Free Music Friday! The Goodly Beggars Interview

Free Music Friday, this week, has us telling you about our friends The Goodly Beggars. These two guys from DC released a great 4 song EP called Chew The Pages. You can find it featured on Noisetrade this week. The download link is below and I’ve also included an interview we did with them last year.

1a) How did you guys get started?
We grew up together near Washington, DC. Our first creative collaboration took place in a middle school theater group. We had a scene in which Charles, playing Moses, got to murder Philip with a rock, because he was the Egyptian. I’m not sure why we both ended up abandoning the acting career, especially with all that potential.

So that was the beginning, creatively speaking. But you have to skip forward several years for the musical roots: 2008, when we parted ways. Charles went to University of North Florida to study jazz piano and Philip stayed in DC and played a lot of guitar. But unexpectedly we reunited a year later. Charles had tickled the ivories just a little too eagerly to the point that he permanently injured his arms, and he had to give up the piano. So he transferred to Ave Maria University in Naples, FL where, by that time, Philip (still playing the guitar) was going to school.

It just made sense. We both loved music and thought it would be fun to write some songs. Philip started busting out some chords and Charles, since he couldn’t physically handle the piano anymore, wrote lyrics and began singing them. I don’t think we initially had any intention of doing something with them- it was just the joy of it.

1) How does the songwriting process look for you guys? Musically and lyrically?

The raw material usually comes about separately. Philip will be playing around with some riffs and progressions, and Charles will be writing or thinking of words, ideas, and events to sing about. But the real songwriting happens when we put our raw material together. The guitar starts strumming, we both work on the melody, and then Charles might suggest a different chord or sound and Philip critiques a lyric choice (he has saved us from both  extremely morbid or extremely sentimental songs). Lyrically speaking, I [Charles] have found that preparing lyrics beforehand is quite limited because everything changes when you pair the words with the movement and the color of the music. So really it’s that creative tension of coming together, symbol and sound, where the song comes to life.

2) What was the thought behind naming the EP “Chew the Pages”? The name The Goodly Beggars?

Chew the Pages is part of a line lifted out of the second song on our EP, “Yunnan (Steam Whistle).” Yunnan is the province in ancient China where tea leaves were first domesticated. So, in part, it is a song about tea, but that is not all it boils down to (pun intended). In many ways it is a song about letting go: of your burdens, and of the belief that we have to carry them alone, like Atlas, the Greek god whose job was to hold up the entire world on his shoulders. Well, how do we do that? The line from the song suggests one way to begin “Read me that book of yours / Let’s chew the pages together“: look at the person across from you – what does their book, their story, sound like? This isn’t some thing you can be half-interested in. This is someone – what can be more irritating, endearing, inexplicable, and lovable as a human being and their story? So this is something to delight in, to be savored, chewed, if you will. And we can only do this together. If you are having a feast, you invite guests. It does not work alone. So anyway, the title of the EP, Chew the Pages, captures these different themes which seem to come up in all of the four songs. And this is the best thing about making music, sharing and enjoying it with other people (that is why we are giving the EP away for free).

We picked our band name, The Goodly Beggars, at first because it sounded right to our ears. After a bit we realized why it sounded like who we are (and not just because we happen to be penniless college students). First, was the reality that, at the end of the day, we are just beggars in this life. When we die we will return all the things we happened to borrow. We all beg every day. Just try to live one day without being dependent on another person. It’s just not possible. And even if it were, we would not be happy because we need one another in ways that go beyond the material. And so being a beggar does not have to be a bad thing. In fact, it can be a very good thing. It is not possible to love without some element of begging, without making yourself vulnerable and recognizing your own weaknesses.

The second reason it fit struck us when we Googled “The Goodly Beggars”. The top search was a passage from Homer’s Odyssey in which Odysseus, disguised as a beggar, asks shelter from his old swineherd Eumaeus, who does not recognize him. Odysseus says “Stranger, may Zeus and the other immortal gods grant you what most you desire, since you with a ready heart have given me welcome.” And Eumaeus replies “Nay, stranger, it is not right for me, even though one poorer than you were to come, to slight a stranger: for from Zeus are all strangers and beggars.” This really was the greatest confirmation that we chose the right name. This scene from the Odyssey, and one of the major themes of the entire book, is about hospitality- the art of bringing people into your home, regardless of who you think they might be, and creating a space in which they might be at ease to be authentically themselves. And it is exactly the hospitable power in music that we love the most about stompin’ out a good tune with everyone.

3) What kinds of bands are you currently listening to and drawing inspiration from? Why those bands?

Mumford & Sons: Fiercesomely powerful B sections, simple yet profound lyrics, and they don’t take themselves too seriously.

Fleet Foxes: Simple, tasteful, and completely haunting vocal arrangements.

Jon Foreman: His solo EP’s have a beautifully stripped down sound that he fills with a raw, human song of yearning.

Kelly McRae: We had the opportunity to open a show for Kelly McRae. She’s an up-and-coming New York singer-songwriter who has some serious soul. And it was really the way she drew the audience into the story of each song before playing that has impacted our live shows.

Louis Armstrong: We are constantly listening to good ‘ole Satchmo.  He embodies one of the mostly natural responses to music: Joy, absolute joy. Thanks to Louis, Charles usually ends up scatting in the live show.

4) If you could’ve each written one song from history, which would it be?

Philip: Concerning Hobbits, by Howard Shore [Lord of the Rings soundtrack]. That would be a good one to have under your belt. Because it’s awesome. It’s awesome because it makes you feel like a hobbit. I can listen to that song anytime. No matter where I’m at with my life, it always puts me at peace and gives me hope. It puts me into the perspective of being home, and the love that comes from a home, and that kind of love is always unconditional.

Charles: Probably the Prelude to Bach’s Cello Suite #1 in G. All the Cello Suites, but that one in particular, just make my soul ache with their beauty. If I had the ear to conceive of that piece, I can’t imagine what else I would be able to hear.

I just realized both of us just gave you pieces of music, without words… not songs. So, sorry for not answering the question. Off the top of my head, a song I would have liked to written: Dinah Washington’s This Bitter Earth. Clyde Otis wrote it, but the way Dinah sings it is somewhere between the technique of Ella Fitzgerald and the soulful pain of Billy Holiday – just beautiful, and so, so mournful.

5) What can we expect from you guys in the near future?

We’re hoping to fly our sound man down to Florida in January (January in Florida is not too bad) to record all the new songs we have been writing. Meanwhile, we have been playing local coffee shops in the Naples, FL area during the school semesters and in the Washington, DC area during the summer and winter.

The giving and sharing of our music hospitality is our favorite thing to do, and we’re hoping that the free release of our “Chew the Pages” EP will open up more opportunities to play.

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