Pure music. John Gorka
artists a-z
Interview with John Gorka        previous page  print (PDF)

PM: John?

JG: Is this Frank?

PM: It is, indeed. How are you, man?

JG: I'm doing good, how are you?

PM: Life's great, thanks. You're on the road at the moment?

JG: I'm at home right now, got home yesterday.

PM: Good, I'm glad I caught you at home.

JG: I just played in Kansas, it was really fun. I played with a symphony orchestra there, it was a new world experience.

PM: Who did the charts for that?

JG: The director of the symphony. He really liked my music, and has for a long time. We used the new record, so we had something to practice to, and something that I could listen to, so I could remember how I did them! I got in Saturday night, and ran over them before the show. Also there was a little band that acted as a rhythm section and nucleus for the orchestra, it worked out really well.

PM: So, we'll start the interview proper. On a scale of ten, how is life?

JG: It's very good. On that scale, it's pretty high up there. We have two kids now, so that's the biggest change in the last few years for me. That's the focus of things, and I'm trying to do all I can to keep it balanced. Our boy was three in October, and our girl is just fourteen months.

PM: What's your wife's name? How'd you meet?

JG: Laurie. She was the program director of The Nature Center, she put on a music festival with Bob Feldman, the head of Red House Records, so I met her in 1988. I got married to her when I was 38, and we were lucky to have had kids so quickly.

PM: Speaking of Red House, I'll bet it's good to be back.

JG: It's a better fit, I think. It's more musically oriented, in a sympathetic way, than where I'd been.

PM: I haven't heard all the records you've done, but on all I've heard, you seem to stick to your folk guns closely. It's not folk pop, it's not country pop enough to really get cut in that market, it's modern folk.

JG: It doesn't really fit in any radio format that I know of. That's partly what's good about it, but also what makes it hard for the record company to market. The songs are too long to be played on the radio, or not this enough or that enough.

PM: But folk is really where you're coming from.

JG: Yeah, I think so. I don't know if it is folk music, I hope that it could be. But I try to start with the sparks that come my way, then try to keep them alive through the whole process—and try to fuel them, rather than mold them into some box where they might fit.

PM: Well, it seems to be working, you may be the best folk guy out there at the moment. I'm real happy about that, and proud of you.

JG: Oh, well, thanks a lot. After the whole record company thing, I wanted to continue in some way that felt right... "When I Lost My Faith in People" is kind of about that, and also about losing faith in myself. I wasn't sure whether I had anything to offer that was worth anybody's time, I guess that's about the best way I can put it. And finding out that I'd been able to reach more people than I thought I had, and also the way I've been able to reach people live, that helped a lot.

PM: Along those lines, I remember seeing you perform twice, including last summer at the Appel Farm Folk Festival in NJ. Your stage persona is very endearing, and very personal. How does your onstage persona differ from your offstage personality, who do your friends know you to be?

JG: I'm probably not as outgoing offstage, my persona onstage is what I'd like to be. In some ways, I'm more comfortable speaking to a crowd than I am to a small group of people. I'm not trying to be anything that I'm not, it's more a question of trying to become more who I want to be offstage.

PM: Yeah, when I saw Vance Gilbert onstage recently, he was so effusive that it actually rubbed me the wrong way, but a performer friend told me that, offstage, he's actually a very nice, mellow character.

JG: He's a very outgoing performer. He's got a lot going on, his last record helped to shore up the songwriter side of him, as opposed to his gregarious onstage image.

PM: What town was it that you grew up in, in NJ?

JG: Colonia, near Edison and Rahway.

PM: After living there and in PA, how do you like Minnesota, what's it like up there?

JG: It's OK, the winters are rough, and this has been a very long and cold one.

PM: Are you guys in the city, suburbs, or country?

JG: Northeast of St. Paul, more out in the country.

PM: Who are your big influences, musically or otherwise?

JG: The people that I heard on records that inspired me, well, it was the Battles and then everybody else. Ray Charles, I love his music, and I listened to Joni Mitchell quite a bit. And Frank Sinatra.

PM: Are there any new influences moving you?

JG: Let's see, Ani DiFranco is someone I admire.

PM: Man, I just saw a new picture of her in the paper, holy geez, was it cute. [John laughs.] I mean, what happened to that quirky look of yesterday, she looks like a model now.

JG: She has so many different looks. As an artist, she's always changing, and probably gets bored with the way she looks, you know. She probably doesn't want people to put her in any one slot.

PM: Who's your favorite guitar player, John?

JG: Oh, boy...right off the bat, I'd have to say Leo Kottke.

PM: Do you have a favorite lyricist?

JG: I like Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, and Janis Ian.

PM: Well, those are three hot ones.

JG: And Paul Simon is great.

PM: Overall, including the music, who would you say is the songwriter you most admire?

JG: Irving Berlin is someone I've always liked. The way he was able to say so much so simply. It's not the kind of stuff that I would write, but I love his songs.

PM: Sure, simplicity is something we're all striving for.

JG: Yeah, I think so. Trying to get down to the nature of things, or to the preconceptions, the givens, something along that line.

PM: I think I follow.

JG: Like in science, there are assumptions that precede a scientific proof of something.

PM: Right.

JG: It even applies to my current obsession of the last few years, home recording, and sound. The technical end of things, how sounds are made and captured.      continue

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