By Rachel Cholst, Contributing Writer
Last year, SG Goodman quietly released one of the best Southern rock albums of the year: Old Time Feeling. It was supposed to come out in May, accompanied by a tour with fellow achingly vulnerable songwriter John Moreland, but few things in 2020 happened the way they should have.
Old Time Feeling isn’t Southern rock like Lynyrd Skynyrd. It’s Southern rock in the sense that Goodman’s expansive compositions weave the musical and lyrical threads of Southern music into a cosmic tapestry. The result is a collection of songs that dig deep into love lost, bridges burned, and coming to terms with a Southern identity that seems to be in conflict with being queer and progressive. Just as Goodman was about to head into the studio for album number two, she spoke with Country Queer about heartbreak, why she’ll never be a gay poster child, and the weirdness of mixing music and social media.
Goodman jokes that her primary subject matters are politics and heartbreak — the latter tends to be prophetic.
“I have never written a song and, like, changed anyone’s mind. It’s really scary because if I’m with someone and I’m starting to write a breakup song, it’s kind of foretelling. So ‘Tender Kind’ was just the last little heartbeat there in that relationship for that person. And that was it. Maybe if the record ever makes me any money, I’ll send her flowers and well-wishes, but that’s all you can hope for.”
(Country Queer endorses the purchase of SG Goodman’s album Old Time Feeling so her ex can receive some nice flowers in the mail.)
Things can change, of course, but Goodman has resigned herself to a near-permanent state of heartbreak. “I don’t know what kind of woman would really put up with my lifestyle. It’s sick. I’m never home. I’m basically a truck driver, you’re always gone. And my job is to get attention and that just in a lot of ways is kind of fucked up.”
Goodman’s path to long-haul driving and wry sense of humor was an unpredictable one. She grew up in a “very strict” Southern Baptist church and dove into doctrine and theology. However, as a woman, there wouldn’t have been a future for her in church leadership. The more she sought mentors and discussed the tenets of Southern Baptism, the more she realized that the doctrine was quite conditional. Things like abstaining from alcohol were in fact responses to historical events rather than being rooted in an ethical core.
“A lot of these things were affected socially and actually didn’t have a stance. It wasn’t completely derived from God’s Word. It was kind of like pieced together in a historical context with where society was at the time. And a lot of the preachers that I went to that I looked to as mentors just really didn’t like that. But I never shook it. And when I went to college, being so entrenched in doctrine actually got me into philosophy.”
Naturally, Goodman studied philosophy in college. “Oh God, maybe I am a poster child for ‘Liberal education makes you into a crazy Bernie t-shirt wearing progressive’,” she cracks.
In actuality, she realizes that her studies have led her to important realizations. “There are a lot of valid answers, but there’s not a lot of sound answers. And I think that applies to the way I look at people and human experience. That’s why I really don’t look things and think, ‘If it works for me, it must work for everybody.’ That’s not true. And a lot of our policies and politics are one size fits all, and I’m adamantly against that.” Goodman points out that our current political system has many limitations, “but I will always vote for people who at least fight against the one size fits all thing.”
It’s that nuance that drive’s Goodman’s political music, like the anthem “The Way I Talk.”
“I was talking about how the poor are the scapegoats most of the time. I start the song with with my first line describing the way people look at me when I talk and the stereotypes that go along with having a Southern drawl: maybe you’re uneducated or extremely conservative or whatever.”
The song dives deep into how these stereotypes are formed, and how they injure the ordinary people who are involved. “I don’t think I’ve ever told anybody this, but I make no apologies that I totally celebrate the death of Rush Limbaugh. I think he’s poisoned our society and has poisoned a lot of people I love and affected the way they looked at me. And so it was a very personal death for me. And when I say ‘her mother heard the devil on the midday radio,’ I’m talking about Rush Limbaugh. The song came really, really full circle this year and it is really personal and precious to me.”
Goodman feels that it’s an artist’s duty to outline these truths in their songwriting.
“Don’t we have a history as musicians and a legacy to speak out? Why are people so hesitant to say things right now, or at any time?”
For Goodman, addressing socio-political issues is not a fad or a recent trend for her. “I’ll always be thankful that ‘Old Time Feeling’ wasn’t written in 2020. I probably started in 2016. That just means that I had the wherewithal to realize that these issues have always been prevalent.”
Goodman’s queer identity plays a part in her social convictions as well. In Goodman’s words, she didn’t come out to her family — “I was found out.”
Goodman is less interested in sharing the details around this part of her life, at least for now.
“There have been many years of finding forgiveness where it could be found, and if it can’t be found, then it has to be made with yourself.”
In a world of social media confessionals, Goodman understands that this is an unusual position to take, but she wants to protect people who may be harmed by sharing her story, whether or not they deserve the protection.
“I’m still figuring it all out. And I think that’s important to say, too. It’s okay to still be processing and figuring out what you want to share with people. Just because you’re an artist, not everybody deserves your story like that.”
Goodman jokes that for these reasons, she’ll never be a “good gay poster child.”
“For one,” she laughs, “I think the rainbow flag is pretty tacky. I like more like earth tones.”
She’s also not a huge fan of parades. Between the corporatization of Pride and her anxiety in crowds, it’s just not her scene. “But I enjoy the hell out of the thought that some people live for that moment and I’m so happy for them.”
Similarly, Goodman understands the need to produce content for social media, but is uncomfortable by the nature of it. As a result of not being able to tour, many artists – especially younger ones – have turned to social media as a way to generate buzz.
“You’re trying to grow your platform, and you’re being pressured to like, or suggested for you to get a Tik Tok post this many times a week, be personable, you know, all of a sudden I’m letting America into my living room. It’s very strange having to pretend like the whole world is your friend.”
For Goodman, navigating these new rules has been “a whole whirlwind of learning and expectations and realizing that my job isn’t just to write songs.”
Amid these adjustments, Goodman is prepping her next album.
“We’re going to be releasing some stuff this year, but it’s so weird. It feels like I’ve already lost this year with the pandemic again. I’m just trying to gear up for 2022. I don’t know if I was really ready to go ahead and make another album, but in January, that’s what I decided to do.I need to stay active for my sanity. When it’s time to go, I want to be locked and loaded.”
For Goodman, communicating is her primary job.
“At the end of the day, more than a performer, more than a musician, I’m a writer. And so I always want the focus to be on my words and the way I sing it.”
That being said, she’s not going to reinvent the wheel. “Sorry to let people down, but I won’t be coming out with that pop rap album.”
Get Old Time Feeling here.