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Stop Standing Still: The Goon Sax Evolve On The Rich, Ambitious 'We're Not Talking'

Monday, 17 September 2018 Written by Huw Baines

Photo: Ben O'Connor

Louis Forster keeps forgetting something.

He’s at his band’s rehearsal room picking up some gear. They’re going on tour; landing in London and moving on to an opening night in Glasgow after the long trip over from Brisbane. They’re pretty much good to go.

There’s only one more hurdle left to clear. In a few hours the Goon Sax’s second record is coming out, drawing a line under years of work. But with everything that’s going on, it keeps slipping Forster’s mind that people will soon be able to listen to, dissect and perhaps fall in love with his band’s new songs.

“This record’s been done and out of my head for over a year,” he says. “If you’re still really emotionally attached to something you did so long ago, it feels like you’re not moving anywhere or you’re a bit stuck. I’m impatient with things. I’m always looking to do something else, I guess.”

Forster, who plays guitar and sings, is one of three songwriters in the band. You also have Riley Jones, who plays drums and sings, and James Harrison, who plays bass and sings. The trio are about to settle into their 20s, having been school kids when their debut, ‘Up To Anything’, was released in 2016.

Album two is called ‘We’re Not Talking’, and it would be the easiest thing in the world to say that it sounds like the work of musicians far older, thanks to its deft use of melody and rich orchestration. Easy, sure. Correct, not really. It’s a remarkable, accomplished piece of work, but it’s also clearly the product of young people pushing themselves and exploring their capabilities. Its emotions are bloody and real, not greyed out by cynicism.

Forster’s desire to keep moving feels emblematic of that. Some of the songs on ‘We’re Not Talking’ date back to the weeks after ‘Up To Anything’ was released. Others are more representative of who they are now. Similarly, the situations the LP details have shifted and evolved.

They’re brand new to us, but when the band kick into the songs live they already mean something different, or less painful, to them. “Every time you play something it’s helpful,” Forster says. “At the moment they’re these artefacts. Everything we’re talking about on the record are relationships that are years ago now and that have completely changed.”

The Goon Sax could comfortably be termed indie-pop due to their preoccupation with hooks, or post-punk thanks to a noticeable skronky streak. In recent years they’ve opened for power-pop legends Teenage Fanclub and Meghan Remy’s extravagant, off-kilter project US Girls, and they’re a good fit with both.

The trio’s styles complement and challenge one another. Forster, the son of Go-Betweens co-founder Robert, describes his writing approach as obsessive. “The lyrics that I wrote I’d rewritten 10 or 15 times,” he says. “Eventually I just had to pick something.” His songs are tiny, complex and beautiful, a blend perhaps best exemplified by the album opener Make Time 4 Love. It’s a thrillingly melodic piece that is eventually swept up by cascading strings as he sings: “Let’s get nervous in your room again.”

Harrison’s work is more pointed. Driven by bass riffs and longing, his words are the record’s most stinging. “I never knew what love meant, and I still don’t,” he sings on She Knows. Jones, meanwhile, is perhaps the ace card on ‘We’re Not Talking’, whether she’s providing percussive flourishes, lifting the bittersweet Strange Light aloft or imbuing We Can’t Win with wistful soul.

“They both amaze me,” Forster says. “I think the way Riley does a lot of things is impulsive, and really brave. I think she really believes and trusts herself to do anything. She makes things happen, and that comes through in the way she expresses herself. She listens to the Contortions and thinks, ‘Yeah, I could do something like that.’ I listen to that kind of music and I don’t ever feel like that could come from within me.

“The way that James writes is very different to me and really sporadic. Riley’s very energetic, but James writes hundreds of songs all the time. When we were recording this record, we listened to about 30 vocal takes James did and he never sang the same lyric once. He never sang the same melody. All my takes were quite similar but James’s were completely different to the point where he was partly improvising all the time. That’s what he’s like.”

One thing that people have been quick to note about ‘We’re Not Talking’ is its blistering honesty. It pulls zero punches, offers no quick fixes. A recurring theme is the idea that identifying the correct, most compassionate response usually also involves some collateral damage. “I don't want distance when distance always seems to be the thing that comes and hurts us,” Forster sings on We Can’t Win. But the songs aren’t intended as a public service, a how to guide, or even as a means of communicating with the listener.

“The strange thing for me is that I’ve never even thought about that for a second,” Forster says. “Writing songs is, for all of us, something to do. We don’t even really think about it while we’re doing it. It’s not really in our consciousness that anyone will ever hear it. It’s a very distant reality at that time.

“Most of the songs we write no-one ever hears. When you’re working on it, it’s unclear whether we’ll play it with this band, whether we’d ever play it live, whether we’d ever record it. It just seems unlikely that anyone would hear it, so you just do things in isolation.”

The conventional wisdom, though, is that melodic pop songs will always be a means of reaching out. They’re largely plain-spoken, while their easily-digestible lengths and structures mean that they can be consumed without much preparation or thought. By those standards, the Goon Sax can be considered to be in the business of communication, whether they want to be or not. Forster disagrees.

“If you’ve got a message and you want as many people to hear it as possible, I guess a western pop framework is probably the best way to do that,” he says. “I would encourage anyone who has a really important message to express that through pop music. But the things we’re saying, we wanted to say them but it didn’t feel essential that lots of people heard it.

“Pop can feel the most open, but it can also be the most alienating. It’s music made for people. While it can really reach you, it can also make you feel very disconnected. You can listen to the radio and it’s like someone really reaching out to you, but then they completely miss you. There’s other music where you have to reach out to it, but you know that it’s there for you to grab. It doesn’t appear like it’s trying to appeal to you or it’s made for you. It’s existing in its own space, I guess.”

If the Goon Sax stick together for the long haul, it’s entirely possible that their discography will one day contain post-punk with a more pronounced edge, perhaps in the vein of a band like Parquet Courts, or skyscraping orchestral pop, or despondent, wordy ballads, or challenging no wave. We might look back on an album like ‘We’re Not Talking’ as a stepping stone, where they made early forays into new rhythmic shapes, strings and spare, lo-fi piano.

“That was something we spent a lot of time working on, the little bits, little breakdowns, little percussive things,” Forster says. “That was fun for us because it was the first time we were thinking about how we could accentuate our music, or have some fun with it rather than just playing it straight through from beginning to end.

"Before, we’d never thought about it in that way. It was just the struggle of getting through a song. That was all we ever tried to achieve on the first record. We didn’t try to add or think about anything other than playing it from beginning to end with as few mistakes as we could.”

It’s just a case of figuring out where they want to go and who they want to be. There’s definitely a song or two in that.

‘We’re Not Talking’ is out now on Wichita.

The Goon Sax Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Mon September 17 2018 - GLASGOW Hug and Pint
Tue September 18 2018 - LEEDS Headrow House
Wed September 19 2018 - LONDON Rough Trade East
Thu September 20 2018 - BIRMINGHAM Hare And Hounds
Sat September 22 2018 - MANCHESTER YES
Sun September 23 2018 - BRISTOL Grain Barge
Sat October 13 2018 - COVENTRY Central Library
Mon October 15 2018 - BRIGHTON Green Door Store
Tue October 16 2018 - LONDON Garage

Click here to compare & buy The Goon Sax Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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