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The sonosphere of Joel Goldberg’s alter ego thrives in experimentation and straddling the line between foolhardiness and look-again substance. Ahead of an album live stream, Sanna King uncovers the figure behind the personalities.
Hey Frenzy, the debut album from DANCING TO ARCHITECTURE, was born in isolation. Differentiated only by their barnets, the band at the time consisted of three members, all called Jeff, who looked remarkably similar. Picture a fucked-up version of Hanson and you’d not be far off. However, the electro-prog-funk ‘trio’ were really just the brainchildren of Joel Goldberg.
Part of the locally legendary Goldberg clan, he has been on the Liverpool scene since the mid-90s. Joel seemed to be a musical gun for hire who was permanently on call, reachable only by pager, carrier pigeon, or email. Not only a versatile musician playing all the instruments, he mixed and produced the tracks, before getting it mastered at Igloo Studios. He also made videos for each track, which morphed into a film, designed all the artwork and a range of merch. No wonder he needed to clone himself a few times.
Since then, the band has doubled in numbers, and I don’t mean Joel has just gained more personalities. To take the vision from his living room to the live stage, he’s gathered together a motley crew of real friends to replace his imaginary ones. But in the meantime, they’ll be coming to your living rooms, when they unleash brand new footage this month. Recorded at Coastal Studios, Transmit Groove is a live recording of the album to give you a little teaser of what you can expect from their gigs in the not-too-distant future. When I caught up with Joel back in May, it was still only officially him at the helm, so I found out more about what had inspired him to create Dancing To Architecture in the first place.
Hey Frenzy was released on CD and digitally, in March, a year after the start of lockdown. “I had time to get those ideas out that had been building up,” says Goldberg, speaking over Zoom. “I had a list of song names in my phone stockpiled over the years, so I grabbed a riff, fit one of the titles to it, arranged it, recorded it, did a little video and put it online.”
He described it as a mix of different sounds with a dance music sensibility of a hook line that repeats, without having to stay in the verse-chorus-middle-eight format. “I’ve always written songs and music and always tried to be, you know, a serious songwriter. All this, ‘You didn’t say this, and I didn’t say that’ and all that crap. And you end up going, ‘This is miserable to listen to and miserable to play, what am I doing this for?!’ So out of that, DTA is like the phoenix from the ashes of all the shite heartbreak songs I’ve written in my lifetime.”
Joel realised that he had something else under his skin. It seemed natural to add more humour because comedy had been such a big part of his life. He lists some of his childhood comedy heroes as The Young Ones, Bill Murray and Chevy Chase. “Then Vic And Bob came along,” he exclaims. “I think they were a nuclear blast in terms of British comedy, and as individuals now I think they’re still two of the funniest people on the planet.”
I asked him if he was worried that some of the sillier lyrics and videos might make it come across as a novelty album. “I eat grapes like a motherfucker” and “went to bed ugly and I woke up handsome” being refrains two songs are built around. “Not really,” he replies. “A couple of tracks are TV theme tune homages, like Mike Post scores. Some of the others are just funny titles that I tried to write good music to. I tried very hard to keep it light and to try and stay funny, almost disguising the work I’d put into writing the music.”
The name Dancing To Architecture originates from a quote often attributed to Frank Zappa: “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” His influence is also apparent in the content, too. “When I was a kid, I heard a Zappa album and just laughed my head off, ’cos he was singing, ‘Don’t eat the yellow snow’. Me and my brother were like, ‘Isn’t this fella funny with his muzzy and beard’. And then on the next listen, you’re still laughing but you’re like, ‘Hang on a minute,’ and then in the end you realise, ‘Jesus Christ, this is amazing!’ Not comparing myself to Zappa or nothin’. But like everyone has a certain style on the surface which can catch people’s eye, but it needs substance behind it. And I think I’ve worked hard enough for it to have that and not be just a novelty style.”
There is a real 80s feel to the album and the overall stylings of the artwork are also inspired by his childhood memories. “The imprint of whatever time and cultural movement you just happen to be born into. I was always aware of Talking Heads, The Clash, The Stranglers and The Police when I was a kid and that colour of music just stayed with me,” he reveals. “I’m a massive fan of Dutch Uncles, too, who have a sound that incorporates a lot of that style, with the sequencers and that naked bass sound and a lack of clanging guitars everywhere.”
Joel’s dad, Dave, is also a big role model, having spent the majority of his life in bands. With an upbringing revolving around music, it was inevitable it would become a bit of a family business. “One brother’s been a drummer since he was three, the other two both played guitar, and so they needed a bass player.” But Joel didn’t always want to be a musician. Setting his sights on becoming an artist or architect, he attended art college to follow his dreams, as well as his cousin who he’d “followed around like a beaut” since their school days.
Unfortunately, that dream was short-lived when he was diagnosed with kidney disease at 19 and knew that he had to return to Liverpool because he’d be in and out of hospital. “Being back in Liverpool, I thought, ‘Maybe there’s a reason I’m here’. And things just started getting better and better here, like the Capital of Culture happened and I met so many brilliant people. The music community in Liverpool is just so welcoming and rich. Everyone’s great, there are so many characters, and everyone helps each other out. I love being in the middle of it, it’s such an amazing place.”
He talks passionately about Liverpool having a strong sense of community, which some of his friends from Manchester have said that they don’t see in their own city. I get the impression that having this community around him when he needed it most has made him more resilient and self-sufficient? “I’ve been through some dark stuff, and I’ve cultivated a habit of trying to outrun the darker times,” he replies. “If you feel something bad coming, you flick a switch and try your best to get back, get your energy levels up. And I’ve tried to transfer that into my music.”
Knowing that it isn’t always as simple as just trying harder, he talks about a friend who might never be the same after lockdown, and how he and his other fellow bandmates have felt powerless to help him. However, that’s the beauty of music: it can take those struggles and turn them into something positive, and potentially help someone else when they hear it. Either by cheering them up and getting them out of their funk, or by making them feel less alone in their sadness. Even the strongest and most independent of people crave that connection, and music has the power to do that. And for that reason, for the moment he’s focusing on more upbeat music. “It’s a conscious thing to write something positive. I’ve always loved celebratory type music like Van Halen and Led Zeppelin. These people are putting on a big show, they’re going out of their way to make you feel good. The kind of gig that you want to go to on a hot summer’s night and have a pure laugh, be buzzin’ and screaming yer head off at!”
Joel admits he’s enjoyed the break from gigging over the past 16 months, but as music finally gets back on track, he can’t wait to play live again. The dream team he’s assembled includes Scott Arthur and Luke Heague on guitars, Stuart Hardcastle on percussion and, of course, another Goldberg in tow – this time it’s Adam, the aforementioned ‘drummer boy’. “We had the first rehearsal recently and it was great. More raw, more space to it. We all played around with the arrangements and the energy is right up there. I’m made up.”
As the conversation continues, I get the sense Joel’s illness is a bit of an elephant in the room and not something I want to press him on. Not because of his unwillingness to open up about it, but because it doesn’t feel entirely relevant to this project. However, it does come up in relation to another film he has been working on with James Slater about his nightly dialysis sessions. “James got in touch about making a documentary about me being on dialysis and dealing with illness in the way I do, through the music and stuff. He’s great at what he does, and he’s pulled the stops out in terms of getting a crew on-board and getting backing from some big hitters like Kodak, so it’s gonna look amazing. Whether or not my bits will be any good is another thing. I think as I get older the thought of leaving something behind of myself, something which may help people who are ill, has grown bigger in my mind. People with kidney failure don’t live forever, so James choosing to make this is quite fortuitous. You never know… I might just live forever. You lucky bastards.”
I ask him if he sees his album in the same way as he does the film, as a way of leaving a legacy behind? “Yeah, I’m trying my best to make it the best it can be, so yeah I’m pretty proud of it in that sense. I hope people enjoy it and I hope it lasts. I hope my nieces like it and still listen to it when they’re older. That’s all I want, really!” It’s likely they will, as Jazz (10) and Toots (8) have already started their own band, Sutn Notn. So we better look out for the next generation of the Goldberg dynasty coming over the hill and continuing the musical bloodline. !
Transmit Groove will debut 5th August live on Facebook.