He’s chatty, the type of guy who’ll take five full minutes to answer a brief question about the meaning behind a song. But that’s not a complaint; he’s genial and conversational and, as a listener, you enjoy the ride.
This might get a little confusing. The singly named Gooding (it’s his last name; he’s abandoned the first) is an extremely talented musician/singer/songwriter. He’s got a band, along with drummer Jesse Ringenberger and bassist Billy Driver, also called Gooding (or sometimes The Gooding Band).
We sit down with Gooding outside of Cicero’s following his show. It’s the most quiet we can find in close proximity to the venue, and even that’s not absolute. He’s chatty, the type of guy who’ll take five full minutes to answer a brief question about the meaning behind a song. But that’s not a complaint; he’s genial and conversational and, as a listener, you enjoy the ride.
It’s like that with his music, too. Sometimes meandering (especially live, as it flirts with various influences, often venturing into jam band territory), with a lot of sounds (from just three people!) to expand on what he’s trying to say. Even in the extended instrumental interludes, though, there’s a control bordering on genius; this man knows his music.
And it’s fitting, too, given that he grew up surrounded by the stuff. Both his parents played music, to a certain extent. Says Gooding fondly, “My dad played the radio; he was a DJ in the ’60s, right before payola and through all of it. He worked for Wolfman Jack for a little while down in Tijuana. My mother’s a classically trained pianist. When my parents separated, she taught piano lessons late into the night.”
Following an adolescent interest in the hard, fast, and loud (“When I moved to Wichita at [age] 12, I made Jesse suffer through a lot of Yngwie Malstem,” he recalls. “All the shredding guitar players; speed before melody.”), this self-described “movie soundtrack boy” turned to ambient soundscapes, electronic and guitar-based compositions crafted as film scores. Ironically, as Gooding’s musical horizons have continued to broaden and refine, he’s gravitated more toward good, old-fashioned rock ’n’ roll. He’s also gone from primarily an instrumentalist to a rather accomplished singer.
“I played the guitar a lot longer,” Gooding says by way of explaining his belated turn to vocals. “I didn’t start singing until much later; I had already been playing guitar for like ten years. It’s been a process; it’s taken a lot of touring.” It’s helped, he says, “being on the road, trying to get to the heart of what I can do. Also, just working on the range and the inflection and stuff.”
All of the influences and interests, while blending into an aurally inventive and pleasing library for the listener, have unfortunately made Gooding’s music hard to market. “I hope we never make the same record twice,” Gooding says. But “between the beginning and the end, there’s so much of a difference that it would make it impossible for a label not to be afraid of us.” So, a lá Ani DiFranco, he started his own label, S-3 Records, on which he’s released 7 discs over a span of 12 years.
Starting his own label, refusing to be pigeonholed, touring ten months out of the year with no sound guy, no tour manager—Gooding is the epitome of the independent artist. How important is that to him? “Obviously, it means creative freedom,” he admits. “We do have management that is definitely making an effort to cull the best of our sounds into one thing that they can market; that’s their job, that’s what we want them for. But I’m not gonna lie and say that one single on the radio wouldn’t be the equivalent of five hundred of the shows we played tonight, because it would. We’d love to have that break, but we’re obviously not one of those bands that’s going to line up and dance to get the deal. But we’re more actively looking for some help, even if it was a distribution deal. I’m still confident that we can produce our own stuff, but there’s business people that are much better suited for the whole dog-eat-dog thing.”
As for what the future holds, Gooding remains cautiously optimistic. “I’d like to see us go overseas and give it a shot. If [Europeans] grab onto something musically, then you can always work there. Here, I think there’s a certain kind of apathy to live music that makes it really, really hard if you’re trying to do something a little off the path. But, you know, this is our culture, this is our home; we want to take it down, but we’re going to need some help to do that. There’s only so much the three of us can do on our phones all day. We’ve definitely got to expand our organization if we’re going to keep going.”
So he’s a musical virtuoso, supremely skilled in composition, guitar, and now vocals. He’s a hard worker, unafraid to take risks and to make his own way. He’s on the road ten months out of every year; most of the time, “home” is just a dream to get you through. What’s it all about? Gooding smiles. “This is going to sound really lofty, but at the end of the day, it’s to feel like I felt when I first fell in love with music. It’s to make someone else feel like that. For somebody to be able to put themselves into what we’re doing the way we do our heroes, it’s just to make somebody feel all those emotions.”
Gooding gets it. You can get Gooding when he plays two shows in St. Louis this month, Sept. 20 at Cicero’s and 21 at Frederick’s Music Lounge. He’ll also take part in the South Park Music Festival Sept. 11. www.goodingband.com
Laura Hamlett is Managing Editor of Playback St. Louis.