For John Shade, it’s all in the text
TRUE LIES “Sometimes you can say what you want to say more through fiction than non-fiction.”
Folksie newcomer John Shade says that his songs are focused on identity and anonymity, but there’s also what sounds like an unraveling personal economy lurking beneath: characters steal purses, check classifieds, go it alone with “no safety net,” and generally feel like bums. Meanwhile, Shade’s chords sound down and out, and his vocals dip into weary Dylanesque tics.
Shade — real name Dave Godowsky — is a 30-year-old native Mainer who’s held jobs at bookstores, candy stores, shoe stores, and hot-dog stands while quietly chipping away at a set of songs with rustic façades and seedy backlot plots. Over the past year, his live performances have quietly become a Boston treasure — he’s recently supplemented his usual three-piece (Zack Hickman on bass and Mark Erelli on guitar/pedal steel) with a string quartet, and he scored a nomination in this year’s Phoenix Best Music Poll. But Godowsky’s mission has remained humble. In his first recording with strings to hit the Internet, “Here I Am,” he sings about struggling to write a decent love song: “Like a falling star in space/I guess I’m easily replaced.” You can’t really tell whether he’s talking about an old relationship or his career.
I meet up with Godowsky at a coffee shop in his Arlington ’hood as he’s preparing to set up camp at Lizard Lounge for a month-long Tuesday-night residency and, with any luck, an extended stay in the public’s earbuds. “I moved here from Maine because I was bored,” he tells me. “I think I already sort of want to move back.” An English major through and through — he studied poetry and plinked piano for the modern-dance troupe at Connecticut College — he appropriated “John Shade” from the name of a fictional poet buried in the annotations of a fictional editor in Vladimir Nabokov’s 1962 metafiction Pale Fire. From there, he’s molded a vagabond persona to parse out a collection of ambiguously autobiographical details.
“It’s the idea of an artist constructing something fictional using parts that are real,” he explains. “That, in an effort to articulate yourself more clearly, sometimes you can say what you want to say more through fiction than non-fiction. And that’s what I was finding in my own work.”
The result of his effort is a set of songs that resonate somewhere between personal and parable, mixing lived-in instrumentation and wry, transparent wordplay. He’s dubbed this collection All You Love Is Need, and the connection is no joke. Godowsky has picked up the subtle chording and wilting half-steps of John Lennon and Elliott Smith. The entire collection beats with a muted ’70s thud, all fuzzy drums and carefully exhaled vocals. Godowsky recorded it at his friend Justin Vernon’s studio among the cornfields in Wisconsin. (Vernon also goes by a pseudonym: Bon Iver.) “We wanted an old feel to it. We draped a ratty old T-shirt over the snare drum for that Fleetwood Mac sound — soft.”
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