By paul

John Feldmann is a man with a lot to talk about. Having forged an illustrious career over the last decade fronting Californian pop-punkers Goldfinger, he’s built up a steady roster of bands working as an A & R representative for the Warner Music Group, as well as producing/writing/recording the likes of Story of the Year, Atreyu, Good Charlotte and Mest. Heck, he’s even written songs for Mandy Moore and Ashlee Simpson. So it’s no surprise to hear he’s already having a busy day when we catch up with him one April lunchtime.
‘An average day in my life is fucking nuts! Today, today I had to drop my car off for some service so I had to get a rentacar; I’m showcasing this girl I found called Kristen Keys, a songwriter from Cincinnati. I’m picking her up to do a bunch of showcases for Warner brothers. I’m making a record for Escape the Fate, so we’ll be writing a couple of songs, then I’m gonna be hanging out with my kid.’
A busy day then, but nothing directly Goldfinger related. It would seem John’s having some time to distract himself from the band he’s fronted for five albums, while he waits for their sixth effort, ‘Hello Destiny’ to hit the shelves next week. It’s been a long road getting here, but Goldfinger have never seemed to stray from people’s attention too far.
‘I think we write catchy songs that get stuck in your head – that’s the number one reasons bands stick around or have any longevity. I think we really give it everything we have live too. We try and light shit on fire and get naked y’know, just have a good time.
‘No matter how you break it down, I’m an entertainer. That’s what I do. I’m not a fucking artist, when it comes to Goldfinger I’m an entertainer – that’s it. I’m not gonna fucking come paint your house, I’m there to put on a show.’
No stranger to the stage, you wouldn’t criticise a man’s opinions on live shows if he holds a Guinness World Record for playing 385 of them in a single year.
‘I’ve never understood going to see a band where you think ‘Oh my god they sound exactly like the record’. If you want that, go listen to the record on your Iphone, dude. The bands I’ve always enjoyed from The Replacements to Slipknot play crazy shows – I don’t know if the Replacements are gonna be so drunk that they’re just going to play all Kiss covers, and with Slipknot you don’t know if they’re even gonna play because they’re so violent or just beating each other up – that what’s I want, I want to see a show!’

With ‘Hello Destiny’, it’s a case of going back to their roots for the Californian veterans. It’s the first record to feature original guitarist Charlie Paulson since he dramatically quit the band during the recording of 2002’s ‘Open Your Eyes’. Back then, it was a massive shock to the band, and Goldfinger fans were left wondering whether it was the beginning of the end for one of the 90s greatest punk acts. John speaks fondly of the return of his old friend, and it would seem they’re now as solid an outfit as they ever were.
‘Charlie and I have been friends for years. He used to be a guitar tech in the old band I was in when I first moved to LA – I’ve known him forever. Charlie was always more of a hard-edged dude though. He likes Motorhead; he’s a big Kiss fan and was always more into the metal side of things’.
So he’d lost interest in the band and wanted to take it in different directions?
‘Goldfinger’s a Pop-Punk band, that’s what we are. We’re not this really heavy gnarly band. He wanted to have this real heavy ‘chug-chug-chug’ and it just didn’t work and he quit in the middle of recording ‘Open Your Eyes.’ It was a bummer, we had to find a guitar player really quick because we had shows booked and it just sucked. We didn’t talk for a year. I was pissed, he was pissed. It really sucked.’
Gradually though, the paths of John and Charlie began to cross again, as John would often bump into him when attending shows at the House of Blues where Charlie worked.
‘We became friends again because I’d see him at the House Of Blues. Three or four years into it when I started having trouble with Bryan, we were talking about having him back as a third guitar player, y’know Bad Religion-style, but in the end it didn’t end up working out with Bryan so it kind of made sense. I wanted to make a cross between our first record and Stomping Ground, and in order to do that we needed Charlie back in the band.’
The departure of Charlie Paulson isn’t the only obstacle that Goldfinger have had to face in the last five years or so. The dissolution of Maverick Records, the subsidiary of Warner that put out the band’s 2005 effort ‘Disconnection Notice’ left them effectively label-free until SideOneDummy stepped in.
‘Well Maverick folded, so most bands on Maverick lost their deals. I used to live with Bill Armstrong who’s the co-owner of SideOneDummy, I grew up in northern California and I’ve known Joe Sib, the other owner for 25 years. He saw my first band play ‘Family Crisis’, my high school punk band! For us to shop for a major and do the thing that way, we would have to tour 10 months on this record which I can’t afford to do – I’m producing a load of other records and I’ve got another kid on the way, I don’t want to be on the road all the time. SideoOne was really open to putting out the record and do a shorter string of dates – We’re doing Reading and Leeds; we’re doing a 2-week Australian run. We’re doing some great tours, but we’re not having to tour a tonne. It made a lot of sense for what we want to do with this record and our lives right now’.
So while Goldfinger quietly wait for the release of the sixth album, John has been busying himself with other projects. Most recently he’s been working with rising Birmingham quartet Beat Union on their debut full-length ‘Disconnected’. As a band that are still relatively unknown and off the radar of most people in the US, just how did they grab the attention of John Feldmann?
‘They sent me a demo to my P.O. Box here in the States and I just fell in love with the song ‘Can’t Stop The Radio’. I think Dave Warsof is a true songwriter; to me, comparable to Paul Weller and Elvis Costello and all of his idols. I think he’s going to become one of those all-time songwriters.’
So what exactly does John Feldmann look for when scouting new talent?
‘I listen to about 50 bands a day on myspace. Really what I’m looking for is something unique. I’m not looking for ‘My Chemical Romance: Part Two’. I’m sure there are definitely labels out there that can succeed on the next big screamo band. I’m not interested in that. I want to find a singer that doesn’t sound like anyone else, that sounds passionate and with something to say, a band that has its own personality. That’s what I look for in a band. My suggestion is to find your own thing – don’t try and copy someone else.’
In the modern music scene though, some would consider it to be more of a case of who you know rather than what you know these days. From someone who’s seen every side of it, you wonder, is this something John agrees with?
‘No way. I listen to bands that don’t know anybody. The Used didn’t know anybody, Story Of The Year knew nobody. They just came to my show and gave me a CD, and it happened from there. I still believe that can happen in 2008.
Away from the punk and hardcore scene, John has also dabbled in Pop music. Having worked with some commercially massive acts (he has song writing credits for Ashlee Simpson and Mandy Moore under his belt), he’s received heavy criticism from the shamefully elite punk rock scene, something that he expected growing up within it.
‘As a kid it was tough, you could only really like one style of music. If you liked punk rock, you weren’t allowed to like any other kind of music. I was always a closet pop guy – I love Duran Duran and REO Speedwagon, but I could NEVER admit to it!‘
Nowadays, punk rock credibility seems to be less of a concern for John.
‘I’d sell my credibility to support my family at the end of the day. I’m 40, there’s no way I can call myself Punk Rock. There’s no way anyone can call themselves that after thirty.
So what does John, this mid –forties Punk Rock oxymoron, think it’s all about today?
‘It’s about Fuck EVERYTHING. It’s about getting some eggs from your mum’s refrigerator, and putting the whites in your hair to liberty spike it up, It’s about youth, and about ‘Fuck you Mom’, ‘Fuck you teacher’, ‘Fuck you cop’, anarchy and I’m gonna do what I want and right now, I wanna huff some glue.
‘You can’t be a thirty year old man and say ‘Dude I’m fucking Punk’, it just doesn’t work. I have two kids and a house in Bel Air – Punk Rock’s not me at all anymore!’
However, John still stays true to his roots in the grander sense.
‘I definitely still have my ‘Fuck You’ energy, obviously from the vegan-animal rights side of me, so I still have something to say. Me writing with Hilary Duff or Ashlee Simpson, I’m a songwriter. Just being able to write songs is fucking awesome. I have no ethical quarries whatsoever about the fact I can produce a record for Atreyu, then write a song for Hilary Duff. To me, it’s like ‘Who else can do that’? No one else can do that. That’s part of my ‘Fuck-You’ attitude too, I can do it, you fucking try and do it!’

It’s clear that John is a man who is passionate about what he does and what he believes in. This is none more obvious that when he touches on the subject of his veganism. It’s been suggested before that he became a full vegan after seeing the movie ‘Babe’. I asked him to elaborate.
‘It’s true; I really made the connection when I saw how they trained the pigs in the movie. I thought ‘How do they train these pigs to do all the stuff they train dogs to do? I did some research and realized pigs are just as intelligent as dogs, and thought why do I eat a pig and pet a dog? So I just kind of stopped eating pigs. From there I looked into it more on the internet and saw some slaughterhouse footage and realized if I saw someone trying to do that to my dog, I would probably kill them. My dog is like a family member. That was how it all started, pigs, then sheep, cows and chickens, eventually everything.
‘There are animal rights songs like ‘Get Up’ on the new record which is very specific – if you really feel that bad about animals who are suffering then get out there and do something – get out there and protest. Write a letter, stop eating meat, whatever.’
While fortunately not a gospel on animal rights; ‘Hello Destiny’ touches on a wide range of topics close to Feldmann’s heart.
‘Every song is sort of its story. They’re all inspired by specific events. I try to only write when I’m inspired, I try not to write just to write. ‘Handjobs for Jesus’ I wrote about this experience I had with this Born Again Christian in Milwaukee. I said something like ‘Fuck Jesus’ on stage, and it was just kind of a shock. This lady came up and just had to lecture me about how Jesus saved her life. I started thinking about these people’s opinions about life and the meaning of it, and how ridiculous it is to me. Realistically, if you were to fast for 40 days or whatever, I’m pretty sure you’d see some crazy shit too. Back then the earth was FLAT you know, the science of the day thought the earth was flat and the stars were holes poked in some cover to cover the atmosphere. I find it ridiculous that these people base their lives on two thousand year old stories. I wanted to write a song after that about my opinions on religion. ‘
Animal rights, religion, friends in prison; ‘Hello Destiny’ covers it all. So much so that in fact, you begin to consider the possibility that maybe this mid-forties family man residing in Bel Air, who occasionally writes and produces multi-million selling records for teen pop princesses, still holds true to his beliefs. With his ‘Fuck You’ attitude still shining through ten years after Goldfinger started, John Feldmann, it would seem, is a lot more punk rock than he thinks.

Andy R

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