Never underestimate the power of the mix tape: In 1997, Zac Ives discovered a homemade cassette of Wreckless Eric songs in the backseat of his car. Nearly a decade later, Ives, now the co-owner of Goner Records, has orchestrated the iconoclastic English performer's Memphis debut.
"Jay Lindsey [founding member of the Reatards and the Lost Sounds] left the tape in my car, and it wound up at my house," Ives recalls. "Actually, [the Reigning Sound's] Greg Cartwright made the tape for him, because he thought the songs would make potential Reatards covers. In the end, I think he wound up doing some of 'em with the Reigning Sound."
Regardless of its provenance, the cassette sent Ives on a quest to find more of Eric Goulden's (aka Wreckless Eric's) material, but he soon discovered that after cutting the 1977 punk hit "Whole Wide World" and three subsequent albums, Wreckless Eric had disappeared.
"His only album to come out in the States, Donovan of Trash, was released on Sympathy for the Record Industry, and then he just vanished," Ives reports. "Then a few years ago, my wife and I were in Liverpool, just walking around with nothing to do, and I saw a flyer that said that Wreckless Eric was playing. He was absolutely amazing."
An e-mail correspondence evolved, and, ultimately, Ives resolved to book Goulden on a mini-tour of the U.S. After a performance in Cleveland on July 14th, Wreckless Eric will head south to St. Louis, Oxford, and Memphis, where he's got a date scheduled for the Hi-Tone Café Monday, July 17th.
"I've never been to Memphis, but I'm quite excited," says Goulden, chatting from England. "I like Stax Records. It's a shame they tore it down, isn't it?"
Goulden delivers a running commentary about his day: "It was a fucking terrible one," he says, "spent trying to master a record, which was a minefield." About his state of mind: "Procrastination is a fear of falling short of your own expectations. If I'm going to do some recording, I suddenly find myself washing up, cleaning every surface in the house. I'm about to do the thing I want to do most in the world, and I'm scared of pulling it off." And about the cover of his latest album, Bungalow Hi: "The house I recorded in isn't the one in the photo. We went all over Yorkshire looking for the archetypal bungalow, the one that looked like it could be everybody's house. I recorded the album at my actual house, which was in Norfolk, but I just sold it, because I'm gonna move back to France."
In between, he asks questions about Memphis musicians Alex Chilton, Lorette Velvette, Willie Mitchell, and Billy Lee Riley, backing up the knowledge of local music history that he nonchalantly reveals on his song "33s & 45s." Yet when questioned about his own career, which has spanned three decades, Goulden scoffs.
"'Career' is a word that you hear a lot more now than you did then," he says. "I thought we were doing this because we didn't have a career. It was much more happy-go-lucky in those days. You couldn't get signed unless you were a band like Yes or Genesis."
In the halcyon days of the late '70s, even as Goulden worked with producer Nick Lowe, his motto was "Fuck quality, fuck excellent musicianship. We're young, we're crappy, and we're snatching it back," he recalls gleefully.
"It's a different climate now," he notes. "People look at it like it's some sporting activity. Playing music is much more acceptable. No one's trying to stop you."
Maybe not. But on Bungalow Hi, which was released in 2004, Goulden manages to remain edgy by overlaying his guitar-driven compositions with a wall of symphonic white noise created on an ancient solartron oscillator that was purchased in a junk shop.
Goulden will not, however, be bringing the oscillator to Memphis. "One day, I'll get a strap tied to the thing, but for now, it's just me and the guitar," he says.
"I will be bringing Amy Rigby," he says, mentioning the New York-based cult fave opening his show. "We have an ineptness together that's quite good. We did one gig where we actually fell on the floor."
The two met in 2001. "I was DJ-ing a gig that she was playing, and I was late because of a blizzard or something," he remembers. "When I got there, some stupid singer-songwriter was sitting on a stool and singing about relationships, like they always do. Then Amy came on, and she did a version of 'Whole Wide World.' I met her onstage, just walked up and unpacked my guitar.
"People sometimes say that she's the female me," he muses. "Anyways, she'll do her own set, and I'll do a set, and we'll play together. I might even disgrace myself by hitting her set and trying to help her out."