THE FIGHTIN’ GOLDBERG!
TR: First off, congratulations on completing your first full album as well as the the whole recording process. Can you tell me a little bit about the experience? How was it different from when you put together you EP How I Remember Them?
SG: Thanks. Recording the new album was very different. When I made the EP in 2005, that was my first time working in a recording studio setting. It was a home studio, but the owner/engineer had nice mics, although I knew little about recording then so I left most of the decisions up to him. Those songs weren’t really fleshed out before we went in to record them; the drummer had just learned everything. They were all pretty simple rock band arrangements, though. There weren’t that many musicians playing on it.
The biggest differences with recording the new album were the scale of everything — we were limited to 32 tracks and used that many on most of the songs, and there were 20-some different instruments in various places — and the fact that I had almost everything written out and planned beforehand. The latter was a necessity due to the scope of the project, but it’s so much nicer to record when you can write a part on paper, hand it to a player, and then have at it. That way you spend a lot less time listening to the track over and over for mistakes and trying to communicate about them. You just follow along on the paper and say “Yeah, the third beat of bar 23,” and everyone is in the same place.
TR: I imagined you learned alot… looking back, is there anything you will do differently next time?
SG: I did almost everything myself, so I learned a lot about recording and mixing. I wish I’d known as much at the beginning of the project as I did at the end. By the time I was mixing it I’d (luckily) figured a lot of things out that I hadn’t known during tracking. Unfortunately there’s only so much you can do during mixing to correct for errors made during tracking – the best thing to do is to get it right at the beginning. So I think I’ll get a little closer to the mark next time I record.
And hearing the arrangements take shape was very instructive. I had to imagine what all the instrumentation would sound like when I was notating all the parts. And arranging for a recording is different from arranging for live performance. So I gained a bit of insight into that.
TR: Speaking of next time, when do you hope to start working on the next album? Will we get to see an album every year or every 2 years?
SG: Well, I sometimes felt frustrated during recording because I wanted to start working on some new material, but when I was spending every night in the studio with the album songs I found it very difficult to get my head out of those patterns and into something new. So I don’t have much started in the way of a next album, but I do have a little. I have no idea what direction I’ll go with it in terms of sound, though. I don’t know if or when I’m next going to have the means to make anything like what I made this time. When I was pulling my hair out trying to mix this stuff, I’d joke that on the next album every song would be just acoustic guitar and vocals with no more than four tracks. That sounds pleasant. I don’t know if I could do that, though. But I think I should have another one finished in less than two years. I’ll feel kind of ashamed if I don’t. Everything from writing all the way to mastering for this one took less than two years, and I’d like to think that I’m better at all of it now.
TR: Okay back to the recording process, any major issues come up? If so, how did you handle them?
SG: When we first started recording we were sort of feeling around in the dark. There was another student, Will Haines, who was the engineer while I played producer. But we were both learning together as we went along. But besides things that we could’ve done a little better in terms of engineering or mixing practices, things went pretty smoothly overall. It’s sort of surprising to me that we were able to keep on schedule and get all of this done in two semesters while everyone was a full-time student and we had to share the studio space with lots of other projects. There were lots of scheduling hassles, between getting the studio and getting whoever needed to record to come in at the right time. But we didn’t have any big disasters. My hard drive didn’t get wiped in the middle or anything, although I had some nightmares about that.
TR: On to the album itself… You did a great job, the songs are diverse, yet cohesive. It’s well-executed, fun pop. What was the overall experience you were hoping to give the listener?
SG: Well, I think that the idea of variety was important to me in terms of the album’s overall aesthetic. Some albums have a kind of stylistic or thematic cohesion that really works, like Pet Sounds or In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, and I think that’s how we often think about the “great album” these days. But I think a lot of albums end up getting made where people feel like they’ve found their niche but they sound like they’re writing the same song over and over, and that really turns me off. And maybe it’s because I haven’t been ready or willing to commit to a niche or a certain voice. I have a lot of conflicting impulses about whether I want to be poppy or artsy, streamlined or layered, serious or goofy. So I tried to scratch all of those itches with different songs. I’ve always loved The Beatles’ Revolver for the way it does that. It puts “Yellow Submarine” together with “Tomorrow Never Knows”, “Eleanor Rigby” with “Here There and Everywhere”. I think it shows that you can make a great album without having an overarching unified tone or personality. So from one song to the next, I wanted there to always be the feeling of covering new territory and hearing new sounds.
TR: What are some of your personal favorite songs, songs that you are most proud of?
SG: I feel good for having pulled off “The Spy”. I wanted the whole two-part thing to be really grand and for the music to have a certain dramatic sweep that evoked the narrative, and at the beginning (and in the middle) I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make it work, recording-wise. If I’d had someone I could count on for all of the technical stuff, either to just make it happen or even to give me a little guidance, I probably wouldn’t have been so stressed during the whole process. But it was mostly on me. I spent awhile on the sound effects and the transition between the two parts, trying out different sounds and whatnot, and quite a bit more time balancing all of the parts against each other. There are several places where we recorded parts that you don’t hear. Some of them I had to cut to make room for other things, and some of them ended up staying but getting mixed quite low. It can be hard to make those decisions, to cut a part that you spent time writing and recording. I think that’s one of the dangers of doing everything yourself. But I tried hard to stay objective and I’m quite happy with how it came together.
TR: The Spy Part I & II was indeed pretty, oh how I dread this word, “epic”. The narrative, the excellent harmonies, the great climatic ending… it truly made for a great centerpiece to the album. The pause and burst of “so come home” at around the 5 min mark on part II stills gives me slight goosebumps. So, why a spy song?
SG: I’ve been interested for some time in song narratives that have a kind of exaggerated romantic drama to them. You can see it in “The Battle of Agincourt”, which appeared on my first EP, and is the oldest song on the new album. That song was largely inspired by Don Quixote, who’s the quintessential embodiment of that point of view, where everything he sees gets heightened and exaggerated and romanticized. There’s something about that kind of storytelling that I think fits very well with the sort of songs I like to write.
When I first started working on what became “Part 1”, I had set some clear songwriting objectives for myself. I had been listening to a lot of Lucksmiths, and I think I’d recently written “The Road” and “Artichokes”, which are very bouncy and naive in a way. All of my songs up until that point were written in major keys. So I wanted to write something darker to counterbalance that stuff, but I didn’t want it to be too personal or introspective, because I was trying to get away from that sort of navel-gazing thing, too. I think I’d recently heard the song “Bagman’s Gambit” by The Decemberists and thought that the Cold War espionage setting was really great and perfect for the kind of thing I was looking to do, so that launched the whole theme. I’ve always been fascinated by James Bond and Mission Impossible and the like, though. The idea of being a secret agent makes for exciting stories. Being undercover, always in danger, not knowing whom you can trust, saving the world without the world ever knowing, that kind of thing.
I finished “Part 1” and began “Part 2” during the semester I spent in London, which is also when I wrote most of the other songs for the album. I had a great time there and didn’t want to leave, but I think there’s some homesickness coming through in that song. At first I had thought it was going to be a sister song to “Agincourt” because of the similar “come home” kind of themes, but as I got into it I realized it would work really well as a counterpart to “The Spy” that would let me show another perspective, one that was ignorant to the goings on in “Part 1”. So there’s some dramatic irony there, where the listener who’s heard “Part 1” knows that things are pretty dire for the spy, while the spy’s wife who sings “Part 2” is still in the dark. It wasn’t until just before we went into the studio that I decided to write a segue between the two and make them into a continuous piece.
TR: Who’s that lovely songstress singing with you? Any chance you’d write something for her to sing lead on your next album?
SG: That’s the talented Bridget Lazzari. Ironically, we both attended college in PA about three hours apart from each other, but we didn’t meet until we spent a semester in London at the same school. We were hanging out on a day before one of my gigs when Bridget mentioned to me that she sang, so I asked her if she wanted to come onstage and sing with me that night. It took some persuading, but I got her to agree, taught her a couple of songs right then, and the rest was history. Hopefully she’ll be joining us for a few dates on the upcoming tour. As for having her sing lead, it’s crossed my mind. The most recent song I wrote, which nobody’s heard, was for a friend’s musical, and it had a girl singing it. It’s kind of nice and different to write something for someone else to sing. So we’ll see.
Steve Goldberg & The Arch Enemies – The Spy (Part 2)
TR: Another huge standout for me was “February Third”, it’s starts off all innocent and all, but quickly builds to klezmer-sounding violins wrapping around it’s bouncing melody, yet the lyrics are a bit dark, singing about the end coming, and getting the hell out and what not… Where did this gem come from? What’s the significance of Feb 3rd?
SG: Well, the title may be a little disappointing – I wrote it on February third, 2006. But I felt like that was fitting, in that there’s something about the song which feels like the end of winter, where you’ve been enduring the cold for what seems like forever but if you hold out for just a little longer things will start to thaw and get nice again. It’s not about any one thing in particular, but I’d describe it as a song about coming to terms with one’s past, dragging the skeletons out of the closet and letting go of them, moving on, etc. I hit on the yard sale metaphor and the rest followed. I think I’d been listening to a lot of Mountain Goats at that time.
TR: “23rd Century Identity Crisis” and “The Battle of Agincourt” sound like titles out of a 70’s prog-rock album, yet I didn’t hear Rick Wakemen on the keys… what are some of your biggest influences? Who are some of your current artists getting stuck in your head these days? (how about that transistion, eh?)
SG: Like I touched on above, I think the Lucksmiths had a big influence on a lot of the poppier songs. Listening to them, The Mountain Goats, The Decemberists, and John Vanderslice really pushed me to spend a lot of time making the lyrics just right. I remember listening to Wolf Parade a bunch around that time, too. And I was listening to Sufjan’s Illinois and Arcade Fire’s Funeral a lot for their orchestral arrangements. But going back some more, my dad used to play a lot of Simon and Garfunkel and Crosby, Stills, and Nash when I was growing up. That and the soundtrack to Jesus Christ Superstar. I loved all of that when I was a kid.
TR: I love “Artichokes”, the food preparation to love connection reminds me of that classic 1993 Mexican movie, Like Water for Chocolate, except while that movie was a dark fantasy of forbidden love in old Mexico, yours seems to be pure adoration for an amazing cook who’s love you are trying to figure out how to attract… have you fallen for a chef, Steve? Or have you been watching the refrigerator scene in 9 1/2 weeks too much?
SG: That song was inspired by my girlfriend of three years, who’s an excellent cook and helped me develop a better appreciation for good food. I remember sitting out on her porch and eating some pasta and asparagus that she’d prepared when I had the idea for that song. She helped me come up with some of the foods I sing about in that one, too. It started with “She’s got a way / with a creme brulee,” and flowed from there.
TR: The bright horns are perfectly used in this tune. I can almost see you walking down the street after finishing a meal at her restaurant singing ala the old musicals, while the other pedestrians look and stare… Is that the effect you were trying to get?
SG: Yeah, it’s kind of a goofy song, the type where you have to suspend disbelief a little, but it’s a lot of fun if you do, so I can see the musical analogy. It’s a palette cleanser, if you will. It’s always fun to play live.
TR: I think using “Summer’s Ending” to finish the album was a great choice. It’s mood and theme make for a perfect closing passage. It brings up a question that is of great interest to me as a complete mixtape geek since my youth with my old vinyl collection…. How much thought did you put into tracklisting? How important is tracklisting to an album?
SG: I think tracklisting is very important, but I like listening to albums, as opposed to the possibly more common practice these days of listening to singles, or iPods on shuffle or whatever. That’s a classic rock-snob thing to say, but that’s not how I mean it – I don’t think there’s anything inferior about jumping around, I just dig the idea of the album as an experience, kind of like a classical piece with multiple movements. In a way the tracklisting wasn’t that hard to come up with because of the way I went about writing the songs – i.e., I wanted them to contrast with one another. So it was matter of arranging them for the maximum difference between adjacent songs. So like I was saying, “Artichokes” cleanses the palette after the drama of “Agincourt”, the bounciness of the “Road” and “Julia” contrasts with the melancholy of “February Third”, etc. So the tracklist was mostly set pretty early on in the process, although there was one last-minute change. “Summer’s Ending” wasn’t going to be the last song. But when I heard the way it was ending up, I knew it had to be.
TR: So, what next for The Arch Enemies? Touring, correct? What can your audience expect out of a Steve Goldberg & The Arch Enemies show? Plan on doing any covers?
SG: We’re leaving for our first tour in about a week. I’m really pumped. Live performances took a back seat during the creation of this album. That was a necessity for a couple of reasons – my drummer abruptly quit shortly after he recorded his parts, and I just didn’t have the time or energy to look for someone new and practice and book shows what with all the time I was spending in the studio. And I wasn’t all that motivated to play out before we had an album to promote. But now I’ve got a bassist, a great new drummer, and a violinist who can really shred. It’s the best band I’ve ever had by far. I’ve written out all new parts for the violinist that integrate a lot of the different stuff that’s on the recordings. It was challenging, but I think it works really well to make the songs sound full but still living and unpredictable. I recommend that everyone reading this come to a show. As for covers, there will probably be a couple. I think covers are fun. I’ve been playing a couple of Neutral Milk Hotel tunes at shows for awhile, and that’s always satisfying, but we’ve got some new tricks up our sleeve as well.
SG: We’re still finalizing some of it, but at the moment we’ve scheduled:
7/3/07: New York City, NY – Upstairs at the Pussycat Lounge
6/30/07: Manchester, CT – Grady Tavern
6/29/07: Trenton, NJ – Mill Hill Saloon
6/28/07: Williamsport, PA – Kimball’s
6/27/07: Scranton, PA – Test Pattern
6/26/07: Pittsburgh, PA – Kiva Han
6/25/07: Charleston, WV – The Empty Glass
6/24/07: Leonardtown, MD – Room with a Brew
6/23/07: Fredericksburg, VA – KC’s Music Alley
6/22/07: Huntington, WV – Marley’s Dog House
6/21/07: Raleigh, NC – Sadlack’s
6/20/07: Charlottesville, VA – Starr Hill
6/19/07: Fredericksburg, VA – Fife Restaurant and Lounge
6/16/07: Lynchburg, VA – The Drowsy Poet
TR: Thank you so much Steve for indulging me, bearing with my inexperience with interviews…
SG: No problem! Thanks again. Also, check out my site, we just updated it with some cool stuff. Take care…
Alright, that’s it… Send me some feedback, was it too long (I didn’t really edit anything out, I figured I put it all out there for you, cuz dats how I rollz)?? Would you have rather I talked about his turn-ons and turn-offs? Whatever you think, send it here.
But most importantly, go show Steve some love, grab the songs, enjoy them (hell, you can stream the whole album here, buy the album, and go see this act before it cost $100/ticket at Ticketmaster for fuck’s sake!