Members: Kenny Becker, Andy Polito, Dillon Peralta, Tamara Simons
Interviewee: Kenny Becker
Occupation: Singer, songwriter (Kenny Becker), drummer (Andy Polito), guitarist (Dillon Peralta), bassist (Tamara Simons)
Current Release: Goon's Hour Of Green Evening is out via démodé.
If you enjoyed this interview with Goon's Kenny Becker and would like to keep up to date with their work, visit the band's official website. They're also on Instagram, Facebook, and twitter.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
I think that I create things as a way of engaging with the world, and being a part of it. In my day-to-day life, I try to take note of things that strike me as compelling, then meditate on those things and sometimes reflect them back in a song or painting. Lots of various influences will often end up getting jumbled together into one thing.
“Wavy Maze” is a good example of this.
That song references things like Zelda, eucalyptus trees, that feeling of distant voices getting softer as the snow falls. While working on the lyrics of that song, it just eventually made sense to bring all those things together into a dream-like whole.
Studying paintings by other artists is an endless source of excitement and inspiration. Politics definitely play a role too. We’re all aware of how much there is to be sad and angry about. Though I think I tend to write songs that are a bit more inward-facing.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
In the beginning stages, I think it definitely helps to have a strong idea of the finished product. You’ll make more confident structural decisions when you’re thinking of things in broad strokes, and at the very least it will get you working towards something with substance.
Once you have a good foundation, it’s fun to get lost in all the irreverent, spontaneous new directions that may present themselves.
This is by no means the only way to do it, but it’s the way that has worked most often for me.
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?
I kind of see it like there are two different phases that I’ll alternate between. The first phase is “collecting”, compiling voice memos of guitar ideas, singing melodies, etc. And the second phase is more like building. Going back through those snippets with fresh ears and picking out the ones that still resonate with me. This happens most often driving around in my car.
The ending section of “Lyra” is a good example of this.
I had written the whole song up to that point, but didn’t have a good ending for it. Until I randomly stumbled across an old voice memo with that C, D, E chord progression in it. So we tried smashing them together and the song was finished!
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
Exercise has helped me out of many writer's blocks! A long, solo hike is the best.
One of my favorite catalysts for writing is simply being in a new environment, especially outside. Being in the studio is great, but can lead to a kind of constrained writing process for me.
I feel like I have to write in the studio. But if I’m just chilling outside with a guitar, I feel more able to relax and come up with something genuine.
“Buffalo” is an example of this. I wrote that song over a couple hot dreamy summer days spent in the backyard of my wife’s family’s house in Buffalo, NY.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
Typically I start with guitar (or piano) and a wordless singing melody, and if I’m feeling particularly inspired, those first notes and chords can manifest quite easily. But that’s definitely not always the case. I think the trick is to just show up as often as you possibly can, even if you’re writing trash 99% of the time.
If you only pick up the guitar to write once a month and expect to write a hit, you’ll probably be disappointed. But if you pick up the guitar to write everyday, you’ll probably get like 20 bad ideas and 5 good ones, which is actually a pretty damn good ratio.
Especially because within those 20 bad ideas, you’ve also learned a lot about what you don’t like, and that can be equally important.
When do the lyrics enter the picture? Where do they come from? Do lyrics need to grow together with the music or can they emerge from a place of their own?
In that early stage where the singing melody is just wordless vocalizing, I’ll often be drawn to certain vowel shapes or consonants in certain parts of the melody. I tend to use these as clues for moving forward. It feels way more exploratory and puzzle-like that way.
Like, I might find myself always ending a certain melodic line with a strong ‘aah’ sound, and maybe there are roughly five syllables before the ‘aah’. That’s a clue which helps chip away at the marble and gradually expose the lyrics for what they want to be.
Once there’s enough of those figured out, the rest of the lyrics sometimes flow out naturally. This definitely was the case for “Emily Says”.
What makes lyrics good in your opinion? What are your own ambitions and challenges in this regard?
I adore lyrics that are simple and childlike. If a kid could have written it, I will probably love it.
I used to approach lyrics like an abstract painting, formless and non-representational. But I’ve moved away from that in favor of concrete, simple, and understandable images and ideas. At first it seems counter-intuitive, but I think you can get a lot more complexity and meaning out of writing like that.
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
Definitely the latter. Though it helps to start out with a plan and a solid song-framework.
But I’d definitely agree that once you have that in place, you should try to be open to things taking on a life of their own. And it becomes your responsibility to nurture and explore that.
There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?
I’d definitely say it feels spiritual, but not in the sense that I’ve tapped into something immaterial or anything like that. I find it to be very grounding and life-giving.
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
This is a big one. I think musicians today tend to work from a position of constantly asking ourselves “does this sound exactly how I want it to?” But it can be so liberating to instead ask yourself “does this generally achieve the vibe I’m looking for?” If the answer is yes, move on to the next thing. People won’t notice the difference, I promise.
Digital recording allows us to keep everything un-printed, and never commit until the last possible second. But it’s like Jurassic Park, we’re so preoccupied with all the endless tweaking available, we often don’t stop to think if we should. Jeff Tweedy says you just have to abandon it, but that the trick is to abandon it at the most interesting moment possible.
I also take a lot of inspiration from bands who have prolific output. Working like that takes the pressure off any one song or album to need to be particularly great. Because at the end of the day you know there’s gonna be a next album, and a next one after that. “Done is better than perfect.”
Of course, I’m a total hypocrite and need to be reminded of this all the time.
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?
I think I subscribe to the “strike while the iron is hot” way of thinking here. Nothing beats the feeling of keeping the gap between inception and in the hands of the public as small as possible.
Our EP “Paint by Numbers, Vol. 1” is our best example of this. It was recorded in November and December 2021, and went out into the world in February 2022.
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
I definitely think there tends to be too much focus on the mixing stage. The plethora of sweet plugins probably contributes to this. And it’s a neat part of the process, no doubt, but the recording and production stage is where all the vibe and magic happens. You can’t create that in a mix if it’s not already there in the recordings. So the most time and effort should definitely be spent there, in my opinion.
It’s also way more fun and liberating to record that way. Like you’ll make stronger decisions based on what you like or dislike, rather than tricking yourself into thinking that you can always magically change it to exactly what you want later on in the mixing stage.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
Absolutely. Especially with Hour of Green Evening, I had a really hard time letting that one go.
My best coping mechanism is to just redirect that anxious energy into getting on writing the next batch of songs. My bandmates and I get really excited by the idea of being reactionary against the previous thing we released.