The significance of the album — as a concept and as a physical entity — in the music industry today can vary tremendously depending on the participants in the discussion.
When Louise Goffin is involved, expect her to speak with conviction about why albums still matter on both counts.
Goffin, daughter of the revered songwriting team Gerry Goffin and Carole King, was still in her teens when her debut album, the Danny Kortchmar-produced Kid Blue, arrived in 1979 on Asylum Records. On Nov. 9, she ended a four-year gap between studio albums of all-new material with All These Hellos, released on her Majority of One label.
Medleyville.us: Does making a full-length album matter as much to you now as it did when your career began? Or as an indie artist in the digital download era, do EPs carry the same level of importance to you?
Louise Goffin: “It’s really important to me to make an album. I am an album artist, and the only reason I have put out singles is partially because I can. You can come up with a song, come up with a cover and video and go, ‘Hey, I want to put this out next week’ — and you can.
“I wanted to make a triple record with this. I recorded 24 songs when I made this record, and [I thought], ‘I’m going to make my White Album.’ I wanted to do that artistically, and then quickly, people who were more sensible than me said, ‘The way that things are today, it’s very hard to get people’s attention for longer than 15 minutes.’ So I put the reins on myself.”
So was it your intent from the start to make All These Hellos an album, or did it become one because you had a sizeable batch of songs written that belonged together?
Goffin: “A combination of things. I went into the studio with a sizeable batch of songs, but my intention was to make an album — and my intention was to make a triple album (laughs). Actually, my intention was to overcut for a double album. And what ended up happening was every track was so good, [the thought became], ‘What am I going to take off?’
“We had more than a double record here. I didn’t have the sequence or choice of songs yet, so I put out singles whimsically. … Then I said, ‘I’m putting out an album.’ I don’t care if it’s a bad idea for the market. I don’t care if people don’t listen to albums. I don’t care if people buy vinyl or CDs. I’m cutting vinyl, I’m making CDs, because artistically, that’s what I wanted to do.
“My concession was, ‘OK, I won’t make it a double record. I’ll just put out 10 songs.’ I wasn’t going to waste the songs I already put out, so I had to include [my recent singles]: ‘All These Hellos,’ ‘Good Times Call’ and ‘Let Me in Again.’ … Every song that’s on the record was cut around the same time, with the same production team. And I always knew that I liked ‘All These Hellos’ as an album title. Because it felt like all these hellos — people coming in, another great artist [making a guest appearance], another talented person doing an overdub [such as Greg Leisz and Benmont Tench].
Two songs on All These Hellos have specific locations as their titles. Talk about what inspired “Paris France,” your duet with Squeeze’s Chris Difford, and “Chinatown,” which you sang with Rufus Wainwright.
Goffin: “Yeah, I’ve got this thing about locations. ‘Paris France’ — I don’t even know how we came up with that title. I wrote that with John Parish, who has done a lot of work with PJ Harvey. I was staying with him, and we were pitching [material] for a movie that was coming out. I believe it was a Robin Williams movie, some romantic comedy, and I don’t know if it took place in Paris or not. But I think [the title] really came from John liking the rhyme. … The other thing with John, when I write with him, what I love that he does with lyrics: He never tries to be grammatically correct. It’s so freeing.
“ ‘Chinatown’ is a more organic story. It was written with Billy Harvey about five years ago. That was the second song we wrote together. We wrote it on this Wurlitzer that had buttons on it, and it had beeps and chords. All the chords were buttons. And then we made up a melody over it. I came up with the title. I know it’s been done [before], it’s [the name of] a Jack Nicholson movie that’s so famous, but I really liked the phrase ‘Chinatown.’ We got into this imagery, and then we [decided to] go to Chinatown [in Los Angeles]. So we drove there, ate Chinese food, walked around, came back and finished the song.”
Where is the “dusty cabin on the lake” that you sing about in the title track?
Goffin: “That’s fiction, but the imagery on that song sounds so real. The starting point for all the songs [Billy and I] wrote together often have nothing to do with anything real. But what would happen is you’d start from that point and end up putting real things in it from your feelings and experience. … Honestly, I think a lot of that lyric sounds like Billy’s childhood. Because he grew up in Illinois, where there are a lot of lakes, so I was thinking that was him drawing from his childhood.”
Is the advice at the core of the chorus to “Life Lessons” — about staying true to who you are, and mama saying to follow your heart — something your mother said to you growing up, something you’ve said to your children, or both?
Goffin: “I don’t think it was my mother that I was referring to. I wrote that with Justin Kimball. He and I wrote that song 10 years ago, and we were writing it for him because he was going to make a record. That song was written really fast, and I never thought the song was done. He’s got a lot of Southern in him — he lives in Minneapolis, but he spent time in the South — and where it says “Mama always said to,” I think it was a Southern mama we were talking about. … It is a message my mother modeled, for sure, and it is a message that I model.”
— Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior