Sonic Youth's Lee Ranaldo has kept himself busy since the band went on a hiatus almost 8 years ago - and he's now experimenting with the Warren Ellis Tenor 2P while working on his 13th solo album.
Sonic Youth fans might've felt upset, when the members of the iconic and highly influential alternative band went their different ways in 2011. But today, in hindsight, this doesn't seem as such a bad deal after all - with key members Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon and Lee Ranaldo constantly performing live with their various, different projects, and all of them making music that still retains the same "musical DNA" of their former band.
Though his first solo effort was released way back in 1987, it was only after the end of Sonic Youth that Lee Ranaldo really concentrated on his solo career - quite naturally, of course. Albums such as 2012's Between the Times and the Tides and 2017's Electric Trim were well-received and had plenty to keep SY fans happy, while still exploring new ground.
Considering Ranaldo's well-known fondness for offset guitars and alternate tunings, it shouldn't come as any major surprise that he's enjoying his new Eastwood Warren Ellis Tenor 2P - his first ever electric tenor guitar.
As you could also have guessed, he's already experimenting with his tenor:
"I’m really enjoying exploring the tenor - I’ve been slowly settling on some string gauges! On the heavy side," he told us, "almost to baritone - all wound strings right now, DADF."
Ranaldo is currently recording at the Echo Canyon West studio in Hoboken, NJ. He's working on his next album project, which is a mix of electronic sounds and live performance, with his collaborator Raul Refree (who took the photos for this article).
Expect to hear some Warrel Ellis Tenor sounds on the new album... and if the little clip he recently posted on Instagram is anything to go by, this new work will totally rock!
We had the opportunity to ask Lee a few more questions about his experience using the tenor.
HOW DOES THE EXPERIENCE OF PLAYING THE WARREN ELLIS TENOR COMPARE TO PLAYING A 6-STRING? DID YOU EVER PLAY A TENOR BEFORE?
Yes I have quite some experience with tenor guitars, but Warren’s model is the first electric tenor I’ve played. I own a 1929 Martin ‘plectrum’ guitar (tenor with long, banjo-style neck - only a couple hundred were made during the period where guitar began taking over from banjo as lead instrument in string ensembles) and also a 50s Martin tenor that is currently being restored. I love playing with a 4-string instrument - it can be a way to focus on the note combinations and harmony, especially with all the tunings that are possible and which I am always using, and often leads to interesting ideas that might turn out differently on a 6 string instrument.
YOU'VE ALWAYS EXPERIMENTED WITH ALTERNATE TUNINGS. WHICH ONES ARE YOU USING WITH THE TENOR - AND DO YOU THINK TENOR GUITARS COULD BE A GOOD STARTING POINT FOR MUSICIANS WHO WANT TO TRY NEW TUNINGS, MAYBE?
I think a tenor is a great way to get into the world of open tunings, mainly as it’s a more limited number of strings to deal with. Right now I’ve got Warren’s guitar in DADF#, tuned quite low (all wound strings), for a new song I’ve been developing that began on my Martin Plectrum guitar. I’ve been trying many different tunings on it already, and the ‘cheat sheet’ that came with the guitar has been really helpful in getting the gauges correct. That’s one thing about the open tunings - the ones that I use, at least - they often require different guage strings than a normal set - so anyone beginning down this road should be aware of that and willing to experiment with changing strings!
DID YOU USE THE TENOR ON YOUR FORTHCOMING ALBUM?
Yes we have used it some and plan to use it more! The new album, tentatively titled ’Names of North End Women’, is a collaboration between myself and my working partner Raul Refree - we are employing a lot of electronics and beats and samples plus live playing - going down some roads that are quite new to both of us. It’s been very exciting so far! Of course the guitar is an important element in any music I am working on. We’ve been using a lot of different electric and acoustic instruments, including the Eastwood Warren Ellis tenor. After hearing Warren play it live with Nick Cave recently, we hit on the idea that it could be a good fit for the music we are currently creating. It sounds great in the studio and we are both digging it!
All Lee Ranaldo studio pics by Raul Refree