Goldfinger Frontman John Feldmann Talks About ‘The Knife,’ His Band’s First Album in 9 Years
When ska broke away from dingy basements and warehouse shows and soared to unthinkable heights in the 1990s, bands like Goldfinger were among the luminaries credited for ushering the sub-genre onto a commercial stage. Their infectious music coupled with their anthemic choruses put them in good company alongside bands like No Doubt, Sublime, Less Than Jake and Reel Big Fish — all bands that managed to smash through a glass ceiling and propel a genre to mainstream success. At their peak, Goldfinger effortlessly merged ska grooves with the urgency of hardcore punk rock and the playful attitude embodied in the day’s pop punk. Nearly a decade after their last studio album, sole original member John Feldmann assembled a veritable Avengers of alternative music (Story of the Year’s Philip Sneed, MXPX’s Mike Herrera and Blink-182’s Travis Barker) to push forward with “The Knife,” Goldfinger’s seventh and most star-studded effort to date.
Entertainment Voice caught up with “Feldy,” whose contributions to the alternative genre both as a performer and producer verge on prolific, to talk about the circumstances that led to a new Goldfinger record, the transition from performer to producer and a little taste of life on the Warped Tour.
“The Knife” is Goldfinger’s first album in almost ten years, and a lot can change in ten years. First off, besides the lineup, which is obviously different, what else feels different this time around?
I didn’t dedicate like a linear two months to make the record. I made a bulk of the record in songs that I had written for other artists, and so the record was like 25 percent finished before I even really started the record because a lot of the songs I knew were going to go on it were already written. So that was different. Not having a label that had an opinion, or a manager that had an opinion. It was me. I was basically the whole thing. I didn’t have other guys in the band that were really opinionated or trying to pull it in one direction or another. In the past, I’d had members that really had an agenda of making it heavier or not so lyric-driven or whatever it may have been. This is all me. I was sort of the executive producer, the producer, A&R, and the main songwriter — you know, the whole thing. So that was a first for me.
Would you say this was the first time with Goldfinger that you felt you had total creative control over the direction?
I would say that this album is definitely whatever my vision has always been for Goldfinger. This is the purest and most accurate version I have ever wanted it to be.
The lineup you put together for the new album feels very much to me like an alt supergroup. You got MXPX’s influence in there (Herrera), you got Story of the Year (Sneed), you got Travis Barker behind the drums. How did you go about getting the lineup together, and was there anyone else you would have liked to have in the group this time?
Gosh, I want to say it’s been six or seven years that I’ve been touring pretty much with Mike and Phil. There’s been a couple other guys that have stepped in. … It’s been this live lineup. I mean Aaron from Reel Big Fish has played a few shows with us since Charlie has left the band and Kelly quit Goldfinger to be a permanent member of Buck Cherry probably around six years ago. So it was a no-brainer for Mike. Phil has been a long time friend. Both Mike and Phil, who are really good boyfriends and husbands to their partners and amazing partners.
We have so much commonality in our lives that it was a no-brainer to have them play and sing on the album. Travis, just because he’s a neighbor, when I moved from Woodland Hills to Calabasas he became even a better friend than he’d been through the years. He’s always at my house. His kids and my kids are really good friends, so he’s always there, and so it just worked out really really well for me having the best drummer of all time play on my record.
Yeah it’s pretty cool that he’s so accessible to you.
Yeah, it’s the fucking best, dude.
Back in 2010 you mentioned in an interview that you had written a few songs and planned to have a new album out relatively soon. How much of “The Knife” comes from that period?
Really “Am I Deaf,” “Liftoff,” and maybe “See You Around.” I mean “See You Around” was started; Mark Hoppus really took that song to another place five or six months ago. But not a ton. I had “Milla” written when she was born, and she’s 9 now. So, maybe three or four songs, but the bulk of the record really did come about as of late.
There was some article I did where I said I was probably retiring Goldfinger. At one point I had said that. I think the idea of being a creative artist and then transitioning into being a music executive and sort of producing other people’s records — where my job is to produce the song, to deliver a finished product to the artist and to the record company — it’s a whole different mindset than it is creating your own music. And Goldfinger was my gateway into becoming an executive and becoming a record producer. Goldfinger was my vehicle, and part of that I don’t want to let go of. Another part of it is playing live is so second nature to me. I get on stage and I just have a knack to be able to tell stories and talk about where songs come from and talk about other bands I’m on tour with. I may have taken it for granted. My producing career took off in such a big way starting with The Used that I sort of let go of Goldfinger as a way to make money or support my family. I didn’t really connect it at a business level and it became more about providing for my family and making money and a career than it did about being fun. Maybe six or seven months ago I saw how much fun the bands that I was producing were having. And obviously I have a great time producing albums as well, but the business side can be really fucking challenging. There are terrible, terrible people in the music business. Their only agenda is fame, money and ‘how do I step on other people to get to where I want?’ and they don’t help anybody. I kind of made this record to sort of remember why I got into this in the first place.
You guys are back on a few dates for this year’s Warped Tour. Are you ready?
It’s really only five shows total. A perfect Warped Tour run, because I’m 50. I can’t take the fucking dirt boogers. It’s a hard tour. It’s a young man’s tour. It’s either like if you can afford your own tour bus or even flying in, and I mean i can fly in and out, but, you know, going to the airport every fucking day? I guess if you owned your own private jet or tour bus and you’re not doing it for the money, that would make sense. But, dude, to be on the grind in a van and not sleeping? I’ve done that. I did that three times when I was younger. You’re in a porta potty trying to fucking take a shower, and you got no toilet paper and you’re taking a poop. Then you’re out playing on-stage without taking a shower or wiping. It’s fucking gnarly, dude.
You’ve produced so many different bands. You most recently worked with Blink-182 on their new album. Can you talk about making that transition from talent to producer, and did you feel like it was pretty seamless or did you deal with some growing pains along the way?
Well a couple of the guys in the band were super resentful, and a couple of them still think we would have been a more successful band had I not pursued producing. But I really started producing records around our fourth album, “Stomping Ground,” and by then I had noticed a trend. Our first record was our biggest selling album, and I think “Hang-Ups” probably at the time sold 30 percent less, and it wasn’t due to the internet or anything other than our band being less popular. Then we had a covers record and then we had “Stomping Ground,” and we were touring. We held the world’s record. And I guess I feel like I’m defending myself starting a career as a producer. We were having to play more shows, even. In 1996 we did 385 shows, and we still continued to do 300 shows a year in 1997, in 1998, and it was like I could see the future. I had torn an ACL on tour, I herniated a disk in my neck, and I started to really hurt myself physically. And I knew in order to support myself I had to do 300 shows a year, but I was spending so much money on medical bills. And we weren’t getting radio like we thought, we weren’t getting (back then) MTV plays like we expected. It just was a natural thing.
I knew I could help Showoff become a better band, and I got them signed to Maverick Records. I got Mest signed to Maverick Records, and I was making quadruple the kind of money, and I was still doing 300 shows a year and producing these bands. It was intense, man. And by the time the Used came out I knew I could change the world with The Used, which I did. And at that point I had given the guys in Goldfinger my 110, and it was a real natural progression to take what I learned on tour and as a guy that was in a band for my whole life and as a songwriter to help other younger bands. I knew I was already more successful at it than I was being in my own band. So, yeah, it was a totally natural thing, and there was a massive amount of growing pains. And it was the beginning of the internet, too, so there’s all these websites that were talking mad shit about me and my band and about ‘sellout’ and all that bullshit, and it was fucking hard. It was hard as an emotional artist that really gets affected by people’s opinions of my art, it was tough, but I survived and I’m still surviving.
Once you’ve been on the other side of the glass as a producer, how does that affect the way you think about music from a performer’s perspective?
I’ve always played at least 10 shows a year, and what happens on-stage is so pure for me. There’s no track. I can stop a song in the middle of it if I feel it’s not connecting with the audience and go in a different direction. And producing is methodical, you know? By the time we’ve got a song finished, we’ve mixed it 12-18 times. It’s very different, and so my live show, I don’t critique myself. In the beginning I used to film the shows and watch them to become a better performer. I just kind of say a prayer before the show, and I’ve done enough preparation before the show. I’ve warmed my voice up, I’ve stretched, I’ve talked to the dudes in the band, and I’ve meditated. So by the time I get on-stage, whatever comes out is what it’s supposed to be. I have a setlist sort of prepared, but a lot of times I’ll stop a song midway and just kind of go wherever I feel. If we’re playing a reggae song I’ll play a punk song if the crowd looks bored. I don’t think I really take my producing skills on to the stage with me. I take my performer skills with me. And sometimes I take my performing skills into the studio to hype a singer to get the right performance out of him or to get him motivated. That makes more sense than the other way around.
Lastly, do you have anymore projects coming up that you can share with us right now, either from Goldfinger or maybe a band you’re producing that you’d like to get out there?
The last year I’ve really focused on developing artists. So I have a band called Ded that just released a record that is really metal — like Slipknot kind of nu metal — that I’m super pumped on. A band called Make Out that are a straight pop punk, kind of Blink-182-style band, that are these kids from Rhode Island that I’m really excited about. And that’s really what I’ve been doing is developing new acts, because at one time the world didn’t know The Used existed or 5 Seconds of Summer existed. And those are the things that give me the most joy, taking a band from zero to 100.
“The Knife” is available on Apple Music July 21.