[12 August 2013]
PopMatters Music Editor
You probably know Adam Goldberg from the movies: From his work in Dazed and Confused and Saving Private Ryan, he’s an actor who’s identifiable even to those who might not be able to instantly place the name to the face—he’s “fame-ish”, as he puts it. His work as a musician, however, isn’t quite as recognizable, in part because the monikers he’s gone by have engaged in a bit of misdirection, starting out at the typographically challenged LANDy and now going as the semi-pseudonymous the Goldberg Sisters. But another, bigger reason might be the expectations others have of what they think he should sound like, whether it’s hard to imagine his voice hitting as many high notes as it does or the general assumption that he’s just another actor trying to moonlight as a rock star.
Stranger’s Morning, his third album and second under the Goldberg Sisters name, dispels such unfounded suspicions: It’s a carefully crafted, fully fleshed-out work that finds a place for introspective immediacy within the sneakily rich compositions—his music has been tagged as “Lennon-esque” and compared to Mercury Rev, while Stranger’s Morning gives glimpses of later-era Elliott Smith. PopMatters touched base with Goldberg to find out about how Stranger’s Morning was made and whether acting and making music are similar creative processes for him—or not. PopMatters is pleased to share Stranger’s Morning, out on Tuesday, 20 August via ApologyMusic.
PopMatters: Since you work under the name the Goldberg Sisters, have folks told you they were expecting to hear a girl group instead of a recognizable actor playing singer-songwriter-ish guitar rock? Why did you decide on going as the Goldberg Sisters, after starting out as LANDy?
Adam Goldberg: Ha, well…ironically, as much as the name change was largely due to confusion in the marketplace over LANDy (Google “Landy” and you will find everything from Land Rovers, to fun parks, to rappers), the current moniker has created its own brand of confusion. For instance, often times my “The Goldberg Sisters” Google alert will elicit announcements about the current production of Sister Act and Whoopi Goldberg. I’m sure the fact that the press release is written by a twin bearded sister named Celeste doesn’t help much in the way of clarification.
PopMatters: What stands out about Stranger’s Morning is how substantial an album it is, both in terms of how fleshed out it sounds and simply how many songs it has to offer. According to the press release, the songs were based on experiments on your Tumblr page, then recorded at your home. What was the process like in building the songs this way?
Adam Goldberg: Well, first, thank you.
I can’t help but feel one of the criticisms will be that it is too long. But I cut a song off the last record, per that record label’s suggestion, and have regretted it since (though it’s on iTunes). These days, for better or worse, given how much music is listened to in fragments, in any order, on digital radio, a song at a time, etc., it seems sort of silly to not just put out what you feel like putting out. This record is a totally independent production and release, so why not sort of clear the drives? That’s a bit how I think about it: I have these hundreds of songs or parts of songs and if I don’t get them off my drives, literally and psychologically, I start to feel a bit nutty. So, would I make some cuts? Would I, in fact, in some instances, write totally different songs or choose more recent ones that reflect a different sound and style? Yeah, probably. But these ones needed to go. The initial title of the first LANDy record was Everything Must Go, until I learned that was a Steely Dan album. Anyway, there’s a bit of story to this record, a journalistic element that would only ever be relevant if I put these out now.
Wow, nice tangent, right? Jesus. I totally haven’t answered your question. I started a Tumblr blog about three years ago. The dogma was basically that I had to upload an analog photograph (I’m a photographer who shoot lots of instant film) or a recording of some kind—could be a 15-second loop, a verse of a song—everyday for a year. And after that year, I just started dumping nearly all my photographs and hundreds more recordings into this virtual scrapbook. I was calling the album of these Tumblr demos in my iTunes playlist “Low Fine”. In many ways I’m more fond of these lo-fi iterations. It’s always a balance—to try and incorporate the mood and impetus of the original idea or recording, into the hi-fi iteration. I left a dog bark on “Slapback” from the demo of that song. So, there’s that.
Anyway, yeah, so if you comb through my blog, you will find versions of each of these songs in their original or partial form. The album kind of chronicles these three phases. One from the early days of the blog—i.e., “It Can Get You Down”. Then this New York period, let’s call it my mauve period—I don’t know why, but let’s do it—when I was working on a TV show there, songs like “York” and “Slapback”. Then a the third period, which we’ll call “I made a huge fucking mistake and lost the best thing that ever happened to me and the only way I can express myself to her is to write nine songs in two weeks and upload them to my blog and hope she hears them” period. “Stranger’s Morning” was the last song written during this period and for the album (aside from the hidden track—ooops, shhhh!) and within hours of uploading the demo of that song, the “her” in question and I were reunited. She’s also on the album cover. For that matter, she’s on the cover of the last one too. And she designed both. I’m rambling.
PopMatters: You’re known for collaborating with the Flaming Lips in the past and Stranger’s Morning certainly has an echoing, trippy feel to it here and there. But there’s also a more intimate element to your songwriting perspective—you’ve been described as Lennon-esque and there are glimpses of Elliott Smith here too. How did you find a balance between a bigger sound and a more up-close approach on Stranger’s Morning?
Adam Goldberg: I decided to finally confront the Lennon thing and I did it in song. What better way? I wrote and demoed “Slapback” on his birthday, in New York. Yeah, I worked with Steven Drozd on a few songs for the LANDy record and we collaborated heavily on the soundtrack for my movie, I Love Your Work. (Wayne [Coyne] is a backup singer in the outro on the last LANDy track.) Steven and I share a really similar sensibility and taste, I think, but there’s no doubt that his aesthetic and work ethic rubbed off on me. I wish his genius would a little bit.
But anyway, yeah, I basically think of myself as a singer-songwriter who likes to create a space—sometimes outer—where the songs live. Sometimes there’s a very organic way this happens: For instance, if I create a song on a loop pedal, it is often more of a product of the mood or environment my effects board creates. Other times, mine are merely acoustic songs for which I feel compelled to create an environment, based on the subject matter, etc. I love string arrangements, though in this case, it’s me playing keyboards because of the sort of lame dogma I imposed on myself to play everything; meanwhile my girlfriend and her best friend are great violinists and are upstairs while I’m recording. I love lots of bg vox. I’m sure I just like that aesthetic—I’m a huge Bacharach fan. And there’s a circus in my head, why not share with it with the kids? But I also like the idea of the personal being epic. The less pretentious version of this answer: I like songs and I like effects.
PopMatters: As someone who’s well known as an actor, what kinds of reactions do listeners have when they realize you’re the person behind your music? Do they tend to think you sound the way they imagine you would or have you found people surprised more often than not?
Adam Goldberg: Well, I think I’m fame-ish. And often confused for other people who are more or less fame-ish. But I’ve definitely gotten the full scope of reactions. I think by and large it’s fairly positive or pleasantly surprised. I suppose in some ways I get off easy, because people expect the worst. Which is still funny to me, since in the old days, performers were performers and had to dance, sing, act, etc. But of course, that’s not entirely the same thing as being a “singer/songwriter”.
I guess I was hoping by the second record, and certainly by this one, that whatever cognitive dissonance people had about trying to reconcile these two worlds of mine would have dissipated. I remember one radio guy passed on my first album because of “cognitive dissonance”. Ha. Fucking “friends”, man, it’ll haunt you for life. But it’s not really fair to expect people to be familiar with my music as its own entity by this point—even if I know I’ve been playing and recording for a long time. These are small, independent records and each time I have to sort of introduce myself as musician. And I understand that. And I can relate to the prejudice actually. There are times when I have a hard time getting past an actor’s persona to the other art they are creating.
PopMatters: Practically speaking, how do you find the time to make something as complex as Stranger’s Morning—on which you played all the instruments—while taking on acting projects? What’s the relationship between acting and making music for you? Do they tap into the same kind of creative process for you or is music an outlet away from acting and directing?
Adam Goldberg: Really, the thing I had been doing most of last year was finishing writing a script I had been intermittently working on for years that I plan to direct in a couple months. The screenwriting is the thing I have a difficult time balancing with an acting career. But I’m always always writing and demo-ing music. I have the opposite of musical writer’s block, while often a fairly paralyzing case of screenwriter’s block. But basically last year was about writing and the album. The acting comes when it comes. I don’t really have much control over that part of my career. It sort of is what it is. But I did get offered something in the fall and went and shot that and, as soon as I was finished, with two months left to go in the year (when basically I almost never work anyway), I said, now I make the album. I set aside November to prep and December/January to record. Then we mixed and mastered the next couple months—squeezing in some non-invasive acting work concurrently.
To me acting and music making are wholly unrelated (thereby debunking my whole “a performer is a performer” argument). To be blunt, acting at this point in my life, is a career. Honestly, even before I started acting, in high school, I decided it would never be enough. Filmmaking was always the number one priority. Frankly, acting was a more accessible way to be close to what I loved and to make a living. I kind of thought of it as a way into filmmaking through the front door. I got lucky in that regard, that early on I found myself getting hired. In some ways, this set me off track, however. Although I made my first film, Scotch and Milk, when I was 24, it was a super small art film and hardly a calling card, in spite of some really flattering write-ups.
Sometimes acting is fulfilling, sometimes not. Sometimes I’m employed. Sometimes I’m not. Music is a form of personal expression that I always have access to. Same with filmmaking, though less so, because it’s a much much more difficult prospect to get it up to write a movie, finance it, make it, sell it, etc., than I find it is to make a record. But filmmaking and record-making both tap into the same creative cells. I think of filmmaking as a kind of complete art form, because it encompasses all the things I love and love to do: make pictures, make sound, make music, express a point of view, and yes, also act.
PopMatters: With Stranger’s Morning about to be released, what do you have lined up on the music front in the near future?
Adam Goldberg: Well, I play a sort of washed up indie rocker with a bad neck—this is a stretch—in my movie No Way Jose that I’m making this fall. Once promising, the band I front now plays children’s birthday parties. And so I’ll be writing and recording a couple songs the band actually plays in the movie. And I may compose music for the movie. I’m not sure about that yet, but likely I will, simply because it’s easier to edit that way. I’m really excited to go into the studio with a band to record the live stuff after months of semi-solitary confinement in my garage with Andrew Lynch, my absolutely brilliant engineer and mixer, without whom there would be only demos. I’m sure there were a few times when Andrew thought I might go Jack Torrance on his ass.