LA-based singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire Liam Gowing is no stranger to the music world. After focusing on a career in music journalism, he returned to his first love: making music. His labor of love comes to us in the form of his stellar debut album, Drunk Sluts Forever, a richly diverse collection of multi-faceted, multi-layered alternative rock goodness.
Like many debut albums that came before it, the story behind Drunk Sluts Forever’s conception was in-freaking-sane. Luckily, Liam was eager to share it with LA Music Blog.
All Photos by Christopher Alvarez.
First things first. How’d this project begin?
It really fell into my lap. I bumped into my friend Jerry Pao before this all went down. He’d given 30 days notice at his place in Hollywood with the intention of moving to Portland, but he said he hadn’t found a place in Oregon or lined up a job yet and needed a place to stay for a couple months to get his act together for the move. So Jerry moved in with me and, of course, agreed to pay half the rent. The first month rolls around, no problem. Second month, fine. Then the third month I was like, “Hey Jer, the rent’s due…” and he says, “Uh yeah, about that…”
The poor guy had just come out of film school (Art Center) with a ton of debt and had been getting by on unemployment. For whatever reason, the forces that be suddenly cancelled it so, he told me he was broke and couldn’t chip in. I told him I couldn’t float him indefinitely, so he went off, thought about it, came back and said, “Look, I learned Pro Tools at film school. You’ve been talking about making an album forever. How about I record it for you in lieu of rent?”
So that’s how Drunk Sluts Forever got started. He traded his sound engineering skills for a place to crash. Jerry was a great motivator and a great sounding board. He had been the DJ/beatmaker in 1000 Clowns, a hip-hop group that was signed to Capitol about a decade ago, so he brought a good head for music to the table.
So tell me about your album name, Drunk Sluts Forever. What’s the origin story there?
I had this piece of music — what eventually became “Drunk Sluts Forever Part 1” — that I thought was really haunting and beautiful. I tried a few different sets of lyrics, but nothing really worked. It all sounded so overblown, full-on Massengill. Anyway, one day I was going through my t-shirts, and I started eyeballing this blue number that I’d bought from a friend for $1 that read “Drunk Sluts Forever.” The syllables fit the rhythm of the chorus melody perfectly, and from there I got the idea to just write the song about all my favorite t-shirts. Then I began to really quite like it.
It became a metaphor for not giving a fuck, basically. Charging ahead, damn the torpedoes, not getting all out of sorts trying to make everything pretty and perfect. It doesn’t have a damned thing to do with inebriation or promiscuity. I sometimes get bummed out when people assume it’s misogynistic (like men can’t be sluts).
“Drunk Sluts Forever Part 3” was originally going to be instrumental but ended up being built into a much bigger deal. I started looking at my Drunk Sluts Forever t-shirt; it’s an American Apparel, standard American t-shirt in a large. I started thinking about the stereotypes one might come across of the “standard American” in Europe, Asia, the Arab world, etc. You know, the kind of fat, idiotic loudmouth. I wrote “Part 3” as a kind of response to that. “We come to conquer, but not to plunder. Our booty’s more than gold doubloons.” I adopted the persona of an over-the-top, sleazy nightclub singer for that bit. Funnily enough, I ended up sounding like Tom Jones, who’s Welsh. So much for my being American!
On a related note, I did notice that it’s somewhat difficult to pinpoint your vocal style on the album because it changes quite a bit.
I’m a big Paul McCartney fan, and if you listen to his tracks with the Beatles — like “Rocky Raccoon” next to “Yesterday” next to “Helter Skelter” — it’s like he’s inhabiting different bodies! Anyway, I really enjoy giving my voice a wide berth. I get bored easily so I like to mix things up. A friend asked about my approach, and I said Drunk Sluts Forever was “more like a curated playlist than a traditional album.” It was my first one, and I had a lot to say!
Describe your musical upbringing.
I started my first band in 7th grade and kept it going ’til senior year of high school. Then I decided to go to UCLA over Stanford because I thought the music scene would be better in LA! My mother, who was an opera singer and my first big influence, was so pissed! I had a band at UCLA that eventually fell apart, but I kept playing. I got into law school at the University of Chicago but bailed at the last second because I kept writing all these new songs I wanted to record. Had a bit of a falling out with my mother as a result, during which she said I was throwing my life away. I replied, “I’ll have a record deal in six months.”
Six months later, I had only just finished my demo. The day I mixed it down I got the news that my mother was dying of pancreatic cancer. I felt pretty guilty about it, admittedly. I didn’t do shit with that demo, despite getting some interest. I was too depressed. One job lead to another. I got into writing about music instead of playing it.
Now there’s a subject I’m familiar with. How’d that happen for you?
Happened out of spite really! I got a job assisting the music editor at the now defunct New Times LA in 2002 just because it was walking distance from my place and I didn’t have a car. I asked the music editor if I could write something just for feedback and did a concert pick on Queens of the Stone Age, which he DESPISED! I angrily e-mailed it over to the LA Weekly unsolicited. The music editor at the time, John Payne, got it, read it, loved it, and published it. He called me up to ask me where he should be sending the check, and I was like, “Wow, you can make money doing this?” So I kept doing it.
It was your mother’s death after her battle with cancer that kind of derailed your career as a musician at the time. What got you back on track with it?
Ironically, my dad’s death a couple years ago. My mother died pretty horribly. She was religious and felt, I think, like perhaps she was being punished or had done something wrong in her life to give her cancer.
In contrast, my dad died really composed. Fearless, in fact. Gave me a great quote at the end — “Well, it’s been a great ride” — put his hands behind his head and closed his eyes. Like a boss. The song “Release” is for him. I actually wrote the lyrics years before he died, but shaped the song around the concept of death.
The collage of sound I made at the end, I designed it to be the aural equivalent of life flashing before your eyes. There’s a car crash at the beginning, then the sound of a baby being born. Then there are the sounds of childhood, adolescence, and so forth before the sirens announce the ambulance in reality. I actually included my father’s final voicemail greeting toward the end: “You have reached the number you have dialed.” There’s also a sample of an actual human death rattle. Not my father’s, but a sample I found on a medical website when I was trying to figure out if the sound he was making was, in fact, a death rattle. It’s buried quite deep, but it’s audible.
Any other songs on the album that you’re particularly enamored with?
I like “Purdizzy (On Saturday).” That’s just a simple pop song that came out of a mistake I made while recording something else. It was the very last thing I recorded. Initially, I didn’t even want to put it on the record, but Jerry really liked it, so I kept it.
“The Suicide Machine” kinda has it all. Unique chord progression, full-on verse, half-time chorus, that classical string break with the screaming samples, a psychedelic, grungy solo. It really sounds like a band playing to me, even though I’m well aware it’s all overdubs. The lyrical inspiration for that is actually pretty crazy.
I came home after partying in Las Vegas for New Year’s Eve and found my roommate’s body at the house. He had committed suicide, shot himself in the head. He’d been dead for two days. Pretty grim, as you can imagine. A lovely, lovely guy who was his own worst enemy. I was thinking of him initially at least when I wrote “The Suicide Machine.”
Incidentally, it’s also the title of an unreleased song by Elliott Smith, whom I wrote a big article about for SPIN. Elliott’s demise certainly figured into the song content as well, but the reality of it was too bleak to get into, so I grasped this idea of using a Kevorkian device as a metaphor for all manner of self-destruction. I’m really proud of those lyrics because they’re so open to interpretation. It reads like an allegory or a parable to me.
The song “The Perfect Parasite” has a connection to my house as well. I had another roommate who was almost equally self-destructive, albeit in a completely different way. He threw himself headlong into addiction. His own father had just died, and he was really self-medicating. When it came time to write that song, I was thinking about his experience as well as Elliott’s again. A lot of people I interviewed in the SPIN piece were telling me, “Forget about the street drugs. It was the available, legal, PRESCRIBED drugs that were fucking him up as much as anything.”
It seems like there’s a pill for everything these days. I wouldn’t mind it so much if it weren’t forced down our throats with all the big pharma ads out. The inspiration for that song came when I was watching a commercial for a sleep aid. The super-fast legalese voice at the end actually said, “Side effects may include thoughts of murder-suicide.” Are you kidding me?