Band of the Day

2012.03.26

The Goldberg Sisters

A multi-talented actor sets his sights on lush 70s-era avant pop
With those whispering eyes, those pretty little almond lies, we tread ever so gently upon the scaffold of your smile.
lyrics from Shush

Originally recording and performing under the moniker LANDy, The Goldberg Sisters are a musical venture put in to motion by actor/director/producer, and now musician, Adam Goldberg. Goldberg is best known for his roles on such popular movies and shows such as Friends, Entourage, and Dazed and Confused. His group LANDy released their debut album Eros and Omissions in 2009. Goldberg decided to change his moniker to The Goldberg Sisters to avoid confusion and conflict with other artists and products called “Landy.” The Goldberg Sisters' self-titled debut album was recorded in six weeks and released in 2011 on [PIAS] America.

The knee-jerk reaction to actors turned musicians is, of course, eye-rolling. Which seems unfair to this writer; film and music have been inextricably connected since movie theaters first became popular over a century ago, so why shouldn't there be cross over? The Goldberg Sisters is the project of Adam Goldberg (no sisters are involved), an actor who you'll most likely recognize by face if not by name. He's probably most famous as the wisecracking soldier that gets knifed to death by a Nazi in Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan, but Goldberg has played supporting roles in a number of excellent films and TV shows including, Dazed and Confused, Entourage, and Friends as well as leads in films including The Hebrew Hammer and Two Days in Paris. His music is an intriguing mix of glam, 70s rock, and introspective landscapes of murky effects. Often cast as the hip (or not so much) legacy of Woody Allen's anxiety-driven Jewish characters, if there is a layer of neurosis in his music it's masked by his confident command of 70s-era avant pop. Over the course of the interview Goldberg often seems to collapse the gap between fiction and reality with his acting, but hey, isn't tireless self-examination and anxiety about 95% of art?

Band of the Day: Question: One of the things that struck me about your last album is that it has a lot of great effects on there, what are some of your favorite effects?

Adam: I'm a big pedal geek. I think I find myself accumulating more stuff for when I feel like I'm going to do some sort of live recording, play some sort of live venue, I was on a hunt for more things to give a live act the layered sensibility of the recordings that I've made. There's definitely that set stock of stuff I used on the record, so when I went to promote the record live, I don't really to play live so I don't really do it very much, I went completely overboard. It's kind of embarrassing I had this fucking monster of a board made. I couldn't figure out how to pair it down, I just didn't know what combination I wanted to use so I just wanted what I owned on a board. It's sort of ridiculous and almost impossible to carry. The joke was it was made to go to Europe but we couldn’t bring it because it was so huge. The things we tried to do on that record was use a set of stock group effects and instruments, a keyboard of mine that I really love, a string synth. That's used throughout and the Roland space echo is used all over the place. We used an echoplex. I've always been into loop pedals.

Band of the Day: What was the effect you used to get the John Lennon style vocal effect?

Adam: Well, you know, anytime I double my vocals I'm told I sound like him.

Band of the Day: Oh so that's more your voice than any specific sort of effect?

Adam: Yeah, it's not a plug in or anything. I sort of recognized this a long time ago when I first started doing 4-track recordings. I would do them through a boss digital delay pedal. With that slap on it, the timbre of my voice when I sing up in a sort of higher range, it sounds Lennon-y.

Band of the Day: You write music and direct films and act, I think there's a trend where writers and film directors get better over time and pop songwriters peak pretty early compared to those other art forms.

Adam: For the most part I think you're right.

Band of the Day: Have you ever felt your powers waxing or waning on one of your artistic pursuits over others?

Adam: Well, look, the thing is that I've been so infrequent with my writing, which a thing which I struggle with. I've directed only two features though I've done lots of little things as well, and it's kind of arguable if I've evolved or not in that regard. I think there are some things early on that I would surprise myself with. Wow, I didn't really know I had this skill set. I'm a very visual person but I didn't know I could combine these images to do this or that or evoke this feeling. Part of me felt like in some ways I got a lot out of my system with these two movies I made because I had for so many years been trying to make films. Then I found myself at this kind of crossroads. Well that’s a whole other story. In terms of the music thing I've been grateful that I didn't go out on ... I almost did in the late 90s, had this band which was really more like a band -it was still me writing the songs- but it was more of a band rather than a revolving door of players. And I made this demo and sat on it and didn't really know what to do with it. Thank god I didn't put that out. I don't know if it's terrible, it showed I had a real interest in recording and I think an intuitive production sensibility, but I hadn't at all figured out what the hell I was as a songwriter, I mean not even close. That didn't begin to happen until a couple years later. Because I knew so little when I began to play music, all I knew was what I could do intuitively, I had a lot more room to grow. I feel I still have a lot more to say. It's arguable as an actor whether I do or I don't. I feel like I do, but I don't necessarily have the opportunities to. But I certainly think that often when someone is incredibly prolific they're going to dry out the well. I find myself to be a fairly prolific music writer, but again I think it's because in some ways I started very late. I played drums in high school but I didn't really start to play guitar or write songs until I was 24, pretty late.

Band of the Day: You're already more famous than the vast majority of musicians these days. As music has fractured so much, even big bands aren't as famous as they used to be. Do you feel a drive to make your music really proliferate and be known, or is it cool to just make it for the sake of making it?

Adam: Well I'd like to say I just do it because I love and enjoy doing it, well that is why I do it. I didn't have any idea what I was doing when I was recording all this stuff on the Landy record [the record before Godlberg Sisters -ed], I was just recording shit, I had a new song and I'd go over to my friends place and we'd record something, it wasn't that I had no long term plan. As time has gone on it would be nice to parlay that into something, it's a skill set. I mean I'm interested in diversifying, different means by which I can earn a living. I have all my eggs in one basket which is something that as the years have gone on I don't feel entirely comfortable with.

Band of the Day: What do you think is the ideal amount of celebrity? As a musician or actor?

Adam: I made this movie that's sort of about that, it was using an actor as a metaphor. I kind of took the amount of celebrity I have, how ever little much that was and exaggerated it and imagined if I was someone who had a bit of a schizo personality, someone who didn't have a firm grasp on reality. What if there was a guy who was effectively schizophrenic and disillusioned who became a movie star and made those delusions a reality? That was the basic idea and the jumping off point for the movie I Love Your Work. Some people said, oh this is just navel gazing and autobiographical. I'm nowhere near this super famous guy. I've always felt that I'm about as recognizable as I can handle, and anymore than that I'm sure I could handle, I wouldn't freak completely and fracture, but it's not something ... on the one hand you want to be recognized for work that you do, but I find myself at a particular, I'm sure I'm not the only person, but I find myself in a particular quandary that could become a source of conflict. Which is that I'm largely if not entirely known for this one thing that I do, over which I have very little control. It's not that I take no responsibility for the work that I've done but in many ways it's work, it's my job, and it's how I make my living. I prefer to be criticized, well I don't think anyone wants to be criticized, but I'd rather be criticized for the things that I've created from the ground up. But just in terms of day to day recognizability it's just enough to feel like I haven't totally wasted my life, but not enough that I don't feel paranoid. Or more paranoid.

Band of the Day: So not recognized on the street regularly, but occasionally?

Adam: Honestly there are days when it happens 10 times in a day, then weeks where it doesn't happen at all.

Band of the Day: I'd imagine it gets old.

Adam: It's fine, but occasionally there's a weird, aggressive almost antagonistic recognition, but most often it's just fine.

Band of the Day: Your acting and music work both have a balancing act between mainstream and underground, do you like both sides of the spectrum?

Adam: I like the extremes, I guess I attempt to meld the two, it is difficult. I don't know if it's a problem but part of the thing that makes my stuff either … some of the negative critical stuff that I read about the last record, and I knew this in advance of making it, one of these songs was written in 1999, one of them was written in the studio, there was a sense of it not being able to lock into any given style. I thought next time, since I'll do it in the same period of time there will be a stronger sense of cohesion, perhaps other than just the sonic elements, but I don't even think that's the case because I find even on a daily basis I'll be making a really abrasive super noise dissonant loop and I find that really appealing and I'll spend two days working on a very structured Burt Bacharach song and both of those things are really appealing to me.

Band of the Day: You mentioned that you don't like playing live, but you make your living as an actor, a kind of performance artist. How do you reconcile those two things?

Adam: There's a couple of different things. One, I haven't done a live performance other than a reading since 1994 when I did a two man one act play. And I said during that, I'm never doing this again. Because it fucking ruins my life. This wasn't even everyday, just three or four days a week. But I can't eat, I can't, I was practically shoved on the stage by my co-performer. Once out there things do change, two things have happened when I've played live. Either I've stayed just as fucking stuck and paralyzed and felt just as awful in spite of all the adrenaline, or, one experience, again I could probably count the number of times I've played live, maybe 20. It was this show I did at the Bootleg that people liked, I'd put a big band together, everyone was really on point. Again I couldn’t eat, I felt awful and got up there and then it all kind of melted away and I was incredibly calm. But that is such a rarity, I just don't have ... even while acting, something that isn't live, there's still this sense of having to deliver in that moment, which can, once you get it in your head, can really throw you. It's just a personality thing. Some people are totally fucking fearless and in some ways, I think I am, given that I actually fear it so much that that makes me an egomaniac, or someone who's attempting to conquer their own fears.