Words by David C. Obenour
For as much as the world’s been put through a meat grinder in 2020, Dayton, Ohio got a preview of this fresh hell back in 2019. For those keeping score, the mid-sized Midwestern city had to play host for an out-of-state klan rally of less than twenty dickheads, had to play host again to just about twenty tornadoes (also dickheads) on a single night, and then capping it all off was a tragic shooting in the heart of the city’s arts district.
A fixture of that arts district, Josh Goldman of The Raging Nathans (and The Dopamines and many more and also label head of Rad Girlfriend) was out touring on that especially shitty night. Both the shooting and the media circus that ensued resonated deep with him and it’s all on display on the opening track of their latest and most refined release to date, Oppositional Defiance.
Off Shelf: “Tragedy Ghouls: An Introduction” was a complete gut punch. With audio from the coverage of the Dayton shooting from 2019, can you talk a little about what the song means to you and why you included it on Oppositional Defiance?
Josh Goldman: That song started as just the guitar riff and I had been searching for almost a year for the right lyrics. We were in France when the shooting happened and we weren’t able to go home for another week or so. When I finally got home and went back to work, which is where the shooting started, I realized that I had missed the media circus that the Oregon District had been turned into. All that was left were the bullet holes, a few cameras and candle wax stains from vigils. I was just processing what had happened two weeks after the fact. I had been bombarded with nothing but news and pundits and people bragging about how they were there or how they had seen the shooter or somehow making this awful tragedy about themselves. I began to realize first hand that while a free media is necessary to our way of life, it also creates this desensitization and sensationalism that takes away from the real people involved in this situation. It becomes just another story. It was during this time that the idea to overlay the news clippings came to me and that was that. I spent a lot of hours compiling the clips and crying over what kept replaying over and over. I wanted to make people upset and uncomfortable and I wanted to send a message using the only platform that I have. I didn’t want anyone to forget that this happened and that it happened to real people, not just names on CNN. Unfortunately, after a few weeks and a few hundred listens, my ears and mind went completely numb. I don’t hear what they are saying anymore. I don’t hear the music. I just hear words and sounds. I guess that’s my brain’s way of turning it all off. Kind of ironic that the point I wanted to make to others eventually fell quiet on me.
OS: It’s also kind of a hell of a way to open up an album. What made you decide to put it first?
JG: I wanted to make sure that this song set the tone for the entire record and that it really hit you as the first thing you hear. There was actually quite a bit of conflict over this between me and one of the other members of the band over this. But in the end, it was a decision that I made and it was the correct choice. I don’t regret it. It’s not supposed to make you feel good. But it is supposed to leave you thinking as the next song starts.
OS: Fast forward to 2020, In the midst of quarantine, a pandemic and everything else, how are you holding up these days?
JG: I’m doing well considering the circumstances I think. It’s been quite an adjustment going from working and touring constantly to being pretty much a stay at home dad. I’m not used to it but it’s been really great getting to spend so much time at home with my kids. I was gone so much when they were little, I’ve basically been with them 24/7 since March. Making up for all that lost time feels good. People are stupid anyways so staying home turned out to be right up my alley.
OS: In this project and others, you’ve been recording for awhile now, but was there anything that stood out to you about working with Matt Yonker on the album? Anything you were able to accomplish with him that you felt was new or better this go around?
JG: Matt recorded our last album “Cheap Fame”, as well. So working with him for a second time was really great. Matt’s been doing this for so many years, he’s a professional musician. He knew what we were after in making a great sounding punk rock record. We’ve worked with a lot of people and it’s really nice to work with someone who understands not just the music that you’re creating but everything that goes along with being in a punk band. There’s just an understanding that you have with someone who listens and plays the same kind of music that you do.
OS: You talk about this album as being a mature turning point for the band, both musically and lyrically. What can you attribute that new direction too?
JG: I think that Nick Hamby and I have really zeroed in on how we fit together as songwriters. I also think we are more aware of exactly what our lyrical themes are in the band. Sometimes I’ll write something that just doesn’t feel right and Nick will tell me so. I also would say that having a solid line up for two years has done a lot for our songwriting. We used to spend so many practices and time when we should have been writing new songs, teaching new members songs so we could tour or play shows. It was such a hindrance on our progress as a band. We also never want to put out a record that’s worse than the previous one so there’s cumulative pressure on every release for us.
OS: You also talk about it being a foreshadow of great things to come, what excites you about where the band is at now?
JG: For whatever reason, the last 6 months have been one of the most creative periods in my life. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been at home so much or what but in that time period we’ve written an entire new record which we are going to record in September. I’m most excited about these new songs that I know are better than the ones on Oppositional Defiance. We still have tunes left over from that session with Matt, we have a split 7″ coming out on Rad Girlfriend/Red Scare soon…. we just have so much unreleased material that keeps piling up and we all agree that the songs keep getting better. I think that every band reaches a point where they peak and level out. They have to decide where to go from there. Do they push themselves and write another great record or do they settle? I’m excited because even though we’ve been together since 2009, I don’t think that we’ve reached that plateau yet. I still think that our best years as a band are ahead of us.
OS: For as weird as baseball stadiums without fans are, I have to imagine it’s equally challenging and weird to put out an album without the ability to tour. Did you consider putting off the release or what went into your thinking to carry through with releasing it this summer?
JG: It is weird and it is a change but I am embracing it. I never considered delaying the release. I figured that people were home listening to music and if anything I wanted it to be out sooner! I wanted people to have it as soon as it was ready. If we can’t tour and play shows then the best thing for us to do is stay active, write songs, record songs and put out records. Just don’t ever stop. I’m going to run with it as long as possible.
OS: I also know that a number of you are busy touring musicians in a number of bands. How has this forced time off the road changed how you look at that? What do you miss most and what do you think will be different when touring is an option again?
JG: Fortunately, or unfortunately for me, I don’t make enough money on the road to pay my bills, mortgage etc… So, while I would love for that to become a reality, I’d still be working – well, not currently – the same job I’ve had for the last 12 years. It has put some things into perspective for me such as how much I’m gone from my family when I’m on tour. Touring is a big part of who I am and I love doing it. I miss seeing my friends all over the world and getting drunk in weird places. But what I know and have known for some time is that the shows will always be there. If I wanted to take a year off, that’s ok. I could come back and the music will always be there for me. The pandemic has fucked things up but only temporarily. This will always be there for me. It’s hard to say what will be different and what will stay the same but whatever ends up happening, we will adapt and continue because that’s what we’ve always done.
OS: Have you felt like you’ve still been able to hear back from fans and friends about the album? How has that looked and felt?
JG: Yes, in fact much more than ever before on any of our past releases. I did a lot of work before the record came out in terms of getting it sent to publications and getting it reviewed but what I didn’t expect was the response that we got back. It has all been positive. It’s been so bizarre because so many people have enjoyed the album. It’s been a real boost to our confidence as a band because usually there’s so much doubt with us. I’m always really hard on myself and the band and sometimes I feel like the songs aren’t that good or no one really digs what we are doing. Not this time though, it’s been great. A really positive experience so far for the entire band. We are very modest and try to be humble but it feels good to know deep down that we really did put out a good record.
OS: Not too long ago Rad Girlfriend, the label that you run and who put out Oppositional Defiance, recently put out your 100th release with a 38 song comp to celebrate the milestone. Can you reflect a little on that sort of longevity? It’s not an easy hustle, though I’m imagining it’s very rewarding – I’m just curious as to what keeps you at it.
JG: I never in a million years would have thought that we would’ve been around long enough to put out 100 records but now I can’t imagine stopping. It’s rewarding because it’s fun and you can help other people with their music. All I ever wanted was to be in a good band to put out good records. It’s not financially rewarding, every dollar we’ve ever made goes right back into putting out more records. But no one can tell me what to do when it comes to my label. I put out what I want. When nobody wanted to put out our records I said fuck it I’ll do it myself. It’s freedom and it’s liberating. The mistakes are mine but so are the successes. I make the decisions, I don’t have a boss and I am doing something that I genuinely love. That’s what keeps me going. And if it ever stops being fun, or if I ever start doing it for the wrong reasons, hopefully I will be self aware and brave enough to stop doing it.