“I never wanna leave this world without saying I love you, without saying what you mean to me.”
So the lyrics go in S.G. Goodman’s “Space And Time”, a song off her forthcoming solo debut, Old Time Feeling. The message feels wisftully prescient in times like these, but she assures me that this is purely accidental. “I wasn’t a fortune teller, you know? I didn’t know that it could be,” she tells me from her porch in Murray, Kentucky.
And how could any of us have known? Just three months ago feels like an entirely different decade, an entirely different life.
The music industry is among the hardest hit sectors; Covid-19 has left not just musicians in the lurch, but also scores of behind the scenes professionals, from publicists to journalists to sound engineers. Goodman is well aware of this, and is quick to mention her team. “My booking agent, my manager…it’s heartbreaking for me to think about how much work has totally gone down the drain for them.”
After an extensive set of dates were canceled, it’s hard not to feel frustrated, but Goodman is trying to stay positive. “I know it’d be very irresponsible for musicians to continue asking people to come out in public places right now. I’m just keeping a good attitude about it.”
So how has she been spending the forced downtime? “I’m actually taking guitar lessons online,” she says, an admission that seems surprising given the level of talent apparent throughout her songs. “A lot of people don’t know this about me, but I don’t know theory at all, I couldn’t tell you the names of the chords I’m playing.”
Instead, she’s more accustomed to playing things by ear. “That’s just how I’ve always done it,” she says. “I’ve been scared to really know the ins and outs of what I’m doing, because I don’t want that to affect the organic nature of how a song comes to me.” And although she doesn’t want to tamper with what’s been working so far, creating “when the spirit speaks”, she’s willing to try something new in the name of bettering her craft. (And “Also,” she tells me “I’d love to rip a solo.”)
In addition to the lessons, Goodman has been trying to make the most of her unexpectedly clear schedule by focusing on songwriting, though she admits the task feels daunting. “I was going to be on the road so much, so the pressure of sitting down and writing a song right now is really real for me. It’s like, when else would I have had this much time to work on things?”
She’s certainly not the only one feeling the weight of this sudden abundance of hours in the day, but the burden seems to be compounded for creatives. And with the possibility that touring could pick up again at the drop of a hat, it’s tough to fully relax. “I’ve got to be physically and mentally prepared to be a performer again.”
For now, she’s finding caregiving to be a good outlet; she’s been checking in on an older friend and mentor of hers who’s high-risk, bringing him groceries and having socially distant chats. “I take my car a few times a week and sit very, very far from him to talk. We literally have to yell at each other, but it’s been nice. It’s felt nice to have real purpose during this time.”
Another source of purpose comes from political activism, though her passion for that began well before any inkling of a pandemic.
She describes Murray, where she’s currently based, as “a tiny, tiny little blue dot in western Kentucky” thanks in large part to the presence of Murray State University; she initially moved there for college, noting that it “actually had real stoplights and fast food,” a stark contrast to her hometown of less than three thousand people. Outside the blue bubble, though, it’s a sea of red.
While Goodman (like many) was disheartened by the outcome of the 2016 election, she by no means found it shocking. “I think a lot of people from different areas can’t even imagine that worldview. But this is real, you know?”
She addresses some of this cultural disparity in the lyrics of her new record’s title track, “Old Time Feeling”:
“Oh and my soul can’t afford those city lights
not with the sickness in the countryside
not with the wound that we’ve left open wide”
“Oh and I hear people saying how they want a change
and then the most of them do something strange
they move where everybody feels the same
about the southern state behind”
Uprooting oneself from small town living in search of greener (or at least more progressive) pastures is not uncommon, but the phenomenon has left gaping holes in rural America, especially in recent years. While Goodman has never lived anywhere but the South, owns a house in Kentucky and votes there, the value in temporary relocation is not lost on her. In fact, she’d been thinking about moving to New York City in the fall, though things are a bit more uncertain now in light of recent events. “I feel like in a weird way, not allowing myself the experience of living different places at some point would kind of take away my ability to really put where I’m from, the people there and the experience of the South, into true perspective.”
That said, she also points out the importance of geographic intersectionality in order to bring about country-wide progress. “I say constantly, we have to as a nation get behind state elections that are not our own. Because our representatives, my representatives here in Kentucky, they affect your daily life as a person living in New York.”
She’s had some understandable reservations about being politically vocal as a musician, but at the end of the day, she views it as her responsibility to be a conduit for change. “We have to think long picture, and also think about the people whose lives are being affected on a daily basis.”
And the dangerous pitfalls of our current leadership have been amplified by Covid-19, causing many otherwise apolitical Americans to reconsider their positions. Regardless of affiliation, the number of people being negatively impacted is staggering, and it’s been difficult to watch a government fail its constituents so profoundly.
“Musicians have historically been the voice for social change. Why are we concerned right now with just playing a kumbaya session to people who are going through a hard time? It’s like seeing a person bleeding and singing a song over them. It just infuriates me. Let’s get back to our Bob Dylan sixties days. Let’s burn this place down.”
She’d settle for even just a little more shouldering of responsibility by some of her quieter peers. “We need to band together and call for action. And you don’t have to support a particular party to do that. We need to encourage people to be engaged politically, whatever that means to them.”
Certainly there are genres of music which make things more or less difficult when dancing around the issue of politics, and as someone who has sometimes been placed under the umbrella of country, Goodman probably knows this better than most. She does understand why, upon first glance, someone might categorize her as such. “I am a country person, and my vocabulary and colloquialisms are definitely tied to a place.”
But while she’s not too bothered by how people classify her music, she wouldn’t necessarily call it country herself. “As far as what we’re doing musically, I’d say it’s more a new wave of indie southern rock. Not in the way that we’re what people mostly think of as ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ southern rock, but our music is more indie leaning than I’d say traditionally country.”
Regardless of the way people choose to catalogue her sound, Goodman’s songs transport listeners elsewhere, and she acknowledges the appeal of that escapism. “People are hungry for real lyrics. They want to experience a different place and time, and I think rural representation and the way people describe things lets people get out of their world a little bit, like a little vacation they get to take.”
A few might end up extending that little vacation; for many outsiders, the romanticized South can seem like an exotic place, and some end up dancing a fine line between appreciation and appropriation in everything from music to fashion to cuisine. Goodman is pretty good-natured when it comes to this phenomenon, and makes it very clear that she’s mostly appreciative of others appreciating her culture. That’s not to say she doesn’t find a bit of humor in it, though.
The fact is, there’s something that feels absurd about manufactured authenticity, even if it’s coming from a good place; there are tiny details, muscle memories that have to be lived, not learned, that differentiate between something that is three-dimensional, and something that effortlessly swallows you whole. And that’s why Old Time Feeling is so undeniably good.
Because for Goodman, this is just her life.
“I am a farmer’s daughter from the South, and this is my work. I am not having to imagine these worlds. It is my world.”
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