Like his late namesake, Oxford musician Jack Goldstein is a conceptual artist, he takes folk music, gives it lo-fi aesthetics and drenches it in a curious electronic character on his album Tonic Of Wilderness; a record that constantly surprises and consists of several chapters and personalities within the same song. Yet the educated 29-year old takes inspiration from old music, television shows and classic movies that precede his generation. We spoke to him about his new album, Brunel University, Elvis Presley and the qualities of lo-fi music.
You use computer-typing voices regularly on the album. Are you inspired by ‘OK Computer’? Is it supposed to symbolize a futuristic theme? What was your reasoning for this? Is their an over-arching theme on the album, whether through lyrics or mood?
I’m not really inspired by Radiohead, do they use computer voices on Ok Computer? It’s interesting that you say futuristic, I never really thought of it as futuristic in anyway. I just like that it’s not human.
On “Injected with Donut” and “Pocket Full of Rainbows”, you reference Elvis lyrics and later you quote words from “True Romance” that mention the naming of “Elvis”. Do you have a strong connection with this musician? Does he influence you a lot?
As a kid, I used to be obsessed with Elvis. I used to obsess over Rock & Roll music; artists like Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Everly Brothers, Carl Perkins, Little Richard and Buddy Holly. Elvis was always my favourite though. The Elvis/Nixon photo is weird – it’s just funny and kinda sickly right? Even when I was a child I thought that photo was ridicoulous. You have the, soon to be impeached, president of the United States of America shaking hands with the, soon to be dead, biggest rock and roll star in the United States of America. It’s just trashy and amazing. Like a John Waters movie.
The child voices on the album, like on “100mph Libber” and “Ronnie James Dio Blues”. Are they relatives or samples from somewhere else?
They are samples but they could be relatives though right? I like that, unless you know me, you never really know whether they are samples or actual relatives. They are just kids.
It’s a very playful album in terms of oscillation, pitch and speed arranging. Do you learn this in your studies in Experimental Music? I didn’t know you could study this one type of music. Please tell us about how the curriculum is split up (in terms of subjects).
I love that you think it’s playful, thanks Matt! It’s actually Sonic Art that I study, but I’ve recently transferred for my third year to do Musicology.
Were you aware that Brunel University has been used many times in TV and film including ‘A Clockwork Orange’. Were there many camera crews while you were there?
No camera crews I’m afraid! What else was is it used in apart from A Clockwork Orange? I’d be interested to know.
“100mph Libber” begins with friends of yours sending you a message. Please tell us about why you used that sample. Does it mean a lot to u? Where was this occasion that meant bats were released. Who’s the guy who can vomit out of his eyeballs?
Haha, I have a few old dictaphones with random s**t on them. I used one for a show and when I got home I listened back and my friends had recorded this goofy message over one of the tracks. It was beautiful. For all they know, I never found it. Really sweet. I can’t tell you who the guy who can vomit out of his eyeballs is just yet – maybe on the third album.
Due to the amount of samples used? What tracks on the album feature original lyrics? “Scent of Wilder”? “The Champ”?
They all feature original lyrics apart from “Injected With Donut” and “Pocketful Of Rainbow$” – the readings in those tracks are taken from the Elvis tracks you mentioned.
Would you say your original lyrics are enigmatic, like on “The Champ”? Is that a sad song, your voice sounds like it’s on the verge of crying?
I like Randy Newman’s music, “The Champ” reminds me of “I Think It’s Going To Rain Today”. The narrartor of “The Champ” is someone who holds these views that are recognizably sad, but are also obviously massively swew wiff. Much like many of Newman’s compositions, the track isn’t ‘supposed’ to be told from my perspective.
Why did you use just the part of Baz Luhrman’s “Everybody Loves Sunscreen” where he says “get to know your parents, you’ll never know when they’ll be gone for good“, is that significant?
I found that bit really sad when I was a kid.
A Tonic “gives a feeling of vigour or wellbeing“. Why did you call your album ‘Tonic Of Wilderness’?
I mis-read a quote by Henry David Thoreau. I guess I like the word Wilderness because it basically signifies wasteland. Wilderness is more childlike though, it seemed to make more sense. The first record I made was called ‘SNOW CAPPED LOVEY DUVVY’ and I think the overall feel of the record was one of more intensity than ‘Tonic Of Wilderness’. I wanted the title to reflect that as well. The same intensity is still in ‘Tonic Of Wilderness’, but it manifests itself beneath something else. Something really sickly and off kilter.
You have a song called “Ronnie James Dio Blues”. I presume it must be a tribute to the metal master. The song itself is far from his specialist genre. What kind of homage is this? Are the lyrics showing respect for the man?
I was watching the video for RJD’s “Holy Diver” while I was recording the lyrics for that track. With the volume down, it goes pretty well over the the “Holy Diver” video actually. So yeah, one scenario you could imagine whilst listening to that track could be RJD traipsing around a dark tower with a massive sword.
Who’s the guy singing to himself in an apparently nonsense way (which sounds nostalgic and whimsical) on the end of Ronnie James Dio Blues?
It’s Leland Palmer (played by Ray Wise) in ‘Twin Peaks’.
Are you a one man band? You describe yourself as the composer but there’s a female voice of The Go Team!-esque “Thuggery Bisque”. Who’s the female voice and who else has helped you? Are you responsible for the whole album?
The female singer on “Thuggery Bisque” and “Don’t Let Me Go Now” is an old friend of mine. She’s a former backing singer for James Last. She requested to remain nameless and I respected her privacy. She was very kind to offer up her amazing vocal ability though! The rest of the album was made by me in my living room.
You call your music Lo-Fi. What is Lo-Fi music to you, and why do you define it as this?
Unpolished, amateurish, or technologically unsophisticated, especially as a deliberate aesthetic choice. I guess that, despite their obvious differences, you could use the term to describe Pavement, Ween and Grimes. All very different. Also they make pop music, I like that term too. I usually just say pop. I sometimes add ‘lo-fi’ just so people know for damn certain I don’t want it to sound any different or ‘better’.
What instruments do you play? What programming or sequencing effects/programs do you apply/use?
There’s violins and brass on the album, is that too? I play guitar and piano. I sing too. I also write score. I like using free software and I also have some crappy old tape machines and pedals I use too.
Your voice is somewhere between Ben Folds, E from Eels and Ariel Pink? Which voices have inspired you and is your voice a crucial part of your music?
Thanks! I love Eels. I like BF’s voice but i’m not that keen on his music. AP is just a macho douche IMO. He is just bullyish; it’s as if he thinks it’s ‘edgy’ to be really misogynist. I love Brian Wilson, I’ve always been obsessed with him, he’s fucking beautiful.
You used to be in a punk band. You can’t tell that from this album. Why the transitional change? Anything from your punk roots (experience or skills) evident on the production of this album?
That was when I was a kid. I guess I retain certain elements of bands that I love/loved that will never leave my musical sensibilities. Bands like Black Flag (I like to think the artwork of ‘Tonic Of Wilderness’ has this Descendants/Black Flag aesthetic to it?). I take about as much time over production now, as I did when I was in a punk band. I want it to sound the best it can possibly sound to me, but I only ever wanted that – even when I was making Punk music. I still listen to lots of heavy music.
Why did you use the infamously bad Windows 95 guide sequence in the video for the “Don’t Let Me Go Now”. Is this because you feature a Windows-opening type noise within the song?
That video is just so f**ked up. Like the Elvis/Nixon photo perhaps? but more playful?
What is the springy sound on the song? How did you create this?
It’s a warped tape of me and my brother recording songs as kids. He was a bit older than me and played the guitar, I was using his drum machine. I was about six years old. We recorded for a straight half an hour and the listened back and the tape was warped. We sounded like martians!
“Love Each Other” is a message at the end of the video. What’s the “flower power” significance? Is this a random thought or does it have deep meaning?
It’s just a great thing to try and do?
What is your highest musical achievement so far?
We have a show coming up at The Library in Oxford, UK on August 19th.
How do you plan to promote this album?
The vinyl is released on Attracted Vinyl on August 17th. I guess I will try and cram as much in as possible before the begininng of the next academic year. Perhaps I could do what AKB48 (the j-pop band) do and employ multiple people to do shows, as me, on my behalf. That way we can be all over the world, all of the time! 😉
Interview by Matt Hobbs