Southern songwriter makes a plea for empathy – SG Goodman talks to Uncut about her second album, Teeth Marks in our JULY 2022 issue of Uncut, available to buy here.
SG Goodman swears she doesn’t write concept records, but there is a consistent theme running through the songs of her second album that explains its visceral title. Teeth Marks, the Kentucky songwriter says, is a reflection that “whether love, or empathy, is present or not, it leaves its mark”.
Empathy is something that Goodman has in plentiful supply. She is a proud Southerner (“Oh honey, why would you ever take that trip down south?” she sings on “The Heart of It”, “I’ll let you visit for free each time I open my mouth”), quick to highlight the diversity of an oft-pigeonholed part of the USA. While Teeth Marks’ 11 songs are drawn from life, Goodman lends her voice to different perspectives: a lovestruck queer couple catching eyes across the aisles of the dollar store; a mother bereaved by the opioid crisis sending up a silent prayer behind the wheel.
“With “If You Were Someone I Loved”, what I was trying to get across is how we seem to have more empathy for people going through things we already have experience of,” she explains. “I wanted the listener, singing along, to be the one telling the opioid addict in the song that if I loved you, I would treat you differently.”
Raised in a Southern Baptist crop-farming family in rural Kentucky, Goodman likens the church services she attended three times a week to her first concerts. She went to college in Murray, 50 miles to the east, where she still lives. Both experiences, she says, informed her musical education: the church is the place she learned to sing, while Murray – and its beloved record store, Terrapin Station – is where she cut her teeth as a performer and properly learned her craft. “I’ve never been classically trained, but I picked up on something special about how to sing from the people in my congregation,” she says. “No matter my beliefs now, you do something a little different if you think God’s listening. And I still think that background plays into my songwriting – some of the best hooks and most emotional lines ever written were from old hymns.”
But having recorded her first album, 2020’s Old Time Feeling, with My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, Goodman has also learned a thing or two about rocking out. “I felt like I really had an ally in Jim – I’ve always looked up to how he’s presented himself as a public figure while also being proud of where he came from,” she says. “People think of Kentucky music as bluegrass or country, but MMJ is a full-on rock band, and it was great to work with someone who’s already proven our music scene is diverse.”
The reception for Old Time Feeling – which earned her shows with Jason Isbell, John Moreland and at the Newport Folk Festival – moved her to further embrace her rockier influences, while continuing to pay homage to her roots. “My sound has evolved,” she says of Teeth Marks, co-produced by Drew Vandenberg. “It’s partly my style of production: I like to capture what’s happening in the room, the little mistakes that come off to the listener as an interesting moment, that capsule of a short moment in time.” With her first UK tour (with Shakey Graves) booked for this autumn, Goodman acknowledges she has “a lot of ground to cover. I’ve been a bit delayed in my entrance into the world of music, but I’m excited to put some boots on the ground and get out there and meet people. It’s gonna be really sweet.”
Teeth Marks is out on June 3 via Verve Forecast.