If all goes according to plan, 1999 will be a busy year for Sonic Youth.
And they're not even planning on releasing an album.
In addition to concerts, solo albums and other projects, New York's avant-garde rock forefathers hope to issue two or three new EPs in their SYR (Sonic Youth Records) series this year, according to guitarist Lee Ranaldo.
"We want to expand the SYR series so that each release doesn't have to be Sonic-centric," Ranaldo said. Future releases could include Moore's acoustic-guitar recordings and other solo presentations.
The SYR EPs, three of which have been released since 1997, have
focused on the band's more experimental work, with such tracks as
"Anagrama" (RealAudio excerpt) from SYR 1 and
"Slaapkamers Met Slagroom" (RealAudio excerpt) from
A half-completed collaboration with Icelandic electronic group
Stilluppsteypa is slated to be turned into SYR 4, although it
may get pushed back in the series to allow the Sonics to release an EP
of their own compositions first.
Ranaldo described Stilluppsteypa as "three kids that play hunched over
a couple Power Books. We did a show with them in Berlin a few months
back and they're really remarkable ... We recorded the gig that we did
with them, and we're going to use some of that material, and then we
had them send us a bunch of other stuff on a DAT that we're going to
In addition, Sonic Youth -- Ranaldo, guitarist Thurston Moore, bassist/
guitarist Kim Gordon and drummer Steve Shelley -- have scheduled a
series of recording dates that they're calling the "New Music Sessions"
for late March. The results may be released at SYR 5 and 6.
For those recordings, the band will augment its lineup with guitarist Jim O'Rourke (who appeared on SYR 3) and percussionist Willie Winant, who has performed with Moore.
"Both of those guys have one foot heavily into modern-classical and new-music stuff," Ranaldo, 43, said. "The idea was to take scores from various composers whose work we enjoy and perform them. The list isn't full yet, but the stuff we're talking about doing is a [John] Cage piece, a Pauline Oliveros piece, a Christian Wolff piece, maybe a [Karlheinz] Stockhausen piece.
"Various of these composers are actually going to be present in the studio for the performances of their pieces, either playing or directing," he added. "Pauline Oliveros is fairly committed to coming in, we're hoping to get Christian Wolff to come in."
Shelley, whose Smells Like Records label oversees the SYR releases, cautioned that none of the EPs is set in stone.
"I don't like to talk about them until they're finished," the 36-year-old drummer said. "Basically, these SYRs are piles of tapes until they become something else."
In the meantime, there are several other Sonic Youth-affiliated projects in the offing, once the band completes its current tour of Europe and a show at New York's Hammerstein Ballroom on Feb. 27.
Shelley is helming the spring reissue on Smells Like of several albums by pop composer Lee Hazlewood. And March will see the release, on Atavistic, of Ranaldo's Dirty Window, an album of spoken-word material with musical backing by Moore, Shelley, the late Epic Soundtracks, Ranaldo's son Cody and others.
Meanwhile, the members of Sonic Youth plan to perform for the first time as individual artists on the same bill at an April 1 show at the Bowery Ballroom in New York.
Amid all that activity are plans to record a new album in 1999.
"We're talking about having one nearly completed between March 1 and
the end of September," Ranaldo said.
But it's unlikely that album will be in stores this year. "With all the
crazy stuff that's happening in the record industry right now, we have
no idea when [Geffen Records] might be ready to release something by
us," Ranaldo said.
But Ranaldo said the band feels secure in its primary home at Geffen
Records, despite the fact that the label is preparing to trim its
roster in the wake of the recent $10.4 billion merger between Geffen's
parent company, Universal, and PolyGram.
"It's definitely a good year to run our own label," Shelley said.
"We'll let the other label sort itself out for awhile."
Meanwhile, the band also is deciding what languages will grace future
editions of the SYR series. Each of the first three EPs featured
a different language on its packaging.
Ranaldo said SYR 4 will feature Arabic packaging, while the
"New Music Sessions" may be issued in English.
"After that we're talking about Korean, because it looks good," he said. "It has a lot of weird circles and graphic marks in it. It doesn't have the same kind of characters that Japanese or Chinese has."