Psychedelia-inspired indie quartet Goo began with endless college jam sessions; post-graduation, they morphed into playing regular shows in the Brooklyn DIY scene, describing their project potently on Bandcamp as a “slow-burning nebula of lovesickness and hopeful/less crooning into the void.” On June 16, the band – Eriq Robinson (bass/vocals), Leah Beck (keys/vocals), Anders Johnson (drums) and Beck Zegans (guitar/vocals) – is set to release their first LP, Return to the Garden, nine tracks which invoke the lo-fi atmosphere of their live show and previous EPs The Squeeze and Under the Electric Blanket, while also using hi-fi production to sharpen the expansive musicality throughout the album. In the lead-up to the album’s release, Goo have shared three singles so far: “Fur,” “Fruit,” and “Animal.”
Zegans wrote “Animal,” the third single off the record, during a moment of “utter despondency” while sitting on her bedroom floor. As a writer, she tends to start with a chord progression that feels close to what she’s trying to convey and then gradually pulls lyrics from her journal which she stitches together and then brings to the band. Unsure if this particular song was right for Goo, she let “Animal” take a back seat until playing it for a friend. “We were just hanging out and playing guitar, I had a bunch of candles lit and it was all super vibey. He was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I love that song so much – is it about killing God?’” Zegans remembers.
With lyrics like “Hope is a cannibal thing, an all-natural gnaw” and “That was a time of odd myths and prayers/And of him who was spinning it all,” there’s a poetic examination of purpose, fate, and joy, that contrasts the bright background instrumentation, leading to a delicate but optimistic balance. The religious subtext on “Animal” reflects the spectrum of extreme emotional intensity within the song lyrics. “I was feeling a really big lofty emotion and I think the drama and scale of the lyrics, where it could be about a personal relationship or God or poetry, makes sense in that context,” says Zegans. There is a certain openness in “Animal,” creating space for listeners to explore the multifold concepts as they relate to their own individual experiences.
Although there is a darkness to the lyrics, the light guitar strumming and fluttering drums bring a levity to the drama. Keys that mimic church organ rise up into the atmosphere of the song’s simple chorus: “Now I’m a dead animal/I hold my tongue, tongue, tongue.” The brief moment of silence prior to the chorus leaves listeners leaning in, piercing through the vocal reverb which casts a hazy sheen on the track. The tone in Zegan’s voice is Dylan-esque, passive and cool, a certain style of singing which isn’t quite smoky, but tonally familiar to Courtney Barnett. Goo uses a big fuzz pedal on the track to keep the depth alive. “This song is kind of about throwing your hands up and saying fuck everything,” Zegans says. “The fuzz is the fuck everything pedal because it takes the signal and explodes it and blows it out.”
About a third of Return to the Garden was recorded in quarantine, with Zegans holding the sound together through a careful balance of guiding her bandmates and allowing them room to freely explore. Each of Goo’s members had a home recording set-up substantial enough to record from their bedrooms, and as demos started coming in, Zegans was able to shape the album along with producer John Roland Miller at RE Recording in Red Hook. This unconventional (but very 2020) recording process allowed the band to experiment and then refine, collaborating relatively easily over Zoom after having played live together for so many years. “We talked about the types of things I might want in there, but really what happened was a bunch of improvisation over the track,” Zegans says. “We tried out a bunch of different things and people sent me their different ideas.”
While writing the record, she was working at Roulette, an experimental venue in downtown Brooklyn, where she digitized concert recordings going back to the ’80s. The philosophy behind experimental music inspired the plethora of instruments used on the record, such as the theremin, flute, and trumpet. “As long as you’re expressing yourself, anything is fair game. It’s best to not feel confined by the expectations of the genre,” Zegans says.
“Fruit,” for instance, abounds with sonic allusions to ’60s psychedelic folk à la Nick Drake and Donovan, which Zegans describes as “this time of being able to have really deep and emotionally expressive songwriting while also having lots of weird stuff happening around it musically.”
With all of the effort that went into molding these songs for a comprehensive recorded piece, there’s a tangible excitement around how it will sound once the band is finally back together again. Once the LP is out in the world, Goo is looking to retake the stage; after almost a year and a half of not playing due to COVID, they’ll play a rooftop album release show at Honey’s with Cut Outs and Ok Cowgirl. “I’m excited to finally be releasing a full album and so excited to be able to start playing live again,” Zegans says. “That’s really our favorite thing. Before COVID we were always playing – I miss it so much. I think my main focus right now is getting to play these songs for people again.”
The way that this album was recorded, separately yet together, reflects the experiences of the DIY scene over this past year. And Goo certainly picked a relevant album title for their debut; getting to see the artists we’ve grown to love in our headphones take the stage again feels like the holiest way to celebrate the world reopening – a Return to Garden of musical delights.