I was in Worcester, Mass., the other night for a concert and was really moved by the unity of the New England residents in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings. Working-class people were just sharing worries and trying to have a good time and also feeling some relief that a suspect was apprehended. As Depeche Mode once sang, “People are people.” Lots of bad stuff goes on around the world. Humans die everywhere. Bombings happen everyday, sure. Every country on the planet has dirty hands in some way. No nation has acted perfectly, but that doesn’t mean something like this isn’t still a tragedy or unwarranted.
I want to use this week’s column to promote the beauty in differences and people doing cool things. Nationally, Tech N9ne is doing a track with Serj Tankian, so that bodes well for the coolness of humanity, but let’s talk Kingston. First off we’re going to start with the Battle of The Bands that BSP Lounge is hosting every Wednesday through June. It is hosted by acclaimed producer/engineer D. James Goodwin, himself a talented guitarist who performs under the name Snowflake.
“Battles of the bands typically create a competitive thing I’m not into, but this runs every week and the prizes are pretty cool. One prize is studio time with me,” laughs Goodwin. “All the proceeds from the door donation go to the SPCA. As soon as I heard that I knew it was cool. There are many quite different, good bands involved.”
I first met Goodwin years ago when he was the guitarist in regional psych/hard rock band Spin Cycle Lava. His playing was very fresh, a subverted expansion of classic rock through a spacious wall of echo. I was bummed when he left the band, though he ended up having a great career as more of an engineer than a live musician. Nowadays, he is thankfully doing both.
“Everybody goes through a period where they hate where they come from. In the early ’00s, I hated the Hudson Valley,” he laughs. “In Woodstock around 1999 there were lots of places to play. Spin Cycle was playing. Fuse was playing. 3 were getting big. Shabutie were at the brink of blowing up. Not long after that it seemed to all just disappear and I felt like we’d all gotten involved in a scene that didn’t do anything. A few bands broke out on their own but the rest didn’t because the community didn’t support it. Now things seem positive again.”
Goodwin is one of the region’s best talents and his Snowflake material is stunning. A recent song, “Dots (We All Grow Toward the Sea)” has a certain kinship with Mogwai’s restrained calm or the comforting unease of Pink Floyd. These are cinematic songs that don’t shy from warm, yet very pro, production. Few acts can pull off sounding ambitious and important but not lose their more endearing human quirks beneath a sheen of pretension. Add Snowflake to the list of acts that make it seem easy (Muse, Jon Crosby’s criminally underrated VAST or even the defunct My Chemical Romance come to mind).
“One of my favorite records of all time is Dark Side of the Moon. It probably influenced me more than I’ll ever be aware of because I started listening to it when I was so young,” says Goodwin.
He’d worked at Clubhouse Studio for years but got tired of the studio scene. Goodwin decided to build his own place, The Isokon, located in Woodstock.
“I didn’t want a sterile environment and found a place where bands could really immerse themselves in making a record. The whole guiding principle for me was making The Isokon feel like a vacation home,” Goodwin says.
Producing indie rockers Murder By Death’s classic second record Who Will Survive and What Will Be Left of Them? was a breakthrough moment in Goodwin’s career. “Murder By Death had heard a record I’d done and wanted to work with me. It kind of jumpstarted my producing career, instead of just being an engineer. It sort of justified my focus on being a studio guy as opposed to focusing on being in a live band.
“The past few years have been good to me,” Goodwin admits. “I just did Kaki King’s GLOW record last year. She’s pretty well known in the guitar world, a complete genius. I also did some mixes on the newest Devo record, which was pretty crucial for me. I would put up the faders and think,’ Wow.’ It was sort of an insane feeling but you can’t get distracted, even when you are working with someone you idolized.”
OK, friends and neighbors. Until next time, stay peaceful and make lots of art and whoopee.