Monday, October 12th, 2020
The Goa Express
Just Us Five
Oct 12, 2020
By Dom Gourlay
Fresh faced garage punks The Goa Express have been regular features on the UK psych rock circuit for a few years now despite being barely out of their teens. Indeed, it’s this grounding that’s given them the confidence to blossom and develop into one of the most exciting bands in the country.
Hailing from the Calder Valley towns of Todmorden and Burnley on the borders of Lancashire and Yorkshire, the five-piece are yet another hotly tipped outfit to emerge from the area’s vibrant music scene alongside The Orielles, Working Men’s Club, and The Lounge Society.
Having released a couple of singles on the Eli Records and Wrong Way labels respectively, the quintet—brothers James Douglas Clarke (vocals and guitar) and Joe Clarke (keyboards), Joey Stein (guitar), Naham Muzaffar (bass) and Sam Launder (drums and percussion)—signed a management deal with Rough Trade last year. Since then, they’ve put out two more critically acclaimed singles (“The Day” and “Be My Friend”), attracting radio play from the likes of Steve Lamacq while drawing comparisons to Spacemen 3, The Horrors, and The Brian Jonestown Massacre.
However, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, their tour and festival plans had to be put on hold which has given them time to reflect, write and record and in the case of the brothers Clarke, move home.
Under the Radar caught up with them mid relocation to their new pad in Manchester’s Rusholme district.
Dom Gourlay (Under the Radar): How’s lockdown been for you?
James Clarke: Me and Joe were at home in Todmorden then we moved to Rusholme, so we’ve just tried to change our scenery as much as possible. We went back to Todmorden, then came back to the city, then back again to the countryside depending on what we felt like doing. We were meant to be playing a lot of shows this year before the whole Covid-19 thing kicked in, so we’ve just carried on what we were doing really. We’ve been writing a lot of tunes then making them sound better for when we do get the chance to play live again.
You were scheduled to play numerous festivals throughout the summer as well as go on tour. Does it feel as if the momentum has stalled because of COVID-19?
Joe Clarke: It’s a weird situation but then on the bright side, every other band is also facing the same kind of issues. We have lost momentum through not being able to play live but I think we’ll get it back when the time’s right and hopefully people will still be up for it same as they were before the pandemic. If not more so because there’s been such a long hiatus. We’re pleased in many ways that we didn’t have an album ready for this period because then we could have seen serious momentum dwindle away.
The Goa Express have progressed and developed at their own pace over the past four years, nurtured in some ways by your association to the psych rock scene. Do you think that’s played an important part in the band’s growth?
James Clarke: The people within that scene are so loyal as well. People that originally came to see us as fans who we now regard as some of our best friends. Some of them were coming to our gigs from day one and they’re still coming now. It did feel as if we were being boxed in a bit when people started labelling us as a psych band. But then without people on that scene giving us the opportunity to play and building our fanbase we probably wouldn’t be where we are today so we’re eternally grateful for that.
Why do you think bands from the Calder Valley region such as yourselves, Working Men’s Club, and The Lounge Society are finally receiving national recognition now?
James Clarke: It’s great to see people taking notice. You’ve got The Orielles and Lounge Society who are from Halifax and Hebden Bridge, then us and Working Men’s Club from Todmorden. It does feel like a lot of people are being given attention all at once which is nice. Although prior to us, there wasn’t really much happening in these parts. Whereas now, it definitely feels like there is a scene and it’s great to be part of it.
Having such incredible live music venues as The Golden Lion in Todmorden and The Trades Club in Hebden Bridge has also made more people aware of what’s going on in the Calder Valley.
James Clarke: Definitely. I’ve spent more time in both of those venues since I was 14 or 15 than I have anywhere else. We used to get served in the Golden Lion when we were proper under age and the same with the Trades Club as well although we did get booted out a few times for being too young! But we’d always try and blag our way into these venues and for some reason we became accepted. So, it’s nice to see all these people’s bands doing well. We’re not massively close but we’ve all grown up around the people in Working Men’s Club and The Orielles so we know of each other and it’s nice to see everyone succeeding in doing their own thing.
You’ve played a lot of shows in Manchester—possibly more than any other UK city—and now just relocated there. Do you see yourselves as being or becoming a Manchester band?
James Clarke: It’s not something we really think about. Whether we class ourselves as a Manchester band or a Todmorden band or a Burnley band. We just float around all three places all the time. Back home, we spent most of our adolescence growing up and going to school in Burnley. That’s where we met everyone, but then we spent most of our nights out in Todmorden. Then we moved to Manchester for University so I think we’re a mixture of all three. All three places have had an impact on who we are and the way we are as people.
You worked with Nathan Saoudi from Fat White Family on “The Day” then Ross Orton on “Be My Friend” who’s also worked with Jarvis Cocker, Arctic Monkeys, and Working Men’s Club, among others. What did they bring to the recording process and do you see yourselves working with them again in the future?
James Clarke: We’d definitely work with them again, but from our point of view we just want to be treated as normal lads. Especially when we’re recording. We just want to go in there with the minimum amount of fuss being made and get on with the job in hand. Which we have done in most cases to be fair. We just let it go where it takes us. There’s not a huge amount of thought process beforehand. I felt really comfortable around Ross and Nathan. We’d bumped into each other a few times and had several conversations before we did the recording, so we weren’t just going in as The Goa Express. We were going in as individuals who we all knew beforehand. I like that. It works quite well for us.
Have your plans changed as the year’s progressed in terms of recording and releasing an album as you’ve written more songs?
James Clarke: We’ve actually been in a mate of ours’ studio in Burnley doing about an album’s worth of demos. All recorded live and mixed in the same day. We were fairly ruthless. Then we went in the same studio for another session the week after. We recorded about 12 songs, 10 of which we’re happy with. Just recorded as rough demos which we worked on that day. So that’s part of our planning towards an album and which songs might work well together. In terms of singles, there’s definitely going to be more coming soon. We’re just trying to work out strategically what the best move is. When the singles come out, which songs they should be, then after that we’ll focus on putting together an album.
Do you see yourselves more as recording artists or as a live band?
James Clarke: We like being in the studio but we love playing live. So, we’d take that over being in the studio every day of the week. In terms of the recording process, we’re still discovering what works best but I think we all prefer to record live and be playing together as well. When we record live it’s easier to capture the same energy as we have when we’re performing, and I think you can hear that sense of urgency in some of those recordings.
Apart from one member leaving in the early days The Goa Express has operated with the same line up from the outset.
James Clarke: We’ve all been best mates for years. The only reason our old keyboard player Bryn left the band was because he decided to stay in Burnley when everyone was moving to Manchester for Uni. So, Joe came in on keys. But we’re still very close friends with Bryn. This line up is permanent now. No one will ever come into it and no one will ever leave. If they do, the band won’t be here anymore. The Goa Express is just us five.
Joe Clarke: We’ve all agreed that should anyone leave then that’s it. We wouldn’t want to do it with any other people. The main thing about our band is we’re all best mates, me and James too even though we’re brothers.
Moving onto a post-COVID world within the music industry—whenever that may be. Do you think there will be many significant changes going forwards?
James Clarke: I don’t think we’ll be playing any proper gigs before the end of this year. We’ve got to be proactive about the way we think about these things but I guess we don’t spend that much time thinking about it. I think the industry will be massively affected, and I’m not sure how long it will be before everything starts up again or even goes back to normal. The more time you spend thinking about that the worse it makes you feel. I’d love to say we’ll be playing in two- or three-months’ time but you just don’t know. So, I guess we’re just using this time to carry on writing and perfecting all the things we needed to sort out before the pandemic.
You’ve always self-released or put out one off singles on small independent labels. Do you ever see yourselves signing to a specific label for a long period of time in the future?
James Clarke: We’ve never really had this conversation. We all like not being signed at this moment in time. We work well with the management we’ve got at Rough Trade. There’s a nice bit of direction there but it’s not overbearing. I think we’ve got to the stage we’re at because we’ve been allowed to do our own thing for so long. When the time’s right, we’d all love to be signed to a label we can work well with. It’s a very exciting prospect but no one’s really thought about who or when it will be. Like with the last question, we don’t spend too much time thinking about these things. When the time arrives, we’ll all know and a decision will be made then.
What advice would you give to a new band just starting out?
James Clarke: Don’t take everything too seriously.
Joe Clarke: Just do it out of enjoyment and play as many gigs as you can. Get around, go and see as many places as you can see. If someone doesn’t like you don’t let it get to you. Don’t take it too seriously at all.