Interview : Beth Goudie

This interview piece has been written by guest contributor Kevin McGrath, who also writes online for NewSoundWales, Wales Arts Review and Pop Matters. Kevin has a real passion for music coupled with an encyclopedic knowledge, and he if sees Beth Goudie as an underrated artist, we should take notice. The interview explores Beth's recent releases and the motivations for her songwriting, following the release of her live album Live at the Beacon Café late last year.

When did you take your first steps towards becoming a songwriter and is there a connection, as the lyric of Tomorrow might suggest - "Remember way back when / with our paper and our pens / wondering whose sad tales we could borrow" - to a childhood love of storytelling?

I have been writing songs for as long as I can remember, but began taking it more seriously when I was around 15. That particular lyric alludes more to that time, when I began to really get into songwriting and songwriters that told real and raw stories. I listened to a lot of that kind of music, and really took a lot from it. It's those songwriters that taught me how to write from a real place, and I'm so thankful for that.

The job description for a confessional singer/songwriter demands that an artist write truthfully about his or her life experiences and many of your songs like Jeanie and My Husband's Wife are about family and personal relationships. Can you be too close to somebody, though, to write about them with clarity and honesty?

It can definitely be tricky sometimes, but there has never really been a situation I haven't written about for that reason. I would just perhaps take it a few layers down, rather than being too obvious. A lot of my songs often aren't about what they seem, but then I suppose quite a lot are too! Also as a songwriter, I think it's good to allow songs to be interpreted in different ways so that more people can relate to them, so I try to do that as much as possible too.

You were born and brought up in the Rhondda Valleys, spent some time working in Tanzania, and are now happily settling down to married life in Dorset. How have those different cultural experiences found expression in your songwriting?

I think moving around and experiencing a lot of different cultures really helps you to look at things from different perspectives, which is really important in songwriting. You need to look at a situation and evaluate it, in some way, in order to write about it in any depth. I love African music and sounds, so as a band we get some inspiration from that too. I also perform songs in Welsh every now and again, so things come out in that way too. Wales, Tanzania and Dorset are all home to me, so I think they'll always be places that have an influence.

Dorset is, of course, Thomas Hardy country. Have you drawn any inspiration from the celebrated landscapes that Hardy captured in his poetry?

I'm sure that I have indirectly, it's a stunning place so I think it would be hard to avoid it. But actually a new song I'm working on is about Dorset and reflects the place it has become for me over the last few years. It's called Southern Shoreline and should be on a release soon.

How disciplined are you when it comes to songwriting? Do you have a set routine where you dedicate a certain number of hours a day to your craft and stick to it come what may?

It comes in waves for me, if I have a project or gig coming up, then I will be very disciplined and get things done. I'm always recording ideas into my phone, or getting down ideas for lyrics, and then when I need to pin everything down, I find a coffee shop or lock myself in a room until it's finished!

In an interview of yours that I read recently you say that "I decided a while ago that I was only going to write songs that ended with hope from now on". While I can understand the attraction of that approach, doesn't it leave you open to criticism that your songs won't reflect the complexities of life and the human condition?

It could definitely go that way, but for me now it's about presenting shadow and light. I think that's a fuller picture of life, every one of us has shadows that we live with/in, but there is also so much light. One of my favourite lyrics is the Leonard Cohen classic "There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in" and I try write with that sentiment in mind these days. I used to only ever write about the problem, but now I like to at the very least allude to the hope of a solution.

I saw a post on social media recently where you were quoting from Jimmy Webb's Wichita Lineman, who else makes the shortlist when it comes to singer/songwriters that have influenced your work?

I just love songwriters that really make me really feel something. I'm drawn to lyrics first, so great storytellers and honest writers are the ones I take most inspiration from.

Damien Rice was the first big inspiration for me, he writes about things in such a raw and honest way and it was something I'd never heard before. There are so many of the greats that I have taken so much from, Billy Joel, Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Rufus Wainwright and I've spent a lot of time over the last 10 years listening to songwriters such as Foy Vance, William Fitzsimmons, Ingrid Michaelson, Duke Special, Regina Spektor, Imogen Heap..I could probably go on for a while with this one.

The Wilderness EP, released last October, was a perfect companion piece to your debut EP, The Boat, in that both records essentially featured you, an acoustic guitar and your open-hearted songs about family and faith. I always thought that, taken together, they would have made for a fine debut album. Is that why many of the tracks reappear, albeit in a re-worked format, for your new release Live at the Beacon Café?

There are a few tracks on those first EPs that I'd written to be played with a band, such as My Husband's Wife or Jeanie, so I had always intended to put those on the first full band album. With the others, it was really that we were still gigging them and when it came to record the album, they were still very much songs I wanted to sing and put out there, so they made the cut.

You're backed by a band this time around. Who's playing what on the record?

On electric guitar is my husband, Sam Goudie, on drums is Mark Galozzi-Hibbert and on bass is Jason Elliott. I'm incredibly thankful for all three of them, it's a real joy to work with them and they've brought my songs to life in a way I could never have done without them. Their talent and ability to hear my ideas and make them come alive is incredible.

Was it a challenge to reconfigure the arrangements of those older songs ready for inclusion on the album?

Some were harder than others, but the band are genuinely so talented that it all came together pretty quickly. When I play solo I often mess around with the tempo and make things up as I go along, which is not really possible when playing in a band, so I had to really pin down how each song went, and that was a good thing to do.

Is the ensemble going to be a permanent fixture on your records from now on?

As much as possible, yes. We've worked hard over the last year or so to develop our sound and build a collection of songs. However, I will still release things on my own from time to time, and I still gig on my own sometimes too.

I wanted to ask you about one of the new tracks on the record, one that I absolutely love, Far from Home? On first hearing it sounded, to me, like a stonewall classic. When a song begins to come together, can you sense that it's going to be something special, a number that will stay in your repertoire for years to come?

Sometimes I start a song and I know it's one I'm going to love, others really surprise me in terms of how people seem to positively respond to them. I definitely don't have a formula for songs we're going to keep, but it seems to be the ones that are the most honest that last the longest. Far From Home was one that I wrote pretty quickly and was just one I had to get out of my system, but people have really liked it, which is nice!

Recording the album live must have made for an anxious evening? Are you a performer that gets nervous each time you take to the stage?

Recording the album was certainly a more intense gig, at least in the build up. Although we'd said beforehand that it would either be an EP or an Album depending on how many tracks came out well enough, so that took the pressure off a bit. We actually ended up having all but one track come out well enough to keep, which was great. Usually, if I'm playing a gig, I'll get some healthy nerves, but once I get on stage they disappear.

Your faith inspires and informs much of the music on Live at the Beacon Café, how has practicing your religion impacted on your creativity as a musician and shaped your role as a performer?

Over the last few years I've begun to see how making music is about so much more than just me, that it's for the people that listen to it and connect with it. Any of us that create something have the potential to bring hope or joy to someone, and even if just one person is impacted in some way by something I've written, it's worth it. I try to remember to measure things that way as much as possible now, which has been a huge shift for me and one I'm really grateful for.

There has been criticism in America recently that Christian artists, in general, have been reluctant to speak out against Donald Trump's divisive agenda? Does your faith place any limitations on your art?

I've never experienced any sort of limitation, at least none that I've ever perceived. But I would say that every musician is simply an 'artist', that we're all in the same category, and we all just write out of what we believe and what we experience. For me, what I believe in is rooted in love, compassion and hope and what I experience is real, raw life, with beautiful times, and with harder times. All I can ever do is write what is real to me and be content with where that takes me.

What comes next? Are there plans for a studio album anytime soon?

As a band we definitely have plans to get a studio album down sometime soon. I've got plans to release something new by the end of this year, and have begun work on that, but am yet to decide exactly what form it's going to take, so I can't really say much more at this point! I'm excited to get some new material out and share what I've been working on over the last few months, so I'll be sharing more details online as soon I have them.