3 April 2013 | By Kelly Budish
I remember the first time Joe Goodkin gave me a copy of his band’s, Paper Arrows, first album Look Alive! He had been my guitar teacher for several years, and I didn’t even know he had a band. I took the CD home and instantly popped it into my computer, curious for what it held in store. I had no idea what to expect when the beginning chords of “December Static” started to play…
December Static streaks the sky / The streetlights blinked as we walked by / I didn’t mean to let you down / But darkness came without a sound
From that moment on, I knew the Paper Arrows’ music was different from the mainstream. So much of today’s music is full of cliché lyrics accompanied by redundant, unoriginal melodies that much of society has lost faith in the music industry. What ever happened to songs that actually had meaning? It seems that music producers and artists these days only care about making big bucks and gaining fame. But hidden within the corners of Chicago was my guitar teacher, Joe Goodkin, working to redeem this lost hope.
Incredibly humble, he will tell you that his first album was actually an accident. Goodkin had several songs written, but his current band at the time, Burn Rome Burn, wasn’t interested in playing them. So Goodkin got together with fellow musicians Jay Marino, Darren Garvey, and Drew Scarlecio from the band Budding Houstons in an attic studio in Chicago and worked on recording some of Goodkin’s acoustic demos. “And they just suddenly wound up in the band,” Goodkin laughs, “a couple guys…and I started working together and signed a recording contract that we had no idea what it was going to become back in 2007, and it was what became the first Paper Arrows record.” With these recordings, Goodkin and the members of Paper Arrows aspired to share their music with the world. Rather than struggle to gain a record deal, Goodkin, being a self-starter, decided to create his own record company Quell Records. This turned out to be beneficial decision for Goodkin. Not only is it home to three of the four Paper arrows albums, but he also profits from putting out other band’s records. “It has really been a vehicle to get legitimacy in the business and also just to learn how the business works, so that when I interact with other people I am certainly informed,” says Goodkin.
Three years later, Goodkin and his band were able to finally secure a record deal with a larger label, Slothtrop Records, which released their third and most recent album Days of Getting By. The album was successful and with the help of a bigger label, the Paper Arrows’ songs were able to gain more exposure. Their music has been featured on MTV’s Real World and has been licensed to other networks such as VH1, E!, Oxygen, and Fox Sports. With all this success being brought from Goodkin’s new label, I wondered, “Is it weird being signed to a record label that is not your own?” He laughed and informed me that as of yesterday, he decided to leave Slothtrop records and go back to his own label due to creative differences over his next album. Shocked to hear that he chose to drop the label, he laughs and tells me “it’s really not that big a deal. In fact, sometimes it’s good.”
Goodkin clearly knows how to roll with the punches. His band is able to put out a new album every year and his separation from Slothtrop records certainly won’t prevent him from keeping up his quick pace. He is currently recording his next album and will spend the next couple months looking for a larger label to help distribute the album. Most bands take several years to put out a new material, but somehow Goodkin is able to whip out songs like a printing press.
But it hasn’t always been this way. Goodkin had to work to develop a process and structure to his songwriting to get to where he is today. “I try to write a little bit honestly every day…They [the songs] may not be good, but you’ll at least have a bunch of songs. And…for every two songs I write, one of them is good enough to at least think about recording…So it’s really about consistency of effort.”
This type of workflow is not only admirable, but makes sense for Goodkin’s style of songwriting since aspects of his life influence a majority of his songs. His “literate love songs,” as he refers to them, are inspired by vague concepts that he finds moving and wants to capture. This includes themes such as loss, recovery, redemption, and overall larger concepts that may be difficult to confront. If one were to listen to the four albums the Paper Arrows released, one would find that there is a kind of “narrative consistency” that flows throughout the albums that portrays where Goodkin was at that point in his life (Goodkin). However, his songs are by no means a diary full of intimate confessions, but rather a collection of relatable themes that he hopes will “create some sort of journey for people to take” (Goodkin). For him, writing songs is a way of life rather than an attempt to make it big. Although he wouldn’t mind earning a little more money so his band could go on tour, the quality of the music is what is really important to him and has been since birth.
Goodkin was born and raised in Oak Park, Illinois surrounded by music from a very young age. His parents, who both have degrees in music, have always encouraged him to play instruments such as the piano and the guitar. As he grew older, they supported his decision to take up voice lessons, and since then guitar and voice have been his primary instruments. In high school, he played mostly covers with several bands. It was not until college that he became a songwriter for any band since “it took me [him] a long time how to figure out how to do that on my [his] own.”
A hard worker from the very beginning, his musical idols, varying from talented guitar players such as Jimmy Hendrix to prolific songwriters such as Jason Molina, are what impelled him to follow his musical dreams. Goodkin is influenced not only by their music, but also by the process they took to create it. To him, these idols are “songwriters who discipline like the way I try to be, you know, get up everyday at 4:30 in the morning and write, you know, things like that. That moves me more for whatever reason” (Goodkin).
With musical idols as inspiration, Goodkin’s journey unfolds as he involves himself in the multiple facets of the industry. The one aspect he longs to be a part of is a nation or worldwide tour. Unfortunately, he cannot afford to take his band on the road since he and the members have families and responsibilities to tend to. He comments, “honestly these guys that I play with are so good that they should be compensated; their professionals and I’m a professional.” Goodkin is currently playing in areas around the Midwest to gain enough money to take his full band on tour because he knows they deserve the opportunity. As usual, he is on his way to accomplishing another feat in the music industry.
“So what is next for the Paper Arrows?”
“Yeah, I mean, I wish I knew. Do you know? [Laughs]. If no one is interested in putting it out, I will release it myself because I think it’s fantastic. I’m really proud of it.”
Joe Goodkin, a music producer and songwriter, will do whatever it takes to get his music out there and accomplish his goals. He is going to restore the meaning behind music with his “literate love songs.” Although he may not be as well known within the mainstream, his music certainly reaches people throughout the Chicago area and the Midwest. I know it certainly spoke to me, and hopefully one day he can gather the means to spread it nationwide.