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Interview: Kenny Becker (Goon)

3 August 2022

Photo by Nate Kahn

Hour of Green Evening is the album that Goon singer/songwriter Kenny Becker has been working towards since posting solo demos to Bandcamp in 2015. Becker’s earlier material favored ‘90s-style indie-grunge with lo-fi recordings and fuzzy guitars (and occasional screaming vocals – “Merchant Hall”) but as the years have gone by, the songwriting has become more nuanced, the guitars played more gently and the music more peaceful and comforting.

With wide stream recognition still a bit out of reach, Goon lost some band members along the way to things like families and full-time jobs but in 2018, Becker started assembling the current members of the band who were just starting to gel as the pandemic wreaked havoc on every aspect of life. The temporary pause provided the latest incarnation of Goon to write a bunch of material, the first of which surfaced earlier this year in the form of the Paint by Numbers, Vol. 1 EP, which set the tone for the musical direction the band was heading towards and, just recently, the release of the full-length album, Hour of Green Evening.

Becker joined me recently to talk about Goon’s evolving sound, finding an outlet in painting, making videos with friends, and having celebrity encounters in his hometown of Los Angeles.

What is the Goon touring philosophy?

KENNY: We’re trying to get on the road, there’s stuff in the works. We’re thinking of doing an East Coast and a West Coast run, separately, before the end of the year and then early next year there is a plan in place in January and February to do all of North America and then go from there.

Tough to avoid the topic of COVID and the last few years. Were you like many bands and either on the road or getting ready to hit the road in spring of 2020 when everything came to a screeching halt?

KENNY: We actually canceled our plans to go to South by Southwest before it was even canceled. We were like, “I don’t know if it’s worth it for us.” We had a couple of cool shows but not quite enough to justify the whole trip out and we also just wanted to work on the new record. We canceled our trip and then a few weeks later the whole thing got canceled.

When I was a kid, both my parents had the Alan Parsons Project cassette, Eye in the Sky in their cars so I was over-exposed to it. When listening to Hour of Green Evening it made me think of that cassette. I don’t think you sound like the Alan Parsons Project but that music was so rich and deep, the production was lush, the musicians were very talented and well trained and that’s what I hear in your music.

KENNY: That was a focal point. I feel like Goon has always been considered my thing, and that’s cool. In some ways, I think that’s true, but going into this record we definitely wanted to let everyone shine. That was a big reason to track all of it live, or at least the core with the four of us in the same room doing takes to tape and trying to keep it relatively old school. And then we’d go hard on the overdubs and the weird extra stuff. We definitely wanted things to breathe while letting individual parts and players have their space and their own personality. I’ve always loved bands like that where if you’re a fan of the band, you know the name of every member because that’s part of being a fan of that band. It’s that all-for-one mentality of a band of homies.

Didn’t the whole lineup swap up before you made this record?

KENNY: Kind of. It was a gradual thing, they didn’t all switch at once. Andy [Polito], on drums, he joined in 2018. That was the first shift from the old, original lineup. Andy is the oldest new member. Dillon [Peralta], on guitar, and Tamara [Simmons], on bass, they both joined in 2019. At that point, by the end of 2019 it was a fully new lineup. It was like, “We’ve got this new record more or less written, let’s start rehearsing it a bunch and go into the studio.” And then COVID hit so we took a pause and wrote more songs. We kept rehearsing and through that concentrated quarantine bubble time, I think we really started becoming better friends. We got to spend some incubator time together and then being in the studio was an extension of that. It was very insulated, we didn’t invite people to come hang out in the studio. In late 2021, even though Tamara has been in the band for two years, we played our first show with her.

What was that like?

KENNY: It was really fun. I think technically we played a secret show under the moniker Garden of Our Neighbor which ended up becoming the name of the first song on the EP that we put out earlier this summer. It’s an acronym for Goon. We got booked to play with Frankie and the Witch Fingers at this DIY spot in L.A. called Non Plus Ultra and that was going to be our first show with Tamara but we hadn’t played a show since pre-pandemic so we decided to try to hop on a random bill before this one but not be Goon. We came up with a bunch of ideas but decided on Garden of Our Neighbor and it occurred to me later that that would be a great song name.

Hour of the Green Evening isn’t available yet on vinyl. Will it be coming at some point?

KENNY: Because vinyl production is so messed up right now, we’re going to do a special edition, limited edition CD. There’s the regular CD for the album but we’re going to do a special one that I’m hoping will be ready in time for our show in L.A. on September 2. It’ll be a red disc and it’s going to have extra songs and maybe some other hidden goodies. My buddy Jake Whitener, he’s always been a friend of the band, he managed us back in the day, he’s my best friend, he’s been helping up put this record out. That CD was his idea and he’s always really helped us do more special stuff.

Is the album cover a painting of yours?

KENNY: It is. It’s sort of become a theme for Goon releases although I didn’t paint the cover for Paint by Numbers Vol. 1. But, I did design it. I guess it’s my obsession with Radiohead and Stanley Donwood and that whole relationship. They were the first band that opened me to that concept of really seizing the visual aspect of the music and trying to have fun with it and using it as a way to communicate and clue people in or suggest a way of listening to the record. The album art really does influence your perception of the songs. If our record was exactly the same but instead of being a painting of a red ladder floating on an image of a meadow, if it was a photo of the four of us standing in the L.A. River, all gritty and cool, it would totally change how you listen to it.

Do you paint for enjoyment or do you paint with a purpose, like you know that what you’re doing will end up as cover art for an album?

KENNY: I definitely paint for enjoyment, I love it. Painting and music, one tends to dominate what I’m working on at any given moment and the other one doesn’t go away, it just gets pushed to the side a little bit. It’s like a pendulum that swings between those two. I love painting on it’s own, as a practice, but I did try to come up with a theme for the record visually. It’s not like I painted the red ladder thing and was like, “That would be cool album art.” I had the idea for the red ladder while we were recording and I just messed around with that in a bunch of various ways.

The music influenced the art as opposed to the art influencing the music?

KENNY: That’s correct. Although, early pandemic, I started getting back into landscape painting outdoors. It’s kind of the perfect quarantine activity, there was nobody else around. In fact, the less people around, the better time you’ll have because people like to see what you’re doing and that takes you out of it. I started spending a lot of time in places around L.A. that are kind of like parks but that are near the L.A. River or near big buildings. I would try to be out in nature but in L.A. you can’t get too far into nature and most nature spots you’re not too far from a highway. I was meditating on the landscape and I do think that kind of influenced the vibe of the record. I found a lot of peace and comfort in doing that.

Do you have daily routines you follow, whether it be for painting or for working on music?

KENNY: Mornings are a great time to write songs, or at least during the day. I think the more upbeat stuff tends to come out when you have more energy. That being said, I’m totally a night owl and I tend to get a lot of stuff done between the hours of 11pm and 3am so there’s a balance. I don’t have a routine that’s very strict but I do try to play guitar every day and try to come up with something, even little stupid ideas, and record them on my tape machine.

In terms of visually representing the band and the music, you also have been making videos. Any particular favorites?

KENNY: The first single, “Angelnumber 1210,” my good friend Katie Neuhof directed it and she had the idea to do it on film, 16mm. That was so fun, it looks gorgeous. We’ve never done anything like that before. We basically filmed it all in one day. We met up in the morning and she had a bunch of friends come be in the video and do various things. We took a lunch break and then met up in the afternoon and went into night time. It all happened over the course of one day.

There’s the “Emily Says” video that our good friend Josh Beavers did. That one was fun because we got to film it in Sylmar which is this little town in the valley of L.A. Our good friend Adrian [Acosta] lives there, he’s in this really great band here in L.A. called Draag. They’ve always been our soulmate band. I always felt like we were after the same things aesthetically and musically but we came at it from different ways but always on the same wavelength. His family has this awesome house up there with this really cool, wide open dirt lot/yard area. That’s where we filmed the video. Same thing, we did it all in one day. We had some loose ideas of getting some band shots, doing some stuff with the image of the red ladder, and things like that.

As someone who lives in L.A., I have to imagine you see famous people on occasion. Any good stories?

KENNY: That’s a cliché that is totally true, you just run into people. We’ve become really good friends with Reggie Watts over the last few years. The first couple of times I ran into him, I felt a little starstruck. Turns out, he’s just a huge music nerd and loves knowing what’s going on in music in general. He’s been a huge supporter and he’s an amazing musician himself.

I worked in a coffee shop in Silver Lake for five years. It was one of those funny things where somebody would come in and I’d see them and be like, “You’re either famous – and I don’t remember your name – or you’re a regular here at the coffee shop – and I don’t remember your name.” It’s just a sea of faces all day. There were a couple of times where I ended up asking actual famous people who they were. This one time this guy came in and I was like, “Hey, do you play music?” He got instantly shy and was quietly like, “Oh, yeah. Yeah.” I asked what band he was in in normal speaking volume and his voice got really quiet and he was like, “Um, the Red Hot Chili Peppers.” It was Josh Klinghoffer. I don’t think anyone heard. I realized the reason I thought he looked familiar is because I was watching his gig rundown video on YouTube like two nights earlier.

I’m remembering a couple other good ones. They are all from the coffee shop I worked at. Some of the encounters would happen in the middle of the morning rush, everything just gets blurry and you’re just trying to crank out cappuccinos and all of a sudden I look up and it’s Butch Vig. I’m like, “Whoa!” I think I said something stupid like, “Hey, are you Butch Vig?” He was really nice about it and I gave him everything for free because he was my hero. Zach de la Rocha from Rage Against the Machine would come in all the time. We had a really cool talk one time, he came up and wanted to order a breakfast thing and I was like, “I know you’ve been coming in a lot lately. I didn’t want to say anything and be weird but you’re literally one of my heroes. ‘Battle of Los Angeles’ changed my life.” He was so sweet. He was like, “Thanks, man. I feel like we really put it all on the line for that one and went for it.” I was like, “Yeah, you did. So good!”