Don Chambers and GOAT



October 26, 2003 in the Madcap Studio
Interview by: Andy King

Don: I interviewed Harry Crews one time. I said, “Mr. Crews, this is Don Chambers with Flagpole Magazine,” and I didn’t get another word out for an hour. It went from fried chicken, to Shakespeare, to snakes in the grass. It was crazy. I just threw my questions out the window when he started talking.

The one story that sticks out in my mind from that interview, was the first time he knew he loved freaks. He was in a carnie trailer for a small circus and woke up one morning bleary-eyed from too many pills, and was having coffee looking out the window and could see through to the other trailers. There was the Bearded Lady and the Tall Man sitting in their trailer having coffee and reading the newspaper. It looked like a Norman Rockwell picture; it was the most bland thing he’d ever seen. The Bearded Lady and the Giant. He loved that combination of ugly and banal.

I did a lot of interviews in Sarasota with retired Circus performers, one of the Walinda’s, and Ringling Brothers performers from back in the heyday of the ‘30’s. They all told me their life story, and then we did photographs of their personal photo albums. That whole time, being in Florida, it was just one bizarre thing after another. They lived through the depression, hand to mouth for years, and they didn’t know if they were going to have a job again at the end of the season. On the edge living.

AK: The Wallenda’s were great. When the whole family did the chair pyramid act...

Don: The Seven Man Pyramid.

AK: Was the Wallenda that you interviewed involved in the accident when they fell?

Don: Yes. He was on the lowest level, and he caught himself on the wire. Karl Wallenda, who was right in the middle when they fell, caught his Niece who was on the top on a chair. He caught her from falling, and saved her. She would have been dead. Two people died in the fall I think, and one was crippled for life from it. But they did it again 15 years later just to know that they could do it.

AK: Talk about some of your earliest influences when you were a child, musical or non-musical.

Don: That’s always a difficult question for me, because I grew up in Church. In a fundamentalist Church. So there wasn’t any Rock and Roll. I remember my parents weren’t very musical at all, but I do remember Johnny Cash records around the house, along with other stuff your parents would have from the fifties and sixties. I liked Johnny Cash as a kid. My Dad was cool with that.

I mostly grew up singing in Church. I would sit beside people who I wanted to imitate how they sang, and I learned harmonies that way. I wanted to be a Bass, but my voice ended up not being low enough. So I remember singing with the Alto’s when I was a child. My voice dropped after that. I sang mostly Hymns, and a little later on I had a few records, but as most 10 or 12 year olds that grew up in Church do, they have the ‘guilt of the worldly records,’ so I burned all of my records. I didn’t listen to much of anything until I hit high school. And then it was Bob Dylan, and everything was over with after that.

My cousins who lived down in Jacksonville were into Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Van Halen; all of that, but at the time I just thought I wasn’t supposed to listen to that. A friend of mine gave me a 45 of “I Wanna’ Rock and Roll All Night,” and I had a really hard time figuring out what those lyrics meant, “Show us everything you’ve got, Baby, baby, that’s quite a lot…” I felt a guilty pleasure about it. I grew up religiously, I didn’t get the information everybody else got.

I got really pissed off when I was a teenager, 17 or 18, and started discovering all of this music, and the Church was saying that it was bad. It was opening up another world for me. Anything that wasn’t Christian was bad. Even Bob Dylan, unless it was on of the Christian records, was all ‘tainted.’ I have a small collection of books all about the evils of Rock and Roll, the subliminal stuff, the backwards masking and all of that.

AK: Kind of a Reefer Madness thing.

Don: Yeah, but Rock and Roll saved me after I had ‘been saved.’ The first singing I ever did was in Church though. I sang in a choir, the first song I ever wrote, I sang it in Church when I was 15. They didn’t like it very much. It wasn’t about God. It was about this guy who should have been an artist, a songwriter, this creative person, but he started to take a day job and give up on all of his dreams. The Church wanted to hear “Praise Jesus.”

I’d love to read a book about Rock and Rollers’ early Church experiences, and how they started playing the guitar.

AK: What are some of your influences now?

Don: You know, I started listening to Old Time music, about ten years ago, but it really didn’t hit me until 3 or 4 years ago. Doc Boggs and Roscoe Holkomb.  Holkomb is the most punk rock thing I’ve heard in a long time, and that was recorded in the fifties. The songs are as old as the hills, but his raw, naked singing and playing…the intensity is what any music that I like is about. I have to give props to Johnny Cash who I have listened to for a long time, and keep listening to. I feel a big hole since he’s gone. It feels like the earth tilted a little bit. It was a long week when he passed. I bought every old sailing record I could find. I like songs that were written to a specific thing, which is sailing songs. Written for work, to the rhythm of whatever they were doing on the ship. Or they were written for entertainment. Dirty little tales about the women in port, or stealing onboard a ship.

Captain Beefheart more so for his lyrics, cut and paste, the way he put together words, I like that a lot. That freedom of nonsense. Right now, I’m listening to the recordings that we are doing; I don’t have time to listen to anybody else. I’ll be glad when we’re done recording. Then I can discover some new music. There is some really good stuff happening right now, have you heard this guy M. Ward?  I don’t know where he is out of. Great guitar player. That’s probably the most recent thing that I heard that I thought was mind bogglingly good.

AK: Talk a bit about your first record.

Don: I’d been in a band called Vaudeville for seven or eight years, and we split up, so I found myself writing a lot alone, which I had never done before. I was just learning how to play the banjo. I live out in the woods; There’s a deer walking outside my window right now. There are spiders all over the house, and trees everywhere and an old shack. So, not being in a band, I got these great players to come over and record, and the whole thing took three days. I like those songs; There are some good songs on there.

Songs are funny. They change. I have just heard that record for the first time last weekend, and I didn’t recognize who it was. It was on the radio, and then it was like, “Oh shit, that’s me.” The song didn’t sound anything like what it has mutated into, because as I keep playing they go further and further away from where they started. Hopefully they go someplace else, because I think songs are living. A recording is just a little blip in time you get down on tape.

I want to write songs I can live with for the next twenty years, and see how they change. I don’t have any problem with Dylan doing a song he wrote back in ’65; I love the way the songs mutate. I’ve seen him over the past twenty years I don’t know how many times, but he’s played “Like A Rolling Stone” every show I have seen, and it sounds a little different every time. His approach is a little different every time. Those are the kind of songs that I want to write. Folk songs are there, and they are living breathing things. They are not static, and I would not ever want to do something on record, and try to make it like the record live. I think that would be boring as hell.

So, hopefully some of the songs on “Back of the Woods” are little trees that get bigger and bigger, and are bent over, but interesting looking.

AK: Talk about some of your new work.

Don: I did this songwriting project earlier this year. A friend of mine, I met early every morning at Clocked for 30 days, to write 30 songs in 30 days. That’s where the stuff that’s going to be on the new record started from. I kept going, and writing every day and finally got up to 50 songs, so that was a good stopping point. And starting point to start thinking about making a record. So we took those 50 songs, and did a quick recording of all of them, and chose 23 to record.

This record sonically is in the same area as the last one. Although now I have a regular band with me. On the last one it was just me, a bass player, and a drummer. And we brought in a few friends to help out on it. On the new one, I have a bass player, a drummer, and a guitarist namedPatrick Hargon who’s a fantastic guitar player. So the songs are a little more fleshed out. More instrumentation, more lush.

Forcing yourself to write everyday for 30 days made for some interesting choices. I had always before been a ‘write by inspiration’ songwriter, or write when you are at band practice. Kinda waiting for something to happen or be forced to write because I had a deadline. But to set my own deadlines, saying I am going to write a song a day, you start to write about anything and everything. You get desperate after a few days if there’s no inspiration. It’s a task. It’s work. The nice thing about that is that you start exercising the songwriting muscles, and you get the spark of inspiration, whatever the hell that means. You are more ready for it.

In the works are 23 songs, but the album will end up being a reasonable length. I don’t want to end up doing a double or triple record. You’ve got everything, from a song about a bad vacation down in Florida that breaks up a couple to a song I hope ends up on there called “Devil Bucket” which is one of those cut and paste kind of songs. And “Holler.” I did holler songs, because they were all written in the morning, most of the songs started out pretty quiet. At eight in the morning you just don’t crank up any amps. I can’t do it, no matter how much coffee I had. Over the past few months some of them have mutated due to playing them at night. Playing them with a beer beside you. They turned into hollering songs. Some of them are little waltzes…It’s all over the place.

AK: Who is playing in the group now?

Don: The group, right now is going under the name GOAT,  is Patrick Hargon on acoustic and electric guitar; Lisa Hargon, his wife, plays bass, Brandon McDeais  is playing the drums. Brandon used to play in Southern Bitch. Good drummer.

AK: Let’s talk about some words. A little psychological experiment.

Don: You know what Herzog says about psychology? Herzog claims he doesn’t know what color his eyes are because “I would never look into my eyes in the mirror. I don’t want to see into my own soul.” I’d never go to a psychologist. Psychology is like taking a house and filling it up with fluorescent lights so there is not a shadow in the entire house. I need some dark corners in my life. I don’t want to know what’s in every room.

AK: Lamppost and Television.

Don: I really love Film Noir books. I can see a lamp post with cigarette smoke coming off of it from a guy in the middle of the night, and a television in the background. But the television doesn’t pick up any stations. When I went to New Orleans I stayed at the Hummingbird Hotel and it had floors that smelled like Clorox. We had no light bulbs in any of the outlets in any of the lamps, and a television that didn’t pick up any stations. So when we would come in drunk at the end of the night and turn the television on all you’d find was dead.

AK: Adopt-A-Highway.

Don: Little babies crawling across the highway. Sound really dangerous. I don’t know if I’d want to adopt a highway. I’m not very much for ownership, although I like my guitar and my banjo. Sounds like a lot of responsibility, you’re going to have to plant some flowers, pick up the trash, but that’s another story. You don’t want any children out on the highway. Bad idea. They’re going to expand the road next to my house, and I’m going to have to move out of these woods. The highway is going to be about 20 feet from my house, so I’m kinda being forced to adopt a highway. Begrudgingly. Get to know what a semi truck sounds like at 3 o’clock in the morning at 70 miles an hour, while I’m laying in bed.

AK: The Perfect Word.

Don: The perfect word. Hey, you’re always looking for that when you are writing a song. Actually, I never look for that when I write a song. I have pages and pages of words written down, but none of them are perfect. They are all equally imperfect. And equally don’t fit together. I think it’s more interesting when the words don’t fit together than when they do. But songwriting, the thing that interests me is communication that gets around the way we speak a little bit. Turn it upside down. Shake it up.

AK: Black Feather Limbo.

Don: I had some pet pigeons three or four months ago. I wrote a song to them called “Black Feather Pigeon Soot.” When you said those words, that’s immediately what I thought of. I had these pet pigeons, and I was going to set up a new communication system in Athens, trying to get everybody to get pigeons. We’ll send messages back and forth and save on phone calls and computers. Nature took care of the pigeons. Some critter left me with a bunch of feathers on the gravel of the pigeon coop. I’ll never have more pigeons. That was depressing. That hurt. I’m not going to get any more pigeons. Somebody offered to buy me more birds, and I was like “No, not until I live in the big city or something.” Too dangerous out here with raccoons and giant squirrels. I don’t know what got to my pigeons.

I used to do magic tricks when I was a kid. I used to have two white doves and did dove tricks. Built a trick box and made them disappear and all that. The nicest part of it is waking up in the morning to the cooing sound in my bedroom.

AK: Pink Fuzz.

Don: They don’t make films, and can’t make films in Technicolor anymore. True Technicolor. In true Technicolor you have four strips of film, so the colors are really intense. And if there was, it would be a 44 year old divorcee with a glass of bourbon, on her second or third cigarette in the morning, with a piece of dry toast, no butter, and fuzzy slippers, they would be hot, hot, hot pink and she would be listening to John Coltrane.

AK: Slow Fear.

Don: I guess a walk in the woods. The deer don’t run away anymore. They just stand and stare at me. They stomp their feet on the ground; It’s their woods, and I’m trespassing on it. One day I was walking with my dog, which is a mix of a squirrel and a gutter sniper, little rat of a dog, and she wants to chase after anything that moves. She tore out after a deer, and the deer took off running. It glanced back, and realized it was being chased by a nine pound squirrel. It stopped in its tracks, planted its feet and turned around. It took a nip at my dog. Deer don’t really have teeth sharp enough to hurt a dog, but she hasn’t chased a deer since.