Artist interview with Joe Goodkin (Paper Arrows)


This month, the indie rockers of Paper Arrows will play four Monday night shows at Schubas as part of the club’s Practice Space program.

The band kicked things off this week with a solo set by Joe Goodkin, who played, in its entirety, an album he wrote based on Homer’s Odyssey. Over the next three Mondays, Paper Arrows will perform their 2008 debut, Look Alive, their 2009 followup, Things We Would Rather Lose, and their forthcoming third album, In the Morning. Opening for them, respectively, will be The Counterpane (Monday), Darren Garvey (December 20) and Miles Nielsen (December 27).

I took time out on Friday to check in with Joe about the program and, among other things, picked his brain some on his band, his inspirations and his thoughts on the Chicago music scene. He had some pretty insightful things to say, and I’ve been totally anxious to share it since.

As well, I’ve got a couple of free tracks for you to download to get prepped for Monday’s show. Both tracks — “Look Alive” and “Why I Had to Fall” — are off the group’s debut album. I suggest reading the interview first, then digesting the music. I only include it here at the top so you see it! But act quick… the files expire on December 18.

Anyway, enjoy!

Eric Hughes: Now that you’ve already played a show at Schubas, how did the whole thing go?

Joe Goodkin: It went really well, you know. One of the things with these residencies is that they — Schubas — is kind of understanding about taking some chances and basically the whole goal is to have a build throughout the month. So they were pretty cool with me taking a weird approach to the first one, which was to play on my own and play this kind of quirky piece based on Homer’s Odyssey that I wrote that’s kind of crazy to do it in a bar, but I did it and it went really well. It was cool. I’m looking forward to the rest of the month, gettin’ in there with the band, so.

EH: Can you explain a little bit more about this residency program, Practice Space? How it all works?

JG: They don’t do it every month and they took some time off from doing it. But the months they decided to do this Practice Space thing they have one band that plays, usually, every Monday for an entire month. And the idea is that the band tries to do kind of a different show every Monday that has different openers, a different approach. They’re really encouraged to think outside the box and, you know, try something that’s a little different than your normal club show in the city. The idea is for it throughout the month for there to be some buzz that builds around it so that hopefully your last couple shows are bigger than your first couple.

EH: How did you then get in contact with Schubas? Was there an audition process, or?

JG: We did both of our studio release shows there. Our studio release in ’08 and our studio release in ’09. It was something we talked about after our second studio release show in 2009. And then they killed the whole residency program for about a year — I don’t know if it was because it wasn’t going well or the economy or what it was, but then when they restarted it their booker got back in touch with me and we kind of talked about a couple different months. And this one worked the best, and it also coincided with us wrapping up our third disc. So it kind of worked out for everybody. I guess the audition process was probably our first couple shows that we had played with them. You know, we built up a little bit of credibility with them.

EH: Yeah, and now you get to play your third release party there, kind of awesome.

JG: Perfect. It really — it could not have worked out any better. And you — I’m assuming you’ve been to Schubas.

EH: I have.

JG: For that size venue, you know, I think it’s the best room in the city.

EH: Yeah, it’s one of my favorites.

JG: Absolutely. Good sound and good people and all that. We were very, very happy about that.

EH: So I’ve been listening to your music lately. This is more in particular of In the Morning, I guess, but it feels — it seems very therapeutic. Almost verges on spiritual sometimes, for me at least. What are you going for with your music, what kind of story are you trying to tell?

JG: Well, most of it is — I do all of the writing, so in terms of, you know, where the songs start — and it’s all pretty first-person, autobiographical for me. I don’t know if it’s I’m not a good enough writer to write third-person yet, or it’s just not my thing. I really admire people that can kind of write stories and everything. I don’t know, I can’t do it yet. So I go to my own experiences and write my own feelings. It’s generally stuff that moves me, you know, in one particular way that I feel like I want to get out. So therapeutic, that’s definitely what it is for me, when I’m writing the tunes. That’s the basis for where everything starts would be some sort of direct feeling.

EH: How does that work in a band where — and this is pretty common anyway — for one person to do all the writing. Does anyone else in the band have a say in what you’re then going to write about or is it really all up to you and then they help you form what the song is going to sound like?

JG: Yeah, that’s the way this particular project works. I’m lucky in that I work with a bunch of guys who — this is really, kind of, my first project. Paper Arrows is. All the other guys are in other projects and some of them kind of — like Darren [Garvey], who’s our drummer, has a really awesome solo record that he put out this year. And he plays with — I don’t know if you know Cameron McGill. A really, really good local guy. So I bring these, you know, write about what I want to write about, but then when I bring them to these guys who are fantastically talented, especially on this last album, there’s so many good musical ears and minds in the band that the arrangement process is pretty democratic. And really democratic this last — In the Morning — especially. It was really cool. Very collaborative. And very much like, you know, we got in there and tore the songs that were originally written apart and cut parts and, you know, cut lyrics, and it was really cool. So the genesis is pretty, you know, singular. But once we get in the arrangement and performing, it really opens up the collaboration.

EH: What kind of music listener — if any — are you trying to appeal to? Is there a certain personality, or is it more broad?

JG: It’s funny, ’cause Rivers Cuomo from Weezer, I heard this great interview with him where he was talking about, I guess he’s been accused of some of the later Weezer albums of “writing for his audience” or something like that. And he had some, like, really cool take, like, “Of course I’m writing for my audience. You know [laughs], you should always been writing for the people you’re trying to communicate to.” Which I thought was kind of funny. Maybe not exactly what people had meant by it, but, you know, classic Rivers Cuomo. So, like, my take is always, I know what kind of music I like. I know that a lot of other people like the kind of music I like. So if I write music that I like, hopefully there are other people out there who’ll like it to. And hopefully it connects with them. It can kind of have different agendas, but if I write what I like, then hopefully, like I said, it’ll connect with people, if that makes sense.

EH: Yeah. Were there any artists in particular that, you know, spoke to you and influenced what then became In the Morning? You said your music came from personal experiences. I guess more of the sound.

JG: You mean more of the music side of it?

EH: Yeah, exactly.

JG: There’s always — it’s interesting, when you’re talking about influence. For me, influences are kind of like artists who weirdly show me what I can do. You know, show me what the possibilities are. Musically and lyrically. So it’s not particularly unique, but I listen to a lot of Wilco. I listen to a lot of Death Cab for Cutie, in terms of newer stuff. So both of those bands I take a lot away from in terms of how they are successful in communicating, and, kind of, the subjects and the way they write about things. So those are two newer artists that I listen to the most. But the other guys in the band, they come from totally different musical sensibilities. So they tend to balance out some of my extreme tendencies with some other approaches.

EH: As far as music for you, have you always been playing in Chicago? Are you from Chicago or did you move here when you wanted to become a musician?

JG: Actually, I grew up in the west side. And I went to school up in Madison. You know, when I realized after college that I wanted to poke around with the music thing, which I’ve been doing since high school, high school bands and stuff. Chicago was logical in a lot of ways. And I think Chicago’s got a pretty phenomenal music scene. I mean every music scene’s flawed, but, you know, there’s so much talent here. It’s ridiculous. And there are business opportunities or playing opportunities, but kind of the competition aspect of all these other great bands is good because, you know, if you don’t have your shit together, somebody else is going to take your spot.

EH: Right.

JG: I find that and the resources to be really important.

EH: Who are some of the artists and bands that you like to see here?

JG: You know, I’ve got a bunch of — It’s funny, man, I used to go out and see shows a lot and then you start working more in terms of music and didn’t go out to see so many shows. It’s just kind of a bummer. But there’s a guy named Al Webber, who, he and I used to share a manager-booking agent. Some of the stuff he’s done is really fantastic. Like I said Darren Garvey, who’s our drummer, and also admired greatly just as a solo musician. The guy he plays with, Cameron McGill, is really, really good. I’ve got to think about some of the people I’ve seen in the last three or four months. Let me muse on that for a second [laughs].

EH: [laughs] So this upcoming Monday you’re going to be playing your debut from 2008. What do you want to say about that show?

JG: When we recorded that, it wasn’t planned to turn into anything. Everybody was really in different projects, and it just kind of evolved. We recorded in an attic and kind of — we’re definitely excited to get back and play it as a whole. As a document, a picture, of where we were at that time versus some of the other ones, which were a little more calculated, you know, because we had some history and stuff like that. So I think we’re trying to bring out some of the spontaneity in it. Some of, you know, the simplicity I guess.

EH: This has been good. I wanted to check in with you and see how this whole thing is going. What’s this experience been like at Schubas? You’re probably having a great time.

JG: Yeah, it’s awesome to work there and the people there are always great. They’re super pro. I really do think it’s an honor. I mean it’s a lot of work in terms of putting together four shows in a month. We’re not repeating a song all month.

EH: Right.

JG: Once you get there and you’re like, “Wow, I’m playing in a great room. I’m playing the music I like and there’s people here.” You know, it’s really — all the stress is totally worth it. I’m really interested to see how it progresses, you know, throughout the month. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

EH: Do you have any plans in the short term for early next year? It’s probably going to be mostly promoting this new album, but is there anything else you have lined up?

JG: Yeah, we’re considering going to South by Southwest.

EH: Oh, awesome.

JG: I went down there by myself last March and played just solo acoustic. We’re just gonna try to calculate the, uh — you know, the economics of it are tough [laughs] bringing the band down. But it’s an awesome — I don’t know if you’ve ever been down there, but it’s awesome.

EH: Yeah I haven’t done it.

JG: It’s one of those things where you kind of think, you know, it’s been hyped up and it can’t possibly be that cool, I mean.

EH: [laughs] Yeah.

JG: I was down there for two days  and it was — it’s amazing. Like nothing else I’ve ever seen. So we’d really like to do that. I was talking to a regional booking agent who’s out of, like, Nashville, who we’re kind of weighing whether or not to do some work with them and try to get out on the road a little bit. And then, a lot of it will really be, you know, boring, working business corrections and stuff, and trying to capitalize on some of the successes we’ve had with our second album, in terms of licensing and stuff like that. I mean that’s the dirty kind of, you know, office work almost. It’s super important, so.


  • Paper Arrows, based in Chicago, is: Joe Goodkin, Jay Marino, Darren Garvey, Drew Scalercio and Anthony Burton.
  • Their albums, Look Alive and Things We Would Rather Lose, are available on Quell Records’ website for $11.99 (CD). Joe’s The Odyssey is also on there for $9.99.
  • In case you missed it, I’ve got some free music for you! Check it out: “Look Alive” and “Why I Had to Fall.”
  • Paper Arrows will next play Look Alive in its entirety at Schubas on Monday. Tickets are $6. On Monday, December 20, they’ll play Things We Would Rather Lose (tickets). And then Monday, December 27 will be their forthcoming third album, In the Morning (tickets).

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About Eric

Hello there. Email your things to chicagotunes[at]gmail[dot]com.
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