The Sound…

The Texas Governor returns to the stage after a decade-long hiatus
by Larry Clow
The Texas Governor returns to the stage after a decade-long hiatus
by Larry Clow

Time is elastic for musician Dave Goolkasian. It’s been almost a decade since his band, The Texas Governor and the Experiments, have appeared on local stages. When asked what he’s been up to during the intervening years, Goolkasian laughs.

“I don’t really remember them,” he jokes. “People ask me, ‘Oh, when did this thing happen?’ and I’ll think about it, and I just remember it, but I can’t place it in time. It could’ve happened yesterday, or it could’ve happened 20 years ago,” he says. “But at least if I’m creating music, I can kind of catalog it.”

That elasticity might be the result of living what seems like multiple lifetimes in music. Long before The Texas Governor, there was The Elevator Drops, the 1990s cult pop trio made up of Goolkasian on bass, guitarist and singer Josh Hager, and drummer Scott Fitts. Then came the Governor, first as a solo project and then as a band. Now, after a years-long hiatus, The Texas Governor is back.

Goolkasian released a new single, “Sunset Highways,” in late February and a new album is in the works. So is a small tour — the band is opening for The Snails in three New England cities this month, including a March 7 show at 3S Artspace in Portsmouth.

Big in Texas

As musical nom de plumes go, The Texas Governor stands out. It was Goolkasian’s nickname in The Elevator Drops (Hager was “Garvy J”; Fitts was “The Man in the Orange Suit”), and it carried over into his solo project. Goolkasian left Texas for New Hampshire in the early 2000s, but he kept the name. Texas is big, he says, and that immensity gave him confidence. If the state was big and full of possibility, then so was he.

“Driving home across the country, it seemed the further I got from Texas, the smaller and more incapable I felt,” he says. “And when I finally returned home, I felt puny and hopeless.”

Goolkasian was determined to keep making music. He built a “studio” in his apartment — a rough structure of wood, moldy blankets, and cardboard, inside of which he stacked his gear and guitar. He had to crouch down to sing and kept the “door” open with one hand to avoid passing out. The space was small, but the feeling — and sound — was big, just like it had been back in Texas. In 2001, he released the Governor’s self-titled debut album; a second, “The Experiment,” followed in 2004.

“The old stuff was basically made on as little equipment as possible. It was homemade recording,” Goolkasian says. “I’m still doing that, but … I’m going for a more professional, honest sound. A lot of the earlier recordings, since I didn’t know what I was doing, I’d play with effects and just get things to where they sounded neat. Now, I’m attempting to simplify as much as possible.”

Visionary revisions

The roots of the Governor’s revival lie in the annual Bob Dylan tribute night at The Blue Mermaid in Portsmouth. After The Texas Governor went on hiatus in 2007, Goolkasian found that the only time he was out playing music, apart from an Elevator Drops reunion in 2009, was at the Dylan tribute show.

“I’d be all excited, and suddenly a year would go by and the Bob Dylan tribute would come around again, and another year would go by and I’d do it again. And I’d feel terrible — how am I managing only to do these and not make my own music anymore?” he says.

Goolkasian started working with recording engineer Terry Palmer. “The first thing Terry and I did was spend about two months where he’d come over and rebuild my computer, literally pulling out parts and putting new parts in, because that’s how you record music now,” he says.

Though the process has changed, much is the same. “Sunset Highways” has the same jangly, space-pop sensibilities as The Texas Governor’s previous records, a sound that hints at vast, unexplored spaces both internal and external, but with a light pop touch.

Back in office

Goolkasian’s approach to recording new material had been leisurely, he says, until The Snails (a side project of the band Future Islands) contacted him.

“They asked me to do some shows, and I figured, what a perfect opportunity. I’ve known those guys for years and I love their music. It was too perfect,” he says.

That meant putting together a live band, making a website, and re-establishing the Governor for real. Joining Goolkasian in this iteration of the Governor are drummer Mike Walsh, singer Clara Berry, and guitarist Nick Phaneuf, who previously played in the Governor from 2004 to 2007.

All the band members are familiar names in the Seacoast music scene. Walsh is a member of Mother Superior and the Sliding Royales and Equal Time, among other bands, and Berry makes up half of the local band Kid Coyote. Phaneuf plays guitar in numerous area bands, including Tan Vampires and Dan Blakeslee and the Calabash Club.

Phaneuf says the band’s dynamics have changed since his first stint with The Texas Governor.

“There’s a weird role reversal that’s hard to articulate,” he says. “When I met Dave, he was a rock god coming down off the mountain to play with us. In the intervening years, I played a lot more and Dave had taken a break from music nearly entirely. He’s every bit the pop genius he ever was, but I think I’m more confident and competent than I was 10 years ago.”

Stepping back into The Texas Governor is both familiar and totally new, Phaneuf says. “The previous incarnation was like a Texas Governor cover band who took lots of liberties. On the new material we’re developing, I have more of a voice. Or rather, Dave is extremely deferential to me.”

For now, Goolkasian says he’s focused on the upcoming shows with The Snails (he’s preparing for the short tour by “drinking Coca-Cola,” he says). Plans are afoot for a new album, too, but it’s too early to say anything definitive, according to Goolkasian.

“I went through all these ideas of visionary revisions of what I wanted to do with the sound and modernize it,” Goolkasian says. “But now the focus is on writing, good lyrics, and good songs, and less on sonic fireworks.”

The Texas Governor opens for The Snails (featuring members of Future Islands) on Monday, March 7 at 8 p.m. at 3S Artspace, 319 Vaughan St., Portsmouth. Tickets are $12 and are available at 3sarts.org or by phone at 603-766-3330. The Texas Governor is online at thetexasgovernor.com.

 

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