Homegrown: Noah Gokey
There will be few people that I interview that I have known quite as long as I’ve known Noah. With that said, even after almost two decades of knowing one another, he can still surprise me. Not unlike his songwriting style that has always been uniquely his, often bittersweet, reflective and complicated. This is homegrown with Noah Gokey.
When did you form?
In 2004 I started Noah Gokey as a one-off solo album project. But then I released a few more albums and it turned into a band. Andrew Bastiano joined the group on drums in 2016 and Steve Hawley took on bass duties in 2018.
How did you meet?
We played in a band many years back called Blood Orange with a few other guys. Most of that time is a blur, but we played Merlin’s, always empty, probably 1,000 times, and once at a dingy rock club I won’t name for a scheduled 3:30am set. We had a solid following in Byron, NY. When Blood Orange split up, the three of us tried to make a go of it as a new band called Baby Farm, but the time wasn’t yet right. So, I returned my focus to Noah Gokey and built that into a band. Ten years later Andrew and Steve joined Noah Gokey. Our earlier experience certainly gave us chemistry that was easy to build on. Ironically, my dudes are a perfect fit for the project and we’ve been making new music and performing happily ever since they got on board. Sometimes relationships go in circles like that, thankfully.
Where are you based out of?
I’m in Buffalo but Andrew and Steve are in the Rochester area. We still perform all around Buffalo but have started playing more and more around Rochester and other locales we’re spreading into. I’d say we’re a WNY band.
What previous bands have you worked in?
Too many to list. My first band was called Drastic. We made a lot of really terrible music and performed infrequently, but the experience taught me that I love playing music in bands and writing original tunes. I’ve fronted cover bands and metal bands, but Noah Gokey is the project that best conveys my musical vision.
What inspired your band name?
Noah Gokey is an actual historical personage! He founded Jamestown, NY. Most of WNY, actually. His claim to fame was the invention of the hard soled boot/shoe style we are familiar with today. But he was just getting started. He invented automatic transmissions, new Coke, diamonds, and hope. He invented fire too, and stole it from the gods. At one point he conquered most of the Eastern United States from the British. Then he personally burned down Buckingham Palace, ending the monarchy forever. His current whereabouts are unknown.
In the third grade my class did a play about the founding of Jamestown and everyone chose their parts out of a hat. You can guess who I got. It was a small part, one line, I think. But for some reason the name stuck with me. So, when I was doing my first solo album, that name popped into my mind. A lot of people have trouble pronouncing it, which is a great asset in a band name you want people to remember. But I’m married to it now. C’est la vie. For the record, it’s Noah like Noah of ark fame, and Gokey like the two words go and key, just smooshed together. A lot of people stick an extra N in there. I don’t know why. You can call us Destruktika or Winston Churchill if you want, but we’ll never answer to Gonky.
In the beginning of Noah Gokey, I saw this a dark folk project, heavily influenced by the Kingston Trio, Peter Paul & Mary, Jackson C. Frank, Simon and Garfunkel, Eric Andersen, and others. It wasn’t all murder ballads and the MTA, but somewhat in that vein, albeit with a darker tone. I also incorporated a punk element drawing on bands like NOFX, the Descendents, and Green Day. As the project has evolved into more of a straight up rock band, I’ve grown to love and respect the songwriting of rock greats like Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (post greatest hits, Steve Ferrone era), Silverchair (the later stuff, check it out, trust me), and Dramarama (google them, you’re welcome). I also really dig the uniqueness and versatility of bands like They Might Be Giants, who I’ve loved ever since I saw them on Tiny Toons in fifth grade. Recently I’ve gotten into Motley Crue and opera. I still listen to classical music a lot, Johann Strauss Jr. and Shostakovich in particular. As a younger man, I loved Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, but our heavier material is more influenced by bands like Corrosion of Conformity and the Melvins.
Other influences in your music other than music?
I’ve always had a healthy skepticism of politics and religion and that is a big driver of my writing process. Like our band, I harbor many views out of the mainstream. I’m an independent and totally distrust political parties and organized religion. But I’m not a politician, so I speak these blasphemies through my art. Some of it is abstract commentary, some storytelling, and a little economic allegory from time to time, with much of it interconnected through words and phrases that reappear in lyrics, song titles, and album names. I hope someday someone will figure all that out and explain it better.
What was your first release?
My first release ever was the album Live Oak Grove, by Drastic, in 1996. We released it on cassette tape. The album is notable for the fact that we included an answering machine message of our high school principal saying the F word. The first release for Noah Gokey was the aforementioned self-titled solo album from 2004, a weird labor of love with pirated drum beats, looped guitars, and a five-act improvised opera. Most of those tunes were never performed. My earliest Noah Gokey performances drew on material from my subsequent solo albums The Doubt of the Benefit and Forgotten…but Not Gone.
Where is it available?
Neither of these albums were ever available. And they never will be. Drastic existed in an archaic, pre-internet world (thank god) and Noah Gokey the album was never intended for mass distribution. Most of my older catalog is out of print, but you can still find Noah Gokey albums Reason & Rhyme, The End of the Beginning, and Quodlibet at all digital retailers as well as in cd form for you old schoolers at Bandcamp.
The most challenging part of being a musician?
I think the hardest part of being a musician is knowing what you’re in it for and finding a band that is on the same page. Everyone has different aspirations for these things, but if you can find people to work with who share your goals, that’s a huge part of the battle. Then it’s just perseverance. Never give up. Never give in. Just keep working.
The most rewarding part?
Playing shows is super fun, but I also really enjoy the recording process. I’ve been self-recording for 25 years, learning and building my studio along the way. It’s very satisfying to write a song and create a vision for it, and then to realize it through the hard but fun work of recording and mixing. I have a much better grip on the process that I did in the 1900’s, or even just a few years ago. I think you hear that trajectory in our music and that’s part of the fun, too. Every album’s production is better than the last. I’m always learning and working to get better and I love to listen to the finished product at the end and hear the realization of the vision.
Do you have any favorite local musicians past or present?
I always enjoy seeing Tortoise Forest and At the Helm. Dali’s Ghost was probably my all-time local favorite. I’ve worked with and interviewed so many great, humble, and wise local musicians that it’s hard to list them all. I believe strongly in the music underground that has so greatly diverged from the mainstream music industry in recent years, and there are a ton of people doing amazing things if you just work a little harder to find them.
Do you have advice for new musicians?
Find your voice.
What is your latest release?
Our new album, The Hearing, will be released this Summer!
Where is it available?
All digital platforms and Bandcamp.
What is your favorite Metallica album?
As a child focused mainly on playing cello, I grew up listening to a lot of classical music and lame pop like Billy Joel. I had a Walkman (that’s a machine that played cassette tapes, kids) and listened to the same Bach tape every day at school. One morning, I went to my older brother and asked him to lend me a new tape because I was getting tired of the Bach and the River of Dreams horseshit. I pointed to one of his cassettes and asked to borrow it. My brother lowered his head and in dark, ominous tones, said, “That’s the crazy shit.” He made me promise I wouldn’t destroy the tape out of revulsion. But I didn’t. I loved it. It was heavy metal but I could hear the classical influences. The power of it blew my mind. I listened to it constantly and that album totally changed my life as I got way into heavy metal, punk, and rock from there. It was Metallica’s Black Album.
Thanks for the opportunity to ramble on like this. Shoutout to the rare good people in this business who return emails and the fans who’ve supported us in our many iterations over these long years. We continue to work and grow and it wouldn’t be as fun to do it alone.
If you are an artist and would like to be interviewed please feel free to contact me