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New album: Gozer Goodspeed – Ghosts of the Future & Past

Often I’ll find myself thinking about the point of having a music blog in 2021. After all, in an age where the vast majority of commercially available music (in the history of commercially available music) can be in your hands, metaphorically, or at the very least dispatched by some faceless automated entity in order to make its way direct to your actual flesh-and-blood hands at the click of a button, what exactly is the point of reviewing music now?

For me at least, writing about new music is all about making a connection. It’s about opening a dialogue in the vague hope that somebody, anybody, will pick it up and run with it. Of course, this is very much the aspiration, whereas the reality is that all too often you’re just spending hours writing words that nobody will read. However; on the very, very rare occasions that someone does pick up on a piece you’ve put out into the world, well, it’s a wonderful thing. But I must stress: it really doesn’t happen often.

I came across the excellent Ghosts of the Future & Past by Plymouth-based Gozer Goodspeed because of exactly that though: a chance encounter whereby the man at the helm of Brighton’s Lights and Lines – the label behind the release – contacted me in response to a piece I’d published last year about Musosoup, SubmitHub, and the widespread practice of pay-to-play reviews. In short: it was nice to know that there are still people out there that do read blogs, and that it’s possible that if you keep tap, tap, tapping away into the abyss you might just reach them. But anyway, I’m sure that’s enough of a convoluted introduction…

The seventeen-track Ghosts of the Future & Past is an expansive collection that pulls together highlights from Goodspeed’s previous releases, alongside the odd live track, some previously unreleased material, acoustic demos, and remixes. In some respects it’s a strange beast that is difficult to neatly sum up, but then that’s the whole point. This is a collection designed to serve as an introduction to a restless talent, with highlights ranging from the hypnotic modern blues of the opening (and closing) Gambler’s Last Day, the evocative storytelling of King Point Marina and The Key Broke Off Clean in the Lock, through to the rousing live performance of Killjoy Bulletin. Running straight through the middle of the whole set is the consistency of Goodspeed’s writing, which when paired with his commanding guitar-work and willingness to go wherever a song takes him, proves somewhat impossible to resist. To go right back to the beginning of this piece: in an age where everybody is making music, and much of that music is secondary to the notions of image and product, Goodspeed is a songwriter in the true sense of the word. Sure, he may lack the streaming numbers and won’t be soundtracking Love Island anytime soon, but these are well-crafted songs born from lived experience and artistry. In short: as a first-time listener I came away from Ghosts… intrigued and wanting to hear more, and I’m not sure you can ask for much more than that.

A conversation with Gozer Goodspeed

Hi Gozer. Cheers for getting involved with the blog. I’ve been delving through the album over the last few days in fits and starts and it’s a really interesting listen. For people who don’t know the story around the release, could you give a brief synopsis of what Ghosts of the Future & Past is? I mean, the press release is very clear that it’s not a ‘best of’ so to speak…

Well, it’s hard to do a ‘Greatest Hits’ when you haven’t actually had any hits, haha! But seriously, the idea is that’s it’s a hand-picked selection of songs, in vaguely chronologically order, that give you a vivid picture of my work to date. But rather than just a straightforward ‘here’s a bunch of what we think are the strongest songs’ kind of deal, this goes much further – there are songs that have never been released, songs from my past, a live recording, a remix, even a demo from a record I’ve yet to put out! It’s a deep dive into my back catalogue, coupled with a selection of rare songs nobody has ever heard before. I think the idea, from the label’s point of view, was that my back catalogue is already quite extensive, and this record is designed to serve as a comprehensive introduction to what I do, and how I do it. But the concept from the start was to bring elements into the collection that added extra dimensions to my story. Because this record is, in a way, the story of my musical life. 

Who were your main influences growing up? I’m always interested in how people got into writing songs… can you remember the first record you bought, or the first time you thought ‘I can do that‘?

I was a late starter to playing music. I wrote a lot of lyrics, I’d always been a writer of all sorts of things, but I never thought I could sing. The lyrics I wrote were always for someone else. And then, aged 15, it just popped into my head that if I wanted to, I could play guitar. I don’t know where that came from, exactly, but I was suddenly confident that, if I put my mind to it, I could do it. So I got one for my birthday, and then spent a very, very long time teaching myself to play, and mainly being very rubbish for ages! I got there eventually though… In terms of influences, well, how much time have you got? I’m tempted to say that I’ve always been most attracted to guitar bands and songwriters. I mean, aged 15 and 16 I was listening to a lot of Nirvana and The Lemonheads, and then my sort of desire for heavy guitars became all-encompassing for a while, and I was deeply into Metallica and Pantera and all of that, though it didn’t last. But then at the same time I was also listening to Hendrix and John Lee Hooker, and a whole lot of funk. If you want to know the first record I ever bought with my own money, it was AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” 7 inch live version. I’m an absolute sponge for music. If you go right back to my childhood, my parents played a lot of Queen, Abba, Tina Turner, Def Leppard, and the Beach Boys in our car. So those were probably some of my earliest ever influences!

As a prolific writer and live performer, what’s most important to you: the writing and recording, or the act of getting something across to a live audience?

Well, I know it’s a pat answer to say that I love both, but I do. When you get into the studio and can laser focus on the finer details, and begin to craft something and layer up a track and really get into the zone, it’s a tremendously fulfilling and exciting process. When everything comes together, it’s beautiful. On the other hand, hardly anything in life feels as good as being onstage in front of an enthusiastic live audience. The energy it generates, in me and in them and in the air… it’s immensely special. That’s why we do it. The connection, the energy transfer. Don’t make me choose between these things!

What is ‘success’ to you?

Success is a dish best served cold. Oh wait, that’s revenge. Um… success is an ever-changing concept, constantly shifting in and out of focus, hidden out of full view somewhere just over the next hill, hovering blurrily near the horizon. I guess what I’m trying to say here is that what constitutes ‘success’ to me isn’t a fixed idea. Writing a song that comes across really well to a live audience that have never heard it before, is success of a kind. Recording a song well and feeling that it’s effective – that’s success too. Having someone tell you how much they love a song, is definitely success. Putting an album out is success. Getting paid to play music you love is success. I guess if I felt I could travel almost anywhere in the UK and people would come to see my shows, that would make me feel very successful. But honestly, some days just getting out of bed is success. Just picking the guitar up. Just getting through the day. I apologise for my rambling answer, haha!

If you had to pick out three tracks from Ghosts… as a good introduction to what you’re about, which would you choose and why?

I would say that “Running with the Outliers” would probably be a good indication of what I like to do lyrically. “King Point Marina” would be a decent demonstration of the rawer, more emotional side of my songwriting. And “The Killjoy Bulletin (Live Version)” will enable you to hear the kinds of things I like to do when I play live.

As an artist that’s been performing for a while and written/recorded/played an awful lot; what’s your ultimate ‘bucket list’ dream as a musician? I mean, to give context, in terms of my own band, I still live in hope that one day somebody will give us a shitload of money so we can record with Dave Fridmann…

Good question. A lot of the people I would have loved to have jammed with are dead, which is horrible. I would love to write a song with Neil Young. I would love to play onstage with the Stones. I’d love to have a coffee, a chat and a jam with Dylan. I’d like to duet with Alice Russell. I’d like to play the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury. I’d like to cut a song with Beck. And I’d love to play a concert in the Grand Canyon, and arrive by helicopter. If you can make that all happen, that’d be great!

A conversation with Mike @ Lights and Lines

• How did the project with Gozer come about?

I came across Gozer in 2019 when he released Running With The Outliers and was immediately hooked. I bought his discography almost immediately and found that I kept coming back to it. Gozer’s husky but soulful voice set over a variety of folk and bluesy tunes was fascinating to me, and the hints of psychedelia that start to show in his later work were really exciting. When the label finally came to light at the beginning of this year Gozer was one of the first people approached about putting something out. Like many independent artists Gozer has created some wonderful music that has grown and developed. Existing fans will have joined his musical journey at different points and new ones may not know him at all – I think it’s fun to dig into these grey areas and think about recontextualising an artists back catalogue for different audiences. The idea was to bring some of the best bits from Gozer’s impressive back catalogue out into the open, this time remastered and regenerated as a result, whilst mixing these with some rare unreleased and unheard tracks and something that looks ahead to the future. At first I don’t think he was keen to be honest he’s not someone that tends to look back. But as soon as started talking about bootlegs, rare songs, live tracks etc. he could see what I was trying to do and jumped on board.

• I’m interested in why you started the label. I mean, reading through the ‘About’ section of your website, I think the vast majority of people into new music would agree 100% with your ethos… but not many people actually get out there and make something happen. How did it start for you?

I’ve been talking about doing it for about 20 years! Since I was about 15 I’ve been fascinated by the independent music scene. I’m a guitarist first and foremost but I’ve also put on gigs for many years, we run a festival every year now, in the past I had written reviews, helped bands with video editing / artwork / PR etc, and put out a few releases for myself and others too. I also co-host the popular New Music Saturday podcast which is amazing fun – so music is everywhere! So for 20 years I had been doing all this stuff and always talked about starting a label. In 2020 really thought I was going to do it but covid put a strain on things so I thought it was sensible to wait. Instead I spent the year talking to other labels, bands, and others in the industry. I wanted to sense check my thinking, learn from others, and figure out how I could tie in what thought I wanted to do with adding real value to the artists and fans.

I should say at this point that it’s not just me, it’s a collective effort with lots of people involved in different areas – I’m just the guy who put a logo on it, and the only consistent member for 20 years. Really it’s just about amplifying voices and creating great experiences for listeners. We don’t care too much about genre necessarily, but I do believe that this is a curation project where I get to share some of my favourite music with the world.

You can find out more about Gozer Goodspeed here, and anything Lights and Lines here.

Like what I’m doing with I Said Yeah? All content on here is free, however you can support the blog (and help sustain my caffeine habit) here.

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