Dressing Down :: Tom Goss on ’Bears’ and His New Video
EDGE catches up with openly gay singer-songwriter Tom Goss just as the young singer-songwriter is finishing up his workout and heading to the shower.
He’s a folk singer with a rocking side; he’s a songwriter who has stood up to "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" and other forms of anti-gay discrimination; and now, Goss has found his dance / pop sensibility with a new song he’s recorded with producer Rich Morel.
Goss makes a swing through New England this July, first in Ogunquit, then Holyoke, followed by an appearance at the Crown and Anchor in Provincetown during Bear Week.
Goss has become a fixture of the gay music scene over the past few years. He grew up in Kenosha, Wis., where he was a champion wrestler in high school. An interest in social justice took Goss to the seminary, where he studied for the priesthood, but eventually he found another calling as a singer-songwriter... or, as his press materials call him, a "troubadour whose heartfelt lyrics, hooky melodies and quirky charm have earned him a dedicated national following."
Though not primarily a political animal, Goss sometimes makes politically charged art. When the onerous DADT policy was still in place, he released a video for his song "Lover" that visually told a story about an American serviceman killed in Afghanistan, and his male partner grieving for him back home. Goss also collaborated with fellow gay singer-songwriter Matt Alber on "This is Who We Are," a song that condemned DADT, advocating on behalf of "two wild-hearted lovers who are sick of holding hands in the dark."
DADT eventually fell, but even that major step toward full equality for America’s LGBT community was dwarfed by the recent Supreme Court rulings that struck down California’s ballot-box theft of marriage rights for gay families, Proposition 8, as well as a harmful section of the anti-gay federal law from 1996, the Defense of Marriage Act. Goss, who resides in Washington, D.C., where marriage equality is available, has been legally married to his husband, Michael Briggs, since 2010. (Briggs appears with Goss in the new video.)
Politics are fine and all, but fun is foremost in the new video, directed by Michael Key and Aram Vartian. Goss’ character starts off in a post-breakup funk, enduring a series of painful blind dates... when a hot bearish hunk walks by, igniting the song and a series of adventures, leading to a pool party and eventually culminating in a sweet reconciliation.
Creatively, the song and video are a departure for Goss, who has already enjoyed success with his work, including "Rise," a video from the EP of the same name that was featured on MTV’s gay-theme network Logo, where it hit the number two spot ("Lover" fared even better, reaching the number one.) Goss also has four full-length albums to his credit: "Naked Without," "Back to Love," "Turn it Around," and, most recently, last year’s "Lost Songs and Underdogs."
Goss will be playing in Provincetown’s Bear Week this summer at the Crown & Anchor, where he promises to deliver "Fun, Loving Songs for Fun-Loving Bears." To underscore the point, Goss’ new single is titled "Bears." The video officially premiered online on July 8.
Goss took a few minutes post-workout to chat with EDGE about the new video, plans for his next record, and -- of course -- bears.
EDGE: So, I just caught you at the gym. You been getting buff for your new video, which features you frolicking in a swim suit?
Tom Goss: My entire life I’ve spent a lot of time in the gym, so it’s not necessarily a new thing. It’s funny people are now asking me this. Folks that grew up with me still ask, "You play music?" Being an athlete was my identity for so long, I sometimes forget it’s not anymore. I competed at a regional and national level in wrestling, gymnastics and soccer. I was on a wrestling scholarship through college. In fact, someone told me last year when I got home that my last record in High School finally fell last year. I thought it fell quick, but then realized that was a dozen years ago. I guess I’m getting old...
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past couple years, it’s that for me the gym is pretty important. I was spending so much time on the road that I just started not feeling like I have always felt; I think a lot of it was I was spending a lot of time sitting in the car and eating road food, and, you know, showing up at gigs and everyone expecting me to be on... which is hard, when you just drove eight hours.
In 2010 I started being more religious about it. I mean, I go to the gym, and I play soccer a couple nights a week, so I’m always working out, But I found that on the road, if I left 90 minutes earlier and then go a workout before my gig, I was refreshed and my body felt better and my mind felt better.
What is a new thing is doing music videos where I’m half naked! And then, of course, we did [the video for] "Make Believe." When you’re naked on camera, you probably have to kick yourself into a higher gear.
EDGE: Yeah, what’s up with shucking your kit for the videos lately? Last fall you did a video for your song "Make Believe" that had you wearing nothing but a lot of body paint and a strategically place clock...
Tom Goss: That wasn’t the initial idea for "Make Believe," but it became obvious really quickly that not being naked would break up the "canvas" we were painting on in a strange way. It took some convincing, but eventually I became comfortable with the idea.
Still, it’s not entirely new -- my album cover for "Naked Without" (2006) was sans clothing. Sometimes a project calls for a little tasteful nudity. In the end, I’m always going to do what’s best for the project, artistically. If being naked cheapens the project, then I am not open to it. I’ve had plenty of offers that I’ve declined.
EDGE: Tell me about "Bears." Is this song part of a new album? Or are you taking it one song at a time right now?
Tom Goss: It’s just a single right now. I’m going into the studio to record a new album in December -- that’ll be out next May. I’ve been producing records at such a fast pace that one of my goals for 2013 was not to produce a new record, to purposefully and very intentionally not do that.
It’s reached a point where my audience had gotten an unrealistic expectation of the quality and quantity of new songs that I could write and produce. People don’t realize how much time, money and effort go into producing a record.
One of the things that I really wanted to do this year was take a step back, look at what I had done, think about where I wanted to go in the future, and my only real goal was to release this single. I wrote "Bears" about a year ago, and I’ve been playing it since then, and I thought it would be a really good and fun stand-alone single.
It’s interesting how slowing down really helped the process of this: I really wanted to release all of this in March, but things didn’t fall together.
I think in the past I would have made it work somehow, but it wouldn’t have been as perfect as I wanted it to be. I’ve been talking to a lot of different people about the production of the video, and it just wasn’t the perfect fit, so I sat on it for a while and would talk about it to different people every now and again. Eventually, when it all came together, I was lucky enough to work with Rich Morel on this, which was quite an amazing experience. He has been an inspiration to me for a while, so to work on a song with him was beyond words.
I waited, and I was patient, and everything fell together really perfectly. It’s a really fun video, and the song production is much different too, because Rich does a lot of dance music and so it definitely has a dance / pop feel. I’m very excited for people to see this; it’s an amazing video, and the song is very different for me. I’m really pumped about it all. I can’t wait.
EDGE: It sounds like you have discovered "Zen and the Art of Songwriting." Is this going to inform your work going forward? Do you think a slower pace, or a pace that lets you really hold out for a perfect result, will be your way of doing things now?
Tom Goss: Just ’cause I wasn’t producing the music doesn’t mean I wasn’t still producing at a mad rate, hahaha. I have written 64 songs for the new record over the past year. I’ve always written songs at a frantic pace. However, the difference for me this time around is that I’m mostly sitting on them. I mean, if I write 64 songs for one record 10 or 11 of them better be amazing right?
I want to create things that are amazing, nothing less. I guess getting older has given me the confidence to go a year without releasing a record. The fear as an independent artist is, "If I’m not producing something new, people are forgetting about me." That’s true to an extent, but I’m realizing that in order to have a happy and sustainable career I need to spend some time paying attention to my own psyche and body. If I continued at the pace I was maintaining from 2008 through to 2012, I would have been burned out by now. I was close last year.
EDGE: Why "Bears?" Why didn’t you go for "Otters" or something?
Tom Goss: The song originated because I had a show... there’s a Bear Happy Hour in Washington, D.C. that happens every Friday and it’s fun -- when I’m in town, I go most Fridays. It’s, like, a thousand, twelve hundred bears, every single week. I had a gig there last August, I was actually playing at their happy hour, and I thought, "If I’m gonna play at Bear Happy Hour, I should write a song about bears." So, you know, three hours before my gig, I decided that’s what I was going to do -- so I wrote the song. It was really fun, I got excited, and I played it. People just really, really love it and connect to it.
I’m married to a bear, and I have bears that love my music and listen to my music; the bear community is very supportive. So, you know, I thought this was a great way of giving back, and a great way showcasing a community that often gets left on the wayside.
Maybe the otter song’s next. You know? Somebody’s got to write the otter song, I suppose!
EDGE: I forget who, but someone once said it’s not the people who write the laws who create history, it’s the people who write the songs. As a songwriter, as well as a married man, how are you feeling about the end of DOMA and Prop 8?
Tom Goss: It’s amazing. In many ways it’s beyond words.
I’m lucky to be married to an amazing man. He has healed me and nourished me in more ways than I can count. I think more often, that’s what people are seeing. As a whole, the American people are believing less of the caricature, and more of the reality. I am humbled to be witnessing this happen.
EDGE: Tell me about the pubic service ad in which you appeared for Whitman Walker, which ran in D.C.’s gay publication the Metro Weekly. You’re promoting responsible health choices -- that’s really cool.
Tom Goss: A friend of mine -- actually, the same lady who designed the packaging for "Rise," and she did my logo as well; her name is Ashley Clark -- we were just having lunch, and she works at Whitman Walker, and she asked if I’d be willing to take some pictures with them. So, of course! Anything I can do to help the community, I’m all for it.
It’s great that they would recognize me, and [I’m happy to] spread the message about all the good services that Whitman Walker does. I guess it was my first job as a model, for lack of a better term. It was interesting!
EDGE: You do support the community in a lot of ways. You played at GALA last summer, and you’ll be performing at Easton Mountain [a gay resort in upstate New York] for ’Gay Spirit Camp,’ as well as leading a songwriting workshop next month.
Tom Goss: That’s true! I’ll be at Easton Mountain from Aug. 11 - 13. I’m leading a songwriting workshop on the 12th and doing a performance on the 13th. I can’t wait, I love Easton, and admire their mission of empowering gay men to live integrated spiritual, sexual and emotionally balanced lives.
EDGE: What else are you up to this summer?
Tom Goss: I’ll be flying out to the West Coast in August to do a tour, and then I’ll be doing the Midwest with Matt Alber in September. That’s what’s coming up for this summer; New England in July, West Coast in August, Midwest in September with Matt. It’s going to be a busy couple of months.
Tom Goss’s upcoming appearances include July 11, the Admiral Inn, Ogunquit, ME; July 12, the Dam Cafe, Holyoke, MA; and July 19, the Crown and Anchor, Provincetown, MA. For more information about Tom Goss, visit his website.