“If You’re Cool, Aren’t You Sexy?”: Kim Gordon, in Conversation With Chloe Sevigny

Kim Gordon

Kim Gordon, photographed by Danielle Neu.

In 1992, Sonic Youth dropped the song “Sugar Kane.” The music video opens with an 18-year-old, pre-Kids Chloë Sevigny, her head shaved and her eyes guileless, before the camera pans to Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore playing guitar in Marc Jacob’s Perry Ellis grunge show (controversy over which lost the designer his job). As the song crescendos, Sevigny strips down, strutting the runway naked in an act of fashion rebellion. “You were super brave,” remembers Gordon, who first met Sevigny on set that day. Ever since, the pair’s shared cool-factor has remained evergreen, a miracle in our time of olympic-level scrolling. But it’s this very disregard for the ebb and flow of the trend cycle that has solidified Gordon and Sevigny in the pantheon of cool girls. Since Sonic Youth called it quits in 2011, Gordon has remained busy, dropping four studio albums as part of the duo Body/Head, with Bill Nace, and her 2019 solo debut No Record Home, whose collision of sounds, from African thumb piano melodies to post-punk klaxon, was met with critical acclaim. Today, Gordon drops her second solo album, The Collective, and we’re hoping for something just as wild. To mark its release, she and Sevigny met up in New York to discuss the pressures of being a fashion icon, how to navigate the industry as women, and why anyone who’s cool is sexy, too.—ELOISE KING-CLEMENTS


CHLOË SEVIGNY: Do we get to edit this?

KIM GORDON: [Laughs] Good question. We should. I watched the first episode of The Swans.

SEVIGNY: Oh, I listened to your record. But I was thinking about when we first met, because some of the readers might not know that I was in one of your music videos.

GORDON: Right, “Sugar Kane.”

SEVIGNY: I was probably 18.

GORDON: You were an intern at Sassy.

SEVIGNY: Yeah, I was still in high school and I’m naked in the video.

GORDON: You take your clothes off—

SEVIGNY: In protest.

GORDON: You’re walking on the catwalk and you take your clothes off as you’re walking back and forth.

SEVIGNY: I think it was in protest to this fashion world kind of co-opting my street style.

GORDON: It’s funny, because it was coincidentally Marc [Jacobs]’s last show at Perry Ellis, his grunge show. The director was Nick Egan, who knew Marc, who’s friends with Vivienne Westwood, and he actually gave me an original Sex Pistols [shirt], one of her first designs with the gauze and the straps.

SEVIGNY: From the Worlds End SEX shop. I was thinking more about my nudity in it. In this day and age, you would never ask an eighteen-year-old girl to do that, not to be—

GORDON: I know, it’s kind of crazy. You were super brave.

SEVIGNY: The conversation about that sort of thing has changed so much. Originally it was supposed to be nude, and then Daisy [von Furth] offered me a thong and I was like, “Thank god.” Even though there are bars over the video, I was a weird, gawky, prepubescent eighteen-year-old, in a way.

GORDON: I can’t believe that happened. I remember when Coco [Kim’s daughter] first walked in Eckhaus Latta, she was older than that. She was 22 and she was wearing something that fell off one side and one of her boobs was exposed.

SEVIGNY: I remember that.

GORDON: They were concerned, but she was like, “Whatever, it’s fine.” 

SEVIGNY: When I first started off in my career, it was such a different climate. I keep thinking about it as I’m doing all this press. How girls navigate spaces now feels so much safer. As an actress, it was scary even going to audition, and I feel like as a musician you must have always felt that. You’ve always been vocal about being a girl in a band and how few women there were, and now it seems like girls have such different ownership. Even Lana Del Rey said from the beginning of her career to now, it’s such a different climate.

GORDON: I think so. People are more aware. It’s funny what happened in the eighties when Madonna made herself into a sexual object to use herself for record exploitation, and then it became free reign. Sex still sold, and nothing actually changed in terms of like, Rolling Stone covers, but women were taking the agency and doing it themselves. 

SEVIGNY: Right. The “Kool Thing” video came up in my feed and you were kind of feeding into that in that video, right?

GORDON: I was more mining Anita Pallenberg’s style, but also showing how clothes can change you into a different person.

SEVIGNY: And we were just discussing your future tour outfits. Now it’s more about convenience and comfort.

GORDON: Yeah, but I’m also just not the same person. I mean, I am, but my taste is more refined. [Laughs] I don’t want to look like a crazy old person. If you’re in your twenties or thirties or even forties, you can—

SEVIGNY: Get away with certain things.


SEVIGNY: Aren’t the crazy old ladies fun too?

GORDON: Oh, sure. Tina Turner has always been my role model as a performer. She just really put it out there. She had those legs. If you’re on stage, there’s a different dress code.

SEVIGNY: Of course.

GORDON: The post-punk dress code was always t-shirts, and I remember Mark Arm from Mudhoney once asking me why I don’t wear t-shirts anymore. So I started wearing a giant T-shirt with nothing, just boots and a choker.

SEVIGNY: I remember that. 

GORDON: It was the nineties.

SEVIGNY: Oh, the Free Kitten era.

GORDON: Yeah, Dirty era, I guess. There’s this thing about whether you dress to look cool or sexy, and how do you balance those?

SEVIGNY: Right. But if you’re cool, then aren’t you sexy?

GORDON: One would think. I remember seeing this noise band open up for us in Detroit called Universal Indians, and Gretchen [Gonzales] was wearing baggy corduroys and a T-shirt and she was playing a guitar with a rock. I thought that was really sexy because it was so cool. I’d never seen that before. Her attitude was so…

SEVIGNY: An earthen element.

GORDON: Yeah. I guess with acting it’s different because you’re wearing things for your character, but you must have a lot of input, don’t you?

SEVIGNY: Not so much with the character. It’s more the character you’re playing on the red carpet and how much you buy into what’s expected of you to participate in that. I always think about Gaby Hoffmann, who will just go to a premiere in her regular clothes and no makeup and no hair. I wish I had that freedom or confidence. I always have to be wearing something the people are interested in to make the studio happy and get the press coverage. Because if I don’t get the press coverage, am I all of a sudden not as relevant? That’s my own neuroses and my own relationship to the business that I have to come to terms with. I’m always threatening to walk away and buy a house in P-Town and get off that train because at 49, it’s starting to really do my head in. It’s not even so much the aging, it’s just—

GORDON: The apparatus.

SEVIGNY: I want to have a nice life and a beautiful home and support my family, but also I’ve been celebrated as this fashion [icon] and there’s this pressure to maintain that. Ugh.

GORDON: That must be a lot of pressure.

SEVIGNY: It’s pressure I’m putting on myself. I don’t know if I have to participate.

GORDON: Well, you are good at it.

SEVIGNY: I do enjoy it.

GORDON: You do like clothes.

SEVIGNY: Don’t get me wrong. I mean, I don’t like being a D-cup and trying to fit into sample sizes. People are still like, “Why don’t you look like you did when you were in Kids?” People have me in this kind of amber of the images you looked at of me as a young person. The younger set don’t get it yet. Just you wait and see. Call me when you’re 50.

GORDON: I have to say, I don’t want to make you blush or anything, but you look even more beautiful now that you’re a mom and you’re happy in your life. I see it. 

SEVIGNY: Well, every reflective surface makes me want to die. I’m trying to figure out where that stems from. Probably my mother. [Laughs]

GORDON: Of course.

SEVIGNY: Or her mother’s mother. I didn’t read the press, but I listened to the record. 

GORDON: I made it with Justin Raisen, the producer I worked with on the last record. He made beats knowing what I like, and then I added guitars and brought some crazy abstract poetry lyrics, and some improv stuff too.

SEVIGNY: I love it. I can’t imagine having to memorize those and sing them live. With Body/Head, you could kind of just riff whenever. 

GORDON: I know. I’m really stressed out about this, frankly.

SEVIGNY: Maybe you could have a lyric sheet in front of you.

GORDON: I’ll probably have to. A lot of people use lyric sheets. Lucinda Williams. J. Mascis.

SEVIGNY: But speaking of expectations, do you consider what the crowd expects? Do you want to give them what they want?

GORDON: People like it when I pick up the guitar. I hope I’m not going to disappoint people if I don’t play it so much because I have to sing all these fucking lyrics.

SEVIGNY: And move around with it. It’s so heavy.

GORDON: It is heavy. That’s one reason why I wanted to switch from bass guitar. It’s not as heavy. I’m playing with the same band and they’re really good, but it is a very complicated record and we’re going to have to figure out who’s going to trigger what.

SEVIGNY: I know you don’t like rehearsing.

GORDON: I hate rehearsing.

SEVIGNY: You have to do a bunch of rehearsing.

GORDON: It’s kind of hanging over me like a dark cloud.

SEVIGNY: But you have such a practice in all your writing and fine art. Isn’t rehearsing just kind of part of that?

GORDON: No, it’s different. It’s more rote. Rehearsing makes me nervous. Soundcheck makes me nervous, too, but then when I just have to go out there and perform, it’s just an adrenaline rush and then you stop thinking about it.

SEVIGNY: When the camera’s actually rolling.

GORDON: Yeah, exactly. Is it hard for you to memorize lines?

SEVIGNY: It’s getting a little harder. I usually write them out over and over.

GORDON: That’s what I do.

SEVIGNY: I am pretty malleable as an actor. I like different people’s processes. I’ve come to find directors that want really exacting things a bit tiresome, and I’ve worked with a handful of them. When they’re really tortured, too. I’m like, “Just enjoy it.”

GORDON: Gus [Van Sant, director of Feud: Capote Vs. The Swans] is pretty easy to work with in that way.

SEVIGNY: Gus was so great. There are long scenes with 10 pages of dialogue. We’d do these exercises where everyone plays all the emotions of the scene, but we’re not going to say anything. We’d just be doing the actions and playing the emotions, and those were really fun.

GORDON: That’s cool. I got to work with him a little bit, and there were always parts that you could improvise.

SEVIGNY: Yeah, he likes to keep it pretty loose. 

GORDON: I just watched the pilot and it seemed like the dialogue was pretty precise.

SEVIGNY: It was written by a playwright, Robbie Bates, and it was pretty verbose. We would kind of improv at the top and at the end, but we’d keep it pretty tight.

GORDON: I don’t mean to make you do more promo.

SEVIGNY: No, my character plays heavier in later episodes. They’re setting up the big feud, because she wasn’t thrown under the bus.

GORDON: She seems really cool.

SEVIGNY: She was a cool lady. I had to learn an accent for months in advance, because she had this Boston Brahmin accent. It’s like Boston/Mid-Atlantic/New York. Ryan Murphy was like, “No one’s going to believe that anybody talks like this, but there are going to be three people in the world that are like, ‘She nailed it.’” [Laughs]

GORDON: What is the accent? Can you do it?

SEVIGNY: I can’t do it right now, but I’ll play you some. It’s nuts. So he’s like, “You have to drop the accent.” I did my first few scenes with the accent and then I had to drop it. All that time I was away from my son trying to nail this insane accent and poof.

GORDON: [Laughs] Wow.

SEVIGNY: I wanted to ask about a title. What is “The Candy House”?

GORDON: It’s actually the name of a Jennifer Egan book that I read that I really liked. The Collective [Gordon’s album title] comes from that too. It’s about this woman who develops algorithms that make people do things. It’s not actually that far removed from where we are now, but somebody takes her ideas and her research and creates something like an app called Mandala. You can experience other people’s memories and their experiences at any time in their life, but in order to do that, you have to upload all of yours, so you become part of the collective.

SEVIGNY: Wow. I hit the nail asking about that one.

GORDON: Yeah. “The Candy House” is sort of a love song, if you will, about wanting to get close to somebody and know them, but not wanting to join the collective in order to do so, to maintain your control.

SEVIGNY: So where did you find the guy that makes the beats?

GORDON: I met Justin [Raisen] through his brother. I was out at Cafe Stella—

SEVIGNY: Did that close, by the way?

GORDON: I think it did.

SEVIGNY: That’s a shame. It was the coolest restaurant in L.A. 

GORDON: He wants to make it into a five-star restaurant or something, but the neighborhood doesn’t need that. Anyway, you know how close the tables are there, and this guy and girl were sitting next to us talking about their sex life. Then we’d all turned to look at each other and we were suddenly all in the conversation together. He started talking about his brother. He was a producer, he worked on Sky Ferreira’s record, whatever. I’m not impressed by any of that, although I liked her first record. Then I get this DM from his brother saying, “Hey, I’m working on this record by Lawrence Rothman. We’re inviting different people to come sing on it.” I didn’t know what to make of him. I wanted to check out his scene, but I was kind of skeptical of L.A. producers and making music that way. He kept sending me stuff, and finally he sent something I could work with. I went over and sang on this beat and he put a trashy drum loop to it and sent it back to me. I was like, “He actually really knows my sensibility.” So I went back and did more vocals and guitars and that became “Murdered Out,” the first song. 

SEVIGNY: So it was just happenstance. Everybody else in your life seems quite curated.

GORDON: Just more organic. Justin’s really fun to work with, and very sweet. He’s a character. 

SEVIGNY: Don’t you want a bit of that? Even with the directors, we want them to be a little odd. I don’t know if having some sort of artistic gift coincides with that.

GORDON: He works on a lot of different projects, like making beats for Drake with his brother, and it was kind of—


GORDON: Yeah, they did the Lil Yachty record and his brother has one or two things on my record.

SEVIGNY: Are you listening to a lot of Drake these days?


SEVIGNY: [Laughs] Yeah.

GORDON: I maybe listened to it once. People ask me that in these interviews, “What are you listening to?”

SEVIGNY: Me too. They asked me this morning for WNYC, “If you could be in any band at any time, what band would you be in?” I was like, can you give me two weeks to really mull it over? [Laughs] I take a little pride in these kinds of answers. They don’t just come to me.

GORDON: I’m the same way.

SEVIGNY: I should have said Velvet Underground. That’s who I always go to.

GORDON: But your favorite current band is much harder.

SEVIGNY: Your band. Kim Gordon solo.

GORDON: [Laughs] I was at Natasha’s party and this guy—I think he was flirting with me. I don’t know. “What’s your song of the year?” I was like, “My mind doesn’t think in that way.” 

SEVIGNY: When I come over you play LPs.

GORDON: Yeah. I like to utilize my record player.

SEVIGNY: Mine has been out of commission since I had a baby, but we’re renovating our apartment and we’re doing a whole record station.

GORDON: Amazing.

SEVIGNY: I’m very sad about Two Bridges. I have to find a good record store where I can go in and they’d say, “Have you checked this out?” If I go in, I want to buy a bunch of records.

GORDON: Yeah. Occasionally I’ll go into Amoeba or something.

SEVIGNY: Is Amoeba still there? 

GORDON: Yeah, they moved. Having to hang out in record stores for so many years, I’ve kind of lost my taste for it. But people send me records. They’re mostly experimental records.

SEVIGNY: I was approached by these kids in this band, Boy Harsher, who live in Northampton, about a film project. I started listening to them and they’re the most current band I listen to.

GORDON: There’s some good bands up there now. 

SEVIGNY: I went to see Wolf Eyes in Greenfield. 

GORDON: That’s a good place. That’s not a bad place to move to. 

SEVIGNY: I’m not moving. [Laughs]

GORDON: It could be your halfway between P-town and New York.

SEVIGNY: To the end of the earth, aka P-town. I just like the community. I like all the people there, and the ocean. I really like to spend time in the winter there, bearing against the elements. Just feeling nature in full force. I feel like it would make me feel really alive.

GORDON: Collecting seashells.

SEVIGNY: I want to just stand on the beach and howl into the wind.

GORDON: [Laughs]

SEVIGNY: Do a cold plunge with the whales and sharks.

GORDON: It is beautiful. There’s something about East Coast beaches that’s so rustic that we don’t really get around the L.A. area. 

SEVIGNY: That’s a good end point, no?

GORDON: Perfect.