THE GOLDBERG SISTERS: YOU WERE JUST DIANE KEATON
Precocious over-educated hipsters generally HATE it when actors jump into music. After all, how could someone who wakes up at 4 AM to be on “My Name Is Earl” ever truly know the ecstasies and agonies of seeing a band close out the Echoplex? But actor Adam Goldberg, most famous for getting stabbed by a Nazi in Saving Private Ryan, proved to everybody with 2009’s LANDy that he can make an album in his spare time as good or better than what most kids in Echo Park do all day. With his newest project, the Goldberg Sisters, he and a slightly-solid lineup of musical recruits have woven together an intricate album that puts a psychedelic sheen across the treble-timbered sounds of the 70s. This interview by Dan Collins.
You’re not new to music: ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic nearly derailed your acting career.
I’m still bitter about it! That’s the sad part. My schadenfreude can outlast twenty-plus years. In 1988 I was asked to read for this movie called Super 8 and ‘play a young budding Woody Allen type!’ I was beyond ecstatic, so I went in and I read, and then I got a callback. I spent that summer with this young director shooting five scenes to show the studio. I had really put my heart into the thing, and I got the call towards the end of the summer that it wasn’t happening. I went off to college, and when I came home, I saw that this movie starring Weird Al Yankovic called UHF was playing—and in the credits it was the same exact production company, it was the same producer, everything was the same—it was clearly the movie they chose to do instead of what could have been my launch to stardom! Much as Weird Al’s film catapulted him to leading man status, Super 8 would have forever cemented my career instead of relegating me to character actor-dilettante-bon vivant.
UHF was filmed in Tulsa, and you also spent some time in Oklahoma on the Flaming Lips movie.
At the end of 2002, I had a couple friends who knew the Lips, and they would say, ‘Steven Drozd wants to meet you,’ which was pretty amazing because I was fairly obsessed with them. Then Steven and I had this mutual sycophantic Through the Looking Glass moment. Steven admitted that he had had a man-crush on me—that he kept a list of his top ten man crushes, and that I had made it to number two on the list, right below the Belle & Sebastian guy …
Stuart Murdoch? I have a man crush on him.
Who doesn’t? I would do Stuart Murdoch in a heartbeat! But anyway, I started hanging out with all those guys, but mainly Steven. I had asked them as a whole if they wanted to do music for this movie I was about to shoot, I Love Your Work. Ultimately only Steven could do it, and I needed music immediately because there’s a musical sequence in the film. I ended up writing most of the scene music for the film. When he’d come into town he’d kind of take my demos and re-record them. That was the first time Steven and I had worked together musically. And then a couple years later, in 2005, it was like my first stab at saying, ‘OK, I’m going to try and pull together all these recordings.’ Because at the time I had pulled together X amount of recordings, and I didn’t know if they were demos, or going to be re-recorded. In a couple instances, I went to Norman, Oklahoma, and just had Steven add drums to a couple of songs I had already recorded, and then we did three from the ground up— interestingly enough, not the song ‘BFF’ which people often attribute him to having being a part of, but was just me. I say often, meaning eight people, because nobody really knows that song! But in the world that revolves around me, everybody knows that song. So that was it: that was our musical collaboration. And then I was in the Christmas From Mars thing.
How many instruments do you play?
Mainly guitar and keyboards. I’m really crude! I came to playing guitar really late. I sort of had assumed I was this one thing—I would just be this music fan. For the most part, it was like I woke up one day and I was 23 years old, and I bought a guitar, Tascam, digital delay, reverb pedal, wah-wah pedal, and an amp and started recording shit. It sort of came out of nowhere. I swear you can listen to a tape from 1994 when I was just starting out and, sadly, while I think my songwriting has improved considerably, I don’t think my playing has changed. I’m part prodigy, part thwarted moron.
You’d talked about your love of the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson. Is that what it is? That you know how to use the studio to get around your admittedly limited abilities?
There’s no question that the studio is a far more comfortable place for me. I’m trying my fucking darnedest to get something that resembles that feeling across with this live thing, whether through making loops and having some sequences … I’m surrounded by fucking effects and a big guitar board. And I have a keyboard board, a little percussion board at my feet, a thing for my vocals—I’m not using this shit all that much, most of it ends up being employed on one outro for one song, but it looks good! I’ve never been a lead guitar player. I think I have a guitar sound, but for the most part, I’m a rhythm guy, I’m a rhythm piano guy. I use them as songwriting implements; I feel I have a good grasp of sound and I can communicate sound, and I have a really good grasp of the technology, and I feel like I can whip up a pretty interesting recording. And I can do it really often—like, just last year, I opened up a stupid Tumbler page as an exercise in OCD, but I think it’s actually helped me write the record. Every other day I have to make a recording.
‘Shush’ seems to have emerged as the single of the record, and I think it signals the difference between this and the last album. LANDy was compared a lot to the Beach Boys, but when I hear ‘Shush’ I hear a serious glam rock streak—especially when the falsetto hits.
That was completely unintentional. I didn’t setouttodoit….Therewasapianoriffin that song that was eventually pulled from the mix, but as I was playing it I was thinking, ‘Wow, this sounds like a glam song, like a T. Rex-ish type of riff.’ So I’m like, ‘Fuck it, let’s do a glam rock song!’ So we fully took it in that direction, and I’m really happy with that, because it really was just this thing on a solo piano, so the fact that it became a big glistening guitar thing is cool—can you hang on one second? I totally heard some weird random thing around my house. Sorry, I had like a weird thing happen a couple weeks ago, and I’ve basically been completely fucking paranoid ever since. There was a guy standing in our fucking kitchen at 3 a.m. that woke my girlfriend up, and basically we have not been the same since. You can just add to the article that I’m becoming a paranoid schizophrenic.
How did you get him out of the house?
I heard her screaming, and my girlfriend doesn’t scream, like ever—she’s much tougher than I am. It was pretty terrifying. I came bolting down the stairs with my fucking 65 Gib- son 330 in my hand—ha ha. And there was this dude who looked like the guy from the Facebook movie, not the main guy. In fact, for two seconds as I was fueled with testosterone and completely out of my mind, I remember trying to postulate whether or not, and why, if so, the guy from the Facebook movie was in the kitchen. I started fucking screaming at him at the top of my lungs, and aggressing him with this guitar, and he just had no affect. He didn’t respond to my girlfriend screaming and crying hysterically, and didn’t respond to me, you know, really out of my mind. You want to tell your readers, we created a site called douchebusters.com where Roxanne made a sketch for anyone who has information about this douchebag. Anyway, he finally backs up and goes, ‘I’m sorry, sir!’ Which first of all I think was implicitly insulting my age, not to mention that he completely destroyed our lives, at least for the evening. And he receded out into the yard into the darkness. And then I slammed the glass sliding door as hard as I could, and went to lock it at the same time, and my finger got caught in there, bled profusely, had to go to the hospital, got stitches, and luckily I can still bend it. That’s my life!
Are you sure he was making fun of your age? You haven’t aged much since I’d see you in movies in the 90s. In your song, ‘Don’t Grow,’ was that a command to yourself?
It’s going to happen all at once, and it’s going to freak me out. It kind of started to happen in the last year—I still don’t really have wrinkles, but you can see where they’re going to be, and it’s not a gray hair you can pluck anymore. The good news is that I feel worse than ever and I feel older than ever. And I feel like now when I sing, I feel immediately like it’s me. I’m not sort of thinking about it like I used to. I know what my schtick is, even if it’s similar to something else. I had always wanted to sound like Elvis Costello or Chet Baker! I guess the harbinger of things that are maybe coming I would venture to guess is the song ‘The Heart Grows Fonder.’ There’s a part of me when we did that song, I said literally, ‘Next time I want to do an America album.’
The band America?
The band America. That’s what that began to remind me of. I can’t deny there’s kind of a Jeff Lynne-y thing happening. It’s funny—I was never a fan, but I’ve now fully embraced the fact that he possesses me. If you’d told me fifteen years ago, I’d be like, ‘Whaaat?’ I had this really vitriolic thing about ELO! I don’t know why, but I couldn’t stand them! And of course in the end, I’ve made this baroque-y pop shit. Their stuff is far more complex and intricately produced, but I can’t deny their influence. But it’s only because they were doing their version of the Beatles, and everybody in a way is channeling their version of the Beatles.
Why don’t you get Van Dyke Parks to arrange? He did Inara George recently.
Look—I have dreams about Ringo Starr being my drummer, but I think you have to do your own version of it. I feel like with my stuff, it’s ambitious and it completely falls short. But it’s done on my own terms and it’s where I am and represents my skill level. So when there are certain successes, like the arrangement on ‘Don’t Grow,’ that’s a success to me that I want to take credit for! It also means you have to take credit for not knowing what you’re doing easily half the time, and feeling like you’re out of your element.
If you could take your studio skills and focus them on another musician, who would you like to take a crack at using to make an Adam Goldberg album?
The only one I’ve thought of is Claudine Longet! I really want to write music for her! I mean, the woman has been fully in hiding, so I don’t anticipate that happening. But I love the idea of doing that. But at the same time, I really enjoy the visceral experience of playing, and I’m getting better! I’ve been practicing scales and shit.
What’s your favorite minor scale? I like the mixolydian, because it’s like ‘The Jetsons.’
Here’s the thing: anything that’s in Latin, forget it! I’m happy that I can play a pentatonic scale and play it backwards—and I prefer to play it forwards and record it and then reverse it in post! Can I tell you what that question reminded me of? Remember in Manhattan, when Diane Keaton and Woody Allen are on the lunar surface, and she’s like ‘How many of the moons of Saturn can you name?’ And he’s like, ‘None of them, and luckily it never comes up in casual conversation.’
I don’t remember that part!
Go back and see it, because you were just Diane Keaton!
THE GOLDBERG SISTERS WITH HANDS, CORRIDOR AND VENUS ILLUMINATO ON THUR., MAY. 12, AT THE PUT YOUR MONEY WHERE YOUR MOUTH IS BENEFIT FOR JAPAN HOSTED BY MISCHA BARTON AT THE BOOTLEG THEATRE, 2220 BEVERLY BLVD., ECHO PARK. 8 PM / $10-$12 / 21+. FOLDSILVERLAKE.COM. THE GOLDBERG SISTERS’ SELF-TITLED ALBUM IS OUT NOW ON PLAY IT AGAIN SAM. VISIT THE GOLDBERG SISTERS AT ADAMGOLDBERGDILETTANTE.COM.