There is beauty to be found in simplicity, and there is beauty to be found in complexity. Seattle’s ambient synth-pop duo Goodbye Heart is one of the few groups in recent memory that has managed to capture both so successfully. Their debut EP, Restless Nights (released earlier today), is replete with an enthralling tension between understated intimacy and sprawling, expressive ambiance.
Drawing from a truly eclectic array of influences, including hip-hop, folk, electro-pop, post-rock, and even film scores, the band has crafted music with the goal of breathing life into narrative. Each track tells an evocative story, with even the more impressionistic lyrics managing to dredge up familiar memories.
High-minded jargon aside, though, the people at the center of all this are two of the more genuinely friendly, down-to-earth individuals you’ll come across. I recently had the chance to talk with Sam Ford (guitar, vocals) and Nila K. Leigh (synths, vocals) about their newest project. We discussed the origins of Goodbye Heart, the limiting nature of genre definitions, and what the future holds for this nascent group.
ThrdCoast: What are your respective musical backgrounds? How did you meet and what made you decide to start Goodbye Heart?
Sam Ford: My entryway into music probably comes from both my parents being guitar-strumming ex-folkies. But I will, with no shame, admit that I was raised by MTV and the 24 hours of musical content it used to produce back in the day. Even though I was just a little kid, I can still feel the effects, for better or worse, that certain videos had on me. There was so much allure and weird shit to consume back then. All bets were off. At some point I taught myself guitar in an effort to put some stories to music. It's been nonstop learning and growing since then.
Nila K. Leigh: I’ve been playing in one form or another since I was a kid. My father is a guitar player/singer/multi-instrumentalist and I grew up always surrounded by music. When I was a baby, we lived in a music commune in upstate New York. Throughout my childhood, my parents hosted jams, pushed me into drum circles, sang with me, and always kept me actively engaged with music. I’ve played a lot of instruments. I’ve taken some lessons off and on, but I’m mostly self-taught.
The evolution of Goodbye Heart is kind of a long story... I’ll try to make it brief. Sam and I met in college at NYU, where we were both studying acting. He invited me to play upright bass and ukulele on some songs he was recording. I did and we had a blast and pretty soon I was going out to his basement apartment in Brooklyn every day, working on all these songs. We realized pretty quickly that we love singing together - and that has been at the center of it all since then. Our original band together was kind of a folky, Americana, singer-songwriter thing called Cady Wire. In my head, I can draw a straight line musically from that to what we’re doing now as Goodbye Heart, but when most people hear one and then the other they are shocked that it’s the same people.
Over time, our songs and sound just started changing. Our musical interests changed. Sam’s songwriting changed. I put away the acoustic instruments and started playing keyboards. Sam stopped playing acoustic guitar. We moved from New York to Seattle. We’ve had other people involved over the years, but it has really always come down to the two of us. We both work hard and we hear things similarly (or completely differently, but in a way that works well for us). About a year and a half ago, we made the decision to be a duo and went out and bought a basic drum machine. In total, we have been playing together for seven years now. We had our ﬁrst duo show as Goodbye Heart last April.
TC: How would you guys describe your music? I've found myself trying to pin down a genre, and the best I've come up with is that you sound a little bit like Faunts with more interesting choruses and emotionality. But I don't think that counts. What do you want people to take away from your music, emotionally, lyrically, and stylistically?
SF: I don't think either of us feels comfortable placing the music in a genre. We've never had that perspective on it. I guess there are aspects to the sound that are inherent to certain genres, but when you put 'em all together it makes it all the more difﬁcult to classify. One thing that seems to tie things together is the pairing of our voices. It's always been a constant in the music that we've made regardless of the sounds we've surrounded it with. With these songs, I think we're after a feeling, ambiguous and wide open as that seems. It's something we're chasing for ourselves as much as anyone who might hear our music.
TC: In that same vein, who are your biggest inﬂuences?
SF: My inﬂuences are so vast it's tough to begin to list them. Off the top I would say Bruce Springsteen, Townes Van Zandt, Neil Young, Tina Turner, The Cure, Cocteau Twins, Nas, Ghostface, Paul Oakenfold, and Hank Williams Sr. But that's not even scratching the surface. I think one of the biggest and most consistent inﬂuences on our music as it is now are movie soundtracks, particularly ambient, synth-driven ones. A few that come to mind are Manhunter, Thief, Field of Dreams, and At Close Range.
TC: How is the Seattle music scene treating you? Do you have any sort of tour in the works that extends outside of Washington?
NKL: Seattle is awesome. I’m so glad we moved here. Between the bands, the bookers, KEXP, the folks who come to our shows, and even the guys who rent us our rehearsal space, the community here is really strong and supportive. It feels like an exciting time to be here. We’re going to put together a tour for later this year. Once we’ve gotten this EP out, we can start to really plan that.
TC: What are you listening to these days, and what are some all-time favorites?
SF: I’m currently revisiting a lot of early Red House Painters records. Not sure why now particularly, but I believe Mark Kozelek to be one of America's greatest living songwriters. And also the new Schoolboy Q record.
TC: Obviously you're just now in the process of releasing your ﬁrst EP, but are there any other big projects coming up that we should know about?
SF: As far as upcoming things, we're gonna play the hell out of this spring and summer. We're also going to shoot a proper music video, which should be a lot of fun. In the late fall and winter we'll look to start working on a full-length record.
TC: Anything else you'd like to talk about that I haven't mentioned?
SF: I would just like to say, with this being our ﬁrst official release, that we're grateful for all the love we've been shown so far in Seattle and beyond. We're excited to see what the rest of this year brings.