see it. And I'm not quite sure, I don't really believe that that is the majority of the country, let alone the world. I think it's just the noisiest. And I say that as a noise musician who really focuses on noise. I can't compete with that sort of thing.

"A noise musician who can’t compete with noise." Well, there you go. Would you say that you generally consider yourself an optimist?

Yeah. I consider myself a musician and an artist who realizes that it's very important to be socially engaged in your work. And if your work is about the exchange of pleasure as information, I think there's something very political about that. I consider that to be a responsibility. So when I put together a record like this, at a time like this, I'm very aware.

And I'm very activist conscious when I call a record By The Fire, where it alludes to, certainly a lot of the heat that we see in the streets, in the contemporary streets of fires being lit through it, through anger. But it's also essentially about the idea of communication. I wanted it to be about focusing on sitting around a fire and exchanging ideas and dialogue.

<style>.embed-container { position: relative; padding-bottom: 56.25%; height: 0; overflow: hidden; max-width: 100%; } .embed-container iframe, .embed-container object, .embed-container embed { position: absolute; top: 0; left: 0; width: 100%; height: 100%; }</style><div class='embed-container'><iframe src='' frameborder='0' allowfullscreen></iframe></div>

It's funny you say that, because I was curious if By The Fire had any allusions to, say, Roosevelt’s famous Fireside Chats.

Sun Ra had a record called A Fireside Chat With Lucifer, which I always thought was really intriguing. But I think in a way, it was just, "What an interesting title."

I mean, if there's anybody who was a prophet of peace and understanding, it was Sun Ra. To call a record, A Fireside Chat With Lucifer, in a way it was him wanting to come to terms with everybody having a voice, and realizing that, right?

I realized there's a dynamic of voices in our culture, obviously. But for me, it's just, the activism measure is to keep promoting the voices that you find are to the health of humanity, especially to the health of the earth. People ask me if I'm voting for the Democrat ticket of Biden and Kamala Harris, and I say, "Yes, I am."

It's not so much about Biden being versus Trump. It's more about me being versus Trump. And it's more wanting to bring these voices that I find really, really important in contemporary society, voices like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, these women who have these really political intellects, that are all about the welfare of everybody, regardless of the hierarchy in this society.

It’s progressive socialism, for want of a better genre term. But I find that to be these great voices for the welfare of the country that I was born and raised in. And so, I find at least a vote for the Democratic ticket allows them to have a voice at that table, more so than not.

I mean, that seems to be the promise, and a lot of it has proved the empowerment that Bernie Sanders has enforced in the last decade. I think the Democratic ticket recognizes that voice, and is very wary of it, because it's demonized as being, well, too left of centrist. But at the same time, I think at least it's going to have a welcoming into the government and its future policies, hopefully. I can only be hopeful.

I think anything less than that is without hope. So I see what's going on right now. And as far as the two-party system, when I look at the Republican Party, and how it's been hijacked, I don't see a grain of hope there. I see nothing.

<style>.embed-container { position: relative; padding-bottom: 56.25%; height: 0; overflow: hidden; max-width: 100%; } .embed-container iframe, .embed-container object, .embed-container embed { position: absolute; top: 0; left: 0; width: 100%; height: 100%; }</style><div class='embed-container'><iframe src='' frameborder='0' allowfullscreen></iframe></div>

It’s funny that you bring up both Bernie and AOC. Are you aware of the “Socialist Youth” T-shirt design that has Bernie and AOC drawn to mirror Sonic Youth’s Goo cover? It’s one of the best things I bought this year.

I do remember that. I was really happy to see that.

Had you planned to begin recording a record in March of this year, or thereabouts? Even if a pandemic hadn’t happened?

Yeah. Well, I knew that I wanted to put a record out this year, even before the pandemic became a reality. But when it did become a situation, it was just global, galvanized situation that we all dealt with.

Once I seriously focused on what the aesthetic of the record was, and how I would sequence it, I wanted to have the story on the record be more in tune to what was contemporaneous. So I sequenced it thus. I mean, all the material was recorded before anything happened.

But the record itself was put together while we were in quarantine. So, the material, I just organized it in a way where I wanted it to come out of the gate with these more joyous, short, sharp, rough, sonic rock and roll tunes. And then it moves into more contemplative material.

Then it would go into some darker spaces. And then it had this deliverance at the end—this long instrumental piece called "Venus," which was just this pattern-based guitar piece that opened up into this sound of deliverance, and with hope. And I wanted it to go out the door that way.

I really worked closely with the people who do the distribution and the manufacturing, all of whom were dealing with this sudden shock to their work days, and wondering where their revenue was going to come from, and how they could continue to operate. Summertime is traditionally a time when a lot of the record industry just goes on vacation. So everybody was on staycation mode. And I was like, "Oh, actually, I'll take advantage of that. You're home and you're working, right? So let's get the guts around this."

[By The Fire is] coming out this month, which is really great. It's coming out on the same day as this other community of records that I'm really happy being part of: Public Enemy's new record [What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down] that they're putting out on their old label, Def Jam. And my old friend, Bob Mould, has a record [Blue Hearts] coming out.

There's a local band in London that is really, it's a real strong voice for a lot of people here, called IDLES.

Oh yeah. Sure.

And they have a record also. So, these things are all happening on that day. I just feel, if there's anything I really love about being in a band and playing music through the years, it’s the power of the community. And I've always loved collaborations. I always loved compilation albums. I was always drawn to being on compilation albums earlier, when Sonic Youth was first starting. I was just, if anybody asked us to be on a compilation, I was like, "Yes, of course, of course." The first record I was ever on was a compilation record that Glenn Branca and Barbara Ess put together in downtown New York, of all these different artists, doing one-minute pieces.

That was the first time I was ever invited [to collaborate], was when they asked me to be on that. And that was just at the very beginning of when Sonic Youth was forming. I don't even know if we had that name yet.

Speaking of New York, earlier in the year, New York City was especially suffering from high coronavirus cases and deaths. I wonder what that brought up for you, just as somebody who has such a connection to that city?

Right. I think it's such a—more so than just about any other city I can think of—it's the most street-social city. When I was living there, nobody really had a car. You could actually walk from one end of the island to the other, and during the day, without a problem. I think it's, what is it, 12 miles long and three miles wide? It's all up into the sky, in a way.

The fact that it has such a huge population, and it was so condensed, that everybody's on the street and all the time. And everybody was in each other's way, in each other's face. You learned social responsibility from living in that city. It was gloriously multi-ethnic. And even though there was neighborhood divisions of ethnicities that had been defined from when people first came over from Europe and Asia and such, but they were soft lines, for the most part. And it was all about merging traffic. And I think that, to me, was a model for the world.

It’s the true essence of nature, where migration is so essential to nature. It was like, at the heart of nature, it's always about migration, and the plant life and animal life. With people, it's the same thing. And so, I think the situation where borders start going up, and it tries to stop the migratory nature of people, whatever the causes are, whether it's from climate, or where it's from seeking higher water, or trying to find salvation from war or violence. Or the impossibility of a life, in certain situations. And to prohibit that, through any border or law of movement, for me, it's like, it actually goes against the actual truth of nature.

That's where the problem is. It has nothing to do with anything else. Or anything else becomes, it just becomes bigotry. So I always saw New York City as this great experiment in coexistence from the end of the century. And I loved living there in the '70s, before real estate became more monied, and it allowed everybody to live in poverty, and still create, and be free.

That, and the creative impulse was still available, without having to pay exorbitant rents, but that's really neither here nor there. I mean, the city continues to be this great social city. And to see it have to deal with a situation where everybody has to stay away from each other, it's disheartening, to say the least.

I can only hope that that will fade away, and we don't have a follow-up, a virus coming through. Nobody has a crystal ball on this, that I can see. So, I take value from seeing people be of service to each other.

I have a 26-year-old daughter who lives in Bed-Stuy, and she is very activist, and she goes out daily and helps be of service to people who are living in the margins, or young women who are incarcerated and don't have any funding to deal with their plight, or people who are so marginalized, trans people of color who are just completely ignored by so many of the services of the city, and are at odds with the prejudices of the culture. She's out there helping in that regard. And so, it does my heart good. It makes me a proud daddy.

But she's not the only one. And there's just so many people, she's just in her mid-20s, and there's so many people at that age who are out there doing that. When I was in my mid-20s, we didn't really have such a crisis as this. We had Ronald Reagan who was like, he was really creating an economic division, and especially in the city. [But] it was something that we could actually have the privilege of somewhat just making fun of and ignoring, and protesting to some degree, through hardcore bands and stuff.

What people in their mid-20s are experiencing now, it's such a far cry from what I remember. And it's just, their lifestyles of having digital media, where there's this Internet connectivity of the open library. That's a huge paradigm shift from the reality that I experienced.

I love it. I think it's just completely exhausting. I'm really glad to be alive and witness this kind of world, and just thinking about what it will be in the next couple of decades.

Bartees Strange On 'Live Forever' & Why "It Shouldn't Be Weird To See Black Rock Bands"



Photo: Mauricio Santana/Getty Images/Getty Images


Primavera Sound 2021 Full Lineup: Kim Gordon, Khruangbin, Kurt Vile, Slowthai & More Join Massive Booking

The 20th edition of the major Spanish music festival is set to return to Barcelona's Parc del Fòrum on June 2-6, 2021 after the 2020 edition was canceled due to the COVID-19 crisis

GRAMMYs/Jun 10, 2020 - 12:05 am

Today, June 9, Primavera Sound announced the full lineup for their 20th edition flagship Barcelona music festival, adding 45 more artists in its third and final round of artist announcements. The open-air Spanish fest is set to return to its home at Parc del Fòrum on June 2-6, 2021, after the 2020 edition was canceled due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Sonic Youth co-founder Kim Gordon and lo-fi rocker Kurt Vile, who were slated for the 2020 event, officially join the 2021 lineup today, along with British punk rapper slowthai and Texan psych rock trio Khruangbin. These acts join the likes of Bad Bunny, The Strokes, Massive Attack, Tyler, The Creator, Honey Dijon, Bikini Kill and Pavement—all of whom were previously confirmed for the 2021 event and originally booked for 2020.

Learn More: Primavera Sound 2019 Features A "New Normal" Equal-Gender Lineup

Essential Read: Want To Support Protesters And Black Lives Matter Groups? Here’s How

Techno heavy-hitter Ben UFO, Argentinian rockers Él Mató a un Policía Motorizado, Catalan singer Marina Herlop and minimal techno hero Terrence Dixon also join the lineup today. In addition to unveiling the complete billing, Primavera shared the breakdown by day, so fans can take advantage of the day passes that go on sale this Thurs., June 11.

Related: Bye Bye Plastic: BLOND:ISH, Annie Mac, Eats Everything & More Advocate For Eco-Friendly Parties

Additionally, to close out the event on Sunday, the inaugural Brunch On The Beach party will include all originally slated DJs. BLOND:ISH, Chaos in the CBD, Black Coffee, Amelie Lens, Disclosure, Nina Kraviz, and more will all bring the day rave to the Sant Adrià Besòs beach.

Previously added 2021 artists who were not a part of the original 2020 booking include Charli XCXTame Impala, the GorillazFKA twigsJamie xxJorja Smith, Doja Cat and others. For the full list, see the tweet above and visit the fest's website.

Weekend tickets are currently on sale at a discounted price of 165 Euros until tomorrow, Wends. June 10, after which the price increases to 195 Euros. Day tickets, including for Brunch On The Beach, go on sale on Thurs. June 11 at 11:00 a.m. CET. Find complete ticket info here.

Run The Jewels Are Ready To Pierce Your Heart Again

Kim Gordon

Photo: Aurora Rose/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images


Kim Gordon To Headline First Solo Tour

The art, music and fashion pioneer will also deliver a keynote address at SXSW this March

GRAMMYs/Feb 27, 2020 - 02:32 am

Sonic Youth and Body/Head staple, bassist and vocalist Kim Gordon has announced that she will head out for her first-ever international solo headlining tour this year.

Following the successful release of her solo debut No Home Record in 2019, the No Home Tour shows will see Gordon performing material from the record for the first time live.

The run of dates will kick off on March 6 at London’s 6 Music Festival and will run through Sept. 15 when the tour will wrap with a San Francisco show at the Fillmore. In addition to stops in Paris, Amsterdam, Barcelona, New York and Washington D.C. that Gordon will make along the trek, she will also appear as a keynote speaker at this year’s SXSW Music Festival in Austin on March 20 and will perform at Chicago’s Pitchfork Fest on July 19.

Throughout the festival-heavy run, Gordon will also perform shows at Paris’ Villette Sonique Festival, Primavera Sound Festival in Barcelona, Northside Festival, and NOS Primavera Sound Porto.

Gordon’s touring band will include Kim on guitar and vocals, music director Yves Rothman, Sarah Register on guitar, Emily Retsas on bass and Sterling Laws on drums.

Tickets for European dates will go on sale Friday, Feb. 28 at 11 a.m. Central European Time and tickets for North America will be available on Friday, Feb 28 at 10 a.m. local time. Tickets are available for purchase here.

Soccer Mommy On 'color theory,' Impulse Depop Shopping & The Demon Living In Her House


Yesterday Once More (Twice Over): An Oral History Of The 1994 Carpenters Tribute Album, 'If I Were A Carpenter'

25 years after the release of Carpenters tribute album 'If I Were A Carpenter', the Recording Academy speaks to those involved about the project's legacy

GRAMMYs/Sep 13, 2019 - 08:26 pm

In popular culture, the cyclical adage "Everything old is new again" is often embodied in the form of the tribute album—an unwieldy vehicle of veneration whose success lies as much with the source material as with those interpreting it. A tribute album’s chances of hitting that sonic sweet spot are also enhanced when it follows the loosely structured (and hotly debated) 20-year nostalgia cycle—the idea that one’s generational fads of music, fashion, technology, books, slang and other cultural touchstones resurface after a couple decades (give or take) of mainstream dormancy. With its roster of 1990s alternative music rabble-rousers celebrating the 1970s clean-cut, musical prodigy duo The Carpenters, the left-of-center tribute album If I Were A Carpenter wonderfully delivers on these concepts in spades.    

This month marks 25 years since the release of If I Were A Carpenter, providing a nice echo of its origins, as the tribute album was initially conceived as a commemoration of the 25th anniversary of The Carpenters' debut album, Offering. On its surface, the idea of rowdy alt-rockers running bubbly Carpenters songs through cranked guitars and buzzy amplifiers might've seemed like nothing more than a tongue-in-cheek goof. As KROQ’s music director Darcy Fulmer said of the album at the time, "It shows that people who like alternative music liked dork music when they were little, too."

However, the story behind If I Were A Carpenter involves no winks or chuckles. In fact, it's downright irony-free. It was a labor of love hatched by two longtime friends, Matt Wallace and Dave Konjoyan, who bonded over their love of the exemplary music crafted by the sibling duo of Karen and Richard Carpenter. Both ended up working in the music industry—Dave as a music journalist and Matt as a record producer—and when they first started working on the idea for a Carpenters tribute album, they ended up wrangling a disparate group of alternative artists, punk bands and college-rock crooners who all seemed to share in their genuine affinity for The Carpenters' inescapably infectious pop perfection.

To salute two-and-a-half decades of the If I Were A Carpenter tribute album (as well as 50 years of The Carpenters' own musical magic), the Recording Academy conducted an oral history featuring the album's co-producers Matt Wallace and Dave Konjoyan, legendary songwriter (and Carpenters collaborator) Paul Williams, and many of the artists involved, including Matthew Sweet, Johnette Napolitano, Grant-Lee Phillips, members of The Cranberries, Cracker, Dishwalla and more.

<iframe width="620" height="349" src="" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Matt Wallace (co-producer): Dave and I met in Physical Education class in high school and became friends after we bonded over singing Carpenters songs in the locker room one day. It wasn’t the smartest thing to do at that moment in time because there was probably no quicker way to get your ass kicked in high school during the 1970s, other than to maybe sing Barry Manilow songs. Fast forward to the early '90s, Dave brought up the idea of this tribute record to me because I had produced some big records for Faith No More and The Replacements, as well as a few bands on A&M Records, which The Carpenters had been on. We pitched it to A&M and thankfully got the greenlight.

Dave Konjoyan (co-producer): I was doing some music journalism at the time and I was noticing a lot of artists were expressing appreciation for The Carpenters, especially for Karen's voice. It was artists like Chrissie Hynde, k.d. lang, Sonic Youth, Babes In Toyland and a few others. Tribute albums were also starting to really become a bigger thing, so I thought there might be enough artists interested in doing one dedicated to The Carpenters.

Matt Wallace (co-producer): The contrast of the impeccably arranged, glossy pop of The Carpenters with bands that were a little scrappier and less refined is what made it so interesting. You look at "Goodbye to Love" by American Music Club or "Superstar" by Sonic Youth or "Rainy Days And Mondays" by Cracker and you get these dark readings of the songs that feel really aligned with how Karen was singing them and how she was probably feeling at the time. Though, to flip that, some of the bands also did really well at turning in brighter versions of what The Carpenters did, like the beautiful version of "Close To You" by The Cranberries and "Top of the World" by Shonen Knife. 

Dave Konjoyan (co-producer): A&M might've been interested in us pursuing a more mainstream group of artists, but from the beginning the concept for Matt and I was always the alternative band route. A lot of bands on the record—Sonic Youth, Sheryl Crow, The Cranberries, Babes In Toyland—are ones that we really targeted right from the beginning. We got a lot of artists agreeing to it right of the bat.

Matt Wallace (co-producer): We also had a couple bands—Smashing Pumpkins, Paul Westerberg, Stone Temple Pilots—that were really on board but just didn't work out due to scheduling conflicts or various other reasons. But I'm super pleased with all of the bands who participated and how it all turned out. I mean, Sonic Youth liking The Carpenters? That was mind-blowing to most people at the time.

<iframe width="620" height="349" src="" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe>

All throughout the 1990s, there was a seemingly constant rotation of alt-friendly tribute albums dedicated to popular '70s artists: Kiss (1994's Kiss My Ass), Led Zeppelin (1995's Encomium), John Lennon (1995's Working Class Hero) and The Clash (1999's Burning London), just to name a few. There were even a couple alt-heavy tribute albums playfully dedicated to 1970s television, including 1995's Saturday Morning: Cartoons' Greatest Hits and 1996's Schoolhouse Rock! Rocks. Released in the fall of 1994, If I Were A Carpenter was certainly on the front end of that wave, an important note that helps contextualize the album's peculiar subject matter, its assorted roster and its unquestionably raucous-yet-reverent tone.

David Lowery (Cracker): When I first heard about the opportunity of being a part of a Carpenters tribute album, I thought it was kind of odd and cool. Like, who is thinking about The Carpenters right now? Stacked up against some of the other tribute records of the time, The Carpenters seemed like a much less obvious choice and that made it more interesting to us. They were one of my guilty pleasures that weren't exactly in vogue in the early '90s.

Matthew Sweet: The Carpenters were kind of omnipresent when I was a kid. You heard them whether you were seeking them out or not. Both Karen and Richard were so talented and their catalog provided such a wealth of material for this tribute record to pull from.

Fergal Lawler (The Cranberries): I thought The Carpenters were great. They made fantastic, heartfelt songs that still sound great today. They were actually really big in Ireland. We definitely heard them on the radio all the time, especially "Close To You."

Naoko Yamano (Shonen Knife): Since I'm Japanese and can't understand their English lyrics very well, it was their sound that really reached my mind. But that was enough because their melody lines and Karen's vocals were so attractive to me. Their song "Sing" was in one of our school textbooks, so I thought that their music was only for good children. My friends liked them, though.

Johnette Napolitano (Concrete Blonde): I was so happy to be able to be a part of this record because The Carpenters absolutely owned AM radio during my junior high and high school years. Richard's certainly a talented arranger, but for me it was really all about Karen. Karen’s voice was so incredibly soulful and totally made for radio. You hear a hundred voices when you hear her sing. Plus, she could really play the drums, which is not something you saw women doing at the time.

J. R. Richards (Dishwalla): The Carpenters were cool because there was such a weird, darker tinge underneath all of the beautiful background vocals and lovely sentiments. I really liked the juxtaposition they brought to their songs.

Mark Eitzel (American Music Club): When we first got asked to be involved, I was like "Absolutely, I love The Carpenters!" They made incredible records. For all the schlock that you would hear on the radio at the time, they never offended me. Their songs were so well written, perfectly arranged, and just sung so beautifully.

Grant-Lee Phillips (Grant Lee Buffalo): For me and for so many other bands of that era, The Carpenters were the music of our childhood. The '70s were a mixed bag. It was the age of the superstar and it was gaudy. There was a strange patriotic flair juxtaposed against scandal and violence. Yet, here was this duo trying to breakthrough with some light in a very bizarre and clouded era. I vividly remember being a kid and riding around in the car with my mom singing along to The Carpenters. They were really close to me, no pun intended.     

<iframe width="620" height="349" src="" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe>

On the combined strength of Richard's instrumental prowess and Karen's soulful three-octave contralto (as well as her complex, skilled drumming), The Carpenters released 14 studio albums and over 40 singlesmany of which attained platinum-selling status and reached the top of the charts in multiple countries. Their biggest Billboard Hot 100 hit singles—"(They Long To Be) Close To You," "We’ve Only Just Begun," "Rainy Days And Mondays," "Superstar," "Top of the World," "Please Mr. Postman"charted in the early '70s, but the sibling duo released albums, produced television specials, and remained a fixture on Top 40 radio all the way up until Karen’s untimely death in 1983 from anorexia-induced heart failure. As The Carpenters legacy has continually been reassessed over the years, it is Karen’s emotionally resonant vocals that remain the summit of their many creative talents.  

Johnette Napolitano (Concrete Blonde): Karen was really something special and she just gave everything she had. She was a fragile wick that just burned herself all the way down and didn’t say no to anything. She was almost sacrificed in a way, but out of that came some of the most beautiful music to ever be recorded. 

Paul Williams (songwriter): The wonderful thing about the way Richard produced their albums was that with everything going on in the track—instrumentation, orchestration, the background harmonies—there was never anything that threw a shadow on Karen. Her vocals were kept front and center so you could experience the emotion they carried and the elegance of her voice that was such a hybrid of melancholy, sensuality and sadness.

Grant-Lee Phillips (Grant Lee Buffalo): Karen's voice was so gorgeously unique, the way she sang in that lower register. This tribute album is interesting because Karen had died just a little over a decade before and that strange grief was still somewhat in the air. It actually gave me some pause because I didn’t want to be disrespectful in any way.

Matt Wallace (co-producer): Karen's voice was one of the most incredible instruments of pop music ever. Her tone and her control were incredible, but it was also the subtext—that anybody who has ever had any feelings of melancholy or has been down, can really connect to it. As much as Richard tried to polish and create so much gloss and sheen to the instrumentation, the emotional resonance in her voice hit so deep and would not be denied.

<iframe width="620" height="349" src="" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe>

When it came time for the bands involved to pick which Carpenters song they were going to perform, there was surprisingly little drama. While this could be somewhat expected from an artist's catalog as deep and rich as The Carpenters, it also speaks to the varied musical tastes of the bands paying tribute. Some artists like Matthew Sweet, Grant-Lee Phillips and The Cranberries delivered performances fairly true to the originals, while other artists like 4 Non Blondes, Babes In Toyland, Bettie Serveert and Sonic Youth took decidedly broader creative liberties. Others found a contrasting middle ground between the slick pop craftsmanship of the originals and their own sonic predilections.

Paul Williams (songwriter): Songs are not written in cement. They're just a starting place to bring your own emotions and express your own feelings through your own interpretations.             

Matt Wallace (co-producer): I love that most of the bands shifted towards the brooding, melancholy side of what The Carpenters did. Richard and Karen were more than just the bright, shiny, effervescent side of what they are sometimes most remembered for. Most of the bands were pretty flexible because we asked everyone to pick two or three songs. That way we could make sure to hopefully get at least one of their picks. Some of the bigger artists like Sheryl Crow or The Cranberries might’ve been able to pick theirs a little earlier.  

David Lowery (Cracker): I knew everyone was going to want to do "Superstar," but I've always loved "Rainy Days And Mondays." I’d like to say we were musical geniuses by discovering the beauty in giving it an even more down tempo groove, but what you hear on the recording is actually a take where we’re still learning the song. Bob Rupe, who was playing bass for us then, was walking us through the chord progression really slowly as we figured everything out. Mark Linkous from Sparklehorse was sitting in with us, just listening along and throwing a couple guitar lines in here and there. I think we also tried a more upbeat, alternative take on it that didn’t work as well. So, we went back to this warm-up take, added some strings and background vocals to it a couple weeks later, and it became this weird accidental hybrid that we just loved.

Naoko Yamano (Shonen Knife): We were shown two or three songs to cover and I firmly picked "Top of the World." There was no other choice for me. I really love that song and the melody lines are perfect.

"Songs are not written in cement. They're just a starting place to bring your own emotions and express your own feelings through your own interpretations."           

Fergal Lawler (The Cranberries): We picked "Close To You" and we were delighted when they said it was still available. I remember I had just heard a cover version of Smashing Pumpkins doing Thin Lizzy's "Dancing In The Moonlight" and I really loved their slowed down version of it, so I suggested we try it that way. I remember when Dolores [O'Riordan] was recording her vocals, she didn’t want to sing the line "They sprinkled moondust in your hair" because she thought it sounded a bit spacey. She felt a bit embarrassed about it, so she wanted to just kind of mumble her way through that part.

Johnette Napolitano (Concrete Blonde): I was really hoping to get "Superstar" because I was really close with Leon Russell, who was one of the song's co-writers. I was pissed when Thurston [Moore] got it because it's a singer's song and he blows. But Marc Moreland and I had a lot of fun recording "Hurting Each Other." All the girls wore "Karen" nametags and all the guys wore "Richard" nametags. We rented concert chimes—the huge, six-foot tall brass tube kind that you hit with a hammer. That was when you could still smoke indoors, so I have this vivid memory of Marc Moreland in a cloud of smoke just banging on the concert chimes through all the guitar craziness at the end of the song. 

Matt Wallace (co-producer): I recorded Sheryl Crow doing "Solitaire" in Los Angeles because I was having to catch her between shows while she was touring in and out of Europe. I remember it took us three different studio sessions to get the exact vocals we wanted for her. For one of those sessions, she flew in from Germany, threw her bags down in her apartment, and came directly to the studio to sing. She's probably the hardest working person I've run into in this business and I’m such a fan of what she did on that somber version of "Solitaire."

Peter Visser (Bettie Serveert): We did "For All We Know" and in retrospect, I think my guitar is a bit over the top, too desperate to make a "rock song" out of it. For the ending, I thought the song could use some cowbells, so in the lobby of the studio we found an aluminum lemon squeezer, put it on a piece of rope, and beat it with a fork. I think Carol did a great job with the singing. Her voice sounds really close and warm in the verses and goes full on in the choruses. 

Carol van Dyk (Bettie Serveert): After recording all the music, we came up with the idea to have me lying flat on my back on the floor in the middle of the studio. They hung the microphone right above my face and the guys placed little tea lights around me and turned off the studio lamps to create a nice soft atmosphere. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a camera with us, so no pictures.

J. R. Richards (Dishwalla): Recording "It's Going to Take Some Time" was officially the very first thing we did after getting signed to A&M. The tribute album was already in motion, like most of the bands had already picked songs and were in the process of recording them. In fact, we actually recorded a full demo of "Close To You" to show them that we wouldn’t do a sh*tty job. When we took it to A&M to show them, we were told it had already been picked by another band. So, we took a shot at "It’s Going To Take Some Time" and tried to take it to a different rhythmic place. We speed it up quite a bit because we didn’t want it to sound too sweet. I played the original keyboard intro on a Wurlitzer right at the beginning and then we took it off into its own journey.   

Mark Eitzel (American Music Club): We just wanted to approach "Goodbye To Love" really simply with no key changes and no orchestration or anything. Just a simple band vibe. All the way up until the final mixes our producer was trying to get me to re-record my vocals because he thought Richard wasn’t excited about the idea of people recording his songs in a bastardized way. Like, Richard’s already made them perfect, so why would you want these messy rockers to spoil the perfection? Nowadays I would’ve worked my ass off to make it perfect, but back then I was just a young idiot. I think the track turned out really great though.

Grant-Lee Phillips (Grant Lee Buffalo): Our version of "We've Only Just Begun" is a little more reverent to the original because we were really struck by the musical architecture of the song. We studied how it was put together and tried to be true to it. It was a natural thing for me to interpret it by singing it a bit higher and trying to meet Karen's vocal in the middle.

Dave Konjoyan (co-producer): I remember there being such a sense of excitement about every track as they came in. From our conversations with the bands, my impression was that they were all doing it from a heartfelt place. They certainly all brought their personalities to their tracks and they all seemed to have some affinity for the music and for The Carpenters as artists.

<iframe width="620" height="349" src="" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Deep into the project, Wallace and Konjoyan ended up getting the ultimate seal of approval, as Richard Carpenter agreed to sing and play on one of the tracks. Matthew Sweet had requested Richard’s participation on his true-to-form adaptation of "Let Me Be The One" (a syrupy ballad from the quadruple-platinum Carpenters album from 1971) and somewhat surprisingly to most everyone involved, he agreed.

Matthew Sweet: It was my request to see if we could find him and get him to play on it. At the time, I had this 1970s Dodge Challenger and he had a huge car collection that was in a big building in an office park. He took me out there to see it, which was really cool. He was super nice to me and seemed really supportive of doing the track.

Matt Wallace (co-producer): From the beginning, we knew we wanted to get Richard on board, but we also knew we were limited in regards to which artists he would fit with and feel comfortable. I think he wanted to make sure he wasn't straying too far from the legacy of The Carpenters and he didn't want to do a disservice to what he and Karen had so carefully built.

Dave Konjoyan (co-producer): I was there at the studio the day Matthew and Richard recorded "Let Me Be The One" and I remember them having a great time doing it. I think Richard felt appreciated. It was a really great moment for Matt and I to get to bring these different musical worlds together on the album and it really came together in that moment in the studio.

<iframe width="620" height="349" src="" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe>

If I Were A Carpenter was officially released on September 13, 1994. A split single between Redd Kross's "Yesterday Once More" and Sonic Youth's "Superstar" was released to radio, and the music videos of both tracks got substantial airplay on MTV. Dishwalla even got to perform "It's Going To Take Some Time" on the short-lived late-night talk show The Jon Stewart Show. Rolling Stone called the album "affectionate, almost reverent" and Entertainment Weekly had a listening party with Richard to get his thoughts, from Sonic Youth ("I love it. From the heart. It's quite haunting") to Shonen Knife ("I like the energy, but they've left out a couple of chord changes"). But what did those involved with the project think about each other's tracks?     

Grant-Lee Phillips: Reverence can come in many packages.

Matt Wallace (co-producer): Once we got all of the tracks back and heard that the arc of the record was leaning a little more somber, we knew that we wanted to start the record off with American Music Club's "Goodbye To Love." Then, Shonen Knife's "Top of the World" became the perfect follow-up track because it's so upbeat and effervescent. They beat The Carpenters at their own game on that one.

Naoko Yamano (Shonen Knife): I love Redd Kross so much and Jeff McDonald's vocals on "Yesterday Once More" are really great!

Dave Konjoyan (co-producer): I really liked what Cracker did with "Rainy Days And Mondays." It was certainly a different interpretation than the original, but it was very fitting for who they are as a band.        

Grant-Lee Phillips (Grant Lee Buffalo): I most enjoyed The Cranberries take on "Close To You" and the way Dolores delivered the lyrics in her way of bending the notes and just wrapping them around her finger.     

Paul Williams: I love David Lowery's singing on "Rainy Days And Mondays" and the way those strings roll in about midway through. Initially I thought it may have been a little tongue-in-cheek, but I love how they totally made it their own. I really believe him when he sings "What I got they used to call the blues."

J. R. Richards (Dishwalla): Shonen Knife's "Top Of The World" is just completely out there and fun. Sonic Youth's "Superstar" is also amazing. It's just so harrowing. 

Fergal Lawler (The Cranberries): I really enjoyed the Sonic Youth track. That one stood out the most to me when we listened to the whole thing.

Peter Visser (Bettie Serveert): My favorite is "Superstar" by Sonic Youth because Thurston Moore sings it so beautifully. I really liked the music video with the golden microphone as well.

Paul Williams (songwriter): The wonderful thing about listening to Thurston sing "Superstar" is that it's totally believable. That one feels so much like it's about Karen. You really get the sense of remembering her and missing her in his performance. It's just marvelous.

Matt Wallace (co-producer): At the time, the most forward-leaning track was Dishwalla's "It's Going To Take Some Time" because of that blending of loops and real drums. It feels like five years ahead of its time. They were the only band on the tribute that hadn’t already released an album but we just really liked them.

<iframe width="620" height="349" src="" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe>

While the last 25 years has seen If I Were A Carpenter serving double duty as an authentically celebratory tribute to the legacy of The Carpenters and also a telling sonic snapshot into the unaffected, unpretentious side of '90s alternative music, the album does have one nagging (albeit trivial) piece of unfinished business: as of yet, there's no 12" LP vinyl version of the record. Although the tribute did get an original-run vinyl release as a boxset of seven 7" singles (a very nostalgically appropriate approach in itself), vinyl collectors have been clamoring for a full-size 12" LP for years, hoping for either a label-sponsored vinyl debut reissue or even a limited-run Record Store Day exclusive offering.   

Matthew Sweet: I remember they did a bunch of 7" singles but it never got the full 12" record treatment. In the '90s, you weren’t guaranteed vinyl at all. So that was kind of a special and unusually cool way to release it.  

Carol van Dyk (Bettie Serveert): A while back somebody asked us if we had a spare Carpenters tribute vinyl boxset. We had to disappoint them, but I totally understand why they wanted one, it’s such a cool thing to have as a fan.

David Lowery: When I became a thrift store loving college kid in the '80s, Carpenters records were always an interesting novelty to come across. It’d be nice to see this album get that treatment too.

Jenny Lewis On Loving L.A., Texting With Beck & Why 'On The Line' Is Just "One Piece Of The Puzzle"

Dave Konjoyan (co-producer): That’s a little bit of a sore spot. Physically, the record's been out of print for years but I think it would be really great if they ever put out a full vinyl version. I'd really love to see it.

Matthew Sweet: To finally get a full vinyl pressing of it would be a no-brainer for something like Record Store Day. Somebody's got to make that happen! That would really bring the whole tribute full circle.