Next Wave #1105: The Goa Express

Manchester risers melding psychedelia and rapid-fire indie rock...

With their latest single, five-piece The Goa Express are taking the next steps in a constantly evolving career to date; each song bristles with intent and a previously untapped vibe of purpose and clarity. Shrouded in guitar fuzz and powered by gusto, their long-awaited debut album lands in the second half of 2023, with recent single ‘Portrait’ which received extensive airplay earlier in the year.

The quintet’s story isn’t wholly unfamiliar, with their chemistry founded on the bedrock of friendship: a group of lads (including two brothers) from Burnley whose formative years consisted of getting into typical teenage scrapes before picking up instruments and forming a band to kill some time while at school, then college. 

Ultimately, Burnley couldn’t contain the group, with some members relocating to the bright lights of nearby Manchester, but even geography can’t break that bond, as drummer Sam Launder explains: “We’re all in and around Manchester. I live in Burnley, James (Clarke, guitar, and vocals) and Joe (Clarke, keys) live in Todmorden, Joey (Stein, lead guitar) and Naham (bass) live in Manchester. They’re holding the fort down in Manchester and we’re commuting in.” Meanwhile, capitalism is also doing it’s best to delay the group’s progress: “We used to practice in this old mill and it got bought out as it’s being gentrified and turned into flats. We’re trying to find the best space we can do but everything’s gone up in price.”

The group’s songwriting process hasn’t been affected, however, as James Clarke explains: “I pretty much write the songs and the lyrics then bring them into the studio to see what everyone’s takes on them. Sam does the drums, obviously, because he’s a wicked drummer. When the drums go down it makes a big difference, adding emphasis to different parts of songs, etc. Most of the time it works easily if it’s a good song. Sometimes it might need a little bit more work but generally that’s it.”

“I always write spontaneously; I don’t really think about what I’m saying as I’m saying it, it’s more melody orientated. On a deeper level I tend to write songs that sound nice in my ears. Lyrically, there’s always some sort of theme but they’re not that deep. They exist in a transitional moment as I usually write very fast and it just sticks.”

Their gradual fusion of psychedelia and rapid-fire indie rock has been the defining trait of their career to date, although Clarke is indifferent when the obvious development in their sound is pointed out. “I don’t really look at the changes,” he explains. “We just go in there and write them and see what comes out. This single with Damon (Minchella, formerly with Ocean Colour Scene and now bassist for Richard Ashcroft) and Tom (Manning)…we’ve done a lot of recording with them recently so the producers have changed and the studio’s different. Working with different people naturally leads to a different outcome.”

‘Good Luck Charm’ was part of the recording sessions for The Goa Express’ debut album, which has taken up most of 2023 so far after a busy 2022 saw extensive touring after the enforced break in momentum caused by the pandemic. Launder enjoyed the tempo change: “We were laying down the record at the start of this year in Raglan in Wales. It’s next to a farm and loads of hills. Being chased by cows on the way into the studio! It’s nice not having distractions while you’re there, just focussing on the music.” Can fans expect to hear early work? “There’s quite a lot of new material,” Clarke explains. “In fact, the majority is new. To be honest, I don’t think there’s going to be anything that’s previously come out. It’s pretty much brand new stuff. We’ll tour the record a lot when it comes out, so getting it fixed up is quite exciting.”

“There’s a lot of stuff that’s not been recorded before,” Launder elaborates. “We’ve played quite a lot of the songs live, so if you’ve seen us, you’ll have had a taster at some point. There’s a lot of stuff we’ve been waiting to get down that we’re happy with.”

Yet Clarke is looking further afield with plans already hatching for album two. “I can’t stop writing, which is really frustrating,” the singer explains. “Sometimes I record demos on GarageBand or whatever, then send them across. I might start doing that more as, and I’m thinking too far ahead, I’m thinking about what the next album is going to sound like.”

“We’ve been doing this a while and I’ve been writing in the same manner for a long time. I’m quite interested to see what happens when I drop my guitar. Up until now it’s been a natural difference between songs and arrangements, but now I’m thinking about it a little bit more for the next record. I want there to be some sort of progression.”

“The album is definitely done, and I want to move onto the next thing.” Until then, The Goa Express will be omnipresent at festivals and on radio throughout 2023.

Catch The Goa Express at London’s The Lower Third on May 31st.

Words: Richard Bowes
Photo Credit: Cal Moores

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