We sit down with the handsome, talented and bear-loving musician Tom Goss to discuss his new album, the first time he fell in love, and just what it is he likes about us bears.
Perennial bear favorite, Tom Goss releases his ninth studio album today entitled Remember What It Feels Like. The album is a return to form for the singer/songwriter with a collection of upbeat and fun pop songs punctuated by beautiful ballads, and even some rock. In an album filled with noteworthy music, stand out tracks include: “I Don’t Wanna” which is a toe-tapping pop confection; “Fall Before You Fly”, a heartfelt and emotional ballad about loving yourself, learning how you deserve to be treated and embracing someone that truly loves you; “Cleopatra” a fun and dancy pop song about how we see the ones we love; “Enemy of Good”, an exuberant and cheerful diddy about the pitfalls of perfectionism and “Something Beautiful” which I can only describe as a panty-dropper ballad – or in this case, a jockstrap dropper – it’s amazing.
Joining Tom on the record is comedian and musician Deven Green, hip hop diva Maya La Maya, wry chanteuse Anne Reburn, and Goss’s longtime collaborator de ROCHE. The leadoff single for the album, the previously mentioned “Enemy of Good”, will have its music video released on July 10th , which happens to be the very same night Tom will be performing at Redroom for Ptown Bear Week.
We sat down with the charming crooner to discuss all this and more. Check out our conversation below.
John Hernandez: Hi Tom! Thanks so much for joining me. Remember What It Feels Like is a big departure from the atmospheric and somewhat sadder vibes of Territories. In fact, I would say it seems like a return to form for Tom Goss. Would you agree with that and how would you describe the vibe of this album?
Tom Goss: I would 100% agree with that. I think for me Territories very much reflects the turmoil that was happening in my life at the time. And I felt like in the expression of that artistically, I really wanted to do something different. I didn’t feel like I could come out and say the things that I needed to say on that record and package it in the same way that I packaged everything else; so I really needed to not only make a topical departure, but also a sonic departure from my older music. It was very intentional, and I was also very much being an artist and sitting in my feelings and taking things very seriously. (Laughs) And I think that was great! I love Territories, I think it’s a beautiful piece of work and I’m really proud of it.
As for this record, I’ve just been calling it ‘positive pop’, or ‘uplifting pop’. Here’s the thing – I’m not cool. And the thing that ultimately makes me the most uncool is that I am a happy, earnest Midwesterner, but that’s what I am. I’m always going to see the positive in a situation. I’m always going to shake your hand and smile. I’m always going to be friendly. It’s just who I am and that’s not what cool people are. But ultimately this is who I am, and it makes me happy. And I also think it makes other people happy.
John: It makes a lot of people very happy I’d say. And I for one think kindness and happiness are very cool – but I digress.
You’ve been very open about the joys and challenges of your life throughout your career with each album. Territories was very much about the pain of infidelity and opening up your marriage. What has the last four years since then taught you and how has it impacted Remember What It Feels Like?
Tom: Well, it’s been a really hard experience for me and for a lot of different reasons. I mean, in many ways I’m such a traditional kind of guy. It was just hard to even open myself up emotionally to what was happening. I fell in love with another person and that was great and that was fun, but that was hard on my husband.
And then the person that I fell in love with turned out to not really be that person I thought he was. We dated for 5 years, and he’s in jail now! It’s interesting because there are love songs on this record about this person that doesn’t really exist, like our relationship didn’t exist, you know? It was all a lie. It was such a mindfuck. But at the end of the day, I think that’s the joy and the strength of Remember What It Feels Like. It’s just like, yeah, all this stuff just – happens. We spend our lives trying to control things. We think if we do XY then Z will eventually happen, but sometimes you do XY and AQ happens. We don’t really have control over what other people are doing or how other people are feeling. We shouldn’t hold onto anything too tightly. We should ‘remember what it felt like’ – the happiness, the sadness, the tears, the joy, and then come back to the moment. The moment is where you are, and, if you like where you are, then that’s fantastic.
John: That’s really profound, a tough but profound lesson to learn. In that vein, let’s talk about the songwriting process for this album.
Tom: This album is very unlike other albums for me. Towards the end of the pandemic, I was redoing The Artist’s Way. I’ve really enjoyed doing it in the past and I was doing it again and I just really wanted a new space of my own. I’ve always been working from home, and it was becoming a little suffocating, so I got a studio space about 15 minutes away from my house. It’s been really great for me and my workflow. I’ve been producing so much music.
But in truth, some of these songs have been completed for years. Like “Everything”, “Something Beautiful” and “Fall Before You Fly”, I recorded in 2020. “Oh My Lover” was a song that I wrote for Wait, from 2014. And it was a song that kept getting cut. It got cut off of Wait and What Doesn’t Break. It was a song that I wrote 10 years ago, so I thought, if it’s still in your head 10 years later, then there’s probably some validity to it, right? Then there are songs like “Don’t Wanna” and “Literally” that I wrote while bicycling. So, the making of the record was kind of eclectic.
Also, the industry has changed from album-based thinking to song-based thinking and so because I’m in the industry, that too has affected my process. Since I have my own studio now, if I think a song is cool, then I just record the song. Anytime I write a song that I like, I just record it. And it got to the point where I had 15 tracks for the record and what people don’t know or see is that there’s ten more tracks that are done that I think will just fit better on another record. So, I might just release two records this year because making music is so fun and I love to do it!
John: Oooh you heard it here first folks! (Laughs) But that makes sense, I get how having your own studio space definitely would streamline the process of making music. But now, let’s talk visuals. “Enemy of Good” is the first music video and the first single. Can you tell me about the video’s concept?
Tom: Do you wanna really know the answer? The truth of the matter is there was an entirely different concept for the video. And then one day before shooting the video in NYC, it all fell apart. We were all booked, and the space was all booked and we were like, what should we do now?!
So, me and Catalin Stelian-Shanks, the director, were just like, well, let’s just have fun! It just turned into us having fun. I didn’t even have clothes. I was on tour at the time, and I only tour with like a backpack, so I went to some thrift stores in Bushwick and I bought something like 10 outfits. And then the next day we just went and did it. It’s really funny and joyful and it really matches the message of the song and that’s the thing that is really important to me. To strive for the impossible perfection negates any joy that one would have in their life. And so, it was a really great lesson to have everything fall apart at the last minute to help us understand that no matter what we did, it was not going to be perfect, but we could still make something that was really good and full of joy. And that’s what the video became. I mean that’s what the world needs right now anyway.
John: You got that right! So, turning our attention towards the other visuals for the album… I know you work with Dusti Cunningham a lot. How did you guys come up with the concept for the album art?
Tom: It’s collaborative. Here’s the thing, we work together a lot, and we are so trusting of each other. I really wanted to create a cover that was crazy, like a Sergeant Pepper cover type crazy. I wanted to create an image where you’re looking at it and trying to figure out what’s relevant in the picture, and what’s not. I told him that and I sent him some images and he got it right away, especially because Dusti collects so much shit! (Laughs) He has more stuff than you could possibly imagine.
And so I got together a bunch of stuff together that was relevant. Then he threw in a bunch of stuff that was interesting and it became a combination of both of us. And he’s got an amazing eye. There’s a lot of stuff in that picture that is really relevant to my life. I mean there’s even a letter from this guy in prison. It’s in there. Everything is in there.
John: Does the robot mean anything?
Tom: The robot lady means nothing. It’s just reminiscent of the 90’s, that’s when I grew up.
John: Me too! Well, Tom the time has come in this interview where we turn to the topic of bears. A lot of your fans are familiar with your story, being a troubled teen, a college wrestler and then a seminary student before touring the country as a gay singer-songwriter. I was wondering, when you were initially discovering your sexuality, was there always an attraction to bears?
Tom: 100%. For me, I didn’t discover my sexuality until later in life, I would say until I was 23, maybe. And a big part of that journey was discovering what I’m attracted to. I was spending my time looking at women and wondering why I didn’t have an attraction to them, so naturally I wondered if I was gay. But then I would look around at all my (wrestling) friends who I was constantly rolling around with and was constantly naked with, and that wasn’t sexually appealing to me either. I didn’t get a hard on when I thought about them, when I would go into shower with them. Every Saturday I’d literally be standing around 200 naked guys and it wasn’t an attractive thing to me.
The truth of the matter is I didn’t even know bears were an option at the time. I didn’t know that I could point my sexual energy at a bear. I didn’t even think to do it, and that may sound foolish or naive, but that’s exactly what it was.
I knew that, if I made out with or went out with women, it didn’t do anything for me. There was zero interest for me, it was easy to walk away from – – – You know that feeling you get when you kiss somebody and your heart just blossoms? Like your whole body radiates energy and it’s just like you’re alive! You know that feeling? I never had that feeling. It didn’t exist to me.
So when I fell in love with this guy in seminary, I was 23 and he was a bear, it was like, oooh this is what people are talking about! I thought the world was lying about sexual attraction. I thought it was like a global joke on me. I felt really alienated from the entire world – that sounds dramatic – but it’s true.
I think that’s why my perspective and my life and my art is consistently about love. Because as somebody who didn’t experience it for so long and who now experiences it abundantly, I know what it feels like to not have an inkling of that. I know what it feels like to look into the void, and to feel completely empty. I know what it feels like to have a world that’s dead, and I also know what it feels like to have a world that’s vibrant.
John: That’s really special that you discovered your sexuality and attraction to bears through love. What happened with the guy from seminary?
Tom: Oh my God, it was so beautiful and romantic and completely traumatizing at the same time. He was 44, I was 23, and he was really repressed. He knew he was gay, it’s not that he wasn’t aware, but he just never really experienced anything sexually. And so it was really hard for him. There’s a really beautiful moment that I remember when we were living at seminary, in a giant monastery, essentially. And we all had these little bitty rooms, with our twin beds and our dressers. And he came over once and I put on music, and we danced. We just danced together because we wanted something pure and innocent, there was a lot of stuff like that.
There were also times when he showed up wanting to be held and holding him would turn into petting and kissing and clothing would come off but then he would kind of freak out and run out of the room. He left and I was like, what is going on? (Laughs) It was beautiful though. I don’t regret any of it.
There’s this song on my record Lost Songs and Underdogs called “You and I” that recounts this story a little bit.
John: I could hear the smile in your voice while you were talking about him. Obviously, you’re thinking back on something very fondly – what a great memory to have. And after all that, just what is it about bears that you love so much?
Tom: I’m gonna give you the answer in two ways. First. Everything! (Laughs)
But also, it’s how I’m hardwired, you know? It’s like, I can’t tell you what I like about bears versus other people because it’s just how I’m hardwired. I can’t tell you why I like bears any more than why I like men. I mean, if we’re talking from a physical aspect, their bodies are really beautiful to me, I’m really drawn to them. I love how they look. I love how they feel. I love everything about them.
If it’s from the personality perspective, I’m attracted to sweet men, and I find most bears to be very sweet. And so I feel really lucky to be physically attracted to a type of man that is often caring and loving and tender.
John: Good answer! Now, with the new album you of course have a couple of shows coming up: July 7th in DC , July 9th in New York City, and July 10th in Provincetown for Bear Week. Are there more dates coming?
Tom: Yes! I’ll have west coast dates in August. I’m also performing in Texas in September, and I’ll be back in Florida in January.
John: Excellent! And I guess I’ll wrap the interview up by asking is there anything that you want to tell your fans or the Bears in particular?
Tom: I love you.
John: Can’t think of a better note to end on than that! Thanks so much for chatting with me Tom and congrats on the new album!
Keep up with all things Tom Goss and stream the new album HERE.
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