Interview: Gozer Goodspeed

gozer goodspeed

Photo by thelazyphotographer

With three EPs to his name in as many years, Plymouth based blues-man Gozer Goodspeed appears to be on a roll. His latest release Impossible To Pick Up introduces a range of new elements and influences that push the boundaries of what can be called an acoustic release. Rest assured though that his latest EP is still a must for fans of all things old-school folk and blues. I had a chat with him about his latest release, and about what the future holds: 

Thanks for your time! You’ve just released your new EP Impossible To Pick Up. What is it that connects these songs and made you feel like they belonged together?
There was just something about them that seemed to sit together nicely. There are, I suppose, recurring themes across this EP – a preoccupation with other ways of living, other means of seeing the world, other ways of experiencing or viewing reality. Oh look, I’ve dipped into pretentious-sounding territory already, and it’s only the first bloody question! Suffice to say, I liked them all equally, and they all seemed sufficiently layered to make it onto the EP. There was another song that I started to record – a more or less straight blues tune that’s a regular part of my live set – but I realised early on that it wasn’t holding its own with the others. It’s a live song, a blues romper, and it just couldn’t go toe-to-toe with the other four.

The songs seem to carry a darker tone than your last release. Was that intended or did it happen naturally while writing these songs?
Ha! It wasn’t conscious. I definitely didn’t set out to ‘go darker’, it just happened organically. Having said that, I suppose the songs were informed, as they must be, by various events in my life. There was a death in my family that hit me hard and directly led to the song ‘Impossible to Pick Up’ – that’s a snapshot of where my head was at in the aftermath of that event. Hopefully, the song is written in a way that doesn’t immediately scream ‘grief-stricken death song’, because I’m making it sound morbid or downbeat, which I really hope is not how it comes across! On the other hand, that was the last song I wrote and recorded, so I guess the other three songs had already set the tone to an extent. I think I just had weightier stuff on my mind this time around.

There’s a great mix of lyrical approaches, looking at both big ideas and personal storytelling. When you write lyrics do you have a process that you stick to or does it vary from song to song?
I’m relentless when it comes to honing my own songs. I generally work on songs for weeks or even months to get them right. And I’m someone who pays great attention to lyrics – I’m that music fan who obsessively read all the liner notes and the lyrics in the days when almost every CD and piece of vinyl came with a lavish booklet or foldout sleeve included. I’m drawn to songs that have layers, and multiple meanings, and perhaps multiple interpretations. Those are the songs that I aspire to write; the ones that stick with you, and keep giving the more you listen to them. But you have to be careful – I wrote a lot of songs, back when I was starting out, that were simply too opaque and difficult for people to relate to. You need to give people a way in, something more than a musical hook – you have to fire the imagination, give them something to feel, to understand, to empathise with. It’s a difficult balancing act, and I can’t say I’ve got it all figured out yet!  In terms of how the process actually works – I generally start with a melody I’ve found that I like, and I’ll record it, or play it over and over. Then the lyrics start to come. I figure out the pattern of the sounds, then the actual words follow from that. Sometimes it all comes into sharp focus quickly; other times, it can take me ages to nail a chorus, or to refine a verse until it says what I want it to say. Sometimes it takes me an age just to realise what the song is actually about. I love the process, but it can be infuriating when you can sort of feel the shape of what the song should be but haven’t gotten it sussed yet. On the flip side, it’s intoxicating when you get it right. The first time you play it live and you see people getting caught up in it, and you know it works – that’s a great feeling.

Who would you say are your biggest influences?
That’s a really, really difficult question to answer, because I have been a music obsessive all my life, and I have spent years and years digesting all kinds of stuff across all kinds of genres. I can name you some of the bands and artists I have been utterly absorbed by across various parts of my life – Nirvana, Metallica, U2, John Lee Hooker, Hendrix, Lenny Kravitz, Black Crowes, The Doors, Rolling Stones, Bowie,  Quantic, Bonobo, Lou Reed, Beck, Ray LaMontagne… I’d better stop now, because this list could go on a long way, and it’ll only get more obscure from here!

The new EP has a more expansive sound than your previous releases, featuring some great hints of mandolin, organ and the like. What prompted the decision to add more instruments into the mix?
Opportunity, really. The time was right and the circumstances were favourable. I was able to get Davey Dodds (former front man of prog-rock band Red Jasper) in on mandolin because he’s a good friend, and we’ve done quite a few shows together. Meanwhile Josiah (Manning, my producer) is a stunningly talented multi-instrumentalist, and he has a vast collection of bits and pieces of gear at Momentum Studios. I look around, and I want to use it all. Most of it I can’t play! But Jos can. I play music, and in my head I hear what else could be there. I’m an acoustic player when I play live – well, acoustic with a few extra tricks – but when I’m in the studio I don’t feel limited at all. I go with what I can hear and can feel the song needs. What’s great is you can turn to Jos and say, in the middle of reviewing a tune, ‘I feel like this needs a Bollywood-style dance number freakout section in the middle eight’ and his eyes will light up, he’ll nod, and he’ll say ‘Okay, I think I’ve got an idea’ and the next thing you know, it’s in there and you’ve got a big beaming grin on your face. But just to clarify, that’s an illustrative example only – there are (sadly) no Bollywood-style dance freakouts on Impossible to Pick Up. But there is lots of other cool stuff…

Although it plays around with new sounds, it’s still firmly rooted in acoustic folk and blues. Do you think that will always be the case or can you see yourself pulling a Dylan and going electric sometime in the future?
Good question. The folk stylings and the blues just come out when I write, I suppose. I’ve been in funk bands and indie bands and rock outfits though, so who knows. I write the songs and then, honestly, I worry about the genre labels afterwards. Let’s just say, going forward, nothing is off the table.

You’ve got some great musicians on board for Impossible To Pick Up, but if you could collaborate with anyone on your next release who would it be?
Dead: Hendrix. Alive: bloody hell that’s difficult. There are so many. I really love the work of Will Holland, AKA Quantic. He’s a fantastic multi-instrumentalist and producer, and I’d love to work with him. Related to that is one of his regular collaborators, Alice Russell, who’ve I’ve seen live and has one of the best voices in the UK. She is hugely underrated in my opinion and I’d love to work with her too. Otherwise, I’d have to say Chris Robinson from the Black Crowes would be really high up on the list, and Ray LaMontagne too, and of course Beck! All people whose work I love and respect. Also Goldfrapp – I’d love to work with Alison and her band. Honestly though, I could go on and on and on. The world is filled to the brim with artists I’d love to collaborate with.

Now that you’ve got a few EPs under your belt, can we expect a full album from you in the near future?
I’ve been asked this quite a bit lately! I’d like to get a full album out eventually but it’s about logistics and economics. The EP model is hugely attractive and realistic from an economic point of view, and from the point of view of the amount of time it takes to produce. At the moment I’m putting out at least one EP a year, and that rhythm suits me. For the foreseeable future, unless someone wades in with an offer to finance it for me, that’s probably what I’ll stick with. The great thing with releasing EPs is it enables me to keep things fresh, and to keep things coming out regularly. But who knows? I’ll keep you posted!

Gozer Goodspeed’s new EP Impossible To Pick Up is out now!

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