Take the plunge with Goldroom on his new multi-faceted endeavor, 'Plunge/Surface' [Interview]
Los Angeles-based singer, songwriter, and producer Goldroom feels most at home on the water. He grew up sailing and has carried his love of the world’s oceans into his adulthood and his music career, crafting dreamy synth-pop tunes that are right at home with a balmy sea breeze to carry them from ear to ear. Josh Legg—known to the music world as Goldroom—has made a career of combining his passion for music with his love and respect for the water, and many fans know him best from his longstanding High Seas tours he’s been putting on for the past several years.
He put out his last record, West of the West, in the fall of 2016 and followed it up with a long bus tour with his band. In June 2017, he played a few Corona SunSets festivals, one of which was in Tulum, Mexico. Legg and the band had a day off and chose to spend it at the beach. The waters were mellow, and Legg decided to go bodysurfing.
“In a really surprising and unlucky way, I got tossed just the wrong way and hit the top of my head on the sand,” Legg recalls. “I felt the lightning bolts go through me, but I didn’t think I was that hurt.”
However, it became apparent over the next few hours that he was more than just a little hurt. In fact, he’d broken his neck in two places.
“I lived in a hospital in Cancun for two weeks and then flew back to LA and lived in a hospital there for another few weeks,” Legg says. “Then I was pretty bedridden at home another month or so. Finally, I was able to begin working my way back.”
He remembers reading comments on social media saying “he’s done” and “he’s never coming back.”
“I felt a lot of personal pressure to get back out on the road,” he says.
I broke my neck in Mexico. Here’s what’s up pic.twitter.com/n2W0safCTw— Goldroom (@goldroom) June 22, 2017
But everything he did that autumn was “way too early.” Legg was managing his pain with painkillers, including an opiate called Tramadol, which doctors had told him to take daily for six months.
“Tramadol is pretty heavily abused by a lot of people and leads to bad things,” Legg says. “I was trying not to take it every day, and I didn’t. But even so, it led to a foggy year in my life.”
In a bit of an existential crisis wondering where the Goldroom project was going, Legg thought about the lengthy process he’d had preparing West of the West to make its way into the world. In his haze, he continued to write songs but wasn’t quite sure where things were going. The music to come out of this time period makes up what became the Plunge part of the upcoming LP.
i guess breaking your neck can really change things cause this music is VERY different from what I always expected would come next— Goldroom (@goldroom) October 17, 2017
“When I listen back to the songs that became Plunge, all I hear is haziness—but in a good way. It’s extremely representative of my 2017 and 2018, and I love that about this music. It’s just true to where my life was at.”
Around this time, Legg started to fall back in love with dance music. He’d always loved DJing, but the further he went with his Goldroom project, the less he’d found himself making club-friendly music.
“When I was finally able to start touring again and felt healthy physically, I started to really fall in love with dance music in a new way,” he remembers. “I think it coincided with a lot of disco and certain types of house music that had kind of disappeared for a while and started to come back.”
In his renewed excitement, he found himself thinking about the kind of music his idols sampled: slow, funky, and psychedelic. Then it clicked. He had made a record of just that for Plunge.
“Rather than sample other people, I thought I’d just sample myself. And what slowly came about was the idea of sampling every single song I’d made and making an alternative, French house version of it.”
These alternate versions would become Surface, the other side to the two-part LP.
Legg knew he was on to something, but he had to try his concept out. Though he plays plenty of live shows with his band, he also loves to DJ and thought he’d take a Surface song out for a spin.
“The first one I tried was ‘Yellow Flowers,’ the sister song to the final single on the album, ‘Trust,’” he says. “Everyone was really excited about it, and that was the lightning moment. It became obvious that I could make [an alternate version] for all of them.”
Many of Plunge//Surfacetracks have debuted ahead of the LP’s full release on Nov. 1—like “I Can Feel It” and “Do You Feel It Now?” which are sister tracks and both feature singer Love, Alexa. While these two are fairly easy to see as related, Legg assures his fans that none of the versions of the songs on the LP are the “correct” iterations.
“As I was releasing these songs, I wanted people to have no idea what came first,” he says. “Neither is meant as a remix or original. They’re just each an individual song that is re-contextualized based on the other. Hopefully, you might even like both of the songs better because they both exist.”
West of the West was Legg’s first experience doing a slew of collaborations with other people. He prefers not to work through the internet bouncing stems and vocals back and forth, and would rather team up in the studio to work through the songwriting process. But for Plunge//Surface, Legg worked on many more tracks solo—and some of them sound much like they did the day he wrote them, like “Cocaine Girl,” which he says he wrote in four or five hours.
“I really wanted my sonic touch to be all over this record because it’s a little weirder and a little darker… more human and messy,” he says. “I wanted it to be that way.”
With the exception of new friend Love, Alexa, Goldroom chose to work with previous collaborators like Mereki, Chela, and Nikki Segal, whose voices you can hear on music from years ago, like “Only You Can Show Me,” “Fifteen,” and “California Rain,” respectively.
“Working with them felt like being at home, which was something I really needed coming off my injury,” he says.
The key difference between West of the West and this new collection of songs is that it’s “just much more Josh,” the producer says.
“It’s much more me… more raw and much more human. There’s a lot more mistakes in the playing and in the singing. The vocal takes aren’t perfected within an inch of their life. It’s purposefully messy because my life’s been kind of messy.”
When asked how his life would be different if he hadn’t broken his neck on that fateful day in 2017, Legg says it’s something he’s never thought of before.
“I feel incredibly lucky that nothing worse happened,” he says, after thinking for a minute. “A lot of people that break C6 and C7 [vertebrae in the neck] end up paralyzed or they die. Realistically, I would’ve put music out sooner, and I would’ve been playing live more often, but I have no idea what the music would’ve sounded like.”
Even while he was injured, though, all he wanted to do was get back out on the water.
Goldroom’s fall tour kicks off Oct. 30 in Portland. Find the full list of tour dates below, and keep an eye out for the debut of Plunge//Surfaceon Nov. 1.
Oct. 30 – Portland, OR at Holocene
Oct. 31 – Seattle, WA at The Crocodile
Nov. 1 – Vancouver, BC at Fortune Sound Club
Nov. 7 – Santa Barbara, CA at Soho Music Club
Nov. 8 – San Francisco, CA at Mezzanine
Nov. 9 – Los Angeles, CA at El Rey
Nov. 13 – Washington DC at Union Stage
Nov. 14 – Boston, MA at Sonia’s
Nov. 16 – Brooklyn, NY at Elsewhere
Photo credit: Jasmine Safaeian