Creator Chats: James Smith (Good Good Blood) & Tica Douglas

Welcome to Creator Chats - a conversation among two groups, bands or people in the music industry. Today we welcome James Smith of Good Good Blood & Tica Douglas.

James Smith: Although I use a very basic recording set up (my latest album was recorded in my bedroom with a sole sm57 mic) I’m always really interested in hearing about how artists I admire make their sounds. Your music has a really warm and welcoming feel to it and it strikes me as being really well recorded and mixed with all the various sounds on there having their place. What is your recording set up like? Do you record at home or in the studio?

Tica Douglas: Demoing new stuff has always been my favorite part of the whole music process. I love the intimacy of demos -- small mistakes, accidental room noises, a radiator click, a general lack of cleanliness. The sincerity of my music has always wanted a roughness in recording to help it hit in the right way, at least in my mind. Since I started recording in the studio, I’ve been searching for ways to achieve this intimacy and roughness while creating recordings that are more accessible than my garageband demos. I think I got closest with this record. I recorded with my long-time collaborator Ryan Dieringer. He helped out with my last two records and is totally familiar with my neuroses around an overly polished sound.

We took our time. I know some people spend years recording an album, but the recording process is so intense and all-consuming for me, I think I’d die if I spent years on it. My past two albums Joey and Summer Valentine were each recorded in a week, in a barn, in a whirlwind. With Lady Star, we set up in several locations over the summer -- a cabin, an old church-like barn, Ryan’s apartment. This allowed us space and time to reflect on what we’d laid down, and really decide what should and shouldn’t be there.

Also, I have always left instrumental layering up to my recording band to fill in on the spot. With this record, the songs included intricate layers of my own electric guitar playing. I was able to communicate my emotions on levels I hadn’t before, through instrumental lines.

Before each recording, Gracie and I had long discussions (Gracie’s my partner but also my co-producer and she’s just really smart when it comes to music in general and mine specifically). She helped me clarify some goals for this recording. Record as much as possible live. Don’t fix every imperfection in performance, because certain imperfections can be the hook. Chill the fuck out and don’t guard some perceived precious-ness to the detriment of what the process can yield.

Tica Douglas: When and why did you start to write songs? Was it for fun? Out of necessity? And how, if at all, has your reason for writing changed or shifted since you started?

James Smith: I started to write songs when I was around 15 years old, I think. I’d just got my first guitar and taught myself the basic chords and so I’d start messing around and coming up with ideas. I had a friend who’d started playing guitar a lot earlier than me and he was pretty great and so we used to jam at his house and come up with ideas for songs. I know for a fact they were terrible but we loved it. It was like a drug, And I think my reasons for writing music haven’t changed a great deal since then. Being creative has always been a necessity for me, I guess. Even on the days when I pick up the guitar and nothings happening, when I don’t like the music I’m making, when I feel like it’s killing me, I still do it and that tells me everything I need to know about myself and my need to create. 

James Smith: After listening to your album quite a bit over the last few weeks I find your singing style really interesting. It's beautiful but also very distinctive. I wondered, did it take you a while to "find" your vocal style or does it just come very naturally for you? 

Tica Douglas: I think my voice is constantly changing, influenced by new people, new styles, and mostly by new melodies which force it into new spaces. When I first started playing / writing, I would sing way below my register to sound more masculine, but that was quite limiting melodically. So as I began to expand as a songwriter, my voice came along, and I’d push it into new places. Stretch it. See what it could do. I like the tonal weakness which results from singing in spots or ways that my voice was maybe never meant to. I remember certain songs and how they changed my voice --  I first went full falsetto when I learned Two-Headed Boy for example. Once my voice finds new space, it’s never quite the same.

Tica Douglas: Okay, now for my next question: I’ve been listening to Songs From Where I Live, and I’m entranced by the arrangements, which are beautiful. They strike this really nice balance between layered and intimate, and I think it’s because the layers are so interesting and engaging, with different elements coming in which keep me hooked but never overpower the song’s essential self (or something).  So, I’m just wondering a bit about your process -- do you typically arrange as you record? Do you have the songs all written before you record, with a sort of map in your mind as to where they will go? How much of the writing / arranging takes place through the process of recording itself?

James Smith: My actual time to write and record music is very limited these days which means I don't get hours and hours to mess around and embellish the songs before actually recording them. How it works generally is that I'll be noodling around and will land on a fragment or sketch of a song and record it on my phone for later. This might just be as simple as a collection of notes or a short chord structure. Sometimes, if I've been really lucky it will be a near full song. Then, when I'm in a recording mode I'll start by putting down the sketch and then adding layers on to it. Just trying things out over the top, be that more instruments or melodies or whatever I feel is needed. To me, working this way means that there is no real pre-conceived ideas of how the song should sound as it's shaped by how I'm feeling right at that moment of recording it. Or to look at it another way, the song is allowed to go wherever it wants to go which I think is a really cool organic thing. 

James Smith: You played a few shows around the release of your album and I was wondering how they went and whether you enjoy playing live? And if so, if you have any plans play more or to tour?

Tica Douglas: I love playing live. I think my favorite part of a live show is just how different it is every time. Sometimes of course that means I like it more than other times. Sometimes I’m feeling especially present with an audience, or there’s something especially special about the way that we’re connecting, or a song is hitting. And then sometimes something might be off. Sort of the same as anything. But I do try while I’m singing and performing to remember that I’ve never played this song in this way and this place for these people ever before and I never will again, and that tends to help me keep it alive and engaging for me and hopefully for the audience. And yeah I’m currently in the process of booking a bunch of dates for the fall around the U.S. and possibly in your neck of the woods too -- maybe can play a show together!

Tica Douglas: My next question for you, James, is that I saw that you recently recorded a cover of Mt Eerie’s “I Say No.” I really liked this cover (and so cool that Phil Elverum heard and liked it!). So I was wondering about your influences -- do you find that you have a constant and consistent set of artists whose work inspires you -- like Mt. Eerie? Or do your influences shift as new music emerges around you, etc. Or both?

James Smith: Thank you for your kind words about my cover of Mt Eerie too (it's here if you haven’t listened yet I’ve never been that keen on doing cover versions of songs but Mount Eerie and that song in particular really helped me through some dark times when I was making my record and I wanted to pay homage to it. I sent it to Phil Elverum never ever expecting a response but he emailed back and was really nice and said he liked it and so the universe made the decision for me to put it out! It feels good to do so too, like I’m exorcising some ghosts or something. As for other artists that inspire me, well there’s the usual suspects like Bon Iver and Alex G who I listen to quite regularly and inspire me to make music which I guess kind of is pretty obvious from the way my it sounds.. Let me see what I’ve been listening to lately… ok Mutual Benefit and Julie Byrne have been on steady rotation and I feel like they are feeding something inside me that needs to come out soon.. also been digging Half Waif’s stuff too, really cool.

James Smith: What about you Tica? Are there certain artists that inspire your sound? What have you been listening to lately?

Tica Douglas: It’s funny, I think that one reason I asked you this question is because I always struggle with it when asked. Thinking about it recently, I realized that in general I find myself influenced by individual songs more than by artists one the whole, with some notable exceptions of course. It’s always sort of been that way -- I’ll hear a song and something about it will literally move something inside of me and I’ll become obsessed. And then I listen to that song hundreds of time on repeat over the next days, weeks, however long it lasts. It’s all I want to hear (just ask my partner, she’s more of an album person and is sometimes frustrated by this practice). The song could be anything and I’m still figuring out what these songs have in common that gets me. Maybe nothing. A random sampling from the past 6 months: o mio babbino caro by puccini, ashes to ashes and five years by bowie, paranoid by kanye, beyond love by beach house. I definitely do have my go to favorite artists and albums as well, but they’re about as far reaching and strange as those song selections.

Tica Douglas: I have been thinking a lot about what would be different if I had gone by a moniker instead of my name. It’s too late now and I'm mostly fine with that, but I do think U might go by something different if i could do it again -- partly because I think it’s a cool opportunity to present some feeling or image that isn’t just a name. Then again, figuring out what that moniker should be seems like a tough job. Good Good Blood is great -- it has this cool mirrored look to it, it’s unique and vivid but also simple. I was wondering how you made the decision to go by a name other than your own, and how did you arrive at good good blood?

James Smith: So the reason I went with a moniker was simply because I have literally the most boring name in the world. I cant even bare to type it out :) So the decision to use something else was easy.... I've released music under other names in the past and, when I started Fox Food Records I guess I wanted to have a re-boot of my music output. Good Good Blood popped into my head late one night when I was making the first album, just the words and then I began to attach meaning to it, to try and make sense of why it had suddenly appeared to me. I started to think about lineage and how the blood inside us comes from someone else and the whole idea of that a lot of who we are is because of the people who made us.  If it's good blood does that make us good? What does good even mean, you know? In essence, I felt like I was making music which was a culmination of everything I had made before it. Like, I wouldn't be making this music if it wasn't for the previous music I had made and so it became important and I decided to go with it... For me, the acid test for a moniker is that, after a couple of releases if you still like it and I'm pleased to say I do! It feels like it fits nicely so I guess it'll stay for the time being....