Iconic Alt-Rocker Kim Gordon Turns the Page, with Body/Head

The enigmatic, enlightening duo plays at the Lab on Saturday, July 14.

Body/Head. Photo by David Black

The book on Kim Gordon has already been written. She wrote it herself.

For those eager to relive the long nights and bright days of Gordon’s 30-year tenure as a founding member of the influential noise-rock outfit Sonic Youth, look no further than Girl in a Band, Gordon’s astutely candid 2015 memoir. These days Gordon, 65, isn’t terribly interested in rehashing the past.

With Sonic Youth — and her marriage to band guitarist Thurston Moore — both behind her, she’s managed to stay plenty busy with art shows, film appearances, and a new gig as one-half of the experimental guitar duo Body/Head.

Together, Gordon and musician Bill Nace mine beauty from minimalist depths with sonically abstract compositions that may barely run 60 seconds or evolve with molasses precision over the course of 17 minutes. Following Body/Head’s 2013 debut, Coming Apart, and the 2016 live album, No Waves, the two have united once more for The Switch.

Clocking in at 40 minutes in all, Body/Head’s latest record continues the band’s narrative of melodic, heavy meditations, underscored by Gordon’s vocals and two guitars locked in rousing dialogue. While some might see the lack of percussion as an obstacle to be conquered, Gordon and Nace instead find their particular arrangement invigorating.

“We don’t see it as limited,” Gordon says. “We make rhythms with our guitars.”

Nace notes that the guitar is, in some senses, both things at once — an instrument with physical boundaries as well as a conduit to an endless array of possibilities.

“it’s nice that way,” Gordon agrees. “It’s different from a synthesizer, where it can seem like it has so many possibilities, but it always just sounds like a synthesizer.”

The process of creating a Body/Head album is fairly atypical by modern music standards. Rather than Gordon or Nace writing songs for the two of them to polish in the studio, they enter each recording empty-handed. Instead, under the guidance of engineer Justin Pizzoferrato, they simply start playing.

You might assume such freedom might lead to an ungodly amount of raw tape to sort through, but Nace says that putting The Switch together didn’t involve a sustained campaign of searching for diamonds in the rough of manifold recordings.

“It usually doesn’t work like that,” he says. “Sometimes, it’s the first track we do that ends up being used, and then like the third one and the sixth. We try not to have too much material.”

This policy matches the mood of Body/Head’s sound, which falls somewhere in the murky ether between free jazz and post-punk. Technically, these songs have lyrics, but the allure of Gordon’s voice is most felt in the eerie textures her vocals create. 

Body/Head further elevate this atmosphere at its live performances – such as its July 14 show at Mission venue The Lab — by projecting slowed-down film selections. Gordon mentions that one of the first ones they incorporated into their sets was the 1969 French picture Coming Apart.

“It’s a Rip Torn film where almost nothing happens,” Gordon says. “It all takes place in his apartment, and everything moves so slow.”

Other selections include the 1978 British thriller The Driver and the 1973 Raymond Chandler adaptation The Long Goodbye. Gordon explains she’s recently taken to watching films about Los Angeles, especially the work of Robert Altman.

In fact, Gordon says she often processes things through a visual lens, although she’s quick to clarify that Body/Head is not some kind of synesthesia fever dream.

“No colors,” she insists. “I’m not hearing any colors. I think, more than a visual thing, there’s a spatial sense to it. I feel like I’m aware of how the sound interacts between us in a spatial way.”

For Nace, The Switch represents some of Gordon’s most inspired guitar work to date.

“The shit sounds dope,” he says. “I thought she killed it. Playing live now — especially following our first record — I think our roles are really changing by the minute. On this one especially, Kim’s kind of taken the lead with a lot of the playing, which is cool.”

Speaking with Gordon and Nace, it’s clear that intuition plays a pivotal role in Body/Head. Gordon mentions that she and Nace actually spent a few days in the studio nearly two years before they gathered in Western Massachusetts in July 2017 for the sessions that would become The Switch.

Gordon and Nace know what they want, and they know when they have it. There’s no replicating the chemistry of Sonic Youth, but in Body/Head, Gordon has found a new kindred spirit willing to revel in the unsettling splendor of guitar exorcisms alongside her.

They’re also not finished yet. It seems there are more chapters yet to be written for Gordon.

“This isn’t really something we’re revisiting,” Nace explains. “There’s like a weird narrative that we’re a ‘project,’ but we’re playing shows and working on stuff. We’re a band.”

Gordon’s analysis is slightly more succinct.”

“We’re looking forward to our sophomore slump.”

Body/Head, Saturday, July 14, 8:30 p.m., at the Lab, 2948 16th St. $15-$20; 415-864-8855 or thelab.org.

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