The first time Fulton Lights multi-instrumentalist Andrew Spencer Goldman played a show in Washington, D.C., it was under the name Maestro Echoplex, and he was handing out demos on cassette tapes. Since then, he’s spent seven years in Brooklyn—playing under several pseudonyms with a broad cast of musicians and sound artists—trying to figure out what, exactly, Andrew Spencer Goldman sounds like. Now that he’s returned to the District with a new EP, Healing Waters, he’s come to some sort of conclusion: sonically charged minimalist rock that incorporates elements from all of his previous experimentations. But he’s not too concerned with categories, or necessarily what you think of it. He likes it, and after years of trying new things, he’s pretty sure that’s all you can ask for. Prior to his performance tonight at The Black Cat, The A.V. Club spoke with Goldman about how D.C.'s music scene has changed, freeing yourself from expectations, and collaborating with turntablists.
The A.V. Club: This is your first show since you’ve moved back to the area. What was it like playing as Maestro Echoplex back then?
Andrew Spencer Goldman: I think the first show might have been in spring 2001 in Arlington outside of Now! Music, which was a record store that used to be around back when D.C. still had independent record stores.* Ben Adams used to manage that shop—he's a great guy and we used to hang out at Galaxy Hut. So, for whatever reason, I worked up the nerve to humbly slip him a cassette tape demo that I had done, and he liked it and had me bring my acoustic guitar out to a show that Now! set up. It was right near the store by the Clarendon Metro stop, literally on the little strip of grass there if I'm remembering right. I was such a musical infant then. It's funny to think back about it. But D.C. was so supportive and encouraging. I hope that tape has disappeared. I think about it and cringe a little. Though I guess it was a necessary step.
AVC: Have things changed that much in eight years?
ASG: There’s a lot more stuff going on in the noise scene. More folk stuff. Neither of those were really in their heyday back when I was here the last time. That’s good to see, because it felt a little narrow. There have always been great bands in D.C., but Dischord had a little bit more of a foothold, whereas I think now, with Fugazi on its hiatus, there may be more room for other people to stretch out and try new things.
AVC: You’ve worked with a lot of experimental/ambient sound artists too, but your records seem to be more rocky and folky. How have your collaborators influenced this record?
ASG: They’ve all encouraged me not to be afraid of trying new things and working with sound in ways that are slightly unconventional. Or really unconventional depending on the song. [Fulton Lights collaborator] Still is a turntablist, but he really approaches the turntable from a completely new perspective. Nobody in the world—that I’ve ever seen or heard of—is working with it that way. He approaches it from a sonic perspective rather than a hip-hop perspective. He works on the turntable as an ambient, textural thing. My songs may strike people as familiar structurally, but texturally and sonically they sound new and exciting.
AVC: Healing Waters is different from your previous releases. Did you say, “Okay I’m going to do something different,” or did it happen more organically?
ASG: I didn’t set out to do something totally different. That being said, I didn’t want to repeat myself. Ironically, to me, it sounds different than [Fulton Lights' last album] The Way We Ride, but when I step back from it, it sounds like all of the things I’ve done before. With The Way We Ride, honestly I felt like I had something to prove, so that album is really aggressive. I tried a lot of different things. With Healing Waters I thought, “I’m not going to try so hard, I’m just going to let things go as they go.” I tried to trust my instincts and let the songs fall into themselves.
AVC: What, specifically, did you think you had to prove?
ASG: I spent way too much time on the first Fulton Lights album. I’m proud of it, and I don’t think the rest of Fulton Lights would have developed the way that it had if I hadn’t spent so much time on it. But, whatever good things that can be said about that album, I am critical of it. Just coming off of that experience, I felt like I wanted to make a totally different record. I knew that going into the recording, it was going to be a very polarizing record. People either loved it or hated it. That was totally fine with me. I think I needed to do that in order to free myself from expectations and concerns of whether people will like it or not. It’s a really liberating thing to do.
*Perhaps Goldman should take a stroll to Adams Morgan and check out Crooked Beat Records (2318 18th Street NW) and Red Onion Records & Books (1901 18th Street NW).