Tacoma’s indie folk rock quintet Goldfinch has been busy. Playing shows as often as their individual schedules will allow, the local outfit is making music and working feverishly to bring their sound to their fans and the world. Not because they get paid to do so, but because they know this is what they have to do.
“This is not a hobby, or else I’d have quite a long time ago.” Aaron Stevens, guitarist and one of Goldfinch’s two singer-songwriters said.
He and keyboardist/fellow singer-songwriter Grace Sullivan have known each other for 13 years, since Sullivan and her sister Faith walked into Stevens’ dad’s former 6th Ave. vintage clothing and record store the Urge. Stevens slowly because smitten by Faith.
“I met Faith and then I kept getting invited over for food,” Stevens said. “Except it was always Aaron who brought the food!” Sullivan laughed.
“We all became friends and I ended up marrying Faith. I knew that Grace wrote songs as a teen and so did I, but we didn’t end up forming as Goldfinch ‘til we recorded our first record back in January of 2009,” Stevens added.
The rest of the band includes Paul Hirschl on drums, Jake Rohr on bass guitar and Steve Norman on slide pedal steel guitar and trumpet. Though these members joined after the first album was recorded, they help to fully realize Goldfinch due to their abilities and similar tastes that keep Stevens and Sullivan in awe.
Both Sullivan and Stevens had been in previous bands and groups, each to no avail. The attempts at making something that would last and work musically, and being in the recording studio with less than supportive producers proved trying and emotionally draining to both, to say the least.
“We both have a longstanding history of musical failures,” Sullivan admitted. “We were feeling a drive to write and perform, but I had horrible stage fright, and kept thinking why is this happening? When I met Aaron he’d just quit music, and then he started up again and I quit. We were repeatedly just defeated by life.”
“There was a sound we were trying for, and we ended up forming songs around the bands we were in before the songs were formed,” Stevens added.
“Our insecurities were creating vacuums for other people to come use them. I had this moment three years ago where I thought, even if we’re not good enough, we don’t care anymore. Aaron was recording one night and asked ‘do you like this? No?’ And I said why are you doing it then?! After that we said let’s write songs with lots of empty space and we can write melodies and we are doing what we do.”
And it’s been working out quite well ever since.
Sullivan and Stevens both draw from many musical influences, ranging from Broadway musicals, Pakistani to jazz, and if you want to get into early influences, they both affirm Christian rock music as well. With a heaping helping of indie bands and rock groups thrown in, the members of Goldfinch are inspired by them, but they say they don’t aim to borrow elements of their sound. It’s rather their confidence onstage that Goldfinch feeds off of.
“Any artist that is fearless, like Antony of Antony and the Johnsons,” Sullivan said. “I worship him and his fearlessness to say ‘I’m not attractive, cool or trained.’ Rufus Wainright is another fearless musician. That fearlessness helps me take what I’m doing to the next level.”
And what do all these mutual inspirations and love of those who want nothing better than to be who they are help create for Goldfinch’s sound? Vocals that ache with honesty, passion and wisdom that accompanies knowledge that comes as one grows older and experiences the world firsthand. Instruments serve as accompaniments, coming in at just the right time to lend to the overall panoramic view that Goldfinch paints with characters in song. Horns and slide pedal steel are beautiful and carry the vocals to listeners. Acoustic guitar and keys round out the folksy rock sound that hearkens to past bands without seeming mournful. Duets are somewhat of a long lost art these days, but Stevens and Sullivan bring them back without one leading the other, and successfully remain equals.
On Dec. 18, the quintet will release the first single and b-side, “Vacant Lot/Elephant” at their show at the Columbia City Theater in Seattle. These two tracks are the first released by the band since their debut record released in 2009, and they will be followed by another set in early February, if all goes according to plan.
Horn and percussion, “ooohs” in the background, and the slow introduction of drums and guitar enter. Sullivan and Stevens sing in unison “I am dying to find out what is under your skin” on “Vacant Lot” and the song is a surprise to longtime listeners, with elements not present in past songs exploding into headphones. “Elephant” begins with piano, Sullivan’s soothing voice and percussion before slowing down to allow the voices to shine and the music to rebuild again. If these two tracks are indication of things to come from the band’s next release, everyone should stand up and pay attention.
For those who have yet to listen to the band, I have to ask: which rock have you been hiding under? There are too many musical influences in Goldfinch’s sound to avoid and they will appeal to all who appreciate a collaboration of genres. The beautiful lead vocals compounded with instruments that have been pared down to only what’s essential are nothing if not satisfying and comfortable in their effects.
Goldfinch’s music speaks to the individuals that create it with their bare hands and vocal chords, wanting only to project what comes immediately after meeting the band: their fragility, honesty and love for what they do so well.
Goldfinch play the Columbia City Theater in Seattle on Dec. 18 for their 21 and up single release show with Cobirds Unite and Trespassers William at 9 p.m. and tickets are $8 pre-sale. They play again Feb. 4 with the Warehouse at a TBD location in Tacoma with Grand Hallway, Birds & Batteries and Kimo Muraki at 8 p.m. For more information, to hear songs or buy their album, visit their blog: goldfinchstatebird.wordpress.com, Facebook: www.facebook.com/goldfinchstatebird, Myspace: www.myspace.com/goldfinchstatebird and booking site: www.artisthomebooking.com/goldfinch.html.