It has to be said for the sake of blunt honesty: Tom Goss is so beautiful it’s almost too difficult to look at him. One runs the risk of going blind, an effect much like what staring directly into the bright sun might cause. But the risk can be easily negated by closing one’s eyes, donning a pair of stereo headphones, and pressing play.
That’s because the 29-year-old Kenosha, Wisconsin native happens to be one of the most sublimely talented, multiple award-winning indie singer-songwriters out there right now. A former college wrestler, Goss entered the Catholic seminary in 2004, but his dalliance with the cloth proved short-lived. Following an unpleasant experience there, he left seminary to pursue what would be his higher calling: music.
Flash forward, and Goss is continuing to draw raves for his third CD of infectious folk-rock ditties and love songs, Turn It Around. A hard-working touring musician as well, he comes to OutCentral May 5 with Matt Alber.
We chatted with Goss about his past and his present and surviving it all.
So, I have to ask: how does a guy go from being a wrestler to a Catholic seminary student to a singer-songwriter? I’ve heard of changing careers, but that’s a new one!
Ha! Yeah, I guess so. I’ve never been the kind of person to be afraid to pursue what I am passionate about. I guess that’s taken me in some very different directions.
Was it painful or was it liberating for you when you left the seminary?
It was very painful. I truly believed I was in it for the long haul. Being in seminary and taking promises is a very serious thing. Furthermore, there was a lot of drama around my leaving and there were others that were asked to leave as a result of my situation. For me, I found the seminary to be very predatory. I think folks can read between the lines. By the time I spoke up about what kind of relationships folks were trying to have with me, it was too late. Mentally and spiritually, that is. I had lost my faith along with my passion to become a priest. Walking away from seminary and choosing to stay in DC also meant that I was leaving my only friends, my only support structure. It was the loss of faith, community, friendship and stability that was the painful part. Still, in a way it was liberating. I knew there was nothing tying me anywhere anymore. No vows or practice schedules, families or friends to be accountable to.
The Catholic Church has been a foundation for so much anti-gay sentiment, while at the same time so many of its priests have historically been entrenched in sexual molestation controversies. Do you follow follow the stories?
I don’t really follow the stories that closely. I don’t consider any of this news. In my experience, the Catholic priesthood and seminary is at least 50 percent gay, if not over 70 percent. My house was over 90 percent. People should stop pretending that it isn’t. The church also has a history of protecting and covering up for sexual predators. This is really disgusting. Obviously that should stop.
Your music is really terrific! I’ve been digging the happy, upbeat, strong guitar oriented pop-rock vibe. So many gay musical entertainers offer the usual synthesized dance floor stuff, so can I say it’s very refreshing to hear performers like you who rock out? Why are you a rocker instead of a dance diva?
I’m not sure really. I think the simple answer is that I write the music that speaks to me. Dance diva music doesn’t speak to me. I’m not saying that it’s not good. I’m simply saying that everyone is drawn to something different. A lot of folks dislike my music and I’m fine with that. I can’t please everyone. I’m just grateful that my music speaks to some folks. I have great listeners, fans and friends that have supported me from the beginning. I’m just glad I can continue to reach out to them.
What singer-songwriters and musicians inspired you when you were growing up and learning your craft?
Well, I’m going to use the term “growing up” loosely because I didn’t really start listening to music until I was 17. I started playing the guitar at 18. At that point, it was pretty much because I was obsessed with Dave Matthews Band. Once I got my guitar, I started learning every Dave Matthews Band song ever written. That’s how I learned to play. It wasn’t too long after that I started writing songs. Oh man, they were horrible. Dave Matthews has a very distinct and complicated way of playing the guitar and writing songs. I spent years trying to write songs like him, and years writing horrid songs.
Eventually I started listening to David Gray, Damien Rice, Jason Mraz and a handful of other folks that approach songwriting much more simply. I started to understand and appreciate the power of simplicity, both in chord movements and lyrics. As a result, my songs started getting better. There is no doubt in my mind that David Gray saved my songwriting career long before anyone knew I was going to be a songwriter.
And of course you gotta know us boys are totally loving the video for “Make Believe!” The whole time-lapse nude body painting thing is sexy and creative and cute. It’s a perfect match to your buoyant, cheerful song. What was it like making that video?
Making “Make Believe” was a blast. I spent 12 weeks straight on the road for my spring tour last year. By the time I got home I was burned out and just ready to relax. No videos, no recording, no performing. I just wanted to be totally domestic, do the dishes, have a husband. I got home from a long night of driving – from Georgia, if I remember correctly – and slid into bed. For some reason this idea of taking time-lapse to an extreme and coupling it with body painting popped into my head. My plans changed pretty quickly.
I called my friends Aram Vartian and Michael Patrick Key, who make my videos, and told them about this wild idea I had. They didn’t shoot it down and so of course I took it further. Eventually, “Make Believe” was born. It was quite a whirlwind. The take that made it was our third full take. What you don’t see is a crew of ten people all around the table, making all the cogs work. It was quite a production. Every second in the video is 30 seconds in real time. Just watch the clock, it keeps track of it all.
You aim for the heartstrings with the lovely ballad “You Know That I Love You.” Is it about anybody in particular or is it a composite of past relationships?
That’s about Mike. Almost all of my love songs are about Mike. When I think about Mike and our love, I can’t help but glimpse into something that’s far greater than…either of us. I told myself at a very young age that I was never getting married, never being in a relationship even. For me, relationships were poison; they only hurt the people in them and the people around them. Mike changed that for me.
You married your husband Mike in 2010, right? Congrats! What has married life been like for you? Did it change your outlook on life in any ways?
Marriage is great! But dating was great and being engaged was great. It didn’t really change those things. For me, it’s just another step in building the kind of relationship that is strong and long-lasting. It’s another step in becoming the kind of man I strive to be.
I know that you’ve said you don’t feel like you fit in with the mold of prevailing gay culture, but you’re unabashedly an LGBT activist and you’re involved with LGBT organizations in Washington, DC. Also, your lyrics and music videos are heartfelt, honest depictions of same-sex love. What moves you to be so involved in the fight for equality?
I only speak about things I know, and work for causes and movements that move me. It’s as simple as that. I’m lucky enough to really know what it means to be in love, to be married. I want to share that. Furthermore, I have, and always will, work for injustice. I suppose it’s in my blood.
Tom Goss plays at OutCentral on May 5 with Matt Alber. For more information on Tom Goss visit tomgossmusic.com and ticket information at outcentral.org.