John Gold has been making music since 2004, and the lack of representation never stopped him. For years he’s been heralded as the king of DIY, and with good reason. His previous independent works have achieved some mainstream success on shows like Weeds and films like Mean Creek and The First Time. Now signed with Vagrant Records, his label debut and third LP, A Flower In Your Head (2011), has finally been followed up with the latest EP, You Only Live Forever, an intimate examination of the infinite that is created in our actions, with subtle nuances alluding to environmental activism and our place in the world we’re destroying. Naturally, we decided to sit down with John and talk about the EP, and discuss his feelings about the long journey that is becoming a musician and reaching your audience as an artist with a message.
What did you do, if anything, to try and set this EP apart from the abundance of work you’ve created over the years?
I remember the night before we started recording, I recorded with my friend Keefus [Ciancia], who I’ve known since college and always wanted to work together [with]; he’s a great keyboard player and an amazing producer. So finally we found some time to get together and do this, and the night before I felt like maybe I should be preparing more, getting more tracks together, playing more instruments—adding to whatever I had—and I decided, “You know what? I think I’m going to try to just be open to letting whatever comes out in the sessions happen.”
We ended up getting together for two days and recorded seven songs. We used a lot of electronic instruments—a lot of synthesizers—and like everybody else, we recorded into the computer with Pro Tools, but we didn’t do a lot of sequencing. So a lot of what you hear is actual performances. We sort of treated it as if we were recording acoustic instruments—they just happened to be electronic. I wouldn’t call it “improv,” but it was just sort of capturing whatever was in the room. We didn’t do a lot of editing, no vocal fixes, we just went with it and ended up with a lot of material. We only ended up finishing the four songs, so the other half of the record probably will come out sometime later in the year. Normally I’d be very meticulous. But this time we wanted to capture it in the moment.
Do you think a natural approach like that was an improvement on what you used to do?
It was definitely an improvement. I just wanted to try something different this time, and Keefus is an incredible keyboard player, so it was great to be in his studio and in his world and explore those sounds a little bit more. It came together as a really unique sound.
It’s definitely out there.
Yeah, exactly. So for better or for worse, it’s hard for me to gauge how people react to it, but I have to just hold onto the idea that if I like it, and it’s genuine, someone out there’s gonna latch onto it. I was saying to a friend of mine the other day, “The good news is, it doesn’t sound like anything. The bad news is, it doesn’t sound like anything.”
It can be a little off-putting to record people or to radio people because they don’t know how to exactly describe it, so they can’t put it in a box right away. Finally having a lot of people working on this record, instead of doing it all myself, I remember seeing in iTunes under genre, “unclassifiable,” so I was really excited to have someone else talking about the record. Have them tell me finally what they say when they talk about the record. So I called the publicist at the time and asked, “How do you describe the music when you try to get this out there?” And he told me, “I just say it’s really good music.” So it didn’t really help me at the time, but there was also something nice about that.
If you had to categorize the music you’ve created over the years, what would you say it falls under?
(Laughs) That’s your job, man. I wouldn’t know. What do you think of it as?
Some of your older stuff I’d say is in the realm of indie folk.
You don’t expect an artist to make that dramatic a change and still be moved by it so suddenly.
That’s great. I still have no idea what to call it.
That’s probably a good thing though. Genres are a little overrated.
I agree. I’m sort of a loner when it comes to music stuff; I do a lot of it on my own. And I have a lot of friends who play music, but I’ve just never “fit in” in terms of being part of a scene. It works for me and against me. The only alternative is to decide on a style of music and writing around that, and that is not exciting to me. I like the idea of making it and then looking back and seeing what it is.
What would you say inspired you on this EP?
Keefus definitely inspired me. I don’t know if you’ve heard any of the music that he’s made. I wasn’t really inspired by any other music. I wanted to keep my intentions pure. Like I said before, not sweating about how it’s coming out in the studio. Just trust that this little bit of time we have set aside to record these songs, that started out as just little iPhone ideas, singing into the microphone and maybe playing a guitar or something, just trusting that I would play through these songs that were just little sparks of ideas, and Keefus would say, “Let’s go after that one,” and we just start adding things and building it, and pretty much writing it right there. Really staying in the moment. I think that was my main inspiration.
Was there any particular message you were trying to get across?
I was going through a lot of… I don’t know if it was fear over what I’d been seeing in the environmental destruction that we’d been causing; feeling really out of control. A lot of it is probably propaganda, like Fukushima. I don’t want to sound cliché, but I’m willing to take that risk because it’s so important and scary. But I was going through a lot of fear about that stuff.
I took a trip down to Big Sur and looking out at the ocean and just thinking, “Are we in the last throes of being able to appreciate nature?” I didn’t overtly state those things, but when I look back and I think about the lyrics, like those in “Glow Stars,” it’s about trying to love someone in the midst of all that chaos.
As many may or may not know depending on how closely they follow your work, your songs have been featured on TV shows and in a couple of films as well. What was that like seeing your work blossom in that very broad aspect?
It’s always surreal to see it in action. When I watch Weeds and the song comes on at the end credits, it’s always a thrill to see. Even more than that is to think about for how long and how many people hear that and how many people got in touch with me and bought the record because of that is just amazing.
There’s this teen [romantic comedy] called The First Time, and I can’t tell you how many teenagers have gotten in touch with me on Twitter and talked about it because during an important scene—to them—they include [“Vampire’s Kiss”]. It’s just incredible how that can spread.
My favorite thing about where I’m at, as a singer or someone who makes music, is I’d love to be incredibly popular—I’d love for the songs to spread around the world—but when there’s a song that you have experiences in your own life that include that song, that’s what it’s all about. It’s incredible. This guy wrote to me the other day and said that my music was the only music he plays around his newborn baby, and he wrote before that, saying, “It responded in the womb.” Other people tell me, “We had our first dance to your song at our wedding,” or, “I listened to your song when I was going through a hard time.” Anything like that. I’d love to be selling millions of records, but I never want to lose that connection with people.
John Gold’s latest EP, You Only Live Forever, is available now on Vagrant Records. For more information, go to johngoldmusic.com.