An Interview with performing songwriter, Jon Goodwin
conducted by: Bart Herbison, Executive Director of the NSAI
Jon writes passionately about the things he cares about. His music is honest and deals with larger world issues while, at the same time, bringing the issues home to all of us in a personal way. Bart recently had the opportunity to catch up with this very talented songwriter and artist. This interview is the result. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
Bart: I want to talk with you Jon, about the place where the songs come from. Just describe how that process works for you. I love the music.
Jon: Most of my songs come from very spontaneous inspirations. During the course of living, Iíve become aware of something either outside of me or inside of me and that suggests title, melody, groove, and I try to get out as much as possible. That is where the songs come from. It could be a lady looking at me or me looking at the newspaper. But those are the sparks and there are many of them.
Bart: The process works differently for everybody so after you feel that spark, whatís typical for you? Or is something typical for you? Do you struggle to construct the song for three hours or does it just hit you at a moment and come out quick? What is the Jon Goodwin prototype - or is there one?
Jon: I think situations inspire different responses. Somehow the inspiration bubbles up into an idea about the situation. I went and saw a movie and the leading lady had amazing green eyes and driving home from the movie, I just had this flash of green-eyed mercy. On the way home in the passenger seat, I wrote this song, "Green Eyed Mercy" not only about her green eyes, but also the idea of love being a form of mercy that befalls us hopefully.
Bart: Typically, does the music come first or the lyrics or both come together?
Jon: I believe they both come at about the same moment. I canít ever remember writing a lyric and then writing the music to it or writing a melody and then later writing a lyric to it. Itís born at the same time for me.
Bart: Weíve talked a lot today about honesty and man, your songs reflect that. I donít want to compare you to other people, but I think anybodyís music you hear, you hear pieces of a lot of different people. I would compare you to people such as Dylan, even a touch of Lenny Bruce in your social commentary and your honesty in the way you reflect society back. If I listen to your album, I tell you what it does to me. I sit there and I gotta think about the truth and weíve used that in describing your records. So flow with me on that thought process.
Jon: Iím usually afraid of being compared to my heroes. I feel like, their issues are more cosmic and giant than mine. I think honesty as a writer is writing about whatís important to you and as long as you are writing about whatís important to you in the moment, youíre gonna be honest about it.
Bart: I tell you what I think your genius really is. What I love is you take a thought that we all have and the way that flows into your music it makes me think about bigger things. So, I donít start with a song. Like a Dylan, you might start with some giant thought and boil it down to your life. A lot of your music, it starts with your life and it takes me to a giant thought.
Jon: Well thatís possibly because bigger things in my life flow into me and I take them very personally and write a song based on that.
Bart: That is so cool.
Jon: Maybe the personalization of life in a song sort of creates a seed which when planted in other peopleís minds becomes that bigger issue again.
Bart: Youíre an artist too, a painter. Do they intersect? How do they impact each other?
Jon: The painting is usually the thing I do when I am not actively writing a lot. The painting is kind of a vacation for me, ceramics as well. I guess they might intersect in the sense that songs are a form of visualization and a lot of songs, I am really seeing the images I am writing about. They are as real to me, even though they are metaphysical as the objects in the room I am in when I am writing. If I am writing about a silver balloon slipping out of a womanís hand and sailing off into space, I am seeing it. I am not trying to see it. Itís sort of involuntary visualization. But all of those images are very real to me. I live with them in the moment in which I am writing about them.
Bart: Youíre a humble guy. I am surprised youíre talking this much about yourself. You donít play out of lot. I know itís a frustration for different people that donít. Everybody knows you. If I had to do an urban legend bio of Jon Goodwin, famous people, people that arenít famous, people from all walks of life, itís amazing to me when I say your name. I was talking to Anthony Smith the other day. He said he had spent some time with you. You really walk through all the social stratas in the country and I think that comes out in your music. I guess where I Ďm going with this commentary; this question is for people who haves not heard you perform or havenít heard your music. Describe it to make them want to get that record. What am I going to hear when I hear Jon Goodwin? Your own self-description.
Jon: One thing I want to say is I used to perform and absolutely loved it and I think the audiences responded really well to me performing. Iím kind of a passionate clown, but serious too. When you go into a studio and sing a song you wrote, that is a performance. I think when people hear my CD, they are gonna hear me perform the songs I wrote and I would not perform it if I was not totally passionate or inspired to sing the song. Out of all the songs I write in a given year, Iíll only record so many because those are the ones that are most compelling to me and I want to sing them. I think what people are going to hear is me singing my vision and take on life in a given song.
Bart: Letís end on that. I would like to tell people and you can add to this, that maybe that is the description. Your songs are about life that opens up my brain, Jon. I start thinking about so many different subjects. You called one of your albums the State of the Artist, but from the state of the world to big political thoughts your music really makes me think how this human existence works on so many different levels. Is that what you try to achieve with a lot of those songs?
Jon: Well I think life keeps sending us messages. Some of them are political. You may be watching a candidate on television and have a reaction to it. You may read a headline about something happening in the world and feel one way or another about it. A lot of experiences in life are purely personal; somebody touches your life or your soul. As a guy, I may see a woman in a green dress and not only love the color she is wearing, but also love her energy. So, political issues, ecological issues, are touching us. Many, many things are entering our minds through our senses and I think all I maybe do is to catch them in the spirit in which they are offered and respond to them in that spirit. I donít respond to everything that happens to me, but certain things require me to write and sing about them.
Bart: You know that is the purest motive and I think that is why I love your songs.
Jon: Thank you, Bart.
Bart: One last thing, this interview is targeted for an audience of songwriters, songwriter/artists and aspiring artists. Any message you want to give about your music or about them as your colleagues?
Jon: Yeah. I love everybody who picks up a guitar and writes and sings or sits down at a piano. I donít think you need an instrument to write. I mean, I have written a lot of songs banging on the dash of a car. I would say that it seems like now, 2002, there is a split consciousness in the minds of a lot of singer/songwriters and that is whether to be purely artistic or purely commercial and although people in the 80ís and 90ís who were purely commercial and really well known and made a lot of money doing what they do throughout the music industry, I donít think the money is necessarily indicative of a success on a whole other level. It seems like when people talk about the music they really admire the most, it's music in the late 50ís and early 60ís and 70ís when songwriters could express more of what they really felt, rather than express what the industry wanted them to write about in order to be on records that sold. I think the message would be you could be purely artistic or purely commercial and there are some people who could be both, but that is rare. I wish more people would be purely artistic because it would change the entire tone of the industry and they would not lose money if that happened. In fact, it would appeal to a lot more people than they would appeal to if they were simply trying to play into their conditioning.
Bart: Well, I end this with my own comment. Itís my own spanking to the industry. I say that because thatís true. I was telling you earlier, I have about 40 records on my shelf and you may have heard of two of them and the music is so great. I hope this is a challenge. I will say it this way. Your record needs to be heard and I hope it gets out to the public and I hope this is one mechanism that helps.
More information on Jon can be found on his website at http://www.babyrecords.com/frames/index.html.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER:
Bart Herbison is Executive Director of the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI), a post he has held since 1997. A Paris, Tenn., native, Herbison worked as a reporter and spent 14 years in Country radio before joining the staff of U.S. Rep. Bob Clement in 1987. During the next 10 years, Herbison served as the Tennessee Congressmanís Press Secretary, then Campaign Manager, then Chief Administrative Officer before leaving Capitol Hill for Music Row. Herbison is a 1996 graduate of Leadership Music.