Johnny Goudie – the songwriter behind Johnny Goudie and the Little Champions - is a sponge. Part collaborator, part actor, and part producer, Goudie has traveled the artistic gauntlet, absorbing the intricacies he’s seen both as a major label buzz band and a seasoned veteran of the industry.
Still, with a sincerity-laden ache suspended over an eclectic breadth of nuanced pop rock, Goudie is, at his heart, an artist. He crafts emotive, evocative tales of love, loss, and the tragedies in between, and his latest offering, El Payaso (Spanish for “The Clown”), taps even deeper into his personal nadir with a courageous sense of artistic adventure.
Throughout his career, Goudie has been able to interweave his own experiences with his heartfelt, indie-tinged sound. Admittedly, as a kid growing up with artistically-minded parents, Goudie followed the musical path for one reason: “I just really connected with music because you could really get chicks that way, honest to God,” he laughs. But his talents eventually enveloped the days of puberty and awkward dances, and young Johnny had found his calling. His previous band, Goudie, dazzled with glam rock fervor, capturing the attention of, amongst others, Metallica’s Lars Ulrich. The ensuing major label deal led to the 2000 release of the critically-acclaimed Peep Show, an album that allowed the band the opportunity to tour with the likes of Blur, Veruca Salt, and Supergrass.
As his former band came to an end, the frontman turned inwards for his subsequent solo offerings. The intimacy of that period is even further expressed on El Payaso. “I’m a very personal songwriter, but this time I really went into my box of issues,” he claims. That Pandora’s Box included, “Dealing with a parent in prison and sort of dealing with - not a bad upbringing - but definitely an unusual upbringing all over the country and Mexico. I drew from all those experiences on the record.”
"A life like an opera / without the ovation / with all of the drama and trouble", sings Goudie, and the words resonate with the fabric of his life. Drama and trouble entwine their way into Goudie’s sense of cunning lyricism, providing a reflective glimpse into what makes Goudie’s effervescent music shine. But El Payaso is more than just the story of Johnny Goudie: it shimmers with a breadth of emotions, from the poignant sincerity of “Every Night Before I Fall Asleep” to the absurdity of “You Can’t Pretend Forever”.
El Payaso also gives a glimpse of an artist that finds himself in a new place in life. It’s a fresh beginning for Goudie, both as a musician and as a person. “I feel like I’ve got more clarity; a handle on who I am. I feel like I’ve put a lot of my demons to rest,” he suggests. Those demons were ever-present on his solo efforts, including 2005’s Boy In A Box, an album drenched in the heartbreak of his recent divorce. This time around, Goudie is delving into an even more personal spectrum, and the result is soaked in the themes of loss and redemption. “I think it’s bridging my old life and new life together,” he explains.
Sonically, El Payaso is the bravest and most expansive work of Goudie’s career. It embraces new textures, from dramatic string sections to the perfectly placed squeals of horns. Gone are the days of recording everything in the isolated confines of his bedroom, instead opening his arms to a full backing band and stunning production from Jonas Wilson (The Lovely Sparrows, Mr. Lewis and the Funeral Five, Strange Boys) Lars Göransson (What Made Milwaukee Famous, The Cardigans, Alpha Rev) and Goudie himself. “I love playing with my band; I love the freedom that I have. [I’ve been able] to run wild with this album and do whatever the fuck I want,” he laughs.
Johnny Goudie’s freedom has created an album that is the zenith of his experience. From his days as Elektra Records darling to his time as a guitarist/keyboardist for Ian Moore and Kathy Valentine of The Go-Go’s, everything culminates into the vast musical portrait of El Payaso. It sweeps with dynamic shifts and resonates with bittersweet pop beauty. “And all of the monsters/That come from inside/Will find themselves lost/With nowhere to hide,” he croons on the album’s closer, “Listen To Me”. It’s the sound of an artist that is embracing the challenges of the past while pushing for a new future, and, ultimately, a new sense of self.
“Writing songs has saved my life,” details Goudie, and it’s evident on each of the vibrant tracks of El Payaso. “It’s what I do to feel better. I don’t just do them for chicks anymore.”