Songwriter Interviews

Louise Goffin

by Amanda Flinner

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Louise Goffin is used to being introduced as the daughter of Gerry Goffin and Carole King, one of pop music's most famous songwriting teams, but the singer-songwriter has long been an artist in her own right. At 17, she opened for Jackson Browne at the West Hollywood hotspot the Troubadour and released her debut album, Kid Blue (1979). A few years later, she was the youngest artist on the Fast Times at Ridgemont High soundtrack with "Uptown Boys."

But Goffin never shied away from her family's musical legacy, dueting with her mom on the Gilmore Girls theme "Where You Lead" and producing King's 2011 album, A Holiday Carole. Her proudest moment, however, came in 2018 with the release of her ninth solo album, All These Hellos. The collection of rock-influenced pop tunes reunites Goffin with many of her friends, including indie alt rocker Billy Harvey, Van Dyke Parks, Rufus Wainwright, and Chris Difford of Squeeze. Shortly before the album's November 9 release, Goffin spoke with Songfacts about All These Hellos and weighed in on the idea of natural-born talent.
Amanda Flinner (Songfacts): Let's start with the title track, "All These Hellos." What inspired that song and why did you choose to name the new album after it?

Louise Goffin: Billy Harvey and I collaborated on a lot of songs one year because we were doing a tour as a duo and wanted to do new songs together. We were in such flow writing that any place that was a start-off point would lead us to a song. Sometimes we'd open a book randomly. "All These Hellos" was that. I can't remember the book but we had the phrase "summer house" and from that point the lyrics came.

We always wrote lyrics and music together at the same time, usually with me on piano and Billy on guitar, and we usually made some kind of simple demo the day of writing. I think Billy wrote more songs a year than I did so I'd be the one marinating in the demos long after. He'd have moved on to something else. The demo for "All These Hellos" was a favorite for me and I was so happy to record it on this record. With all the special guest appearances on the album, I realized that the title "All These Hellos" described it perfectly.

Songfacts: "Chinatown," featuring Rufus Wainwright, really stands out with its sweeping orchestral arrangement. What inspired that romantic tune?

Goffin: That song started off with a bouncy beat on a Wurlitzer electric keyboard. The chords were almost random. I liked the title "Chinatown" and we were riffing on the lyric from there, but then it was lunchtime and we were hungry and only a few miles away from Chinatown so we drove there for Chinese food. After we went back to the song and all the images poured out.

On another day we thought we'd try to play the song slower and with all the chord changes it had a dark meditative landscape with just piano, guitar and vocals. It was never in our minds that it would turn into the sweeping orchestral romance that Van Dyke Parks brought to it. Van Dyke loved the song and took it those heights.

I told him I loved what he'd done with Rufus Wainwright and then we asked Rufus if he would duet on it with me. Billy is a big Rufus fan and he kids me about getting replaced by him. You know, it's a brag to get a song you wrote sung by Rufus, even if he did kick you off the duet.

Songfacts: You and Rufus both come from highly esteemed musical families [Rufus' parents are folk singers Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle] and became artists in your own right at a young age. Is musical ability an inherited talent?

Goffin: I don't know the answer. I'm sure it helps. It's the age-old question of nature or nurture. I think by growing up with parents modeling songwriting and performing, recording and creating, you take that lifestyle in and either decide it's for you or you can go the other way and say "I'm never doing that." I have super talented siblings who could do anything they put their minds to, but they didn't want that lifestyle. The father of my children grew up in a family where people had no idea about songwriting and record making, yet he had perfect pitch and was amazing on any instrument he laid his hands on. Both our boys seemed to be born with musical superpowers and you couldn't keep them away from music if you tried. They wanted to get on the drums and piano and guitar.

When I was growing up, I know music soothed and energized me. As a teenager, writing my own songs was better than all the meds they give teenagers these days to calm their anxieties. It also provided escape into a world I could create.

Songfacts: "Good Times Call" was originally written from a man's perspective. What drew you to that song and how did you make it your own?

Goffin: I loved the demo Chris Seefried made and it took a year to find out whether Ethan Burns was cutting it or not. When we finally found out it wasn't on his album, I felt it was too good to let sit around.

I reversed the gender on the lines in the second verse to make it work for me. I changed "gonna put my feet up on a bed fit for a king" (that a man would've sung) into "put my feet up on a bed fit for a queen," which was great because it put the woman in the driver's seat. I also changed "and you can be the queen of the coast" to "and you can be the king of the coast."

Songfacts: "Paris France" features Chris Difford but was co-written by [British producer] John Parish. What's the story behind that one?

Goffin: It's coincidental that John Parish and I met in the '90s at one of Miles Copeland's songwriting retreats that he'd have in his chateau in the south of France. We weren't trying to connect the lyric to that experience. John came to LA and stayed in a guest house I had in Laurel Canyon and we wrote some songs together there. Ten years and two children later (he and his wife had two children born the same time my kids were) I came with my kids to Bristol to stay with him and his family. While I was there, someone wrote me that there was a new romantic comedy that was looking for songs, and I asked John if we wanted to have a go to try to write something to pitch for it. These spec things are always a long shot and the worst that can happen is you get a good song out of it.

Songfacts: On your podcast The Great Song Adventure, you asked Difford the difference between being in the room with a co-writer and being on your own. How would you answer that for yourself?

I prefer to be in the room with a co-writer. The times I've either been handed a piece of music or a lyric to write to on my own later are very rare. It's probably happened less than one percent of the time. More often, though still infrequently, I'll write a whole song with lyrics and music on my own. I just don't have enough pull to go and write a song when I'm on my own. I have such a long to-do list and writing a song usually is nowhere near the top of it. I write when someone is in the room with me and we've set that time aside to write.

Songfacts: How have you evolved as an artist and songwriter since your debut in 1979?

Goffin: I signed a record deal at 17 and was eager to go into the studio. I was influenced by artists of the time, and had little knowledge how to turn songs into records, so I left the arrangements to Danny Kortchmar, who produced my first two records. I couldn't wait to make a record and I had the opportunity to listen and learn a lot from Danny and other amazing musicians.

We worked at Sound Factory and Record One and I got to see great engineers in action. Val Garay, Greg Ladanyi, Niko Bolas, and Dennis Kirk. People like Linda Ronstadt and Stevie Nicks were up-close role models who encouraged me forward. I soaked in more than I knew. It took years for me to realize how much I had learned and have the confidence to put it all together. When I recorded the first versions of "Bridge of Sighs" and "Fifth of July" I started to find my voice as a songwriter and singer, but still I was letting other people dictate my sound. Sometimes A Circle was the first record where some of my demos ended up almost in their entirety on the album, and I learned a lot making that album.

I started feeling like I was in charge of my destiny as an artist with that album. What really turned things around from my point of view was producing A Holiday Carole for my mom. After it had come out, I asked myself why I wasn't in the studio doing for myself what I did for her. I had a dropbox folder full of songs laying around and without much planning, I decided to book musicians to start recording what became Songs From The Mine.

Since then, I feel I've finally found my place as an artist. With each record, I learn more about recording. The artists who were so generous with their time and talent gave me new enthusiasm for the whole process and now I feel like I'm just getting started! Recording in the studio with Dave Way and all the amazing musicians we had playing on All These Hellos raised the bar to another level. I feel blessed to be part of a community of talented and inspiring peers.

Songfacts: In "Bridge of Sighs," you sing about a dream you once had about your father. Was the song based on a real dream?

Goffin: I was using poetic license.

Songfacts: Through your efforts with the WriteGirl charity and songwriting masterclasses, you've shared a lot of wisdom about your craft. What's the most important piece of advice you give to budding songwriters?

Goffin: The best way to become a master at anything is to love it. That which you love reveals more of itself to you.

Songfacts: What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?

Goffin: Honestly? Getting to share All These Hellos with the world.

November 6, 2018
Related interviews:
Squeeze: Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford
Danny Kortchmar
Van Dyke Parks

More at louisegoffin.com


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