Songwriting 101: Louise Goffin
Singer-songwriter Louise Goffin grew up surrounded by music. As the child of acclaimed songwriters Carole King and Gerry Goffin, Louisebegan writing and recording at an early age. At nineteen, she released her debut album, Kid Blue, to critical praise.
We got a chance to sit down with Louise to discuss her songwriting process, her legendary parents, starting her own label, and receiving a Grammy nomination for A Holiday Carole.
How would you describe your songwriting process? Is there a specific instrument you prefer to compose on?
Usually a song starts holding an instrument in my hand and playing and singing. Sometimes it helps to move an idea to an instrument the idea didn’t start on, to see it in a fresh light. An instrument I barely know how to play can lead me to a different place. Other times, playing piano, where I can get around the most, is what will break a song open. It’s usually quietly sitting with it and almost meditating while playing that brings a song to life.
Was there ever a specific song or album that inspired you to write your own music?
The Beatles albums: Rubber Soul, Magical Mystery Tour, Revolver, Abbey Road, Let It Be. Marvin Gayeand Tammi Terrell, the Sly and The Family Stone album Fresh, Motown records, Joni Mitchell’s, Blue, For The Roses, and The Hissing of Summer Lawns. James Taylor, Neil Young’s After The Gold Rush. Paul Simon, David Bowie, Led Zeppelin – practically all their records which to me still don’t date, The Pretenders’ first and second albums. Peter Gabriel records. Pink Floyd. I’ve always loved songs that put you in a movie lyrically, or ones that sound so full of raw attitude that you could forget your insecurities. I knew I had to have as much access to that as possible in my own heart, mind and fingertips to live and survive life.
Growing up as the child of two renowned songwriters, did you worry you wouldn’t be able to cultivate a distinct songwriting style?
I had a sense of my own style early on, though not very confident at first. My pen was smarter than my singing voice, and I was still posturing attitudes rather than showing my own vulnerability for a long time. I could write things that I couldn’t believably sing for a long time. What I worried about – having two renowned songwriters as parents – was how I was ever going to write songs even close to the level of expectation from me. I would have rather proved to the world I was good than prove I could be in the charts, which you didn’t necessarily have to be good to do. Because of this drive and feeling, I had so much to learn and so far to go. I kept myself locked up in my house, compulsively trying to get better at it.
It’s the “never-good-enough” disease that most people suffer from, but I was able to keep getting record deals to enable me to do little else but stay inside learning how to arrange, play different instruments, record, write, sing. The best of the best know enough to admit they’re better working with a team of people who bring what you don’t have to the table.
What was the first song you wrote that you felt truly proud of?
Maybe it was “Trapeze” on my first record, Kid Blue. I wrote it when I was 17. I think two or three years after that, there was a song called “Against My Will.” It had lines in it like “we intoxicate our lives with romance, we sober to pain, never wanting to say goodbye or go back the way we came” and “there are some things you cannot kill, I call your name against my will.” I’d dig into some deep angst and torture once in awhile starting out, when I wasn’t being a kid having fun with an amp and an electric guitar.
You released 2008’s Bad Little Animals on your own label, Majority of One Records. Did you find this route gave you more freedom with your songwriting?
The route came after the songs were written. I wanted to release the songs I’d recorded over a four-year period and then all of a sudden I was going on a short tour with big audiences, and needed CDs to sell. I had to put together a package with hardly any notice. I did the artwork myself, mastered it and called the label Majority of One Records since I was only person in the record “company.”
Was there ever a song you found especially difficult to write?
The ones where the track comes first and then you have to write or finish the lyrics – those are the hardest for me to write to.
In addition to singing and writing music, you’ve played with a variety of musicians, including playing guitar on Tears for Fears’ 1997 tour. Has that experience changed your approach to writing and composing music?
What the Tears for Fears tour gave me was that after being on the road for four months, I longed to be home and writing, and I embraced that more when I returned from it. After you play the same show every night, the longing to create something new reaches a high pitch of necessity. I think being home and writing is the soul of everything else that follows. I wrote the songs for Sometimes A Circle after that tour.
How did it feel to receive a Grammy nomination for A Holiday Carole?
Unreal. I had conflicting beliefs. One was this magical thinking that maybe one day I’d go to the Grammys with something I’d worked on, and the other belief was “no way” is this possible for someone like me. I say someone like me, because in spite of growing up around a lot of success, I had a hard time believing it could come from me. I was more comfortable with the role of thoughtfully ruminating in my room in isolation, and I believed you had to have a thick skin to be out with the movers and shakers, and I definitely didn’t have that.
Have you ever been up in a hot air balloon? You don’t feel any different whether you go up or down. In fact, landing just feels the same as going up, only the earth is getting closer to you. There’s no perspective in how it feels till you hit ground. Hearing that the holiday record got a Grammy nomination was like that. I didn’t feel I did anything different, didn’t feel any change of atmospheric pressure. It was just that all of sudden the ground was closer, and those movers and shakers didn’t look a million miles away from me anymore.
In the next month, I’m playing a Carole King song in a tribute to her receiving the prestigious George Gershwin award. There are three A Fine Surprise shows that Billy Harvey and I are rehearsing for. I have a good feeling about what’s to come. The wonderful gift about songwriting and spending time learning those songs is feeling prepared with something to give. I’m less preoccupied and more open to receiving the good that comes. It’s always a two-way conversation with the universe.
Alternative. Indie. Punk. Pop. R&B. Folk. Rock. Riffraf. Copyright © 2012-2013 Richard Fulco, Founder and Editor
(Reprinted with permission from Louise Goffin)
For for information of the USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net