Sam Goblin currently lives in Maryland. He formerly played music with Two Inch Astronaut, and currently performs as Mister Goblin. He hopes to never, ever, ever become a music writer.
As we all know, really wonderful songwriting is a lot like basketball. There are relatively few tools required, few barriers to entry, it’s super cool, and obviously much, much harder than it looks. Solo acoustic music makes for a particularly attractive proposition. It’s a highly portable form of expression that can check all the boxes of being gratifying, direct, and economical, plus you can forgo the troublesome team dynamics. It’s sort of the dunk contest of rock and roll, to extend this half-assed analogy past the breaking point; all personal glory and no three-man weave. While anyone can pick up the rock, the Spud Webbs of the singer-songwriter set are fairly uncommon. It was tough to gauge Greg Mendez’s height (though he has tall vibes) or the accuracy of his jumper as he appeared a hooded shroud on our Zoom call, but he does have the ability to write songs that feel so complete and self-evident you might kick yourself for not having thought of them first.
His self-titled record is a frank, disarming collection of songs that do a lot without overcommitting. They’re honest without feeling self-involved, tuneful but not overcomplicated, and generally just have this golden brown quality, like they were taken out of the oven at precisely the correct moment. So, how? Greg Mendez doesn’t provide shortcuts, but that doesn’t seem to be because he’s holding out. He asks me just as many questions of me as I do of him, and seems much more comfortable shouting out his friends than puzzling over his craft. At one point, he described songwriting as “a state,” which rang very true to me. We can try to intellectualize these things but as a wise man once said, “shit really don’t make no goddamn sense.
Sam Goblin: So how does it look for you, writing this music? To me, listening to it, I imagine you writing these songs in one shot. They feel like they came out fully formed. I was just curious if it actually works like that?
Greg Mendez: Definitely not. I think some of them are quicker than others, but a lot of them are very fragmented. I’ll have these spam periods where I write these voice memos with fragments of a chord progression and vague words. When I’m done with that I’ll go back in and see which ones catch or get combined with others. I think “Donut Shop” was one of the only ones I’ve written in a day but a lot of the others are more in pieces.
Sam: Huh! Interesting. I love “spam periods,” that’s a good turn of phrase.
Greg: That’s my favorite part of the whole thing, it just feels really exciting. That’s the thing that really grabs me about songs, the melodies and the chord progressions. If I’m in a period where I’m just coming up with those things very spontaneously, that’s the shit for me.
Sam: Yeah, I like that feeling where you’re excited about what the song could be before it becomes this fully concrete thing that might be a little disappointing.
Greg: Pure potential, yeah. Sometimes the voice memos are my favorite versions of things for sure. There’s a lot of hope in them.
Sam: So if you’re piecing things together over a longer period, how do the lyrics come into that? They also feel really considered but not like you labored over them for too long.
Greg: I try not to bog myself down with them. I’ll usually have the nonsense words or whatever and a lot of times there’ll be some phrase or line that’ll come out at that stage and I’ll be like, “oh, actually, that’s kind of the vibe,” and build off that. I’ll let that be the guiding light. The only things I really do labor over are the little words, like is it “the” or “uh.”
Sam: Huh, so in those cases do you usually pick what’s grammatically correct or what sounds cool?
Greg: In the best case scenario it’ll make sense and sound good, but I’ll usually pick the sound over the meaning.
Sam: So what’s going on with the album cover, can you tell me about that a little bit?
Greg: It was a painting my wife, Veronica, did. She’s done a couple of these medieval Virgin Mary-inspired things and I just always really like them. This one, I was like, “let me use that, it’s perfect.” She was like “well, I hate it, but you can trace it and recolor it.” So that’s what it ended up being, I traced it and colored it with colored pencils. I thought it kind of fit the vibe.
Sam: I was looking at your Bandcamp and it looked like a lot of the songs on this newer album are reworkings of earlier stuff. There’s a collection of Myspace demos from back in the day and then a really long period where there wasn’t anything. Had you sort of stopped playing for a while or were you in other bands at that time?
Greg: Well I kind of had a rough period in my life then. I was playing music but I didn’t have a stable place to live in my life at that time so I wasn’t doing much recording. I definitely still had a guitar… sometimes… and still wrote songs but, I guess I wasn’t really doing much.
Sam: For sure. How do you like being a part of the music scene in Philly?
Greg: I think it’s really great, a lot of good music and good people. I kind of feel like it’s better than it’s ever been right now. A lot of relatively unknown bands making really great music. Great basement shows. It doesn’t feel as cutthroat somewhere like New York feels, more community-oriented. I feel like it’s the biggest small city around, you see people you know a lot.
Sam: Nice, any bands come to mind when you mentioned unknown bands making great music?
Greg: Yeah, Ther, which is fronted by my friend Heather, who have a new record coming out in April. Swim Camp just put out a great record. There are really just so many. Veronica makes really great music, although she doesn’t play too many shows. My friend Evan just put out a really great record as Provide. Then there’s some of the bigger ones like Sadurn who do really great stuff. Lily McKown is so good and lesser known.