As the child of Carole King and Gerry Goffin, singer/songwriter Louise Goffin comes from musical stock. But genetics never grant a free pass or guarantee a successful career. Just ask Ben Taylor or Holly Williams. Sure, it’s a leg up, but an artist still has to prove themselves on their own merit. So that’s what Goffin has done, slowly and steadily, over the years. With her new album, Songs from the Mine, she takes another step forward into the spotlight. It’s a solid effort from a thoughtful artist who has nurtured her given gifts and let her career set its own pace while balancing a life outside of music.
There are quite a few female artists of a certain age who are balancing kids and career and coming out with new records this year. What has motherhood contributed to your music? And, alternately, what have you had to sacrifice?
Balancing kids and career can be challenging, but a lot of women do it and do it well. I had lots of years to spend on my career without children, and the qualities I brought to my work after I was a mother were different to what I showed up with before I was one. And both phases of my life were valuable. Some of the songs I wrote before I was a mother, I still like but, at that stage, I can say my records would be more a reflection of someone else’s point of reference which is what you do when you’re young — lean on other people for direction. But, after I had my first child and I knew what it was like to be a mother and advocate for someone other than myself, I became better at taking responsibility for my own destiny. I was less inclined to people-please.
Once I was in the phase of motherhood, I knew better than I did before that what I allowed and didn’t allow made a difference. Ultimately, as an artist and a mother, you have to stand up and speak up for what you believe in, not just toward your kids, but in the world. I’m not going to let an expert tell me what’s best for my kids if I feel something’s not right or just doesn’t resonate with my instincts. We have to be experts on our own lives. From that acquired strength, I’m also not going to let a record be made and released if I don’t feel it’s the best it could be.
I have also learned to make minutes and hours matter. I used to have all day to write a song, record it… whatever it was, and I didn’t spend my time as wisely. I used to produce entire tracks that had no lyrics. Somewhere, I have reels of half-inch eight track tapes documenting wasted time. As soon as I had two hours of time to myself before the babysitter had to go home, I’d make sure I’d get something done.
And by showing up to their schools in the past to contribute as a musician, I’ve met many talented parents. The rhythm section on the track “Watching the Sky Turn Blue” came from amazingly talented parent musicians I met when my kids were in preschool and elementary school (drummer Joey Peters and bassist Paul Bushnell). There’s a camaraderie among parents who are working, who know the multi-tasking drill and who long ago gave up the notion that life revolved around only your own star. Kids will knock that perspective right out of you, which levels the playing field.
I don’t get to pick up and move where I want to when I want to now that there are other people’s routines that get affected. But I have given my kids the kind of stability I always longed for yet was too restless to give myself. I don’t think so much that that’s a sacrifice, although it sometimes feels like one. Chaos, instability, and drama may look good in the movies and be fun to write about and, although some artists thrive on it, its not a winning recipe over time. The body gives out from exhaustion, and I am learning to pace myself. Maybe there’s nothing I’ve sacrificed as a mother that I truly ever needed in the first place, other than sleep and time to read a book.
Following along a similar thread, a song like “Here Where You Are Loved” is so perfect and profound in its simplicity. When you sit down to write and/or record, how much of the process is about subtraction rather than addition?
I think that was the second song Billy Harvey and I ever wrote together and, at the time, we were writing for ourselves to perform as a duo. What I remember about that song was not having much lyrically to start with other than a line that had the word “yesterday” in it. And the phrase “taxis and red lights” was written somewhere in my notebook. There wasn’t much of an idea there. “I’m right here in the sun here where you are loved” was Billy’s line. He also reworked the yesterday idea to make it “there will always be a yesterday craving your attention” which I love.
As far as subtraction and addition goes, sometimes I make up words on the mic as if it’s real, as if it’s worthy, and then replace it later with something that holds up. Neither of us was afraid to share the lines that might be thrown out by the other, and then keep on finding new ideas. So, while it is about subtraction, you do have to be willing to throw a lot into the mix first to have enough to subtract from.
Your father passed away recently. His amazing musical contributions notwithstanding, what was his greatest gift to you on a personal level?
The greatest gift anyone can give a child is love, and I knew he loved me, and he knew I loved him. He could be hard on me when I was very young. Some of that was projection because he was constantly critical of himself and would undervalue his own abilities. The amount of tributes and recognition that poured out worldwide in the few weeks after he left this earth, he himself would not have believed. The line my son told me in the airport when I took him to Austin with me recently was “If Grandpa knew how many people loved him, he would’ve died.” My father would’ve found that incredibly funny and laughed heartily over it. He didn’t fully accept how good he was. He’d say “I’m just a lyricist.”
Because my father had, my whole life, been bi-polar, I never knew which version of my Dad I would get. I learned how to be in the moment and respond to life’s extremes because growing up with Gerry taught me hard lessons about surviving and reinventing who you thought you were, because I grew up anticipating major curve balls all the time. The pendulum swings. Dad would be sick. Dad would be in the hospital. Dad would be feeling good and have a lucid amazing streak where he was the most inspiring person to talk to. He would play chess with me when I was eight. Or he’d be making no sense at all. Sometimes he’d call to say he was thinking about me and my kids, and that he put us in his prayers every night. It was easy to love my father, although not always easy to love his illness.
There’d be those wonderful, bright moments with him when his smile would light up a room. He was a charismatic guy. But always lurking was this side where he’d be so deep into his own thoughts, I’d wonder if he was even aware of where he was or what was happening around him. Those days were a challenge.
I idolized him as a kid and I hoped that, if you could be as clever as he was, surely you could influence the way things turned out by a good enough song. But no one knew better than him that that didn’t work. Songs could melt and move people but rarely change the outcome of a life drama. All of his songs were motivated by an innocent belief you could change things by saying things in just the right way and the fact that it didn’t work gave birth to one great song after another.
You must feel both the blessing and the curse of your parents’ musical legacy. How do you set both aspects aside and just pursue what’s right for you?
I decided at 12 to go into music, and I didn’t think anything other than “This is fun.” I think the concept of a “legacy” is more of a construct that refers to something after the fact. “And he hit a home run!” is only something the anchorman says after the player has done it. So all you can ever do is pursue what’s right for you in each moment. Music always felt right for me.
What wisdom do you hope to pass on to your kids, who bear a similar artistic cross?
I often wish I knew how to be more like my kids. They don’t complicate what they feel, they express themselves in a direct way, and they seem to be wired to advocate for themselves based on who they honestly are. They’re good problem solvers and naturally gifted, so the main cross they have to bear is how to cook and clean up after themselves — which is what we all have to learn, ultimately, practically, and spiritually. Wisdom doesn’t so much get passed onto your kids by what you say; it’s more about what they see and how you live.
This article originally appeared on No Depression.