Kayleigh Goldsworthy and the sound of settling - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart

There was a time when Kayleigh Goldsworthy seemed to always be on the move. We first encountered the singer-songwriter as the pianist, guitarist, and backing vocalist in Dave Hause’s band circa Bury Me In Philly. She’s also done tour after tour with My Chemical Romance’s Frank Iero and his band The Future Violence, low-key runs with hometown buds like singer-songwriter Anika Pyle, and currently is in the mix and on the road with Kevin Devine and the Goddam Band, playing in the headlining band as well as opening the show.

It totally feels like we’re giving you a resume rundown, and in the past talking about Goldsworthy as an artist has unfolded like this — a list of her impressive gigs, of which there are so many — but she’s looking to change that with the release of the new Learning To Be Happy, her first full-length since 2013, out today on Memory Music. Building on the promise of 2018’s terrific All These Miles EP and its brand of ruminative personal storytelling through powerful pop/rock nuggets, the record mixes roof-raising anthems with simmering pop introspection.

Its instrumental flourishes are remarkable: the nervy bassline pulse of “Boomerang,” piano that’s resplendent on “Keep The Light On” and haunting on “Little Ghost,” a blanket of autumnal electronic beats on “Call Your Mother,” and bold guitar riffage from “Losing My Mind” to “Overambitious” to “You’re Good.” Happy also finds her in a powerfully reflective place, exploring ideas of heartache and trauma from a space of remove and objectivity, and looking forward towards forgiveness and healing with a sense of hope. It’s a album-length pep talk, it’s all the things you wish you could say to everyone you’ve ever loved. And it’s the arrival of Kayleigh Goldsworthy not just as a punk scene hired gun, but a significant artistic voice in her own right.

Goldsworthy and I chatted over Zoom last week about moving on from the musical boot camps of being in bands, about the joyful experience of working with producer and Memory Music owner Will Yip, about what “home” means when you’re always on the road, and not just settling into but embracing the spotlight. Read our conversation and check out selections from the album below. And if you’re reading this on release day, it’s Bandcamp Friday, and Goldsworthy and Memory Music will donate 100% of net proceeds to Planned Parenthood to protect abortion access around the country.

Kayleigh Goldsworthy - Keep The Light On

John Vettese: You’ve played with such a range of people – everyone’s so different stylistically, and instrumentally. What do you feel you’ve picked up from all these people you’ve worked with and brought to your own work?

Kayleigh Goldsworthy: What’s funny is I actually got my start doing hired gun stuff in a major label band called Young and Sick where I was hired to play keys in this R&B / pop outfit. That’s the first kind of taste that got me into playing other people’s music, and I feel like when I decided to take the step forward in solely pursuing my solo stuff, even my booking agent was like “okay, so it’s just you now, right?” And it’s like yeah, but, I kind of feel like I want to keep myself open and available to that.

I feel like when [I’m] introduced into a new, I kind of sneak in and I kind of get to see how different songwriters write, how different bands put songs together. I feel like I have a new appreciation for how everyone writes, and a new appreciation for all these different genres of music. A Bayside fan could be like “I’m a Bayside fan because I love Anthony’s lyrics, and I love the cadence of his lyrics.” And to me, I love Bayside because they do some crazy chord changes that I never thought about until…you know, it’s one thing to sit and listen and appreciate a record and it’s another thing to sit and learn the record.

So I feel like I’ve been really fortunate to have a front-row seat to learning how all these amazing musicians do their show, write their music, perform their music. And having people like Dave to look up to and look at onstage, I’ve learned so much. Same thing with Frank, same thing with Kevin, all of these bands. It’s incredible, I feel like not only has working with other bands gotten me out of writing slumps, it’s made me a better player.

JV: Do you feel like the influence ever flows in the other direction? When you’re prepping for a tour, are you able to contribute your own voice to that tour’s arrangements of whatever songs they’re playing?

KG: 100 percent. When I joined Frank Iero and The Future Violence, I was brought on to be a member of that band. So all of the parts I wrote for that record, I wrote. It was very much a band-like thing, so it’s impossible not to have everybody put their thumbprint on the things they do so well. Like Tucker, you hear him play, and you’re like “That’s Tucker Rule on drums.” You just know. Very rarely have I worked with other bands who are like “Yo. We need violin. And this is what it sounds like.” And I think that’s also because being a violinist, there’s not a ton of us out there in this sect of music especially, so we kind of have a little more freedom to interpret that string-ism however we would.

With piano it’s a little different. In some piano parts you know exactly what you’re doing, but in some songs…like with Kevin on this tour, we’re playing a bunch of songs from his older material where there are no keys. And in that aspect, I have the freedom to do whatever feels right, which is a very daunting and crazy and mindblowing experience in and of itself. To be like “Cool, we’re gonna play ‘Cotton Crush,’ Kayleigh you do you thing.” What? Amazing! [laughs]

JV: Particularly the way tours have been going out now, do you get a lot of prep time?

KG: We rehearsed for three days before tour.

JV: Oh my god.

KG: But I also think that speaks to the level of musicianship, and the trust he has in us, too. I have the new record, I’ve listened to the songs, I’ve learned it, but honestly it was almost like coming in day zero, and being like okay, let’s be a band now. Same thing with Bayside, I think we practiced for three or four days before tour started. It’s a challenge, but it validates me in a lot of ways where I get down on myself or don’t think I’m good enough because I’m also playing with these incredible musicians. And every time, you don’t let yourself fail. You rise to the occasion and get better for it.

JV: Right. It feels good to have this challenge, and you go in and you crush it.

KG: 100 percent. But the fear of not crushing it is present until the end of the first show. Getting it right onstage the first time, the it’s like “okay, it’s locked in, I’ve got this.”

Kayleigh Goldsworthy - Boomerang

JV: So in the before times, with all the touring you’d do, did you have a lot of time to work on your own material?

KG: No, not really. Especially 2019 in particular, I toured with five different bands, and at the end of it all I was like “wow, brains are nuts, man! I can retain a lot of shit, and that’s wild to me.” But I did find that I had little motifs bouncing around in my head. So voice memos on my phone were the best things for me. I think on the Frank Turner tour at the end of 2019 – where I was actually playing my music, but it was the first time in a long time where I’d been able to just play my music. I remember having the voice memo — and I remember it was in an elevator, I remember hearing the dings — and I was singing “It’s not like it wasn’t enough, we’re just a little too much, we’re just a little overambitious.” And then I didn’t have anything else, but I was like “That’s a bop, I gotta remember that!”

And that’s kind of where a lot of my songs came from. I found that I was really inspired constantly playing other people’s music. I was constantly having ideas but not enough time to flesh them out. But also, I watched a Johnny Cash interview or documentary where he was basically saying that if you had a lick or a melody line and it didn’t get stuck in your head, and you forgot about it, it wasn’t good enough in the first place. So I kind of rode with that mentality where the longer it stuck around, the more I was like “okay, this is worth pursuing.” And when I could finally sit down, it just flowed out of me because it was something that had been in there for so long.

JV: So in that sense of having ideas but needing time, was having all that forced free time we had in 2020-2021 helpful at all for you?

KG: [sighs] Not at all. Maybe slightly after six to eight months. I had recorded an EP that I thought was going to be this record on January 2nd of 2020, with Will. And I thought that was it. So once everything happened, I was like, this is supposed to be the time that I’m happy that I did the work. Look at these shiny new songs I created, and now no one’s going to be able to hear them until I don’t know when, I’m not going to be able to play them, and everybody’s now also saying everyone’s going to be writing great records. And I know I’m not alone in having anxiety and depression but that threw me for a loop and it took six to eight months for me to realize this is the reality we’re in.

Also, I didn’t want to write when all that shit was going down. I really didn’t. I was not in the mood, I was scared, I was thinking that as a white person I should just shut up because of all the other things that had been going on in the world. I needed to figure out why I wanted to play music in the first place all over again. So once I came out on the other side of that and I realized there is always going to be a need for people to escape, there’s always going to be a need for people to wallow in their feelings, even if their feelings seem invalid because there are larger issues going on in the world. We always need to have that musical community. That’s when I was able to start writing music again, and it took a long time, but I’m grateful for it because it also helped round out what I thought was this EP and turned it into a full length.

JV: Let’s talk about working with Will! Obviously he’s great. How was your experience with this project?

KG: So great! First, working with Will was always a dream of mine. And the fact that he’s local is insane. I still can’t kind of comprehend that that is the local studio! First I talked to him, I booked studio time like any paying, non-label person would, and I paid for my EP, and was like “OK, cool, let’s do this.” And the more that time went on, the more we started building this friendship and realizing like it really clicked working together.

So after a few months – cause for a long time, he wasn’t up to much, you couldn’t do anything – he talked to me about putting the record out on Memory and making it a full length. And from that, the second we got more studio time, it was like “go!” We work so well together. The first three songs on the record were recorded with Joe Godino from The Menzingers on drums, Aaron Garitillo who was in my first band ever, I got him out, he lives outside of Allentown, so I was like you, let’s come play bass, it’ll be great. And the rest of the record is just me and Will. Like, he did drums and bass and all of the programming. And then I did all the rest of the extra guitar, strings, synth. Will even sang harmonies on the record. We worked so well together, it’s nuts. I listen to the record and I’m like shit, we’re a fuckin great two-piece band. It’s amazing.

JV: This idea of a sense of place and a sense of home seems to be a recurring theme in your songs, sometimes it’s more literal, sometimes it’s more metaphorical. As someone who’s lived in Syracuse and Cali and Philly and on the road, what does this idea of home and a place to come home to mean to you as a writer and as a generally creative person?

KG: I think inevitably with the way my life has been, and my job, and experiences, travel will always play a part of my songwriting and my life story. But I think that I’ve done a lot of digging within myself, especially with the creation of this record. And one, it feels nice to be actually settling into something that feels good, but I think that that doesn’t necessarily have to be a place. And it really is just, I don’t know how many times I’m going to say this and it’s going to sound cliché every time, but it really is just the act of learning to be happy. And learning to settle into yourself and learning to come to find you have a lot more stability around you and it doesn’t have to be a standalone thing.

I’ve done a lot of work in therapy, I adopted a dog, all of these things that have kind of grounded me a little bit more, but I think that idea of then having all those experiences and being able to watch them pass you by has been cathartic for me as well. Instead of being the one in the moving car, I’m watching it drive by, and I’m trying to take a step back and write from that perspective a little bit more.

JV: I imagine that can be more of a challenging place to write from, too.

KG: It’s a different muscle to flex, I think. Sometimes when I first started writing my own music, and I had a publishing deal really early one when I was in high school and I’d be getting emails like “Avril Lavigne is looking for a pop song!” And then I’d be like “I know I’m not gonna get it, but I’m gonna try!” And then I’d put on what I think of as my screenwriters’ hat and think “If I were so-and-so, how would I write this song?” Because that’s been a cool exercise. But it definitely feels a little disorienting to write that kind of way, at first.

Kayleigh Goldsworthy - Overambitious

JV: One more question, and kind of a silly note to end on. The “Overambitious” video: that looked so fun, but it also seemed like it was potentially a lot to coordinate – all your different friends from all these different pockets of the musical spheres. How was it?

KG: That was a dream. I was like I don’t know how we’re going to make this happen, but I would love to make this happen. The most overambitious thing I could think of for the video would be to get everybody I’ve ever played with to not only want to play with me but want to audition for me. That made me laugh deeply every time I thought about it. And because I’ve worked with some of the best people in the music industry too, the hardest part was orchestrating the schedule.

The time I was shooting, Dave’s record was about to come out and we couldn’t get anything to work, and it was actually Kevin’s idea to do the Zoom thing. And I was like I don’t know why I never thought of that. It was a blast, it was so much fun, and also felt like a really nice welcome into taking my solo stuff more seriously. All of these people who have believed I was capable of pushing their live project forward also felt that they could push me forward and it felt really really nice.

Kayleigh Goldsworthy’s Learning To Be Happy is out today via Memory Music, and can be ordered here. Her tour with Kevin Devince continues tonight in Phoneix, Arizona; full dates can be found here.

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