IT has been a little while…
since I visited Canada and talked to an artist from there. I have been discovering more about Espanola – the alter ego of Aaron Goldstein. He discusses the single, Outside Saskatoon, and what comes next; how his career has developed and shifted – whether there are any tour dates in the diary so far.
I find out which artists Goldstein grew up around and what advice he would give to new artists; which current musicians are compelling him; whether he will come to the U.K. – ending the interview with a great song selection!
Hi, Aaron. How are you? How has your week been?
I’m fine, thanks. It’s been a super-busy week. Last night, I played the launch of Michael Barclay’s new Tragically Hip biography. The band was Ian Blurton, Caitlin Dacey and Ryan Gassi (all from Public Animal); Sean Dean from the Sadies and me.
We spent the whole beginning of the week rehearsing and tons of awesome singers got up to do Hip songs. Owen Pallett, Mike O’Neil and Michelle McAdorey: everybody was amazing. I also, somehow, found time yesterday before load-in to play on the new Wintersleep AND the new Matt Mays. It’s been CanCon o’clock around here.
For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?
I’ve been recording and touring for almost ten years now, mostly as a pedal steel player but also often on guitar and keyboards occasionally. A lot of people might know me from a stint I did in the City and Colour live band a number of years ago. I have toured off and on for many years with Daniel Romano and also Tom Wilson’s Lee Harvey Osmond project, appearing on several records with each of them. I’ve also done recordings and/or touring work with Elliott Brood, Bry Webb; Cowboy Junkies, Matt Mays; Kathleen Edwards and many, many more.
If you’re from Hamilton, you may know me best from my Rock band, Huron, who released a record on Latent Recordings in 2010 and played lots around town. That’s probably the band that has the most in common with the music I’m releasing now as ‘Espanola’.
Can you tell me about Outside Saskatoon and the inspiration behind it?
I don’t wanna get too deep into it, but it’s definitely centred upon some times I had hanging out in that province over several visits and I guess, mostly, it has to do with the people I was hanging with, and the scenery and all that. The lyric actually comes from several different perspectives in different stanzas - and I wanna believe that I’m not one of them…but I might be.
How did The Dunk (Prince Edward Island) and Saskatchewan influence your latest single? It sounds like that experience, back in 2013, was quite a revelation?!
I went down to The Dunk in a bit of a huff because I had two weeks blocked off for a tour that, all-of-a-sudden, didn’t happen.
So; I got in touch with Hal who built and ran the place - it was literally just his house but he was a sweet guy who was really into music and welcoming to artists - and asked if I could come down. Anyway; the solitude was definitely good for me and I got a bunch of writing done there. I’m pretty severely A.D.D. and/or who knows what else is going on in my brain (I’m serious; I don’t even really know) and I just find it really hard to settle down at home and write.
I’ve always had trouble sticking to one thing which maybe accounts for my nomadic nature as a sideman; playing fairly short times with a lot of different people. Anyway; being down there and knowing I had basically one thing to do was helpful and really reminded me that I COULD write songs and that I should keep at it if I ever wanted to write anything good.
Then, when I eventually took those songs to Saskatchewan to record, I was lucky enough to write another couple on the trip before the session, including Ever Kind and True (which I released last fall).
It’s kinda hard to put into perspective why these trips had this effect on me. I have travelled so, so much in my professional life and definitely been to more traditionally ‘interesting’ places. In fact, it wasn’t even like it was my first time on P.E.I., or even at The Dunk – and, certainly, I had been through Saskatchewan on tour SEVERAL times before. I guess I would chock it up to the pals old and new I was hanging with and the good times we had.
Will there be more material coming later this year? Do you find yourself writing a lot right now?
I’m planning to do another A and B-side single, which will be my third - and I hope to release the L.P. before year’s end. It is virtually done, with just a few little scraps to take care of. I’m writing a little more now. It’s still hard to find the time. My main pursuit these days is producing music for other people - and it has been for some time.
How important is Canada and the varied landscape to your writing and creativity?
Well; it’s an inescapable part of my identity and, certainly, one might infer that it figures highly into my writing given this song. But, the truth is, most of the rest of the record is about people that I know; the struggle to be my best creative self and all kinds of other boring things. At the very least, I hope its good Rock and Roll.
Most days, I think it is…
Which artists did you grow up around? Can you recall when music entered your life?
The earliest memory I can summon is watching Cab Calloway in his white tux on Sesame Street, singing The Hi De Ho Man. I don’t really remember a time when music wasn’t essentially my guiding force. As a really young kid, I became obsessed with early Rock and Roll and, strangely, I kind-of experienced the evolution of popular music the same way they world did, but in my own little bubble, thirty years later.
I was obsessed with Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry; Fats Domino, Little Richard and Elvis - all the Sun stuff…girl-groups and The Beach Boys. Then; The Beatles hit and knocked me out for years. Kids around me were listening to - I don’t know. Duran Duran?
Anyway, it was a complete and utter obsession with Rock and Roll and Pop circa-1956-1968, until I started to get hip to new music in junior-high school. Dookie, Nevermind and The Blue Album were all favourites at that time and, in fairness, also probably did a lot to inform my writing today. It’s clear to me now that there is no Weezer without Buddy Holly - and that has nothing to do with their song by that name. Simple, singable; three-chord sh*t?
Weezer et al do it well - but they didn’t do it first. Years later, when I began to appreciate bands like Big Star and Black Sabbath, it was clear where those bands fit into the puzzle, chronologically, in-between the '60s and '90s music I loved so much.
Do you have any gigs lined up? Where are you heading?
Nothing on the calendar at the moment. I’m hoping to do some regional traveling in the fall...
Will you come to the U.K. and play? Have you been here before?
I’ve played throughout the U.K. as a sideman many times, but Espanola has never been there. I love that side of the world; I love playing there so much. The whole music racket can, unfortunately, boil down to a numbers game sometimes - if any of your readers are a fantastically ambitious Rock and Roll talent-buyer connect me with them, would you?
Which albums, old and new, do you count as favourites and standouts?
Oh, gosh…there are so many. I’d be nothing without ‘The Brown Album’ (The Band) and Tonight’s the Night (Neil Young).
But, there are so, so many…
What do you hope to achieve in 2018?
I hope to reach as many interested parties as possible with my unique brand of Canadian Alt-Country/Rock and Roll and would love to play in person to as many of those people as possible.
Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music – the one that sticks in the mind?
There are many…
Any time the band hit a stride, a moment of collective mind where we transcended our individual selves and became greater than the sum of our parts. Those are the moments I live for…that’s why I do this. Sometimes, you spend many nights on the road looking for that moment. Some tours you’re lucky and they happen often.
What advice would you give to new artists coming through?
When I started playing pedal steel, I had a couple of lessons from the great musician Bob Egan - who played in Blue Rodeo for many years - and was with Wilco for a time. He has this great story. When he was starting with Wilco but hadn’t yet committed to them full-time, he met Johnny Cash backstage at a concert and they chatted briefly.
Bob expressed that it was a difficult decision to commit to music full-time and Johnny said to him: “It can be very rewarding, if your heart is in it.” I think about that story quite a lot actually. I have no doubt that my heart is in it. But, I know many people whose hearts have been in it, who haven’t made it. How have I managed to make it work, thus far? Brutal and never-ending hard work; lots of luck and good timing. This isn’t the easiest way to make a living, by a long shot. It probably NEVER was but, nowadays, more so.
If you came from the middle-class like I did and think you’re going to dive into music and make the kind of money your parents did, and have the kind of life they made for you, you’re taking a risk. But, if you’re ready to accept that risk - and you know that this is the only thing in the world for you to do, like I do - well, then, you have no choice, do you?
IN THIS PHOTO: Major Love
Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?
I do NOT get much of a chance to chill, which is one of the pitfalls of turning your passion into your career. I haven’t unwound since 2007. I have a beautiful, humongous record collection and I hope one day to be able to lay on the couch and listen to After the Gold Rush for an afternoon.
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).
Dave Rawlings Machine - Ruby