Since the late 1970s, Wreckless Eric (Eric Goulden) has been a champion of direct, melodic pop rock. In recent years, he's released a pair of collaborations with his wife, Amy Rigby, and the 2015 solo album amERICa, on which the distinctly British musician reckoned with his relocation to the United States. His new album, Construction Time & Demolition, pays heed to the impermanence implied by its title, with the 63-year-old Goulden paying closer attention to time and memory, the latter of which he says has become an "overgrown backyard."
His honest approach is felt throughout Construction Time & Demolition, which is replete with observations of passed time and misplaced energy, while still finding value among the chaos. His knack for melodies remains fully intact, accented with punchy horns ("Gateway to Europe") and chunky distortion ("They Don't Mean No Harm"), while the songs charge past without the chance to catch a breath. Stream the new album in full below (due out April 6 on Southern Domestic Records), and let Goulden himself explain how it came together, his side hustle as a painter, and why he sometimes wishes he was stupid.
AllMusic: The record has a very enveloping sound, it really puts the listener in the room with you.
Eric Goulden: One of the things is I didn’t want to have a lot of echo going on. I took it down to the Bomb Shelter in Nashville to mix it, and Andrija Tokic started messing around and putting a lot of echo on it, and I said, “No, that’s not right, it doesn’t need a lot of reverberation,” so we took it off and it started to be very grainy and textural and in your face, and I liked that. It’s horribly real. I did have this vision of this dirty fuzz that would be in there, and I use this little bass with a Big Muff fuzzbox, and I didn’t put it through an amplifier, I just plugged it into the desk, and what you hear is what you get. That’s all over it, it’s a particular kind of fuzz.
AllMusic: And the pacing of the album is pretty relentless, there aren't breaks between the songs.
Goulden: No, it’s claustrophobia, it’s almost like a panic attack. There’s a song called “Flash,” and at the end it says, “The seasons are all coming round too quickly now, it seems to me the Beach Boys told a lie/Summer isn’t endless, it’s just endless looking back/You get your chance, you make a stand, then it’s over in a flash.” Then it stopped and it came back in again with this monumental, over the top guitar solo. Later, I thought, “It just stops and starts again, and there’s no reason that it has to stop," but then I thought it had to, because it was over in a flash, and you’re on to the next thing. That, to me, made the sense of it, it was taking something like that out, not giving anyone a chance. You don’t get a chance to catch your breath, which I thought was a good thing, it seemed to be right for it.
AllMusic: The opposite of that is "Forget Who You Are," which ends up being the album's longest song.
Goulden: That’s one of those things where I started to record, and it sounds awful, but I was using a looping pedal. I’m not interested in the use of a looping pedal the way some people do it, by playing a riff and looping it and playing along with that riff, that is usually a real turn-off. So I hardly like to mention the use of a looping pedal, but I had some kind of loop going that was turned backwards, and some other stuff that I was cutting up on the computer that I put in with it, and I played and sang live over the top of it, and then put more on, and just kept layering it up. Suddenly it was there, and my wife said, “You are going to fade that out or something, right?” and I said, “No, I’m not.”
I can always chop something from five minutes to two minutes very quickly, I just want the salient points, but in that case, it held me all the way through. It was actually very quick, I probably did it in an afternoon or an evening. I thought it was funny to have a song that starts with “everything is going to be groovy,” and then it becomes very clear that it’s not quite groovy.
AllMusic: You have been selling paintings lately, which are often very blunt.
Goulden: Yeah, I think that’s hilarious, to have a painting that just says “fuck off.” Some of them are just on plywood, and it’s no effort to even cover up the plywood. You’d think you should color that in or something. [laughs]
AllMusic: What do you get from painting that you don't get from music?
Goulden: I was a painter, I went to art college. But I moved away from it and became a musician for the simple reason that music was a much more direct expression. It was fantastic, you had an idea, you’d make a record, and three weeks later, it was in the shops. Now things are more intensive, and it takes a year to make a record.
I started painting again because we needed to raise money to make an album a few years ago, I said, “I’ll do some paintings and see if people buy them,” with this idea that it’s good if you can buy an original piece of art that doesn’t cost a fortune. When I grew up, posh people bought works of art, people like us didn’t, we had framed bad prints of Matisse paintings. It would be great to have a Matisse, but you wouldn’t, would you? I liked the idea of this immediate, affordable thing, I can just take a photo and sell it, and I love the immediacy of that. It’s so funny how it’s all turned around the other way now.
AllMusic: Are there any other hobbies or passions from your past that you feel you should revisit?
Goulden: I never had a hobby. I was a serious artist, and I started to do it again as something I wanted to do, but I just do what I do. My life is my work, my art or whatever, and I feel it in one way or another. I used to have a studio that opened to a garden, and when I got stuck I’d walk out and prune the roses, and I thought, “This is like having a hobby.”
I wish I could have a hobby. I sometimes wish I was not creative, that I was not intelligent, I wish I had the gift of stupidity, it would be easier to tolerate everything. I wish that human beings could live backwards, that you could have all the knowledge and wisdom that you gain in a lifetime, I wish you could have that come to fruition when you were about 19, and as you got older, your wisdom and experience and knowledge would fall away so that by the time you were 16, you’d be content to sit there with a Game Boy going, “Yeah, yeah, whatever,” and you wouldn’t care about anything.
AllMusic: It's a cruel system.
Goulden: My system is much better, I think.