By Jose Lopez-Sanchez of Dead Curious
It’s just another gorgeous day in Southern California when I connect with Josh Legg, the producer-songwriter better known as Goldroom. As you might expect, the 32-year-old sounds chipper and relaxed – a sharp contrast to the cold rain and gloom that has hung over DC for the better part of a week. On both coasts September is in its waning days, and Legg is spending them at home, preparing for a North American tour. It will be an ambitious jaunt, one with a live backing band and all. But if the sailing enthusiast has proven anything, it’s that he’s unafraid of a trip into unknown waters.
Whisking others away is a running theme in Legg’s life. As Goldroom, he’s mastered the art of crafting warm, enveloping tracks. His music transports listeners to a place of comfort and luxury, often evoking some distant tropical paradise. Though he’s a native of the Boston area, Legg has spent the majority of the last decade residing in Los Angeles, and you can hear it: The California sunshine has rubbed off on him – or, at least, seeped into his music.
“I moved out to California without any designs of pursuing music or entertainment in any way,” Legg admits, with a seriously, believe me intonation that feels like the product of repetition and practice. “I did it so I could be on the water year-round.”
While Legg still maintains a deep, unwavering love for the city he was raised in, he concedes that current opportunities and circumstance mean he’ll remain tethered to the West Coast for the time being.
“I still really love it out there in Boston. I feel more comfortable there than anywhere else.” he tells me. “But, for now, California is home.”
You have made a career out of music in a very organic fashion. When did you realize you wanted to pursue this full-time?
I mean, never. [Laughs] I was recently listening to a podcast where someone described the term “shadow artist.” It’s when you know in the back of your head or in your soul that you want to be an artist, but you don’t know if you necessarily have what it takes, so you enter the industry to work with other artists instead.
That’s very much what happened to me. When I finished at USC, a college friend of mine who went through the Music Industry program wanted to start a music company, and we had always bonded over music, so we started this record label and music management company, Binary. That was my entry into the industry, but even then, I never had any aspiration or thoughts that I could be a musician for my career. I started Goldroom only with the intent of having an outlet to release the songs that I was writing and to have a chance to DJ around L.A. Those were literally my goals. [Laughs]
When I saw the response that the first songs got online, I was excited about the possibility that it could be more, but what changed it was necessity, really. Within a couple of months of me releasing my first songs, people were asking me to DJ sets around the country and around the world. I dove pretty quickly into a touring lifestyle, and it became apparent that I had to make it a full time thing. If it was ever an aspiration, it was an aspiration in the back of my head, but there was never a thought, like, “Oh, I’ve got to quit this to make music my sole gig.”
Aside from being a sailing instructor, is there something you would like to pursue in tandem with music?
That’s tough to say as far as a job goes. Being on the water and sailing a lot is something that’s really important to me. Even after I was done with college, I spent a summer putting together and running a community boating program in Massachusetts. I have a lot of experience running a sailing program, and if music completely went away tomorrow it’s probably what I would pursue. I love spreading that knowledge and working with young people and teaching people how to sail. I love being on boats every day.
There are things I’d love to do in tandem. I’ve thought a lot of the idea of living on a boat and recording music. Cruising and taking the boat place to places, all the while making music and seeing what happens. My dream is having a mobile studio on a boat that I can take around and make music on.
Viceroy recently did a short stint on the Yacht Week. Did you see?
[Laughs] Yeah, though Yacht Week is a little bit different. I have a pretty good relationship with the Yacht Week people, and that’s something I may do at some point. The partying takes maybe a little bit of the precedent over the sailing, but there’s nothing wrong with that. I do love a good party.
I’m sure if the Americas Cup is trying to bring Goldroom on, you’d be down.
[Laughs] Of course. And there are certainly a lot of opportunities. This summer I did a tour where every show I played was on a boat, so that’s something I’m certainly going to continue to do.
I’m keenly aware that when a lot of people are listening to my music, they’re not imagining a dark club at midnight. They are hoping to hear this kind of music in a different setting, and it’s a big goal of mine to start to provide that experience to them; it’s just difficult because the infrastructure isn’t really in place.
You’ve said that your goals with Goldroom “were always to bring a sort of a classic songwriting mentality to electronic music.” Do you think you’ve managed that so far?
I have a long way to go before I’ll feel like I’ve gotten all the way there, but the criteria by which to judge that comes down to whether I could stand up in front of a bunch of people with an acoustic guitar or piano and play the songs acoustically and still have them stand up and work. If they don’t work in that setting, they shouldn’t work in any settings.
There are a number of my songs that pass that test, but there are certainly others that probably don’t. My goal is to get to a point where that’s true of all of my recorded songs. I’m on my way there. I strive for that every day.
Who would you consider to be your favorite songwriters today?
It feels like a very trendy thing to say at the moment, but Ryan Adams has been my modern hero for like ten years. In my mind, he’s one of our greatest songwriters. I love almost everything he’s made. As far as contemporaries, he’s someone I always point to.
Most of my other songwriting heroes are not making music anymore or they were sort of in their primes many years back – guys like Tom Petty. Even within the electronic sphere, James Murphy is a huge hero of mine. Those are two really good examples of people who wrote timeless music that would have worked fifty years ago and probably would work fifty years from now.
Do you get a different fulfillment out of making your own original production as opposed to remix work? You’ve done a lot of the latter.
Yeah, one hundred percent. Remixes are where I get to have fun and sort of push my own boundaries of production, but when I’m writing an original song the emotional toll or emotional energy that it takes is on a whole other level. So, when I succeed in writing a song that I believe in – the fulfillment that I get out of that is like a thousand times more than making a good remix.
It’s Like You Never Went Away features re-workings of some songs you released a while ago. In fact, some are staples of your live performances. What was the impetus behind changing them up?
You know, all things being equal, I probably wouldn’t have re-released it. It wasn’t that I decided to release these four songs and then was looking for a way to do it. Snapchat came at me. They approached me and said, “Hey, we love these songs. We want to put these out as a short film/EP. How do you feel about that?”
One of the cool ancillary benefits of this is that I got to do something no one else had ever done before. That was really exciting from an artistic perspective. The second thing was that I had this demo of “Embrace” with George Maple on it, because we wrote the song together. And I always thought it was a shame that the world never got to hear what she sounded like on the song because it was her voice that was originally on it. This gave us an opportunity to show the world what that song was like.
That was really the reasoning behind doing this. It wasn’t something I was aching to do as a musician; it was a very cool opportunity, and it made a lot of sense.
It’s pretty incredible to see how Snapchat has evolved. It’s not just dick pics on there anymore.
[Laughs] Yeah, I mean, they’ll get to a billion users before long. The people that said that this was a social media platform for 15-year-old boys are very wrong. There’s no other way to put it: The data shows they’re just wrong. A huge percentage of people use this as a primary means of communication and sharing. It’s a pretty exciting platform.
Do you use Snapchat much yourself?
Yeah! Totally. And I’ve been able to do that because Snapchat’s been good to me, and since I’ve done a couple of things with them, it’s resulted in a lot of my own fans following me on that platform.
I happen to have a decent enough following, and people know that I’m active on there, so I have a fair amount of fan interaction through it. People will ask me questions or send me clips of them hearing my songs on the radio or whatever. It provides a really interesting way for me to have a back and forth with fans. It’s really the only platform on which somebody can send you a question that’s private, and you can have a painless exchange with someone without it being necessarily public, like Twitter, or something more formal like email. It can be really quick – someone can ask you what your set time is that night and you can respond really quickly.
Do you handle your other social media accounts yourself?
Totally, and I love doing it. There may come a time in my career where I can’t respond to everybody. I guess, maybe that’s now. [Laughs] It’s hard to keep up with. But I really do enjoy that back and forth. For now, it’s all me.
How did the relationship with Downtown Records come to be? What drove the decision to release through their label versus Binary Entertainment?
Actually, I’ve never released any Goldroom music on Binary. Even when I was putting music out on my own, it was all completely self-released. I basically decided at some point that self-releasing takes a lot of work and a lot of money to do it properly, and if the right partner came around who believed in the project the same way that I do, then I’d be interested in working with them.
The conversation with Downtown took months and months and months and months. It was a courtship. We had a lot of discussions about where things could go. They were dogged and really excited about the project to the point that I wasn’t interested in signing with anybody else. They seemed like a really good fit. I wasn’t looking to sign with any other label. They’ve been amazing to work with.
Additional contributions by Philip Runco.