Dazy: The Best of What’s Next
Richmond, Virginia’s James Goodson makes scrappy guitar rock that’s piled high with hooksPhoto courtesy of the artist Music Features Dazy
For years, Paste has introduced exciting, up-and-coming artists to our readers. This is the return of The Best of What’s Next, a monthly profile column which highlights new acts with big potential—the artists you’ll want to tell your friends about the minute you first hear their music. Explore them all here.
If there’s one belief that guides James Goodson’s songwriting, it’s that rock music should be fun. You can’t miss this when you talk to him—on our hour-long call, he uses the word nine times. “We’re talking about catchy guitar music. I think it’s undeniable that this is fun stuff,” he says, with one of many laughs. “Guitars and loud music, and cool lyrics, and all these things, it should be moving you and hitting you on some level that almost gets around your brain.” Music that affects the listener this way is difficult to describe, let alone create: “If it hits you the right way, you know it, and you almost can’t explain it. And I think trying to explain it, maybe you’re messing it up if you do that,” Goodson considers. So I have my work cut out for me.
Goodson is calling in from a quiet(ish) corner of a Boston club, hours before kicking off a run of East Coast shows with his “Pressure Cooker” collaborators Militarie Gun (and MSPaint), and days before the release of his debut album, OUTOFBODY, out now on Lame-O Records. It’s hardly a position he thought he would end up in when he first started releasing music as Dazy in 2020: “I definitely did not expect anybody to find it at all, so to even be talking to you about it now is pretty wild,” says Goodson. But push play on any of his songs—I mean it, just throw a dart at his discography—and in a matter of seconds, you’ll see why listeners have gravitated to Dazy. Goodson’s one-man band has been fully formed from the start, and on OUTOFBODY, it only gets bigger and better.
When Goodson was growing up in Lovettsville, a small town at Virginia’s northernmost tip, “music was always playing,” and his mother passed down her passion for it “from a pretty early age.” His early inspirations were “starter-kit punk bands” like The Clash, Minor Threat and The Ramones—the kind of music that “hits you so immediately, particularly when you’re a teenager. That stuff really rocked my world,” he says, recalling the kind of lightning-strike listening experience he’s been paying forward practically ever since. At 18, he relocated to Richmond right out of high school, moving in with his then-bandmates in With New Eyes (named for a Misfits lyric), in search of a music scene.
Goodson would play in RVA punk bands Teen Death and Bashful, but somewhere in his early 20s, he “started to get more into the Jesus and Mary Chain and that whole world of music, and really connected with the way a lot of those U.K. bands were bringing this punk execution to music that was not very punk, sonically,” with inspiration from Sarah Records acts and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart laying the foundations of Dazy. “There’s just something about a lot of that ’80s and ’90s alternative. It’s really accessible music that is also a little off-kilter or a little weird, or a little raw, or noisy, or whatever. There’s something about it that clicks it one notch over from ‘instantly palatable,’ but it is also instantly palatable.”
The pursuit of this sound led Goodson—who is probably writing a song at any given moment, when he isn’t working his day job as a music publicist—to start branching out as a solo artist. He estimates that he spent five years writing and home-recording songs “constantly, knowing that I really liked them, but not knowing what to do with them.” The pandemic, of all things, made Dazy a reality: With live music out of the equation, “Suddenly, a thing that you do at your house all alone makes a lot of sense,” Goodson says. “It almost took away the options for anything else.” You can’t hear much Covid-era isolation or anxiety in his music at all, despite said era overlapping entirely with his output as Dazy. That’s partly due to the long span of time Goodson spent accumulating songs, but it’s also because “being stuck inside writing songs is something I would be excited to do at any time,” he laughs, “so I wasn’t necessarily bummin’ too hard,” even in an otherwise “horrible time.”
Still, Goodson had to run his own mental gauntlet, shrugging off internalized ideas about what his music was “supposed” to be, before he could release any of the songs he had set aside for Dazy. “If you’re making rock and roll music, there has to be real drums. You need to get a band together and record in a studio,” he remembers thinking. “It was just this process of freeing myself from all those things that build up in your head that aren’t real rules.” He came to realize, “Maybe the things you like are just what you like, and you don’t have to justify it any other way.” If you’re having fun, what more do you need to know?
Breaking that mental block was Dazy’s big bang, and in a way, has defined the project ever since. (It’s easy to see OUTOFBODY’s title in this light, an aspiration to transcendence, freedom from one’s own head.) In the early days, Goodson would record a couple of songs in a weekend, send them to Justin Pizzoferrato (Dinosaur Jr., Pixies, Wild Pink) to mix and master, and then just post them on Bandcamp. “My only goal from the jump was, ‘I just want to do some singles and EPs, and see how it goes,” he says. He released four two-song singles in 2020, then two EPs, Revolving Door and The Crowded Mind, in 2021, making his own artwork, and modeling his prolific output after the likes of Guided by Voices and The Bevis Frond. “I like it when you can tell that the musician is like, ‘I am compelled to write music and put it out into the world. And I’m going to do it no matter what,’” he says. All that time he had taken to mull the music over meant “it ended up being this very direct line from my brain to the recorded thing.”
Convulse Records took notice, assembling all of Dazy’s output to that point—plus five new songs, naturally—and releasing it as MAXIMUMBLASTSUPERLOUD: The First 24 Songs in 2021. That compilation and its acclaim were all it took to exceed Goodson’s expectations: “I was already like, ‘Wow, this couldn’t be cooler.’” But he knew he “wanted to do more pretty quick,” and after Lame-O got involved, he realized it was time to take a run at a full-length release. Goodson recalls being “a little daunted by it,” but adds that “it was a really fun process to switch gears and think about things in a totally different way,” likening structuring OUTOFBODY to a “brain exercise.” He set specific constraints for himself: “No more than 12 songs,” and “I don’t want it to break a half an hour.” The result is a concentrated dose of Dazy, all DIY punk immediacy, habit-forming pop hooks, fuzzy guitars and danceable drum machines. If scientists holed up in a laboratory and engineered an album specifically designed to demand repeat listens, it would sound an awful lot like OUTOFBODY.
Nowhere is this more apparent than on singles “Rollercoaster Ride,” “Split” and “On My Way,” none of which stretch past the two-minute mark. Goodson recalls “Rollercoaster Ride” as the result of him “trying to write something as poppy as possible,” pinpointing its echoing drum loop as a particular point of pride. Goodson’s insistent vocal interlocks with equally melodic guitar and mellotron lines in the track’s two-word choruses, creating the kind of ride you jump right back in line for the second it ends. On both “Split” and “On My Way,” Goodson’s wellbeing is entirely at the mercy of external forces (“You could paint a smile on my face / Then tell me something that would make it fade,” he sings on the former, while on the latter, he shrugs, “Comet won’t miss but I’ll just be on my way / Spreading that stress but I’ll just be on my way”), yet the sugar-rush instrumentals cast a rosy tint over even those situations, as if to prove there’s nothing more powerful than a pop song.
Goodson shouts out his beloved Ramones on “Choose Yr Ramone” and bemoans the writer’s dilemma on “Deadline.” He dismisses the never-ending quest to achieve someone else’s idea of success as a sucker’s game over the sludgy guitars and Primal Scream-y beat of “Ladder,” and avoids the void on “Asking Price,” which leaves room for R.E.M. jangle amid torrents of distortion. Goodson is more comfortable than ever with the sonic elements that he once felt self-conscious about, citing drum machines, in particular, as having “opened up a lot of songwriting stuff for me”—he not only inhabits the Dazy sound more confidently than ever on OUTOFBODY, but he also expands it.
On “Motionless Parade,” he reduces the tempo and gain both, delivering an imaginative strummer with some of his most resonant songwriting yet: “Nothing like a little fun thinking about what could go wrong,” he muses, formless fear paralyzing an otherwise pleasant scene. And on “Inside Voice,” Goodson pushes his vocals in a more natural, gentle direction, a development that he notes has been “a big part of Dazy” overall. “I guess we oughta try to say the things that stick to our insides,” he croons over acoustic guitar and mellotron, evoking an atmosphere of intimacy and vulnerability not yet seen in his discography.
OUTOFBODY ends with “Gone,” an absolute epic by Goodson’s standards, and his longest Dazy song to date at 3:45. The track “[went] through a lot of different versions,” he recalls, “and every time I would dust it off, I’d add something new to it.” With its mellotron strings and layered vocals, the track felt “too crazy” at times, but “I always knew it was going to be a closer on something. And I have a real soft spot for that huge closer. So I decided to just go nuts with it,” he says. If ever a Dazy track felt stadium rock-sized, it’s “Gone”—its dizzying crescendo is the kind of thing that gets people popping up out of even the cheap seats, with Goodson’s overlapping voices and volcanic guitars intertwined around the hopeful refrain, “And when they’re gone, you’ll be holding on.” It’s moments like this where you can forget that Dazy is just one person, recording in his spare room in Richmond. It already feels like much more.
That’s true for Goodson, as well, whose “small goals” for the project have long been left in the dust. “I was just trying to put out a tape, and it’s already going so far above and beyond that. It’s just so wild and exciting,” he says. “It’s a really crazy thing to get to do this kind of stuff at all, and to get to do it because I was just writing some songs at my house is pretty incredible.” The background chatter coming over his end of the call is ramping up as showtime approaches, and Goodson is savoring every moment: “I think I’m smelling the roses all the time, honestly.”
OUTOFBODY is out now on Lame-O Records. Listen/buy here.
Scott Russell is Paste’s music editor and he’ll come up with something clever later. He’s on Twitter, if you’re into tweets: @pscottrussell.