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Interview: William Goldsmith of Assertion

5 July 2021

Fans of ’90s alternative rock may have wondered where drummer William Goldsmith (Sunny Day Real Estate, The Fire Theft, Foo Fighters) disappeared to. After a Sunny Day Real Estate reunion tour in 2010, Goldsmith says he “fell off the face of the earth” and seriously considered putting down the drumsticks for good. In the last decade, Goldsmith admits that, “I sat down and played drums one time” and it wasn’t until he met singer/guitarist Justin Tamminga and bassist Bryan Gorder – who play together in the band Blind Guides – that the passion returned. Getting back into the rhythm was a bit more difficult. “It’s kind of like riding a bike, but a bike covered in cobwebs,” Goldsmith says. “Physically, it was a challenging process but I was able to remember my approach.”

In early 2019, the trio started writing and playing together and, by mid-year, Assertion began work on their debut album, Intermission, which, for the most part, was recorded during the pandemic. With nothing but time on their hands for the last 15 months, Goldsmith tells me on a recent Zoom call following band practice that the sophomore album is far along and could even be released in 2021.

When you were growing up, who influenced how you listened to music? Was it your parents? Siblings? Friends?

WILLIAM: Siblings, I was the youngest of 9 kids. They were all 2 years apart and then my sister that was the next oldest to me, she and I were like 5 years apart. They were all quite a bit older so constantly it was Steely Dan, early Chicago, Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind and Fire, Beatles, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, I could just go on and on and on. It was really my brother, Brian, that sat me down when I was 13. I wanted to play drums since I was 5, but it took me until I was 13 to convince my parents to get me a drum kit. Brian bought records for me and would take me through the journey of the record. We would listen to Quadrophenia (The Who) and it went from just being a record to being this life-changing experience. He did that with Permanent Waves (Rush), Dark Side of the Moon (Pink Floyd), a bunch of records. Those were 3 of the big ones. He’d tell me sort of legendary stories about Keith Moon or he would talk about David Byrne from Talking Heads’ IQ – these people are geniuses. That really, really changed everything for me. He took me into the music, that’s when I was like, “I have to get a drum kit.” For whatever reason, I always wanted to play drums.

The first time I saw Sunny Day Real Estate was on a reunion tour and a band called Gloritone opened. I was a big fan of those guys. It got me to wondering, when you’re touring, does it feel like summer camp? Are there bands that you toured with in the ’90s that you still keep in touch with because you had a common shared touring experience together?

WILLIAM: Keep in touch with some, not really very many. There are some friendships you develop from those times or tours or experiences. There are a few friendships that do continue. It’s hard for me to answer that because I kind of vanished, I fell off the face of the earth so I didn’t really keep in touch with anybody. Those experiences though, you definitely build a camaraderie relationship, especially if you’re on the road for a long time. Like, Sunny Day toured with Shudder to Think for a long time and then the Foo Fighters toured with Shudder to Think for a long time so I was on the road with those guys a lot. Foo Fighters toured with Jawbreaker and Ween and then Foo Fighters toured with Jawbreaker in Australia. We toured Australia and Southeast Asia with Sonic Youth and the Beastie Boys so we were with them a long time. You develop a rapport, it’s not the kind of thing where people are too cool to talk to each other. Same thing with Brainiac. When Brainiac was on the road with us and Shudder to Think, we definitely developed a thing. It’s kind of camp-ish, but it’s different than camp, but that’s a relatively okay analogy.

Is it okay to talk about the decade that you were inactive?

WILLIAM: There were quite a few ingredients. Much of it is relatively unpleasant but a whole bunch of people died that were close to me, I could just go down a list and keep going and going and going. It’s just ridiculous. Part of me shut down a little bit from that. But, also, I was in a band called Brawley Banks, we were working on a record and then the Sunny Day reunion thing happened so we put that on hold and went and did the Sunny Day tour and then Sunny Day decided to make a record and then we went and tracked 6 or 7 songs but it wasn’t followed through on. As a result of being away from Brawley Banks, our bass player moved to Guam, our guitar player quit, it just sort of fizzled out. I had these two records I was working on and they kind of just went away. It was frustrating. I like making records, I like sort of documenting that period of time. It’s a great thing to do and if there are songs to do it with, you should do it if you can. That was unfortunate.

So it was a combination of that, having the wind taken from my sails, and then pretty much PTSD from people dying. I really just shut down and completely withdrew from everyone. I moved to California for a while, got into a relationship, we have 3 children together and we’re no longer together but we’re co-parenting. I became a father, that took up a lot of my time. I spent all that time really avoiding music, I didn’t even listen to music because my heart would sink when I would hear any music. I knew that I should be doing that but I was not doing it. I was avoiding it, I was hiding from it.

But, the fire was relit again by seeing Justin and his band with his children, Dahlia and Lucien, called Pig Snout. So, not only were the songs really, really well written and really well crafted, just really good songs, but here was this guy sharing that part of him with his children. It hit me. I was like, “Oh my God, what am I doing?” My children didn’t even know this part of me, it’s a crime. So, thanks to them, it was kind of put things into perspective. That was that. My bright idea was to try to join Pig Snout. I was like, “Hey, you guys want a second drummer?” and Dahlia, the drummer, she said “no” because it was a family band. I respected that, of course. But then Justin and I started playing and then Bryan joined us. That’s sort of an abbreviated version. I had seen their other band play and was really blown away by Bryan and I figured that I wanted to play with Bryan so I’d use Justin to get to him (laughs). That’s a joke!

There are 3 members of Assertion but your name is the one mentioned in press releases and you’re doing a majority – if not all – of the interviews.

WILLIAM: Yeah, sure, I guess it’s because Sunny Day Real Estate signed to SubPop and as a result got some exposure and then I was in the Foo Fighters and two people from Nirvana were in that band. It’s just sort of circumstantial.

As someone who loves the mid-90s alternative rock sound, Assertion is right in my wheelhouse. If you didn’t have the resume you have, I’d still be a big fan of the music. Was the intent to write songs that paid homage to that time period?

WILLIAM: I don’t that was really the intent, I think that’s just where we’re from. We lived there, we were part of all that and just got older.

It’s like you’re dads making “dad rock” for those of us who grew up during that time period and now have kids of our own.

WILLIAM: There are these guys that do a podcast where they review records and this guy goes, “I’m going to call this ‘emo for grownups’.” I don’t understand the whole emo thing. I don’t get it. To say that human emotions, being this launching pad for a form of music, to say that’s a new thing doesn’t make sense. It’s always been that way. But, yeah, we’re “old man college rock.” (laughs)

This project started in June of 2019?

WILLIAM: We were doing it for a little while … time is weird for me, I have a hard time with time. We were maybe doing it for 5 months before the Bandcamp thing started. But, yeah, 2019-ish. Then when the lockdown happened, we just kept recording and then made a record. Since the lockdown continued, we’ve continued recording and we’re almost done with our second record. It’s about 80% done, that doesn’t include mixing. That’s just tracking everything. All the songs are there, the sequencing – we’ve got the sequencing idea that I think we’re going to do so we just need to get it over the finish line. We’re starting to get ready for shows again so that puts the recording on pause.

Will you wait to put out the next album to give the first album a proper cycle or will you release it as soon as it’s ready to go?

WILLIAM: I don’t know. We were tentatively thinking of maybe putting it out in 6 months-ish. If it feels right to put it out when we’re done, then we will. If, for some unforeseen reason, it feels like we should wait, we’ll wait. I personally would like to get it out as soon as it’s done. I’m really proud of the first record. Justin should get a Purple Heart for what he went through making that record because he literally had to figure out how to become a producer because of lockdown. That’s a lot of work. There were hours that Justin slaved away that Bryan and I were just at home in bed. What’s cool about that is that all the stuff that Justin learned from that experience, we got to start out with what he learned. That was the starting point for the next record.

Will this become a touring band or is Assertion a recording band that occasionally will play some local shows in the Washington area?

WILLIAM: Both. We want to tour but being that we all have kids, we have to be very strategic. Whatever tour we do it has to be worth spending time away from our kids. Not that it’s ever worth doing that but it needs to be accomplishing something, moving the ball down the field in some way, shape or form. It can’t just be going and hitting the road and grinding away and playing to 2 – 6 people a night. That’s not happening anymore. We haven’t crossed that bridge yet, we’re right at the bridge.

The shows you’ve played so far, have they been headlining or have you hoped on bills and opened for either local or touring bands?

WILLIAM: All the shows that we’ve played have primarily been opening because we’re brand new and, at the time, didn’t have anything out. Mostly playing first or second, but never headlining because we just started. We’ve opened for local bands.

I’m glad you found Justin and Bryan and were able to return to your passion. I hope you’re happy.

WILLIAM: I don’t see me walking away from music again at this point. I’m in it for good.