After long-running alt-rock titans Sonic Youth called it quits, Kim Gordon formed Body/Head with friend Bill Nace in 2012. Their 2013 debut, Coming Apart, made it clear that Gordon's new band would find her delving further into the realm of haunting, experimental rock she always pushed Sonic Youth toward.
Five years later, Body/Head is back with its second studio album The Switch, a five-track record of freeform rock that nods to Gordon's boundary-flaunting No Wave roots; but unlike most seminal releases in that genre, The Switch is masterfully produced, with lonely waves of guitar and crackling bursts of noise vibrating through an expansive, open soundscape (definitely listen to this one on headphones). Gone is the occasional uncertainty that bubbled up on Coming Apart, replaced with the assurance of two instrumentalists who've spent years on the road together and know exactly how to weave in and out of each other's space.
Gordon and Nace got on the phone with Streets Talkin to talk about their process of composing, the freedom of knowing they have a niche audience, and how the new season of David Lynch's Twin Peaks factored into The Switch.
Coming Apart seemed to me to have more of a rock edge, while The Switch is subtler. Was that a conscious decision?
Bill: It developed that way. The shows can be different one to the next, but we didn't want to make the same record again. [On Coming Apart we] were a new band excited to go into the studio. We had some nerves, and that one we just threw everything in. This one feels like we focused on this little corner a little more and tried to stay in that space. See how long we could stay there and make it interesting for ourselves. We didn't talk about this at all, but it feels like there's more self-imposed limitation on this one.
Kim: It feels more relaxed in a way. Maybe not relaxed but like we're not really trying to prove anything. Even more like, “no one is going to care about this record.” Which I almost feel relief about. It's freeing in a certain way.
Do you really feel that way, that no one will care?
Kim: I just know it's a small audience for it, and that's good.
Bill: It has a context. It's fine if it goes outside of that, but there's freedom in getting to do what we want to do and feel like doing. It's not like 50,000 teenagers won't buy the record who liked the last one. But there's self-imposed pressure.
Kim: Totally. There was a lot of pressure in that the second record, there's always something about the energy of the first record where you don't quite know what you're doing that makes it work. The second record is always like, “Uh-oh, will people be as forgiving? Or do we just have our head up our ass?” In a way, you worry about that then go “fuck it.” I do all pre-worrying.
I'm curious about your writing and recording process. Do you write some songs knowing they'll be longer, or is that something that changes when you start playing it?
Bill: Most of these are how it happened in the room. There are some decisions made in editing and mixing. How do we give the song more depth, make it bigger? Which could mean adding another vocal track or muting my guitar on a section or run Kim's guitar through a tape machine to make it bigger. But in terms of what the song was, it's pretty much what was in the room. There's nothing on the record where it's, “oh there was 20 minutes after that that didn't work that we didn't use.” We're not playing for two hours and chopping it up.
So do you have a strong sense of the composition ahead of time?
Kim: Not really, it's more like an intent. We're laying it down in as much as we can a definitive way and then step back and see how it was, and figure out if it's something we can shape.
On this album, you have the benefit of having toured behind the first one. Do you think that changed the band?
Bill: Yeah, I think we just – I personally feel we got a lot better. We kept growing and the shows were a huge part of that. We got more confident as a band. The band started, we had done two gigs in the town we live in together and then did a tour in Europe. We were discovering becoming a band together, but some shows were better than others. You learn fast what works and what doesn't. If you're playing in the studio or basement all the time, you can waste time on ideas that aren't working. But the show immediately tells you where your strengths are, and we kept moving to that.
Listening back to The Switch, did anything surprise you?
Bill: It sounds really wide to me in a way, that's the word that keeps coming into my head.
So with a second album out, Body/Head is an ongoing concern for you guys.
Bill: Yeah, it's been a continuing thing since we started. Some places still write about it like it's new or a side project. But we're always doing shows or working on something.
Since the last album, Kim, you released your book Girl In a Band, which got a massively positive response. Did that surprise you?
Kim: I check in on Twitter every now and again and see people reading it, which is a big surprise that people were so into it and checking it out. Yeah.
Would you write another one?
Kim: I don't know. I'm working on something that became part of my art show I had recently, and I'm continuing working on it, it's an ongoing thing. It might be a very small book. [laughs] A novella. A noveletta. It's more auto-fiction.
Were there any artists you listened to while making this who might have influenced it? Or anything in general?
Kim: Not really. I think Bill was watching Twin Peaks.
Bill: Oh yeah, Twin Peaks was big in my mind. It was like right after the last episode, which totally stuck with me, and we went into the studio the next day or two after. That wasn't like “let's do something like this” but in terms of things on my mind or that had an effect on me, that was a big one.
What did you think of the new season?
Bill: I loved it. I kept thinking, “This isn't necessarily what I want but it's what I need.” He definitely plays with your patience. He knows what he's doing and those last two episodes, I'm still thinking about it. It was pretty intense.