'Green Day with a horn section' is what came to mind when I first heard Goldfinger's second and latest CD, Hang-ups. Complete with gruff, snarly vocals and pumped-up guitar-driven, ska-flavoured grooves, Goldfinger practically drips with Californian punk attitude. Thus I was geared up for an aggressive interview with main man John Feldmann.
But, even as he invited me into his Georgian Court Hotel room with his shirt off (revealing a comprehensive grouping of wild tattoos!), I could tell that he was a fairly affable kind of guy. I sat at his bedside like a commiserating psychiatrist as he leaned back comfortably against the headboard and chatted about some of the recent happenings in his life. Like touring with the Sex Pistols in '96...
"Well, that was cool for the first show in D.C., hearing all the old songs... I've known Steve Jones for a while, so he was pretty cool. After a couple of weeks, though, it was really depressing. None of them wanted to be there, they were obviously there for a certain amount of time for a certain amount of money. I mean, in two months of touring with them, I didn't meet Johnny Rotten once; he hid in his hotel room and pulled out after the show. Which is a pretty unique experience. I mean, we've toured with maybe fifty or sixty different bands since we've started and we've met everybody in every band."
"So we started slagging them during our set, you know, they were never there to see us! All the shows were '30 and up' and they weren't interested in seeing a new band. There was a 25-foot barricade at every show, so the crowd couldn't get to us. We just taunted them; we had the mike, they didn't!"
Goldfinger have had good experiences opening for bands, too. "We toured with the Totem Poles in Germany. Their stuff was like 'drinking and singalong' stuff. They were really, really nice guys. We had never toured with a band like that. I mean, everything they had was ours, they didn't treat us any different than they treated themselves: they paid for our hotel rooms, they let us eat all their catering. We learned a lot about treating opening bands through them."
I mention the fact that, though the songs on Hang-ups have a fun, raucous energy, the topics are often serious, as in "Too Late," a composition about strained father/son relationships. ("so fuck I'm all by myself/now you've gone away/you've left me all by myself/ with that fucked up thing you said") Are these darker songs drawn from personal experience? "I just realized that my Dad and I were fighting over the same stuff, you know, stupid 'pass the gravy' kind of arguments. That song sort of points out the ridiculousness of it. He hates our music, which I don't think really matters. I think we're getting along better now. Maybe the song helped. He was a little pissed at first. He was reading articles about it and he hadn't heard all the lyrics. I think he misinterpreted it; he thought 'Oh, so you wish I was dead!'"
The songs on Hang-ups have so much going on I'm surprised to discover that Feldmann is responsible for writing most of it. "We have a four-track in the back of the bus, so I demo songs on it. Bass is easiest for me to start with and then I start building it from there. Melodies are easy for me, as well as chord structures and arrangements. I write most of the horn lines, unless someone else has something really better."
"It's very seldom I'll have a lyric and write music to it; when I'm feeling happy, fuck, I can't write anything! I'll have the melody, but I don't write lyrics until I'm inspired. Like, with 'Carlita,' I remember exactly that I went to visit my old girlfriend and she was like, 'Oh, I can't talk to you' and I was just lying in bed and the lines ["well, after today I'll never see you/and you'll be left with your life/collecting all your souvenirs"] just came to me."
He laughs about the journey that has led to his current band. "Fuck, I've played so many different styles and in so many different bands, from metal to punk. You have to evolve, you can't just listen to the same stuff your whole life, especially if you're a musician. [Goldfinger] may not be the best band musically, but I can't think of a better rock band that fits what I want to do. I mean, sometimes I write a simple three-chord song and bring it to them, and they want to put more into it than I want, but, for the most part, it's a smooth process -- though some times are smoother than others. In my heart, that Bad Religion sound is closest to what I want to do, but there will always be that ska sound, too... still, I think for the next album there's going to be more distortion."
"And what about the Green Day influence?" I ask timidly. "Well, 'Superman' has that vibe. I didn't set out to copy Green Day, it just came out that way. I met Billy and I apologized to him. I said, 'Sorry, for ripping off your stuff' and he just laughed. 'Don't worry about it,' he said. 'I steal from people all the time!'"
* Live photography from the Goldfinger/Reel Big Fish show at UBC's Pit Pub in January of 1996.
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