Tom Goss’ life as a gay man in these times resonates in his music in deeply personal and political ways.
Recent Washington transplant Tom Goss may be the perfect musician for these profoundly changing times.
I mean, his hooks and songwriting are so good that he’d probably have been successful in any era. But the times we live in are more provocative and groundbreaking than ever. With current issues like the ongoing debate over gay marriage, the first openly gay NFL draftee in Michael Sam, as well as increased awareness of the struggle for acceptance by the entire LGBTQ community, Goss is a musician who resonates as a passionate voice for people who have their own struggles and hard-fought triumphs. But Goss sees his music as perhaps less political expression, and more from a deeply personal perspective.
“I don’t think of myself as political at all, I just think of myself as, like, this is my life, ” says the effusive Goss before a recent gig in L.A. “The most powerful music that I write and the music that connects most readily with other individuals is when I am being truly authentic to my voice, and truly authentic to my experiences. So I always try to write from a place of knowledge, and for me, that includes being in love with a man, and being married to a man, and so, what are the experiences from that standpoint.”
That palpable resonance with those who get his message as well as his music has given this singer-songwriter with a power pop tinge an expanding career on the rise. He released his fourth record “Wait” this month, while a powerful new video about inclusion and acceptance for his song, “Illuminate The Dark” has gained heavy traction online. He’s also made his feature film debut in director Rob Williams’ murder mystery “Out To Kill,” and he’s exhaustively gigging around the world. Thanks in part to his candid persona and sincere approach to his music, Goss has also been named “Best Musician” by The Washington Blade two years running. His current tour brings him to the Blade’s backyard, D.C.’s Sixth and I Synagogue on May 31st.
Goss was a standout high school athlete in a Wisconsin suburb with aspirations of a college wrestling career when his mom bought him a guitar for graduation. It was then that he used his obsession with one of the world’s most popular rock stars to glean what he could, and then put that new knowledge to use in finding his own musical voice.
“I was trying so hard to emulate Dave Matthews. I was obsessed, literally not listening to anything else,” Goss said. “But Dave Matthews writes really complicated songs. It gave me a sense of what you can do with a guitar, but it wasn’t my own voice. So when I started listening to other [people’s] songs and realizing that you can get away with doing something powerful with simple chord structures and simple chord progression, that was when my writing really started to take hold. I found I could write songs that could really reach people instead of confuse people. My idea of what made a good song changed.”
Goss had designs on becoming a priest, but some kind of divine intervention made music his true calling. With things really starting to gel, he recently realized it was time to leave his part time job as a development director for a small D.C. nonprofit that helps the homeless find jobs and housing. “I cut my security blanket and have no idea what’s next,” he said. “But there’s a lot of stuff coming down the pipes, a lot of anticipation.”
Goss downplays the sometimes subtle — and at other times more direct — political tone of his music, but there’s no denying he has made a profound impact when it comes to specific human rights issues, like the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. In a show of support, Goss and fellow gay musician Matt Alber sang their anti-DADT anthem “This Is Who We Are” loudly and clearly on the National Mall alongside angry discharged soldiers who told dark tales of unrelenting discrimination and bias. The video went viral and response from the anti-DADT community was positive. But it was when Goss originally heard these soldiers’ stories that he felt their pain not only as a fellow gay man but as a human being, and had to speak out the best way he knew how.
“When you talk about a song like ‘Who We Are,’ I mean that was all really f—ed up, just to be super blunt.” Goss said. “If you talk to those guys, there’s no way you wouldn’t be pissed off after talking to them. There’s no way you wouldn’t be inspired to do whatever it is that you do to have a voice about the situation, and for me that’s writing a song. I can’t tell you the number of people that wrote me after that song came out. I actually got an email from a guy that said, ‘Thank you so much for the music, it’s what got me through my two tours in Iraq.’ That was the entire message. For me I’m just writing a song, I’m just trying to make something beautiful. But to him, I’m saying something that nobody has the balls to say and that he believes. People really resonate with that.”
Around the same time he married his husband Michael (one of the “Bears” he sings about in a very popular video of the same name that’s gotten over 225,000 views), Goss released a video for his song “Lover,” filmed around D.C. and Alexandria, that powerfully and unabashedly depicts the death of a gay U.S. soldier in Afghanistan and it’s devastating effect on his bereaved partner back home, a subject rarely addressed with such keen directness and brutal honesty. The video also features actual soldiers who were discharged via DADT, and currently has over 100,000 views on YouTube. Like the stunning video he just released of his song “Illuminate The Dark” about intolerance, ignorance and acceptance (see both videos below), “Lover” is another musical and visual example of Goss taking his own personal beliefs and, like many of music’s greatest political voices, molding them to speak for those who might otherwise not have been able to — or may have been afraid to — raise their voice and be heard.
“It’s important to speak from your heart,” Goss said. “When you’re an artist, sometimes people expect you to cut off the rest of your life, and you’re just supposed to ‘entertain me’, right? But for others, especially people who believe in the power of art to change, they can’t do that and are going to speak out on issues they are passionate about. And sometimes that’s politics, and that what makes it powerful.”
He pauses, then continues. “But when I’m writing [a song like ‘Who We Are’ or ‘Lover’], I’m not writing it from the perspective of a lobbyist or a politician. I’m writing it from the perspective of somebody who’s empathetic to love, who believes in justice, who believes in love. It just so happens that it’s intertwined with politics as well. But for me, it’s always about love, and truth, and justice.”