(Photograph by Dasha Denger)

Here’s an interview with Claire Lambach (bass, vocals) of Chicago minimalist psych-pop duo GOSH! I first heard GOSH! in 2015 when Ruix booked them at our old space, and was lucky enough to have done some tour dates with them last fall. It’s been rad to see them change and grow over those few years. The group has a new LP out May 11 through Nicey Music, and it’s a hell of a listen, wistful and bittersweet and stark and lush.

 Let’s start off with a little background. When did GOSH! form and what led to starting the band? What other projects had you been involved in prior to this group?

GOSH! Began the same week Padraig and I started dating. One of the first moments we spent together was with a guitar and bass, learning the Jesus and Mary Chain song “Badlands.” I think Padraig really led the formation. I had never played a bass guitar, or been in a DIY band before, so I was pretty clueless. Padraig had just left his previous band, Nude Sunrise. I think he was desperate to start a new project – he has these musical compulsions.

I have always been a music lover. Although this is my first band, I’ve always been an active member of a DIY music community. I never really had the confidence to pick up an instrument, though, before GOSH!. I only felt comfortable as a spectator, and didn’t believe I had anything good enough to share through music. When I met Padraig, and picked up a bass on a whim, I realized that I was capable. I just needed someone to tell me that I could do it. I caught on really fast, we played our first show a few months later. There weren’t many female musicians in the music scene I was a part of, growing up in small town midwest. I think this is definitely part of the reason I never thought I could pick an instrument or be anything more than a fan. Guys were the performers and girls were the spectators… I just didn’t feel like I could fit the description of a musician.

You and Padraig (Steadman, guitar and vocals) are partners, and it seems in some ways your relationship is foundational to the group’s aesthetic. How does being in a relationship with a bandmate affect both the band dynamic and your personal life? Is there a point where the band ends and personal life begins, or are they intertwined? Has this dynamic changed since GOSH! became a duo?

In the beginning, the aesthetic of GOSH! was unintentionally drenched in this lovey-dovey puke-in-your-mouth cutsey-twee. We were writing love songs to each other. I think the music from our first album reflects our “honeymoon” phase in our romantic relationship. As time passed, our relationship progressed, and so did the subject matter of the music. It’s kind of like holding a mirror up to certain phases in our relationship. Being in a band with my partner is more of a blessing than a curse, although it can be tough. We try to separate the two, but it’s impossible; we are both so emotionally attached to it all. We have arguments at practice that bleed over to personal grievances, but I think it makes for a stronger relationship, and better music. Having such a deep understanding of your musical mate creates depth behind the music. The dynamic hasn’t changed a whole lot since becoming a duo. I guess, in my case, I feel less inhibited because it’s just me and my partner at practice. Being creative with someone who has a level of unconditional love for me makes me more comfortable with experimenting and really pushing the limits.

How do you write songs for GOSH!? IS there a relatively consistent process? Where do you draw your musical and lyrical inspiration?

Padraig and I are always listening to music together and talking about the things that we like or dislike about it. We both draw inspiration from other artists, and generally we share the same tastes, so i think that’s where the creative process really starts. From there Padraig takes over. I don’t really understands how it works, but out of nowhere he writes a genius riff. From there I figure out the bass notes, and sometimes add embellishments and change the rhythm. We talk about what we want the tone and lyrics to be. Our songs are always developing and transforming into something new. None of our songs are ever completely finished. It’s a constant state of transformation, and that keeps it exciting.

What extra-musical roles do you play in the band? You mentioned you do most of the driving, and that in trio form you felt like a “tour mom”. How do you decide to divide all the boring responsibilities necessary to be able to tour and put out records?

This is a hard question because i think everyone in the band has different ideas of how it all went down… In the beginning, all the responsibilities of tour just kinda got dealt to whomever was willing to take them on. The first tour was pretty reckless, we all drank too much, but it was a blast. I thought it was important to keep track of expenses, gas food merch etc, so i kept a ledger. I also handled merch that tour. Padraig has always done all the booking, and he’s pretty possessive about it. Recently I’ve tried to step in and help, but he does a damn good job. We’ve been on 6 very successful tours together. In hindsight i think we should have divvied up the responsibilities a bit differently because poor division of labor creates either a feeling of uselessness when your not involved, or resentment because you feel like you have all the weight on your shoulders. When you’re in a band it’s important that you all feel like you’re putting equal effort forward that way you are all equally responsible for the success, or lack thereof. That’s probably one of the ways we went wrong with our drummer.

You’re from the Quad Cities, right? Cities On the Plain pays loving tribute to small town midwest life. How does sense of “place” affect you creatively? Does residing in Chicago affect you differently artistically and personally?

Yes, I was born and raised in Moline, in the same house my parents still live. I lived in the Quad Cities for nearly 24 years of my life. I never recognized how living in small town midwest affected me creatively, because I didn’t have other experiences to compare it to. I always thought “wherever you go, there you are.”  I would get pretty annoyed at people that would blame their unhappiness on the QC. And I still believe that in most ways, but now i’ve lived in Chicago for close to two years and I can see how what surrounds you can inspire and cultivate a different outcome. Most of the people that I have met in Chicago are super self-motivated and always busy. The art that is created in Chicago is something special and unique. Electronic house and noise has always been big here, and you can hear those concepts spill over into other genres/scenes. There’s an interesting darkness that’s hard to finger, adding a thin, dim, moody veil to all of the music in Chicago.

What are your favorite – and least favorite – things about touring? What are some of your favorite towns and venues to play?

I love to travel in general, visiting new cities and people everyday makes for an incredible journey. I really like driving 3+ hrs daily through different landscapes and climates. Driving is meditative for me. It’s nice to have a few hour set aside for peaceful relaxation. I guess my least favorite part of touring is ending up on a smelly, dirty floor. Although, at this point in our career it doesn’t happen very often. I love to be able to perform every night. I get a lot more comfortable being on stage the more I do it, and that’s everything to me. I get like waaay too nervous when I perform, so doing it every night really helps me work through that. Once the nervousness subsides I can actually enjoy the performance. Every time I play music i try to let it fill me up, I think it sounds pretty stupid but i always try for transcendence, and that feeling is a lot more achievable when I can stop feeling so god damn anxious all the time.

What have you learned over the past few years of touring that you’d like to share with bands going on the road for the first time?

It’s kind of bleak, but I always say keep your expectations as low as possible. That way you can’t get disappointed, and you will mostly be pleasantly surprised with how generous those in the DIY community can be.

Though I want to focus on your contributions to GOSH! on their own merits, I’d be foolish to ignore your experiences as a woman in what is still largely a boys club. What experiences, negative and positive, have you had being a woman in a band? Do you see any of the old, sexist narratives fading? Is misogyny more/less/as common in DIY circles compared to the traditional bar circuit?

My experiences in the national DIY community have been almost completely positive. Since joining GOSH! four years ago, the fact that I am a woman has only helped propel our band forward. This is a new era where the community is actively looking to give woman, poc, and lgbtq+ a platform to share their art. Having said that, it hasn’t always been this way. Growing up I really felt like I couldn’t penetrate the ‘boys club’ no matter how many shows I went to, or members of the community I was friends with. Women were spectators and men were the musicians. I admit, I could have done more to push myself through that barrier, but I was young and self-conscious. I wanted to fit in, and women didn’t fit into the performer role. To be honest, this topic scares me because of the toxic call-out culture. Even as a woman, i’m frightened of saying the wrong thing or using the wrong language.

Last fall you played Street Heat, a Des Moines festival curated to highlight and promote women and femme-centered bands. What is your perspective regarding events such as this – many women I have talked to support them as an antidote to generations of male-focused industry bullshit, whereas others feel it diminishes their contributions as an ‘artist first’.

Street Heat was such an amazing experience. The feeling of being surrounded by countless badass, talented female/femme musicians is inexplicable. Super empowering. That festival specifically was special because all the bands were great. At times, I do feel like the fact that I am a woman matters more than my talent or ability, but that festival proved that we are female and we are talented. Female artistry has always existed, and it’s always been just as revolutionary and important as male artists, the only difference is now people are actually paying attention. What is important is giving women the equal chance… give em a listen. If you don’t like what you hear, don’t book them just because they’re women. But I bet you will like it, cuz females rock and you’ve just been too stuck in your male dominated world to give em a chance.

(Photograph by Dasha Denger)

Regarding Odyssey, what are the biggest differences between this album and the first two? Obviously going from a trio to a duo is a big change – how does it affect the songwriting and recording processes?

Becoming a duo left more room to collaborate with Padraig; there became this empty space that didn’t exist before in the sound and I had to step up to the the plate. Also, obviously as time passes, and the more you do something, the more confident you are in the process. There isn’t any room for self doubt or apprehension. I found a self-confidence that I had lost some years ago. Becoming a two piece created more space for ingenuity and creativity. We couldn’t rest on the typical full sound of guitar, bass and drums, it pushed us to create something more atmospheric and minimal.

The previous album juxtaposed upbeat music with darker subject matter. Odyssey has more of a persistent melancholy to my ears, almost a wistful nostalgia. How off the mark am I on this?

Ha, no you’re spot on. Odyssey was created during a pretty difficult time in myself and padraig’s lives and music careers. We wrote the record right after, within one month, our drummer quit, our van got a flat tire, our drummer lost the gas cap, and then we broke down for good in MT, our fill-in drummer, who also happens to be my older brother, got mugged then got kicked off the tour in SF- haven’t talked to him since. Padraig and I both had best friends die, we went thousands of dollars in debt, all while watching the new season of twin peaks. It was a dark time, but we channeled that darkness and complete sense of defeat into creativity and in turn have produced something incredibly positive.

Now that it is all done and ready to be released, can you reflect on the process, from writing the songs to recording them? How important is the recording environment and the people you work with  to getting the sounds you want?

Writing was really exciting this time around. We had so much motivation and I felt like I had something to prove. We were determined to make GOSH! Work as a two piece. I kinda get high on the outpouring of creativity that can occur when writing. We’ve recorded all three albums in the same studio with the same engineers. Shoutout to Ian Harris and Pat Stoley at Future Apple Tree Records Too. Having recorded every record with them, I feel ultra comfortable in the studio. These guys have an understanding of our aesthetic and we collaborate really well with them. They’re both incredibly talented.

You’ve begun to tour frequently. Last summer you had a particularly challenging time on a west coast run. Care to elaborate on that? Also, that you continue to tour shows a resilience where other bands may have crumbled. What lessons did you learn from the adversity you experienced on the road?

Like I mentioned before, our west coast tour last July was a hellish nightmare. One extremely positive thing did happen despite all the bullshit- we linked up with Peter and Louise from Nicey Music in LA and they offered us a potential record deal. They gave us the motivation to move forward and not give up. They offered a light at the end of a long dark tunnel.

What are your tour plans in the near future? What else does GOSH! have planned this year?

Now that it’s just me and Padraig, we can make more absolute plans for the future. We’re gonna release odyssey on May 11th, and tour on it for as long as we can… or until we write and release another record. We are going North in may, northeast in July. We both just got our passports so touring abroad is the next frontier.

Catch GOSH! on tour:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *