Interview: Mister Goblin
Posted: by The Editor
On Four People in an Elevator and One of Them is the Devil, the latest from Mister Goblin, songwriter Sam Goblin uses M. Night Shyamalan’s 2010 movie Devil as a jumping-off point to discuss the ways in which we treat each other and the mundanity of everyday life. It’s a collection of songs where seemingly absurd moments are treated with the upmost sincerity, and the end result is something that’s both funny and heartbreaking. I chatted with Sam for the site back in 2019 when the last Mister Goblin record came out and even though I was worried that we might not have a whole lot to talk about I figured that I might as well interview him again because I think he’s doing some really interesting stuff. We spoke about living in the Midwest, writing songs during quarantine, working with Seth Engel, and more.
The Alternative: I know that you’ve moved to Bloomington, Indiana since the last time I talked to you. How’s the Midwest been treating you so far?
Sam Goblin: It’s good! It’s very, very different.
In what ways?
People say “here lately” a lot, for one.
You know, I’ve never really thought about it before but I say “here lately” a lot. So that’s absolutely a Midwest thing.
Yeah, that seems pretty universal here. I mean it’s hard to say, I haven’t really been able to experience it in a normal context I guess since I kind of moved here during COVID.
Yeah it’s definitely not the ideal time to be living in a new area I guess. Is there anything in particular you’re looking forward to doing post-quarantine?
I’m really interested in seeing what the music scene is like here, it seems like there’s a lot of potential. I like the idea of trying to be a part of a scene that’s smaller, as opposed to DC which is pretty sprawling and there’s all of this history and a lot of different stuff going on. Not that Bloomington doesn’t have that, I just feel like there’s a more intimate vibe here I guess.
Four People in an Elevator and One 0f Them is the Devil is a concept record loosely based on the movie Devil, which I personally think is fucking awesome. How did the idea for this new record first come about?
I was writing a lot in quarantine and I had been kind of obsessed with that movie when I was a senior in high school or maybe the year after that. I thought it was really kind of clever and funny and this perfect little microcosm of morality or something. I don’t know, whenever you write a bunch of songs at a certain time in your life there tends to be a through line that you can pull on. I was thinking about themes that could sort of tie into that movie, like guilt, punishment, the idea of good and evil, and the gray area there, and then I thought about the movie and I didn’t watch it again, which I really should have, because I fucked up, there’s actually five people in the elevator in the movie.
On songs like “Six Flags America” you take a seemingly insignificant moment about a cancelled trip to the amusement park and turn it into a tender acoustic ballad, what draws you as a songwriter to morphing these strange ideas into something else completely?
I wrote that song over the summer, with that one in particular I was thinking about a trip that I took to Six Flags when I was six or just barely tall enough to ride the rollercoasters. And I just remember that the anticipation was unbearable, like, this is going to be the most exciting moment of my life when me and my friend Paul get to roll up to Six Flags. And that whole week leading up to it I couldn’t think about anything else. I was sweating all the time, you know how it is. I lived in DC near the school where I used to work at so I would see some of the kids walking around during the day, during like COVID school, and I was thinking about all of the things that children are missing out on with everything going on and thinking about my own experience and how if somebody told me at the end of that week that I wasn’t able to go to Six Flags I would have just imploded.
This new album feels like your most fully-realized solo project to date, how has your approach to writing a Mister Goblin song changed since your last record?
I don’t feel as much pressure, I guess. I remember writing the first EP and feeling like a deer in headlights, like, what are people going to think? Coming off of Two Inch Astronaut, not that we were big or anybody knew about us, but the people that did I was kind of like “They’re going to think that I went soft,” or whatever. And then you put something out and realize it’s just another piss in the ocean and it doesn’t really matter. At this point I’m just like this is fun, I feel like I’m more comfortable arranging different parts than I was at the beginning. My goal now is to be able to continue doing what I’m doing and be able to, like, make enough money to justify this hobby, essentially. Which I’ll continue doing, regardless of whatever, but it would be really nice if I didn’t have to, you know, pay for it.
You worked with Seth Engel on this new record, what was that experience like?
It was great! I’ve known Seth for a while, kind of peripherally, and I’ve had friends that have worked with him and my old band had played with various bands that he’s been in. I would describe him as high energy, he’s always thinking about twelve things at once it seems like, and being in the studio with him was like it. It was a pretty collaborative process, he was playing on the stuff we were making and obviously he’s an incredible drummer. He was the producer but also almost like a bandmate—he had all of these ideas, in the middle of one idea he would have the next idea and in the middle of that idea he would have another idea. It was a lot of fun, it was also just nice to be around someone I hadn’t seen in a long time.
What was the last great horror movie that you saw?
I watched this movie called Coherence over the summer, it’s one of those movies that you can’t really describe without giving it away but it’s really really good.
Four People in an Elevator and One 0f Them is the Devil is out now via Exploding In Sound Records
Michael Brooks // @nomichaelbrooks
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