Sonic Youth were already indie darlings before they signed to Geffen in 1989. And Goo, their major debut, was everything that corporate rock didn't want to hear - a discordant, wayward noisefest.

For Dirty, the group's 1992 follow-up album, Sonic Youth upped their melody content, riffed up their songs and returned with another batch of detuned guitars. Now, Dirty has been reissued with a second disc of bonus tracks. Drummer Steve Shelley explains what was behind Dirty and how the extra songs came about. Questions by PHILIP CHEAH.

It seems that since Sister, the rock critics have always wanted Sonic Youth to be a regular rock band. Dirty seems to have fulfilled that wish for them. Was Dirty purposefully titled as irony? And is Dirty as sonically safe as some critics and fans seemed to have thought back then?

It's hard for me to answer as far as what others' expectations of Sonic Youth were then or now — back in the day we were trying to make the best record we could at that time (still what we try to do today) — Dirty came together after a heavy touring period with heavy (ROCK!) sounding groups like Die Kreuzen, Laughing Hyenas, Mudhoney, The Fluid and Nirvana. We spent months in a little rehearsal space in Hoboken with our newly acquired eight-track recording set-up and worked out the songs that wound up on Dirty (and the songs that eventually wound up on Disc Two, of the the reissued album). We were trying to record the band in a way that would capture some of the power and energy that was expressed in some of our best live performances (something that we still didn't feel like we had captured up to that point).

Butch Vig had just worked with Nirvana and everyone was excited to work with him not only because he had recorded Nevermind (which was maybe just released or finished as we started to work together) but because he had also recorded bands we liked such as Tar Babies, Mecht Mensch, Laughing Hyenas and Killdozer.

 

If I remember correctly Dirty was titled after the Mike Kelley artwork used in the package (the dirty stuffed animals) but it could have been a play on words relating to the sort of sub-rock 'n' roll sounds that were being played in the van or passed around at the time on cassette (that is, not current Sub-Pop music of the time but early '70's ROCK such as Grand Funk, Black Oak Arkansas, always The Stooges, Alice Cooper all the way up to re-discovering Boston).

Is it sonically safe? Hard to answer — it's one of my favorites from that time. In a way it's a culmination of the way we worked at that time (record LP — tour — write — record LP — tour, repeat...).

Actually, Dirty, to us, shows the paths that rock would take since 1991 — grunge and the avant-garde. So Dirty shows us how influential the avant garde is in rock music today. And Dirty allowed rock fans to listen to experimental rock without being alienated. Are we overstating Dirty?

I don't know. We were inspired by so many varied things at the time — we were happy to be a rock band or an experimental band to us it's just a part of being a band.

Why does Dirty have a full CD of unreleased bonus material?

So much material was recorded as we wrote and learnt how to play Dirty — we recorded everything at the time. So when the time came for the deluxe edition of the CD, Lee (Ranaldo) and I went through everything we could find from that time — we put everything on CDRs and the band picked what should be on the disc... it was a lot of fun — some of the material we had totally forgotten — other material we had always hoped to release someday.

What makes this the one album to have this stand-out treatment?

It was the easiest one to attempt a double-disc edition because of the miles and miles of music we had to go through... we're working on Goo now. Daydream Nation is possible but not definite as most of the material not on Daydream already is recorded on cassette.




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