She’s Not Your Babe: Introducing Cindy Lou Gooden of Very Fresh
By Caitlin White
photo by Jane Bruce
“My parents bought me a boombox and A Boy Named Goo for my eighth birthday.” Of all the things Cindy Lou Gooden tells me while sitting on a 70s-styled barstool in the triangulated anteroom of Montana’s Trail House, this seems like the most apt introduction to the Brooklyn-based musician. She orders some fried green tomato sliders, explaining the connection between Autolux and Failure to me, before launching into a candid conversation about the very real financial constraints independent musicians face in 2015.
Gooden is the force behind Very Fresh, a fuzzed-out alt-rock project that’s been on her back burner for the last few years. Originally, Gooden moved to New York to study music at Columbia University, and quickly connected with similarly minded musicians in the music scene like Julian Fader and Carlos Hernandez of Ava Luna and Sadie Dupuis of Speedy Ortiz (now based out of Massachusetts). During that era, the three of them formed the first incarnation of her band Very Fresh. But being a young, twenty-something in a band in New York isn’t actually easy, or even glamorous. Discouraged, Gooden decamped to Florida in an effort to leave music behind. Of course, I don’t have to tell you that that didn’t really work.
“I was trying to work and be a normal human,” she says of the stint. “But I can’t. It’s just something I have to do.” So a little over a year ago, she moved back to Brooklyn and started playing bass with Alex Ian Smith in his band Railings.
Gooden is still an active member of Railings, and sometimes tours with another Brooklyn band Leapling (their drummer, Alejandro Salazar Dye also plays drums in Very Fresh). Today marks the first official release of new Very Fresh material in several years,the 7-inch is out today via New Professor Music. The lead single “Clean Touch” hit me like a jolt of electricity when I first heard it. This track, along with the B-side “Pale Lips,” challenge the status quo with measured, acerbic precision. As Gooden and I talk, some deeper realities about the ingrained constructs of sex, gender, and race that have traditionally defined the music industry emerge.
When “Clean Touch” dropped there was some confusion about your relationship to a few other local bands. Can you set the record straight?
I met Julian of Ava Luna my freshman year at Columbia because we both played in a band fronted by some senior who liked Pavement. I met Sadie Dupuis [of Speedy Ortiz] while curating this arts party the school holds. I found out she knew Julian and we all started hanging out and playing music together. They played in one of the first incarnations of Very Fresh. Then Sadie and I went to this arts camp in Connecticut together where she started writing some of the earliest Speedy Ortiz stuff, and we were kind of writing in tandem during that time. Julian and Carlos have recorded my songs and but I was never in Ava Luna. A couple years later they came down to my family’s property in Mississippi–we have like a little farmhouse down there that’s been on my dad’s side of the family for a really long time–and they recorded about half of Infinite House there. So I’m on a couple of those recordings, and I played with them at their release show. Shortly after that, I moved back to the city and I was looking for people to play with. Julian hooked me up with his friend Alex Ian Smith, who is the frontman of Railings and also used to be the drummer in Ava Luna.
And a few years ago I put an EP that was just strictly solo acoustic, it’s just me and a guitar that entire EP. I didn’t quite feel right calling it Very Fresh because it was just so different from everything else. So I just did that by my name. The current incarnation of the band is currently in flux, especially around here, because everyone plays in everybody else’s bands. I play in a bunch of different bands. My drummer who I have done most of my local shows with, Alejandro, is also in Leapling. And I tour with Leapling sometimes as their bassist, so it’s a weird, very incestuous world. So I have a different touring band, Ava Luna is taking a break for a couple months so Julian is going to come on tour next month.
Good! Because I heard your music and wanted you to stop playing bass for someone else, I love your songs.
Thanks. I’m slowly trying to pare down on the projects on the other stuff, but I like being a side person too. I moved back to New York a little over a year ago. I spent almost two years away from the city. So a good portion of that year I was trying to get back on my feet, get an apartment, get a job, stuff like that. Logistically, it was a lot easier for me to play in other people’s bands. Having a band costs money. You have to be organized, you have to have resources at your disposal. I’m working on a full-length now, writing it. Hopefully I can nail down some demos soon, but I have probably half an albums worth of stuff already. It’s insane that you can’t fucking make a living playing music. Capitalism gets me down. Part of the reason why I moved back to New York and decided to start playing music again is I really began to acutely feel, after spending a couple years trying very hard to work, and forget about music.
photo by Jane Bruce
It’s infuriating. What is it that motivates you to keep doing this?
Insanity? (Laughs) Seriously. If I could be happy and content working my way up the tech ladder and accumulating material goods I would do it. To an extent, that is important to me. There’s a reason I work for a software company and why I stopped teaching music and working at coffee shops. Because I do want to have a decent standard of living. I would eventually like to buy a house. I’d like to have some feet under me. It’s important to an extent. But once those needs are taken care of, what is there? You still have time to fill doing things. I happen to be either blessed or cursed with this itch that I can’t scratch. And it consumes my life. And all I think about is how I can just do it all the time and not have to do other things.
I think sometimes you should ask someone else what the most interesting thing is about them instead of trying to discover it. Tell me what’s interesting to you, tell me what kind of conversation you want to have.
Well, the first thing that popped into my mind, and don’t ask me why, well, why will probably be apparent, but just an anecdote: I was in a music store the other day buying some stuff that I needed, and the guy who was helping me behind the counter was very helpful, polite and efficient, everything you’d expect somebody working at a music store to be. Except, he kept calling me babe.
Oh my god. Did you say anything?
I contacted the management after my trip, and told them what happened. And they were very responsive. And assured me that they’d be speaking to the guy who did that and making sure that didn’t happen again. But I just think it’s kind of crazy that happened.
And I really think he doesn’t understand that there’s anything wrong with that. I really think that’s usually the case. He’s not like “I’m going to call her babe even though it might not be okay.”
It was totally not rooted in malice. It was very clearly someone who just didn’t understand how offensive that was. I’m definitely upset. I would say that it makes me angry. I’m pretty good at having a thick skin about a lot of things, but that’s definitely one area where I’m pretty sensitive. Because it’s something that I’ve been confronting my entire adult life. To not be taken seriously in the arena where I feel most at home and happiest, and where I really feel like, this is what I’m good at! Playing music is my happy, inclusive space, and I hate having that bubble of joy burst.
Does it discourage you? Or does it make you want to fight more? Because I go back and forth. Sometimes I’m like why the fuck am I even in this industry? And other times my response to sexism is “No, fuck you. I’m going to fight even harder to change it.”
The entire life of Very Fresh up to this point has been me grappling with getting discouraged by things. Not necessarily related to my gender, the ups and downs of life and work, but trying to play music and get people to listen to it. This kind of thing happens to all female musicians all the time. It’s just something for me to kind of stew about. But I don’t have a choice, I have to keep going. I’m either going to do this until I’m too old or drop dead. You play a different game as a woman. But that’s not going to stop me.
photo by Jane Bruce
Here’s the Very Fresh tour dates:
11/14 Brooklyn, NY @ Other Side (338 Moffat)
12/01 New Haven, CT @ Café Nine
12/04 Philadelphia, PA @ Goldilocks Gallery
12/05 Montclair, NJ @ Meatlocker
12/06 Washington, DC @ Songbyrd Cafe
12/09 Brooklyn, NY @ Aviv
12/11 Brooklyn, NY @ Silent Barn
12/12 Boston, MA @ “Secret Location”
12/13 Hadley, MA @ Asbestos Farm
12/16 Los Angeles, CA @ Lot 1
This interview has been condensed and edited. Buy the “Clean Touch” b/w “Pale Lips” 7-inch here via New Professor Music.