It's been nine years since ska-punk band Goldfinger released its last album, but the band's inactivity didn't mean that frontman and songwriter John Feldmann was just killing time. Since the mid-90s, he's carved a niche for himself as an A&R representative and in-demand songwriter and producer, primarily working with pop-punk bands like Good Charlotte, Blink-182 and 5 Seconds of Summer. But after setting aside some time to write for himself, Feldmann completed work on a new Goldfinger album, The Knife, featuring a revamped lineup while adhering to the band's ska-punk roots.
We spoke with Feldmann bright and early from his home in Calabasas, California, about his perspective on the lack of stigma around bands working with co-writers, how he clears negativity out of his life, and his way of looking at the bright side of his "terrible" 1992 funk-metal album.
AllMusic: We're speaking at 9 a.m.. Are you a morning person?
John Feldmann: I have two kids, so I’m up at six every day. It was an adjustment that came over time, for sure. I do get a lot of shit done before anyplace opens. In the music business, people don’t really start until 11, so I get so much shit done. I meditate, make breakfast, do an hour’s workout, take my kids to school, returning emails, I get everything done, and by the time I start my sessions, I’m ready.
AllMusic: Do you find you're at your most creative at any particular time of day?
Feldmann: I was just discussing this with Mayday Parade. I used to have the luxury of only writing when inspired, and inspiration doesn’t always come, there’s no schedule for inspiration. It’s not just in the midst of some dramatic situation, like a death or a friend’s addiction or a breakup, but it comes afterwards, when you’ve had some perspective on the situation, or sometimes it hits you in a dream at four in the morning, or sometime during the day. For me, it comes in explosive ideas, rather than methodical, planned-out shit. “Here in Your Bedroom,” “Superman,” as far as Goldfinger, or “The Anthem” for Good Charlotte or “She’s Kinda Hot,” most of the real big ones, songs I’ve co-written or written completely, have typically come really quick. The bulk of the idea is written in half an hour, and then the rest of it may take a little while, to shape the guitar sound or the production or whatever, but the songs that take days or even weeks to put together, as a creative whole, never really become anything magical.
So it is a quandary, when you’re doing it for a living, and it’s a necessity to write on a daily basis, but no one is inspired on a daily basis. Clearly, there are real winners: like in the history of songwriting, Max Martin is the biggest, ever, and he’s got an arsenal of talent that he’s relying on, out of his 30, 50 staff members, he’s hoping one will be inspired during the day, and he’ll get a concept or a hook off of that. I’ve got a team of three, plus the band I’m working with, so I’m hoping there’s a concept or something that I can build on to grow a song. I know some songwriters, like Elvis Costello, I imagine he can sit on a bench and watch a family walk by and write an album about what he thinks that family is going through, but I don’t have that ability.
AllMusic: Was there a time when you would have disparaged someone like Max Martin?
Feldmann: Of course. I started a band when I was 12, and I lived through the original era of going to see the Adolescents and T.S.O.L. as a kid, playing shows with Bad Religion, then I lived through the hair metal era, then I had a wannabe funk-metal sort of band, then saw the rise of Tool – I’ve seen so many eras of music, and so when the fourth wave of pop-punk came around with Good Charlotte and Boys Like Girls, that was the first movement that I remember in the history of rock where it was cool to do co-writing. So it slipped from Max Martin being the Britney Spears guy to Max Martin being the guy who works with artists who do not write their own music.
When you think about pop, you typically think about artists who don’t write their own music, but now we’re on this new road in history where the best pop artists, the ones who really matter, Bruno Mars, Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, they all co-write music, or write their own music, they’re all involved. I know for an absolute fact Ed Sheeran writes his own music. We’re in this era where we’ve gone through 20 years of history of pop being people that don’t write their own music but are amazing performers and amazing singers. Now, most rock bands co-write, at least new rock bands. Dave Grohl is a legend, he’s a legacy musician. Billie Joe Armstrong is the Lennon and McCartney of the last 30 years, he’s one of my favorite writers of all time, but most rock bands are open-minded to write, and a lot of pop artists are going the other way. It’s an interesting era we’re in.
AllMusic: This album has been touted as "nine years in the making," is that accurate?
Feldmann: Six years ago I wrote “Am I Deaf” and put it out on YouTube, it was a song inspired by going to see a fourth-wave pop-punk band who were using social media in a live music setting, and I felt like it backfired horribly on the band, they never broke out. Any artist onstage wants you to pay attention to them, they worked their whole lives to get onstage so you’d pay attention to them, they don’t want you on your phone. So to see this band saying, “If you text this number you’ll get a backstage pass,” it took me out of the moment, the entire audience, and the band failed by trying to be marketing agents during their show. So I wrote the song about, “What the fuck is going on in music?” Conversely, I listen to what my kids listen to, and I think kids’ music is supposed to be something that your parents hate. That song was like a, “How relevant am I” song, as an older guy, still writing and recording songs for teenagers. So that was six years ago, then the album was finished about four months ago, so it was really a year in the making, with a few songs written prior to that.
AllMusic: "Who's Laughing Now" has a bit of a different tone from the rest of the record, it's pretty dark.
Feldmann: There are maybe four songs on the record that I co-wrote. On that one, I was so angry about a business relationship that went sour, one that I’d loved and cherished, and I was feeling so venomous, my words were very specific and poisonous. Luke [Hemmings] from 5 Seconds of Summer, we got coffee one day on the beach and wrote that song. He’s a really positive guy, and I wanted the song to be clear and concise and conceptually the same idea, but I didn’t want it to be some explosive teenage angst song coming from a 50-year-old man, I wanted him, as a young guy, to have some perspective on the situation. This is a business full of people who have spent their lives trying to get people to look at them and care about the way they feel, who are typically bitter egomaniacs, and I’m not excluding myself from either of those categories. So I wanted to have Luke’s perspective on how to word it, and I wanted to write a real ska-punk song, because that’s how people think of us, ultimately, is as a ska-punk band.
AllMusic: Other than you, The Knife has an entirely new Goldfinger lineup.
Feldmann: In order for me to do a proper release of a Goldfinger record with a label, marketing, touring, I wanted to work with people who are likeminded with similar life situations. Sometimes it’s difficult to mend fences with relationships that have soured or with people who are unwilling to work through it. I feel that way about one or two of the guys who had played with Goldfinger for a long time, and I said, “If I’m going to do this, I can’t be punished or fighting or arguing all the time on the road, I want it to be fun.” And I’m an adult now, I can’t not see my children, I have responsibilities.
Every single person on this record has kids and is focused and like-minded, we’re trying to become responsible. I had moments in my life where I’d be onstage and tell every bouncer to fuck off and leave the building, we don’t need you anymore, because I wanted 40 kids onstage, and those days are gone. I’m not thinking about the bigger picture when I tell the bouncer to fuck off, if one kid gets hurt, they’re going to sue me, there’s no one to help them, and my life is over. I can’t live my life in this chaotic “this is the last day of my life” way any longer.
AllMusic: How did that switch flip?
Feldmann: I had lived in such an anarchistic, chaotic sort of way for most of my touring life. “If this is the last show I ever play, if I die onstage, I hope it’s the thing you remember for the rest of your lives.” The mentality of that, diving off balconies and getting in fights and all of that shit, it’s not really conducive to the marathon that life really is, because it isn’t a sprint. If I want to really make a mark on history, which is my goal as a musician and a producer, to have people remember my music and love it, and I can’t act that way and burn bridges with promoters and managers and bands, I can’t live that way. Collectively, Goldfinger was that. At least three of us were very much like, “Fuck the world, it’s us against the world, everyone else is terrible."
AllMusic: So if it's not "fuck the world" anymore, what's your new motto?
Feldmann: For me, on a personal level, this is a personal album, I have a song about my daughter, songs about my father. If I write from personal experience, if I can connect with myself, then I can connect with someone else. For me, it’s about my attitude. The only handicap in life, I’ve been taught, is a bad attitude. I’ve met people with tremendous adversity, physical and mental handicaps, who have taken a great attitude and changed their lives into something magical, and that’s what I’ve tried to do in my life. I use social media to try and push a positive message out there, even when I’m in a negative space, to say out loud, “I love my life,” even if I’m suicidal, to try and change my perspective. If I want to get a divorce and run away from all the stresses of normal life, I can flip it inside of me by taking some contrary action, which some days is as simple as saying, out loud, “Fuck yeah, I love my life,” and then I laugh to myself and say, “OK, I can get through this, it ain’t that bad, I have plenty of friends who can help,” or whatever it is.
AllMusic: You wrote "Open Your Eyes" with Disturbed, how did working with that band line up with your expectations?
Feldmann: Let’s see how to diplomatically answer that. Andy Black (Black Veil Brides) is one of my best friends, and when I see him in a video or hear stories about him, versus my experience, it’s comparing this goth, moody guy to this guy who when I met him, we became best friends, and he’s one of the sweetest men I’ve ever met. My experience versus what I thought my experience was going to be was completely different. That is exactly the opposite of what it was Disturbed; exactly what I thought it was is what it was.
AllMusic: But then the song goes Number One, so you're probably not too scarred by it.
Feldmann: I was just thinking about how so many of my wife’s friends, when I meet them, I don’t ask how old they are, but the idea to me of hiding your age or pretending like you’re younger than you are, especially in the entertainment business, it’s ridiculous. The great thing for me about being 50, and I’ve gone through generations of styles and genres of music, I know there’s something, a drive and some sort of talent in me that exists as a writer and as a producer that keeps going, whether it’s with the Used or 5 Seconds of Summer or Blink, through genre after genre, I know what I’m doing, because the math has proven it.
So when I write with a band like Disturbed that I don’t end up producing, but I’ve written a song that I know I wrote the bulk of, and it becomes a Number One song, I know there’s something to what I do that’s outside of me. As a human, I can’t create that, but once in a while, I can channel something, some magic, when that lyric and melody come together and give you those goosebumps, which, to me, is the magic of songwriting, a force outside of me. When I created that song with Disturbed, it was magic. A lot of people don’t believe in that, that it’s only a business, and that sucks for me, because I’m not a businessman, I’m a creative guy to my core.
AllMusic: Where does your mind go when someone brings up the Electric Love Hogs? Is that band like an old outfit in your closet that you stumble across every so often?
Feldmann: There’s an idea that nothing happens by mistake in this world, that there’s a divine plan that whatever the architect has designed, our path is already laid out. I can look at the Electric Love Hogs and say that if it wasn’t for that band, I wouldn’t be where I am, without question. I can see the trajectory of Bobby going to Orgy and Dave going to Velvet Revolver, and Kelly going to Goldfinger and Buckcherry, without the experience in that band, we wouldn’t have become the musicians and professionals that we are. For me, it was a terrible representation of music.
I can’t listen to that record. The songs are fucking terrible, I was terrible as a vocalist. But the learning experience I had working with the producer and with Tommy Lee, I wouldn’t trade that for anything. We were a seminal fucking band in the late eighties, we took Rage Against the Machine on their first tour, we took Tool on their first shows ever, we took Korn on their first tour. Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, all these bands opened for us. I mean, what’s a worse name? Maybe Hoobastank? It’s terrible. Without that experience, I wouldn’t have started Goldfinger, I wouldn’t have become a producer, and we wouldn’t be talking about music 30-some years later.