“My brother is known, if at all, largely to the Western world—and Turkey, inexplicably—as that guy from Dazed and Confused, Friends, Entourage, Saving Private Ryan, The Hebrew Hammer, 2 Days in Paris, etc. Oh also he as been anointed “King of Vine” recently. So he is the king of a phone app. Well, good for him I suppose. Some may also know, but I doubt it, that he is also the writer/director of two films—Scotch and Milk (1996) and I Love Your Work (2003) and the author of a third he will direct later this year.”
Goldberg’s music…er, the sisters’ music, provides a whole new creative outlet for Goldberg though, building off of an earlier era of song-writing but creating something anew that’s rife with personal, reflective lyrics, compelling vocal melodies, and rootsy, psychedelic-tinged guitar lines that drive the songs and give them a classic, timeless feel. Though Goldberg has collaborated with a number of musicians on past work—most notably, the Flaming Lips‘ Steven Drozd—he chose to go it alone with the new album, Stranger’s Morning, playing every instrument on the album and recording it in his garage with the help of Andrew Lynch. And Celeste.
Read on to get Goldberg’s thoughts on writing as a solo musician, what inspires him musically, and how to grow a great beard. Scroll down to listen to our featured song, “It Can Get you Down” and check out the two videos mentioned in the interview.
Kindness of Ravens: Alright, I’d attempt to avoid this question for your sake as I know it’s been asked of you ad nauseam, but, being a branding/marketing studio, we kinda have to ask—what’s with the confounding name, The Goldberg Sisters?
Adam Goldberg: My name is Goldberg. Sister bands are huge. It’s the most brilliant marketing move of our time.
I mean, that’s pretty fair. But what’s with the whole dual personality thing with ‘your sister’ ‘Celeste’…is your family worried? Do they have reason to be?
Dual personality? I dont’ follow. I wouldn’t upset her if I were you.
Hm. Okay. Well, let’s talk about the new album then. It’s your third, yes?
Yes. The first, under the LANDy moniker, was a cross between songs I had been recording in a variety of environments, from home “studios” to studio studios. Some of the songs were more or less just mixed by Aaron Espinoza, while we overdubbed others, and some, like the song “BFF!” we made from scratch.
I’ve read that you played all of the instruments on the album yourself. Um, control freak much?
Hmmm, I’m already pretty well taken care of in the self-doubt and abject insecurity department and Celeste already asked me that same loaded question when she interviewed me for my blog. To quote her: “Oh myyyyy. Someone’s kind of a control freak huh?” So, if I wanted abuse I’d just go upstairs. But yes I like to control the sound of things, but moreover the scheduling and cost. It was a far easier proposition to schedule myself and save the money, as I am a completely independent “label.” Also I don’t get to play very often as I don’t play live so this is my opportunity.
Furthermore, these songs were born very intimately by myself and demoed by myself, and uploaded to my Tumblr blog. It seemed fitting to re-realize them in a similar context. I missed having real strings and horns (Andrew Lynch, my engineer is a brilliant musician and horn player, and Roxanne, my partner, has played violin on all my records), but once it became a sort of dogma, I felt compelled to see it through.
No, I kid with regards to the control freakiness. And I totally get the idea of it just being easier to be able to, say, play a guitar line when you personally are inspired as a song-writer to play said guitar line. But I also feel like songs evolve differently and sometimes more deeply when you’re building from and incorporating someone else’s creative force. Do you agree or not so much?
I’m not sure what to say here. Yes, sometimes I’m sure that’s the case, other times it’s very frustrating to have a vision or a sound and have to illustrate that when you can simply just do it yourself. I would never drum or play bass again on a whole album, as I did on this one. Maybe that will mollify your objections. Anyway, I’m not the first. Elliot Smith, Sparklhorse (Mark Linkous), Dave Pajo…I’m not comparing myself to their brilliance but it’s not an unheard of way to create a record. I spent many years relying very heavily on the instrumentations of others and it made me a very lazy musician.
No objections—just wondering your take on the creative process alone vs. with others. And I was a huge fan of both Smith + Linkous. What’s more, the new album turned out great the way you did it. I’ve seen comparisons made to the work of someone named John Lennon. I looked him up and, yeah, I could see that. Regardless, I think it’s fair to say the sound would most commonly be associated with popular music from earlier eras—the 60s + 70s, let’s say—when rootsy, folksy, melody-driven rock was the only game in town. There’s no denying that the music of the Beatles, and the Stones, and CCR, and so many amazing bands form back then was phenomenal, but I often get hung up on contemporary musicians essentially doing something sonically that’s been done before. I’m not saying that’s what’s going on here, but does that idea ever bother you? Or are you more like ‘Fuck it—it’s good music and it’s what I want to write’?
It’s a style of music I write. Also, it’s funny, since I was sure the big complaint would be it’s over eclecticism or lack of cohesion. But yeah I’m definitely in love with The Kinks, Beatles, Zombies…but also America (more ’70s bands really than ’60s)…but also well, I like a lot of music. Anyway, I plan to make an album of music that is more inspired by the sorts of soundscapy things I do with loop pedals, which is often how these songs are born before they get the Bacharach treatment (that’s really how I think of it). Also I would like to have a band that is much more stripped down, an actual band band. That said, I don’t like to play live, so that’s not probably in the cards.
Who are some more musicians, contemporary and older, that you’ve looked to for inspiration? Or even just like a lot, you know, if it’s less of an ‘inspired by’ kinda thing?
Bridget St. John, Neil Young, Tom Rapp, Paul McCartney (“Ram” mainly), America, Gary Higgins, Sonic Youth, Television, Nina Simone, Chalres Mingus, John Coltrane, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Velvet Underground, Karen Dalton, The Rutles, Angelo Badlementi, Dionne Warwick, Burt Bacharach, Lou Reed, Erik Satie, David Lang, Bill Evans, Zombies, Loscil, Brian Eno, David Bowie, The Who, Blonde Redhead, Elvis Costello, Built To Spill, Sebadoh, Debussy, Colleen, Sebadoh, Built to Spill, Dinosaur Jr, Al Stewart, The Clash, Wire, Minutemen, American Music Club, Claudine Longet, Harry Nillson, John Lenin, Billie Holiday, Leonard Cohen, Big Star, Nick Drake, Kronos Quartet, and others.
…so, not a huge music fan then? Okay, so, I’ll be honest—when I read that you made the video for the album’s title track, “Strangers Morning”, using Vine videos, I was like “This is gonna be duuuuuuuuuumb.” But it’s seriously moving, in a not dumb way. Really, it’s beautiful; very cinematic. It seems like there’s a definite narrative there and story running through it not just, you know, six second clips of your cat rocking out to Justin Beiber. How did you go about making that?
Thank you. I think. It was just sort of fitting, that I had spent the early part of the year making these clips that seemed to jibe with the sensibility of that song I also made around the same time. I cut a bunch together as an experiment, sent it to my distributor and publicist and they were encouraging so I spent some more time with it. Also, frankly, I’m in pre-production of a movie I’ve written that I will be directing next month, so without as much time as I might normally commit to music videos, I felt repurposing was perhaps a worthwhile avenue.
No, it’s really cool. And the other one you made was from photo stills, right?
Yeah, that I made in a few hours but I like it about as much as any I’ve made. Except frankly one of analog/instant stills (and 16mm) I made for Agnes Obel. I’m very proud of it even though she shitcanned it. Inexplicably (to everyone including her label). But it was a wonderful experience. For a while.
Ah, that’s too bad. Back to your two videos though—that’s the same woman, Roxanne, in both of them, right?
And on the cover of the last two records. And the designer of the album covers. And sitting next to me now.
Got it. So, honestly, you do a lot of stuff, man—music, acting, directing, photography, Vining, I assume some other things like weaving and/or practical microbiology in a hospital lab setting—do you ever feel like you’re spreading yourself thin? Like, what if you just focused on the microbiology? Maybe you could make big strides.
I often wish I was only interested in doing one thing and doing it well. Thanks for the shiv-twist.
I’m just a huge fan of your scientific work. While we’re on the subject of side jobs though, chances for Saving Private Ryan II? I didn’t watch it all the way to the end, but I really liked your character. I could see some really promising, post-war spin-offs. Maybe involving a wacky German roommate?
…no? Nothing? Alright. So, we often like to pull a particularly compelling line from a musician’s songs and ask about it in an effort to really get inside of the headspace they were in when writing it. So, tell us, where were you, creatively, when you wrote the album’s opening line—”Would you know a good thing if it crawled up your ass?”
The song is a self-indictment.
Hm. You seem a tad hard on yourself. So really no plans to maybe play a show or two of new material?
I’m afraid I’m just really uncomfortable playing live. I rarely do it and, because I don’t have a band, it’s always a frantic process. I really like the recording environment and I love playing with other people at very low stakes, but trying to reproduce my music live has always been difficult and scary for me.
You can find them on my site.
Finally, you really have a fabulous beard. I’ve personally never had much look with beards—they come in spotty and I end up looking like I have facial mange or I fell face-first into some particularly sticky moss—but I think a proper beard would look great on me. Any tips?
I couldn’t grow facial hair until I was in my 20s. So my tip I guess is to be a very late bloomer.
Hm. I think I may have missed the beard-growing window then. Nonetheless, I thank you for your time, graciousness, and beard.
We thank you for your interest.
Listen to this week’s featured song, Goldberg’s excellent “It Can Get You Down”, below and then check out the videos for the album’s title track + “Wandering I”; the first of which is made up of a series of Vine videos created by Goldberg; the second of which he made using 2100 still photos.
You can listen to a full stream of The Goldberg Sisters’ new album, Stranger’s Morning, on rdio if you have (or create) an account or over on Pop Matters. Purchase + download the album via rdio or iTunes or you can pre-order an autographed CD via the Sisters’ site. Photos courtesy of Adam Goldberg.