Kim Gordon and Bill Nace perform as Body/Head at L.A.’s Echo nightclub in January 2015.
Photo by Debi Del Grande
Do you find inspiration in equipment like a lot of guitarists?
Gordon: Not so much, though I do really like the guitar I’m using right now, which is a newer Fender Jazzmaster that I got during our last Sonic Youth tour when we needed extra equipment because we were playing in South America and leap-frogging around. It’s just a great guitar that has a great tone, and it’s definitely inspiring to have something that sounds that good. I also like that it’s not special; that it’s not some vintage, rare Fender or something precious.
What is it about your two respective styles that you both find complementary?
Gordon: I tend to introduce a melody, or my version of a melody, and Bill is really great at finding something more textural or dissonant to contrast it. I like to also work in contrast against his ideas. Bill often comes up with really great loops that give me something great to work off of. It sounds like a typical answer, but I think we both just try to add things to each other’s ideas that aren’t typical of improvisational guitarists.
Nace: I feel like we have chemistry, so the answer becomes “how do you describe chemistry,” which is a little difficult. One of the major things is having the vocals there, which is a departure from a lot of the other things I play with, and I really love playing with her vocals there. Tonally, Kim’s vocals can shift a lot and be a lot of different things within one piece and it’s a cool challenge to try to support that and push it along. Kim’s voice is pretty iconic at this point and people just respond to hearing it. I think some of the sparse, more abstract stuff that we get into really benefits from her voice gluing things together and makes people hear it more as a song, which gives the guitars a lot of space to play around and maybe be more minimal.
In terms of the guitar stuff, I think there’s a really fluid movement between one of us framing the other, or one of us working a more supportive role and then taking the lead, but we also do a great job of sounding like one big instrument, and it flows back and forth between all of those things pretty easily. The openness that allows that to happen between us is something I really appreciate about playing with her.Is it difficult for you to reconcile your duality as an experimental and improvisational guitarist and one that also plays conventional stuff?
Gordon: No, because it’s all part of the same thing to me. They’re all good things that can be used and it’s just a vocabulary of sounds in my mind. Sometimes I really like to show that I know what I’m doing, and other times I try to avoid that and really try to not know what I’m doing and lose myself in that.
Can you tell me a bit about your approach to using effects within Body/Head?
Gordon: Well, I have a couple of lo-fi, funky loop pedals that I like to use a lot, but for the most part, I use the same stuff I’ve always used. A Dunlop Hendrix octave divider and a tremolo pedal, and what amounts to some pretty tame stuff.
There is so much out there and I never got that much into gear, but sometimes I get curious if I’m at a smaller guitar store and someone shows me something cool. That said, they all ultimately kind of seem the same to me—there’s just a gazillion distortion pedals and it’s easy to get lost in it. I guess I try to get into a mindset in which I’m not worried about what I’m playing on and just disappear into it and let things be what they’re going to be. That’s when the best stuff happens for me.
Nace: I think people get too tripped up on pedals. People get bummed if they see too many, or they get obsessed with what kind of pedal it is to get the right sound. I’ve always been of the school of thought that you get what you can and you try to make it sound the closest to what you want to hear as possible. I don’t actually use anything that crazy—just a few different shades of distortion and I have a delay just barely on. I don’t like having all of the pedals on at once and layered. I know people that do that trick really well, but it’s not for me. I use, like, two pedals at once, max. I use a Boss DS-1 as a volume boost without any gain when I need a little more. I don’t get too into the gear side. The guitar I play with Body/Head, for example, my friend literally found it in a pond.
In a pond?
Nace: It was strapped with a belt to a Washburn bass and two other guitars bobbing up and down in a pond! My friend fished it out and gave it to me. When I started playing with Kim, I didn’t want to use any Fender guitars with her because the Jazzmaster and Jaguar are so closely associated with Sonic Youth, and I didn’t want to ride that wave. So I had this weird guitar and I started playing that with her. It’s a Michael Kelly Les Paul copy, and I never really liked Les Pauls before getting this guitar and now I love them! I’m really attached to it because I’ve used it so long now. When I first got it, I had to have the frets hammered back down and get it fixed up from its time in the pond. I had them run the serial number to make sure it didn’t belong to someone that might have wanted it back.
I know so many people who never get started because they’re always waiting on that last piece of gear. “Once I get a tube amp or once I get this…” I just think, “Get what you can and get on with it!” The amp I use for solo stuff outside of Body/Head is a Peavey Bandit a friend of mine found in the trash!