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Gooding: 'You Put On All These Weird Hats Running From Yourself'

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Kevin Deems
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Mayday is the latest release from guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Gooding. A longtime staple of the Kansas music scene, Gooding has lived outside Nashville for several years, and it's there that he made this latest effort, while in quarantine.

The record is a stark, somber meditation on the state of the world in 2020, though Gooding is quick to point out that although many of the songs are topical, they take up issues that reach back decades if not, in some cases, longer.

Joining him on the record are Erin O'Neill (guitar, backing vocals) and drummer Kelsey Cook. This marks a departure from the mainstay lineup of the band as drummer Jesse Reichenberger, who has known Gooding since middle school, is absent from the LP. He is taking care of his wife, who has been diagnosed with Lyme disease.

There have been other changes in the Gooding camp, including the loss of his father and a prolonged hiatus from touring, which the musician detailed in a conversation with KMUW.

Interview Highlights

What's different about Mayday than past Gooding records?

This one is a whole different thing. I know things have changed for everybody, but a bunch of things had changed in my life even before I started recording in the quarantine. My pops had passed away about a year-and-a-half ago. My band changed, my management changed. A lot of people very close to me have been going through some hell stuff and craziness.

Then you put [that together with] the general insanity going on in the country right now. We were on the road up in Iowa when we knew everybody had to get off the road, be safe and quarantine.

I had a lot of these songs half-written and moving around, but I'd never really taken the time off the road to get them all finished. We were on a pretty long album cycle with our last record, this thing called Building The Sun. We had some great support, great sponsors, a distribution deal, but I kind of got on that business side, that wheel of having to work one record for a lot longer than I usually did.

Mayday is me hunkering down in the basement. There's two more in this series. I'm going to be putting out a bunch more stuff in the next two months. It's me getting the backlog out, and it's definitely me working out some of my own issues probably. You tend to start looking pretty inward when you're stuck in the house for a long time. It's a pretty dark record.

You've been off the road probably for the longest time since you were a teenager. What's that been like for you? Some people have picked up the guitar, some people have picked up gardening.

I have not picked up gardening, but I am messing around in the backyard. I'm really lucky. I live outside of Nashville. We call it "The Enchanted Forest." We've got trees and some paths around us. I've got some railroad ties; I've been cutting things down and moving them around, trying to make a little path to the creek, getting bit by too many things that look prehistoric.

The dogs and my wife are probably going to be ready for me to leave, and I'm still going to be here for months. It's nice being out here with my little family, sleeping in my own bed and eating exactly what I want to eat every day. It's pretty amazing.

I'm extremely lucky. I'm not on the front line, I'm not suffering. I've got slipper checks: Put your slippers on and get your check. Songwriter royalties. I know a lot of people are. I think some part of me thinks that I'm a mountain man and a survivalist, but I'm not tough, and I can't do many things that well. But I'm enjoying being out there and screwing around.

It sounds like you were alone for a lot of this record. Did that change your approach to singing or playing?

I was alone for a lot of it, especially at the beginning. Erin flew in her vocals. She cut them in her apartment in Los Angeles. She sent them to me and then I mixed them in. I did have Kelsey come over. She masked up and beat the hell out of her stuff.

A lot of people have said that this record is timely, but it's funny: A lot of the things that are more issue-based were started a long time ago. It's not like these things that are going on are brand-new. The lyrics for "World of Night" were written after Charlottesville. This and the next couple of records coming out deal with themes I've been grappling with for quite a while.

It's definitely darker, more isolated. You can definitely hear that it's one guy losing his mind in a basement versus a band having a good time on the road.

Your vocals have a specific directness on this record. I've heard other people say, "I'm singing differently because I'm not screaming over loud guitars."

Since the songs are darker, I found myself falling into my wannabe Johnny Cash low voice. [Musician] Terry Quiett sent me a text and said, "You're trying to do that Johnny Cash bit." I'm not trying to beat my goofy guitar through three amps, I'm not trying to get above the cymbals. I'm not trying to do any of that. I just threw up a big tube microphone and got right next to it, tried to get the inside-outside as honestly as I could. Hopefully, the listener feels like they're right next to us on this one.

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Credit Courtesy photo

Tell me about "Reset," which closes the record. It's 11 minutes long, really still. Influenced by something different than the rest of the record?

My pops had gotten sick. We knew it was probably the end. He was going into hospice. I actually cut that to play to him, something peaceful. Erin and I were working on these type of tracks, these ambient things, just really doing them for ourselves. We'd been on a really long run. We were tired and so I had a lot of ambient beds.

I said to Erin, "You want to just sing something on this? Whatever comes to mind?" That is her, one take, unplanned, her just ad-libbing. The angelic, crazy operatic stuff is just her being her.

It was originally called "A Troubled Light," and it was for my pops. It ended up kind of haunting me and it fit into this cycle as "Reset" of my hopes that some of these things that feel so awful are going to start getting a little bit better here pretty soon.

Tell me about your dad. Was he supportive of your decision to be a full-time musician?

He was a lot wilder than me. Everybody would have figured he was the rock 'n' roller. You know how this works: If your parents are strait-laced the only way to rebel is to act crazy. If they're already kind of wild, you turn into the square and the nerd.

My parents had split when I was about 12-years-old. I moved to Wichita from outside of Detroit when I was about 12 and went to John Marshall, went to North High, went off to KU for a little while before I joined the circus. But there were a lot of those years where I didn't see my pops that much. I didn't talk about this a lot when he was alive because he was just a beautiful, wonderful man. As my man Billy Driver, my old bass player and one of my best friends in the world said, "There wasn't a malicious bone in Danny's body."

My pop's was so kind … anybody that knew him man, he was just kind. He was wild, man. He drank a lot. A lot of those teenage years when my parents had split, he wasn't around. But he was a DJ back in the day. He worked with Wolfman Jack. Selling the original splinters of the cross. He used to go bust up an old railroad tie, down in Tijuana. They were selling autographed pictures of Jesus.

You wonder how I get in trouble, man? This is how.

[Laughs.]

He tried to ride a motorcycle in Haight-Ashbury until it fell on him. Hanging out with the Hell's Angels. I hear all these stories, all the drugs he did and I'm, like, "Yep! I'm gonna go do my homework!"

But the nut doesn't fall too far from the tree: I had the same wanderlust. I love seeing other cities, I genuinely love meeting new people. I'm always running my mouth! [Laughs.] I'm definitely his son. I tried to rebel, thinking, "I'm gonna change my name! I'm gonna do this and I'm never gonna drink and I'm never gonna …." You kind of put on all these weird hats running from yourself. But as I got older and through my 20s, he and I got extremely tight and here all the way through my 30s and into my 40s I had a great relationship with him, and I learned a lot about radio and even the music business.

He was just a curious, intelligent human being. I'm really lucky that I got a second chance at getting to know him.

Bud Norman, former journalist with The Wichita Eagle died recently. I know he was pretty important to you during your formative years in that he gave you your first review.

I can literally tell you what the walls of the principal's office at John Marshall looked like [when I heard that review]. I wasn't in there because I was in too much trouble. One of the teachers read that review on the loudspeaker. He wrote something like, "He was a cross between [actor] Ricky Schroder and [late Ozzy Osbourne guitarist] Randy Rhoads." It was the first time anybody said anything about me where they compared me to one of my guitar-playing heroes.

I still got my butt kicked after school that day. I was still miserable, I was still three feet tall; Jesse and I were still trying to figure out how to win the talent show. I still went home and probably got grounded but that little piece of, "Maybe I can do this" off Bud Norman's press? That carried me a long time, making my crappy little guitar records.