Louise Goffin interview: 'I'm not blasé and I'm not jaded about famous people'

The daughter of mighty Sixties songwriting duo Carole King and Gerry Goffin will perform Tapestry alongside her mother at Hyde Park on Sunday 

Ben Walsh
Thursday 30 June 2016 16:49
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Louise Goffin
Louise Goffin

“A badass, multi-talented, modern-day renaissance woman” is the bold claim on her official website, and Louise Goffin, the daughter of mighty Sixties songwriting duo Carole King and Gerry Goffin, proves a forthright and very personable interviewee.

The Laurel Canyon-raised musician is over here to perform Tapestry alongside her mother at Hyde Park on Sunday and I meet up with her in a rehearsal space in Bermondsey, south London. Goffin is understandably nervous (“It's hard to even get my head around”) about performing the seminal 1971 album, which features enduring pop gems “I Feel the Earth Move”, “You’ve Got a Friend” and the perfectly gorgeous “So Far Away”.

However, the singer-songwriter, whose vocals sound like a blend of US artists Aimee Mann and Lisa Germano, is an accomplished artist in her own right. Goffin has released seven records, starting with 1979’s Kid Blue, produced a Grammy-nominated album for her mother (2011’s A Holiday Carole) and the exquisite collection The Essential Louise Goffin: Vol 1 is out on 22 July and features a remix of “Take a Giant Step” (with Jakob Dylan) and a duet with Joseph Arthur on “If I’m Late”, written by her parents. Goffin, whose music is determinedly “old school”, embraces the storytelling tradition and her inspirations include Paul Simon, David Bowie and Joni Mitchell.

“I like description and I love it when words put you in the moment,” maintains Goffin. “Songs are stories and it's not about the colour and the shape its about how the colour and shape make you feel.”

Of course Goffin’s own father, Gerry, was one of the finest lyricist of his (or any other) generation, who penned compelling Sixties hits “Some Kind of Wonderful”, “The Loco-motion”, “One Fine Day”, “I’m into Something Good” and “Pleasant Valley Sunday” for the Monkees. The earworm ditties were made in partnership with his wife Carole King, who garners most of the press attention due to her “celebrity”, and, of course, because of her masterpiece Tapestry. Goffin, you sense, is very keen redress some of the balance (“My father had these great stories ... I've got to capture this, because there's so much magic and love involved”) and emphasise how impressive her late father (he died two years ago) actually was.

“My father was the spiral notebook behind the scenes and strictly a lyricist.” Goffin stresses. “He wasn't a melody writer but he was very much instrumental in telling my mother where to go; he knew when the melody had to go up and when the emotion needed to rise.”

Performing her father’s songs, such as the evocative “It’s Not the Spotlight” and “If I’m Late” (which both feature on the sublime six-song EP Appleonfire), has helped Goffin “grieve and celebrate” him.

“I have these very visual memories of my father and so much love in my memories,” the Brooklyn-born artist continues. “I saw Billy Crystal talk about Mohammed Ali and when you hear someone recall, with so much love for another person, there's something very vital in it.”

Goffin has been working on a film script about her father for 11 years. But, of course, there’s already been a wildly successful musical made about Carole King’s rise from schoolgirl to superstar - and her relationship with Gerry Goffin, which ended in divorce in 1969. Beautiful, which is being staged at the West End’s Aldwych Theatre, bagged two Laurence Olivier awards last year and a film, produced by Tom Hanks’s Playtone, is in the works. How did Goffin react to seeing it?

“Tissues please,” admits the mother of two sons. “I mean I'm watching my family of origin being played out on stage and they're holding a doll, which is me. The writers did an amazing job and it was funny.”

Watching Aretha Franklin’s astonishing performance of “(You Make Me Feel) Like a Natural Woman” (Goffin’s own adroit version is on the new record) at a ceremony honouring the track’s writers, Gerry Goffin and Carole King, at the Kennedy Centre in Washington was an equally emotional and mind-blowing experience for Goffin; and it even made President Barack Obama tearful.

“Carole was upstairs with the Obamas and I had a front-row seat,” Goffin enthuses. “It was a crazy night, and there was the Tapestry cat – my cat – showing behind Aretha.”

After the rousing performance, there was a dinner in a “big hall” where Goffin discovered that she was sitting next to the Queen of Soul herself.

“I was thinking of my god I'm sitting next to Aretha, what am I going to say to her? So I said ‘Oh shit, I'm sitting next to the queen of soul what do I say to her?’. We ended up talking about families, and it was very nice and humbling.”

Goffin is used to mixing with famous people – Jackson Browne asked her to perform with him at LA’s Troubadour when she was just 17 (“I was being a brave, nervous schoolgirl with a flower in her hair”) – and she has a droll story about not knowing quite who Johnny Depp is; even asking the Pirates of the Caribbean star whether he was English or not. She also claims that the recently embattled star “was lovely and very easy to talk to”.

“I'm not blasé and I'm not jaded about famous people,” she says. “I’m still a teenager when it comes to that but what I’ve learned is that people are people. I’m a person to them and they’re a person to me until the moment you take out a camera, which I don’t do. I always say what's more important to me, ‘to have a picture or to have respect’? The minute I do that [take a camera out] I'll be less respected, so I always choose the high road”.

“If you put yourself in someone's shoes who gets a whole of media attention it's probably comforting for them to have a normal conversation.”

So what’s it like being constantly asked (guilty) about her very famous parents? Frustrating?

“I embrace it, but I didn't use to, it used to be something to be weary of,” Goffin admits. “Do people want to talk to me because they want to talk to me, do they want to be my friend to be my friend or are they just trying to find out information and gain access [to her mother]?”

“It makes it a lot longer journey to get yourself out there, and for people to see you for who you are and it's not a silver-spoon situation and it's more of a challenge,” Goffin emphasises, with passion. “It's one of the cards life deals you, which you are powerless over.”

Louise Goffin plays with Carole King at Barclaycard Presents British Summer Time in London’s Hyde Park on Sunday 3 July; her new album ‘The Essential Louise Goffin: Vol 1’ is out on 22 July

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