Conversation: S.G. Goodman Lets The Cracks Show On ‘Teeth Marks’
If you profiled her, which to be clear you should not do, you’d identify a songwriter who grew up on a family farm in far western Kentucky and who sang in church three times a week until she went to college. Then you’d learn she’s a queer woman whose songs read like poetry from a southern literary journal. So maybe you’d imagine that she sings country music and that she’s left her rural conservative home ground far behind to feel more at home in a bohemian enclave in some urban center. And you’d be wrong on all counts about confounding, fascinating S.G. Goodman.
Goodman’s second album Teeth Marks arrived last Friday as one of the most anticipated indie roots albums of the year. She landed in the New York Times with accolades for “her sharp eye for character and scene and her arresting voice.” While writer Silas House took to The Bitter Southerner to call her “one of the most exciting acts in Americana music, an artist who has built a rabid following despite releasing her debut album at the height of the pandemic.”
While it conjures a southern landscape and a bluesy tone of lament, Teeth Marks also feels imprinted with the grungy drama and discovery of the rock and roll record store in Murray, KY where Goodman found her first musical community during college. For every drop of Loretta Lynn, there are two of Patti Smith or PJ Harvey and some aching atonality by way of Neil Young.
Murray is also where she’s lived and labored for more than a decade since her studies in philosophy and creative writing ended. “I would never encourage anybody to stay put in a place that would be, you know, mentally or physically destructive or unsafe for them,” she says when asked why she lives off the music biz grid. “But it is very apparent that places don't change if everybody who could make them change leaves. If everyone who's like minded goes somewhere else, then that's where those ideas go.” That and she likes it, the diner, the loamy landscape and that record store.
Ideas abound on Teeth Marks, starting with its uneasy image of a love bite that lingers on the skin in the opening title track. It’s a scene from a one-sided passion that leaves the singer bereft and wishing there’d been more time for the almost-lover “to see things my way.” It’s lonesome, and it doesn’t get much cheerier from there, though the album’s never less than nerve tingling. “Work Until I Die” drives harder than anything else here with a metronomic pulse that I told her reminded me of Stereolab in the South and a resigned, angry chant about lifelong labor and who benefits. The song’s long outro set to a looping spoken prayer as if over a meal is one of the album’s most inspired moments.
Goodman directly addresses Sapphic love - dicey terrain given her deep connections in a small conservative Kentucky town - in “Patron Of The Dollar Store,” where she “finds heaven in a woman’s arms,” set to a spare fingerpicked electric guitar. And the album ends with the somber “Keeper Of The Time,” which addresses trauma, induced or inherited, as if it’s almost a tangible burden: “If it’s not something you should carry/And it wakes you in the night/If it’s not something you should carry/Let your heart bring it to light.”
The fulcrum on which the album balances is made of two complimentary songs about empathy for the addicted and the toll of the opioid scourge. In track 5, “If You Were Someone I Loved,” Goodman cries and rocks hard as she struggles to relate in a real way to another’s pain. That’s followed by the spectral “You Were Someone I Loved” where the hurt is more conductive and direct, yet it’s also too late. The needle and the damage done as it were. She delivers the song in a riveting, utterly naked a cappella performance that took some guts to release.
“I think stylistically I wanted it to harken back to old time music,” she says of the song’s mournful tone. “Which is always important - for me any chance I get to kind of shine light on my background and where I'm from. I tried to be purposeful. I could have definitely put something under me instrument wise. But I just wanted everybody to hear every crack and every little breath, you know, so it was a special one for sure.”
In our conversation, we talk about Goodman’s upbringing on a farm, the sanctuary she found at Terrapin Station, the record store/venue in Murray, and her decision to stay. And she addresses her role as a progressive voice in a conservative place where she nevertheless feels grounded and engaged with her community, even those on the other side of the country’s sociopolitical gulf.
“I'm just very curious about their experience compared to mine. And, you know, I'm always looking for a good story,” she says. “But I would say that you know, music is an interesting medium that allows people to pause for a minute, and maybe rethink about a particular place or region or group of people. Because I know I could go right now back to Murray and sit at this diner that definitely, if you listen closely, the people's politics do not match mine. But I know I can sit down with them and share a meal and it'd be fine. So, yeah, that's important to me.”