Interviews

Do You Want to Be Dead or a Monster?: An Interview With Jen Goma

Photo courtesy of Luxie Productions

While known for work in A Sunny Day in Glasgow, Jen "Showtime" Goma surprised even herself by going solo and embracing all the craziness that comes with it.


Showtime Goma

Smiley Face

Label: self-released
Release Date: 2017-06-16
Amazon
iTunes

When Jen Goma, alias Showtime Goma, describes her transition from being one of many members of the band A Sunny Day in Glasgow to writing and producing her own record, she characterizes herself as initially a "reluctant solo artist."

As she tells it, the development of her debut album, Smiley Face, happened not as a conscious decision to strike out on her own, but more of Goma continuing to write her own material until she felt compelled to share it. Looking back on the making of Smiley Face, Goma remarks, "I was writing about making something, about willing something into existence. [...] Everything in my life that I do -- it makes sense that I would make a record." Citing the philosophy of history, Goma characterizes her solo career as "the most recent lie," and "just [my] most recent version of the story. Even seeing myself as a solo artist is a really new idea to me."

Despite the solo artist name on the record, though, Goma is quick to highlight her love of collaboration, citing interactions with friends and fellow musicians as incredibly vital parts of her creative process, from the grunt work of emailing and scheduling to the conceptualizing, writing, and performing of her music. As she puts it colloquially: "I like that other people can fuck your ideas up." This is a wide swath, covering everything from the enjoyable cacophony of that can arise while performing live with her backup musicians, to taking inspiration from people in her life mishearing her demo lyrics.

To sum up her overall view of the necessity of collaboration in her life, Goma says, "I'm a humanist. I give a lot of importance to human interaction and creation, so it's just something that is inspiring to me, and helps get me up in the morning." And, of course, now that Smiley Face has been released to the public, the record is no longer hers alone, if it ever was: born of collaboration and interaction, it will take on whole new life and meaning in the hands of her audience.

Smiley Face's dreamy, pensive-yet-exuberant aesthetic gives the impression that the record was born, perfectly and completely formed, like Venus floating towards land in a clamshell. While Goma didn't sit down to write a purposefully narrative concept album, upon hearing Smiley Face there's a discernible lyrical theme that unites all 12 tracks: that of voyages, traveling, exploring, and finding one's way back home. Goma remarks on this process: "I didn't realize these themes were recurring: these ideas of home and leaving it [...] I was really writing from within the process of the growth and the making of the record [...] I keep saying the record is like a postcard from the process."

Looking back on the songwriting process, she grounds the record's sense of wanderlust in a more personal and metaphorical way that goes beyond literal traveling, adding, "I think the songs are thematically related because they all come from different perspectives of thinking [...] about inhabiting this time in your life when you're trying to make something and trying to be creative." For Goma, the journey reflected in Smiley Face's lyrics is that of the artist and storyteller who is eager, passionate, and full of ideas -- but who is afraid, above all else, of standing still.


The track on Smiley Face that reveals the most about Goma's multifaceted philosophy of artistry and creation is "Secret NRG", the record's closer; that urge for creation and the desire to create something profound is also reflected in the music video for the song, which Goma also directed. In the video, Goma inhabits the roles of multiple characters, all differentiated by their clothing and accessories, who slowly but surely go from standing still to expressing wild kinetic energy. The song and video combine to deliver Goma's message, which is both self-directed and meant to encourage her audience's own creative energies and break free of stifling monotony and stasis.

Please don't ad block PopMatters.

We are wholly independent, with no corporate backers.

Simply whitelisting PopMatters is a show of support.

Thank you.

Of "Secret NRG," Goma remarks, "I wanted to show how we all can move [...] In some ways, it's really intoxicating to be in your routine because you get sort of numbed out. But then if you do the same thing over and over again, it almost looks like you're standing still. ["Secret NRG"] is about realizing the potential in yourself, and in all of us, to exact our own futures and do whatever we want."

The theme of transformation presents itself in a more obviously physical sense in Goma's videos for "Secret NRG" and "Propel", both of which involve Goma donning diverse and often-garish costumes, as if trying on these different clothes will allow her to experiment with different identities and ways of being. But does Goma indulge in transformation because of her role as a performer, or is Goma a performer because she loves to transform? Goma responds that it's a classic chicken-or-egg scenario, but clarifies: "I'm probably attracted to performing and performance because I like telling stories, and usually the most interesting story is a story of transformation."

Indeed, her stage moniker "Showtime" is itself a reminder for Goma of the importance of transformation on a regular basis: when she's onstage, she's in "Showtime" mode, and has to be in a place where she can put other concerns and worries aside and be completely present for her audience.

But Goma also digs a bit deeper into the parallel consequences of too much stasis and too much change: "Philosophically, if you're not growing and changing, then you're dying," yet living completely in the moment all of the time represents a loss of control, veering too much into what she calls "grotesque." "The ends of the spectrum are either being dead or being a monster, and then there's everything in between. I like that no one is ever completely secure in where they are on that spectrum. I think it's constant work and effort to be where you want to be in that spectrum. You have to contend with those ideas every day, and when you think about transforming, [...] you can inhabit that and then think, ‘am I afraid of this, or is this something I can see myself doing?'"

Succinctly: "Do you want to be dead, or do you want to be a monster?"

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less
10

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image