A Piece of the Pie

It's a drab spring afternoon, the Monday after South By Southwest, and Johnny Goudie has just enough time to fit in a caffeine- and nicotine-drenched interview before he starts his new job as a pizza delivery guy. The situation would make for a great Behind the Music-oh-how-the-mighty-have-fallen twist if Goudie weren't so unconcerned, if not downright happy.

Two years ago, the band Goudie (rhymes with "dowdy") was poised to release its major-label debut on Elektra Records through an imprint run by Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich. The company had spent half a million greenbacks recording and rerecording the album and hired big-time management. On the release of Peep Show, as it came to be called, the industry trade mag Billboard quoted the owner of two large West Coast record stores declaring Goudie "the kind of band that can probably set a trend," and Seventeen predicted the act would "overshadow both Bush and Nine Inch Nails on the charts." Despite the fact that Goudie toured extensively in support of the album, the grand visions in these cracked crystal balls never came to be.

Yet Johnny Goudie seems heartbreak-free. He does admit to feeling "dirty" after the big music confab and festival. "I'm not really good at the whole social aspect of stuff like that," he says about the "schmoozic" business. He happily reports a full house for his SXSW showcase and that "a major label A&R guy stayed for the whole set," but his slightly crooked smile belies the fact that part of him still thinks so what? Goudie's been down that big record company road and knows it's a superhighway paved with gold on the way in, and a rutted and muddy trail out. "It's a crazy game," he says.

In contrast, his latest release, …Effects of Madness, was "very fun" and "relaxing" to make. It cost maybe one-tenth of 1 percent of what was spent on Peep Show yet reflects Goudie's strengths far better: a Beatlesque flair for pop-rock songwriting with dashes of hard rock, flashes of glam and splashes of progressive modern rock. Released through the unique Austin cooperative India Records, it continues, all the way through the pipeline, to be as much Goudie's record as it is the company's.

Hence the pizza delivery gig a few nights a week. "I love the irony of it," says Goudie, who knows the joke about what you ask the drummer standing on your porch (how much for the pizza?). But he's neither down and out nor is he the prototypical Austin slacker musician. This is a practical move. "It costs money to promote a record," he explains. "You have to send posters to record stores. The pizza delivery thing is to keep the mail thing going. Doing it a couple of days a week isn't so bad to know that we won't have to put everything on a credit card."

Yes, the big difference between the last release and this one is obviously the money. "But it wasn't really that much money anyway, at least that I saw," says Goudie. "It was spent at dinners [charged to his account] and people being paid big fees for doing what you could do yourself."

To the 33-year-old singer, guitarist and songwriter, his one-album stint on a major label turns out to have been more of an education than a career-breaking letdown. "Once you understand how the big business works, it's easier to move into a smaller label and be able to promote your record substantially more than if you hadn't had that experience," he says.

Johnny Goudie definitely has the big-money cheekbones and boyish looks that spell potential rock star. But he says his musical abilities are all hard won. His most formative experience was at the age of 16 when he was living in Austin and playing in a band with musicians who were at least twice his age. "I started out as a guitar tech, but I was so bad at that they put me in the band," he says. He continued to stumble upward through stints in Miami and Houston until he returned to Austin in 1991. Over the past decade he earned a following for his ability to create rock music on a small scale that still hinted at large potential. In a just and natural world, Goudie could have followed Oasis, Travis, Coldplay and Radiohead into the big time; like fellow Austinite David Garza, Goudie has a knack for creating songs that reverberate with smart touches of past glories while staring headlong into the future (then again, Garza was dropped by his major label too, just days before this interview).

But for now, Goudie is "really very happy" with the record he just made, having come out of the major-label tangle inspired to write and create. After losing a guitarist and drummer, Goudie and bassist Einar have regrouped and continue to build their live following on a regional basis.

So after a blast through the pop music stratosphere with a quick return to earth, Johnny Goudie is satisfied, if not perhaps more motivated, in a position that has embittered and even broken others. He shrugs off "the pizza thing" as merely "what you do." After all, how else can a poor boy earn his (deep-dish or thin) crust?

"I would have done something like this if I hadn't chosen music," he says. "And I did choose music, which did not come to me naturally. What I do is do all my screaming and yelling with rock and roll. And in fact making this record was a really cathartic experience."

And a fruitless traipse through the major-label briar patch will give a guy a need to purge. Not that Goudie had lacked for that before then. "Since my late teens or so, I realized -- I know it sounds funny, and I don't mean to be pretentious about it at all -- that music can totally save your life and bring you back from the dark side," he says. "And making this record was really and truly that kind of experience, which makes me like it a lot."

Let's hope it keeps him from screaming at the people who stiff him on tips.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Rob Patterson