If success was awarded by the amount of struggle and heartbreak an artist had endured, and took into account the innate talent the artist had, Jacob Golden would be multi-platinum and headlining London’s Royal Albert Hall by now.
He’s not there yet, but after a very successful 2007 this year should see Golden’s star if not go supernova at least burn extremely brightly. Raised in Sacramento California, Golden had it tougher than most while growing up. He lived with his hippie Mum until she developed cancer and was too sick to look after him, then moved in with his violent, partying Dad only for him to also fall ill — making him an orphan at the age of 16. Having found salvation in music he sang for a series of bands in the Orange County area during the mid to late 90s including Brother, Orisha and The Youth Symphony. These eventually morphed into Birthday, who also included Gavin Bowes (drums), Wesley James (bass, keyboards) and Anthony Schaztz (guitar).
On the verge of imploding the band signed to Rough Trade records and released a sole EP Welcome to Life in 2000. With Rough Trade extending a contract to Birthday’s lead singer and aided by his ex-band mates Jacob recorded a self titled mini-LP in 2001, and an album Hallelujah World released in 2002. An ambitous work Hallelujah World, produced by David Kosten, saw epic rock (“Polyamory”) rub shoulders with new wave flavoured indie-pop (“Come on Over”), Radiohead style electronic excursions (“Jet Fuel”) and Buckleyesque epics (“Jesus Angelina”). Despite positive reviews and undertaking numerous supports throughout the UK the album failed to find an audience. Exhausted and disillusioned Golden moved to Portland Oregon taking a break from performing and singing altogether.
After a stint at nudist spa for aging hippies his muse returned and the songs began to flow. Revenge Songs was completed in early 2007 initially with handmade sleeves sold via his MySpace site and posted by Jacob himself. A delicate, predominately acoustic record, it proved to be Golden’s most personal and rewarding release to date. Throughout the year Jacob did many tours from lounge-room gigs and supporting numerous acts in the UK — including Catherine Feeny and The Battle of Land and Sea — to his own headline concerts. Along with unanimously glowing reviews of the album and a healthy web and MySpace presence the shows helped Revenge Songs gain extremely positive word-of-mouth support. This year will see Revenge Songs released in his native United States, a first for one of his records, and have him playing shows on both sides of the pond.
Did your early bands — Brother, Orisha, The Youth Symphony — ever get to release anything?
These early bands were all underground. we did some recordings and released small batches of songs but you’ll have to hunt around pretty hard to get a copy. This was back when releasing an album meant dubbing a bunch of cassettes on your boombox! The stone ages of indie rock!
The other guys are still around mostly living in Portland and doing creative things.
Whose decision was it disband Birthday? Do you still keep in touch with your former band members?
Birthday was on the verge of being over when we got signed and in the classic fashion where a young rock band suddenly is handed a lot of cash things can get complicated quick. We broke up cause the band was putting way too much strain on our friendship and we are all now much better friends because of it. Gavin even played drums on a couple songs on my new record.
What are some of your fondest memories of living and working in London?
Waking up one morning and taking a taxi to master my record at Abbey Road. Getting to play the Union Chapel in support of Low — it’s a big old wooden church and to sing in there is quite magical.
Just walking around going to record stores and tripping out on the people, there were some wild nights indeed!
Jacob Golden – Hallelujah World
(Rough Trade, 2002)
Were you happy with being on Rough Trade and their promotion of Hallelujah World?
I have kind of a mixed feelings. I did feel really out of place on Rough Trade. Don’t get me wrong, it was an honor, and contrary to what people have said I have great respect for Geoff and his label, but that album was just sort of cursed and never really had any proper momentum. Which for me was heartbreaking.
Were Sarah (“Tuscan Holiday”) Penny (“Penny, Penny”) and Angelina (“Jesus Angelina”) based on real people?
Well, yes and no. There have definitely been people that have inspired my songs initially. Sometimes there’s that spark in someone, some wildness or tragedy to a relationship that brings about a song.
But my songs are really their own thing — less specifical factual — and the characters in them take on their own story .
Do you play any Hallelujah World songs in your current sets?
I do play “Jesus Angelina”, and “Fire Escape” from my first mini record, the others come in and out of my sets. I never really write a set. I try and see where I’m feeling and play what inspires me in the moment, so each night is a little different.
In some ways Revenge Songs is more like a debut album (acoustic, home recorded, handmade sleeves, confessional songs) while Hallelujah World is more like a second album (full band, electric guitars, electronic experimentation). Do you hope people who listen to Revenge Songs will discover Hallelujah World and another side of Jacob Golden? Do you ever get the chance to play with a full band?
Well, I feel my first album is a little bit misunderstood. To be honest I think it’s a bit of a confused record but I do still really believe in a lot of those songs. Songs like “Blue Mormon Sweater”, “Penny Penny”, “Jesus Angelina”, “Jet Fuel” etc., are all really strong to me and with time may find their way out there to the right people.
As far as playing with a full band again…maybe. I certainly like collaborating and performing live with others can really be great when the chemistry is right. It has to feel very inspired and I would certainly not want to do the “session musicians backing up the singer-songwriter” thing — that’s really not my vibe.
Are there songs written during the Birthday and Hallelujah World era that will never see the light of day?
Yes, there are some great unreleased recordings. Maybe at some point they’ll be a deluxe CD edition where I can revisit that record and maybe do things a little differently.
Obviously there is fair amount of time between your two albums and an article in the independent mentions a period of writer’s block. Once you got back into songwriting did the songs come quickly?
Well during that time, I did a lot of recording. I got into making EPs some of which have seen the light of day. Most of the time I was looking for my true voice as a solo artist and producer and learning how to mix and record till the point were I felt like my records would sit along side the records I love to listen to.
Did you have an excess of songs for Revenge Songs? Was it hard choosing the 11 songs?
There is an excess of songs…some will end up in other releases. For me, an album has to work as a whole and those 11 just felt right together even though it was difficult leaving some songs off the record.
How autobiographical are the songs “Jet Fuel” (from Hallelujah Wolrd) and “Zero Integrity” (from Revenge Songs)?
I try and be very honest with my words, but that said I don’t limit myself to the facts. My songs are more like dreams with lots of little bits of life and ideas weaved together.
And lyrics (from Revenge Songs); “Shine a Light”: “The record company had pushed for a hard, hard sell but I couldn’t check out from the roach motel.”
Definitely a reflection on my London days.
“Shoulders”: “At 25 I bought a sampler when my band broke up, I thought I’d lost my spark.”
I did go through a dark time where I didn’t pick up the guitar and found a lot of comfort in Aphex twin, Square Pusher and such — those artists helped me through it. I really value non “song” based music, it’s important for me to have that for my own listening something that doesn’t concern itself with a chorus or as verse I try and take bits of those ideas back to ma songwriting
What or who gave you the idea for the Living room tour (which redefined the notion of an intimate performance)?
Growing up, there were always people around the house strumming guitars and singing folk songs. I’ve never really liked playing in dark stinky rock clubs, I’m much more interested in sharing an experience with people than being on a stage. Living in Portland there’s a great underground folk scene so there’s always bands playing in houses, people drinking wine and having a bit of community. That’s much more how I like to spend my evenings.
How does the atmosphere of those small shows compare to playing clubs and bigger venues?
Well playing theaters is actually really cool. It’s not very intimate but there’s something grand about it when it becomes a concert as opposed to a gig. I really admire bands that can make a big venue feel intimate. That’s my aim, it’s a real art.
You spent most of 2007 playing in the UK. Is it a conscious decision to play more in Europe than in the US or has it just worked out that way?
I guess I just have some karma with the UK. It’s where things have happened for me. I will be playing around the states quite a bit more in 2008 as my album will finally be released here.
Is it frustrating that don’t receive the same kind of attention in your native country?
Well I’ve never released an album in the States so I’m excited to actually see what its like to do this in my own country. Although I’m not looking forward to the 15 hour drives!
Have you been writing any songs during your tours?
I always keep my little recorder with me and try and capture any ideas I get in the moment and my notebook is always close at hand.
There’s lots of little fragments floating around but I generally do need a little downtime to go through them and actually finish the songs.
From your MySpace: “I am here to write, and sing songs, to bring things back to the roots, to cut through the ‘professional’ bullshit that has eaten up the airwaves.” Those are fighting words! Care to elaborate?
Exactly, I do think the airways are clogged with a lot of very mediocre music. And I’m really surprised that the media in the UK doesn’t cater as much to the wealth of creative bands that are out there.
There’s a rich seem of music just below the mainstream bands like, Horsefeathers, Joanna Newsom, Grizzly Bear. I don’t even think they play Iron and Wine on the radio. People are missing out. Creative is the new cool!
I hope us fans will have less of a wait for new material than there was between Hallelujah World and Revenge Songs.
I do hope so as well. I try to write quickly and intuitively but I never want to release something I feel less then 100% about. If that means putting out EPs or just waiting a little longer till I have something that feels right then that’s the important thing.