Photo by Tyler VanderVelden
Christopher Gold was born in Owensboro, Kentucky. The son of a bluegrass musician, he didn’t have to go far to find a passion and available instruction on the mandolin, banjo, and guitar. It wasn’t long before he started writing his own songs and playing them in public. He now splits his time between the folk and bluegrass from his childhood and the punk music from his adolescence. He currently lives in Appleton, Wisconsin.
When did you begin playing music?
I started playing guitar when I was 10 years old. A year or two after that, I began listening to punk rock, and then I swore off the acoustic stuff and only played in loud bands for a few years. When I got a little older, I started listening to my dad’s music, which is bluegrass. After I turned 17, I starting playing in coffee shops.
What are your goals with your music?
My main ambition is to be good, to write songs that people like, that don’t latch onto a particular trend. My goal for each record is to sell more than the last one. My financial goal is to someday be able to pay the rent with my guitar.
How has the music industry changed during your career?
When I started playing, people were still able to dominate the world with a rock band but that’s not really the case any more. The way the music industry has changed is kind of a blessing. The only success you have any control over now is how you feel about your music.
How have you changed over time?
As you get older, you become more realistic. You want to be satisfied with your music more than you want to make a bunch of money.
How do you feel about the changes in the music business in recent years?
There used to be a lot more mystery about artists but now you hear everything about every musician, which I don’t like as much. I like the fact that technology today allows a person to make records in their basement that sound as good as anywhere else. I think if people dig a little deeper, into the lesser-known musicians on the internet, they will find some great music.
What do you think is the key to success as a musician?
I don’t think people realize how much luck is involved in becoming a successful musician. The guy at Madison Square Garden may not be better than the guy playing at your local bar. He may have just been in the right place at the right time.
Has your music career benefited from the internet?
Yes, because the playing field has become leveled for the listener. People will give a song a chance if it’s on the internet. With the changes in how music is distributed, it lends credence to the idea that the main focus is the song. It’s not about music videos. It’s always about the song, no matter where you sell it.
How do you feel about music piracy?
I’m seeing a lot of musicians come around to the idea that it’s better for audiences to have their music than to not have it, regardless of how they get it. A musician can make money on the road, but they have to get their music to an audience first. If a listener can afford to pay for my music, they should. If they can’t afford it, I want them to have it for free.
How can musicians compete against piracy?
I think we should sell albums at lower prices, like $5 or $7. They will sell better at these prices than they will at $15.
How do you think musicians can increase sales of their music?
When download culture started, people weren’t spending money on packaging anymore. But if music came with stuff you couldn’t download, more people would buy it. Record labels should include stickers or DVDs or intricate artwork with CDs, to entice people to buy the physical items.
How do you think historians will view this period of music-making?
What every generation leaves behind is their music. There was a time, in the 1980s, when people thought the guitar was gone from music, but it came back. The fact that a lot of music isn’t making money has cut a lot of the people out who were only in it for the money.
How do you feel about musicians giving their music away for free?
There’s a misconception that one musician speaks for all musicians. If a musician offers their music for free, it’s just their music. It doesn’t mean all music is free. I’m okay with giving away some of my music but not all of it.
What do you think of the quality of music today?
If you listen to a pop station these days, you wonder: How can people like this music? They probably don’t, but they’ve been conditioned to think it’s good. People have damned themselves by demanding music for free, and so what they get is shit. You can’t make something good with no money. So if musicians aren’t making money, they can’t afford to make quality music. They can’t hire studio musicians or record to tape or vinyl, so they have to use computers.
What’s missing in today’s music?
When I was younger, I would buy a record because it was on a certain label or because the cover art was amazing. I miss the feeling of going into a record store and seeing that someone I like has a new record out. Now I get a Facebook update about a song, and then I have to pre-order the album. There are people who will never experience that in-store experience. My favorite thing about a record store is that they are always listening to music and I end up walking out with what they’re playing. There’s a culture of going into a record store and talking to people. When my son is 16 and wants to drive his car to the record store, it might not be there.
Can you describe your music?
My music is folk music. If I described it as acoustic, you would probably think it was adult contemporary music, but what I do is bluegrass, and that’s something else. My stuff is kind of like older country music. People show up to gigs after hearing I play bluegrass, and they don’t know what to expect. With the exception of two songs that my dad played mandolin on, I played everything on my last record: guitar, bass, banjo, mandolin and harmonica. I also play a little dobro and drums.
Where can your CD be purchased?
On my website.
Is this your first release?
This is my second record, I released one last year that was a much smaller affair. I’m also in a punk band, and I had written a bunch of songs that didn’t fit into that band, which is how this album came about.
What sort of lyrics do you create for your songs?
The lyrics are about everyday stuff. The happy songs document and celebrate good things. The darker, sad songs are written to process bad events. “You and I Both,” on my CD, starts out with me sad because a certain person is gone, but it ends with me being at peace and knowing I should move on. This was not intentional, it just kind of happened when I was writing the song. I don’t want to leave people in a sad place. I don’t want to be Morrissey. I don’t want to bum people out and then just leave them there. You don’t want to lie to people, but you can tell people they’ll be fine, that they’ll probably get through the hard parts of life. Because I have a kid, I don’t want to write depressing songs. I write songs that, if he was feeling down, I would want him to hear. The world doesn’t need another voice telling them that everything sucks. Everything does suck sometimes, but eventually most of us figure out a way around it.
What’s different about your music?
What makes my music unique is that it’s honest and real. It’s a drag that this has become a rare trait. I don’t use big, fancy production techniques. I think there’s something to be said for musicians telling the truth about themselves and the world as they see it. I’m trying to do what musicians I love do. Springsteen is special because he’s telling the truth, and people can relate to that. There’s an underground that’s still being honest, and I’m aligned with it.
What is unique about your performances?
People like the storytelling element. My live show is not slick. I don’t have a set list. I play songs based on how people are reacting to the music. My approach is just to communicate with people.
Can we hear some of your music?
Sure. Click on the player below to hear a few of my tunes, and beneath that are the lyrics to “You and I Both.”
You and I Both
© 2014 Christopher Gold
I think I’m getting my tattoo covered up
This red dagger is faded in more ways than one
Like my memories of you
I think I’ve taken every picture down
This is just another house with a ghost cast out
Except the shadows in the hall
You and I both know something’s wrong
I’m sure you’re somewhere in a bigger town
Always on the verge of being found out
I’m sure your veins have gotten thin
I never lied to you I guess that’s true
The only lie I told is that I never missed you
I guess I lied to you again
You and I both know something’s wrong
I can’t be turning 30 still singing these goddamn songs
I’m sure it’s fine to be sad for a time
But this life is more yours than it’s ever been mine
But I think I might be moving on
I know you’re never coming home again
And I can’t keep being punished for things I never did
I’ve been punished for too long
You and I both know something’s wrong
For the first time I’m feeling hopeful that this might be your last song