Featured Music: Wednesday, August 6, 2003
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
It’s All Good

Big sound, big ambitions — that’s what makes rockers Goodwin go.

By KEN SHIMAMOTO

Goodwin might be the best local band you’ve never heard.

Just listen to their debut e.p. 14 Songs 14:38, or their as-yet-untitled, soon-to-be-released full-length. Memorable melodies careen along, propelled by robust arrangements filled with ear candy like the stops and starts that punctuate “Matt’s Letter,” the grace note guitarist Daniel Gomez plays at the end of each line in the verses of “This Time,” or the cascading arpeggio he uses to introduce “Apparently.” Once you hear Goodwin’s music, you’ll understand there’s something uncommon happening here.

When Gomez and frontman Tony Diaz got together in March 2002, after the break-up of their previous band, Bindle, their intent was simply to write and record music; they had no desire to gig. But things took on a momentum of their own, and the two were soon playing dates, using a revolving cast of bass players and drummers. “We wanted to hear how the music would sound with different musicians playing,” said Gomez.

That cast included their longtime friend, musical chameleon Nathan Brown, who played drums on 14 Songs using a pawnshop kit without any toms. Then, they got a hold of former Bindle bassist Matt Hembree and Damien Stewart — the former Slowpoke and Brasco drummer who can usually be found putting the reggae in your jeggae with Pablo and the Hemphill 7 — and realized they’d found the rhythm section required to cement the lineup.

In June, Goodwin completed overdubs on the new c.d., which the band plans to release this month. After spending two weeks trying to mix the tracks, Gomez turned them over to Hembree, who’d just finished engineering the Hemphill 7’s first studio recordings. Once the c.d. is out, Goodwin hopes to open for big-drawing road acts. “Our ambition is to play in front of 500 people we don’t know,” said Gomez. Which sounds a bit like science fiction, given the band’s history up to now.

I’ll admit it. I’m tired of writing stories about bands playing great sets in front of eight people — the other band, the soundman, the barback, and this reporter — but it’s an all-too frequent occurrence. Like the late-May evening when Goodwin headlined the Wreck Room, galvanizing the bleary-eyed regulars and a small posse the band brought with tuneful, bracingly astringent rock songcraft.

My drinking bud and I tossed around names like Cheap Trick and the Foo Fighters, but a more instructive comparison would be with Bob Mould, the depressive, control-obsessed Minneapolitan who created the template for much of Amerindie rock. Indeed, to these feedback-scorched ears, Goodwin’s music sounds like the most intelligent collision of aggression and melody since Mould’s blasts of love and spleen on Hüsker Du’s Warehouse: Songs and Stories and Sugar’s Copper Blue. But the Goodwinites swear he’s not an influence.

Of course, “smart” is the kiss of death to a Metroplex rock band. But smart these Goodwin boys undeniably are — starting with Gomez, who’s simplified his songs considerably since the days when Bindle performed for handfuls of hypercritical fellow musicians. While the structures are relatively simple, though, the arrangements are constantly shifting and dynamic.

Goodwin’s “intelligence” extends from their songs to their concept, which includes the wearing of uniforms. “We want to show unity and camaraderie on stage, even if other people don’t notice it,” said Gomez. The band has appeared in gangster suits and in purple t-shirts emblazoned with a “G,” festooned with random stick-on numbers bought at a hardware store. For a recent Dallas sports bar gig, they donned western regalia.

“Give us 30 seconds and we’ll grab your attention,” said Gomez. In full flight, the ebullient Diaz serenades the audience in a voice both powerful and passionate, leaps about the stage like a berserk Oliver Platt adopting Jack Black’s wiseass High Fidelity rocker persona (his bandmates call it “the roach-killer dance”), and entertaining himself with a steady stream of unctuous between-song banter.

Meanwhile, Gomez lays down dense slabs of chordal thunder, using unusual voicings with lots of droning open strings to get the biggest bang for the buck from the band’s three-piece format. Bespectacled Hembree looks like the computer programmer he is, but he can lay down agile, inventive bass lines that give the tunes great harmonic depth. (To avoid the wrath of Gomez, Hembree saves his Billy Sheehan licks for guitarist Bill Pohl’s prog-rock outfit the Underground Railroad.)

Behind Gomez and Hembree, Stewart looks like the brat down the street who drives you nuts banging on the cans, but he plays the smartest rock drums in town — a combination of musicality and sheer muscle that propels the songs with forward motion a runaway train would envy. “He knew just what they wanted,” said Hemphill 7 frontman Joe Vano, speaking of his percussionist’s “other” band.

Gomez is definitely a fella who knows what he wants, as Hembree discovered when they first got together to jam. “I’d suggest some normal rock cover, and [Gomez] would say, ‘Nope, don’t know it,’” recalled the bassman. Playing the fool to ensure his bands would never play anything that didn’t hew to his original vision, Gomez soon won over the four-string specialist.

The two stayed joined at the hip in units like Muffinhead, with a 16-year-old Dave Karnes on drums (“imagine a stuffy nerd and a fat Mexican Satriani wannabe playing with a supercool bohemian teenager in baggy shorts and an REM T-shirt”), and Uncle Pete’s Parade (“a really horrible Steely Dan as R&B-based alt-rock band”). Gomez’ departure to spend three years in Portland, Ore., led to the dissolution of the original Bindle lineup, and Hembree vowed never to play with the guitarist again. But when Gomez called and invited him to play with Goodwin, he couldn’t refuse.

Now the reluctant partners are ready to reap the rewards of their lengthy association. “We want to make a big statement,” said Gomez. “We could have made a lukewarm record, the kind where people would say, ‘The c.d. is OK, but you need to see them live.’ ”

Said Hembree: “But what we’re shooting for is one where people will say, ‘This c.d. is great, and live they’re even better.’ ”


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