Person and persona

For John Shade, it’s all in the text
By MATT PARISH  |  May 4, 2010

1005_shade_main
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.”

1  |  2  |   next >
  Topics: Music Features , Entertainment, Entertainment, Elliott Smith (Musician),  More more >
| More


Most Popular
ARTICLES BY MATT PARISH
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   INTERVIEW: TALKING WITH MISSION OF BURMA'S ROGER MILLER  |  January 18, 2012
    This weekend (January 20-21) brings a two-night stand at Brighton Music Hall for post-punk godfathers Mission of Burma, who have somehow morphed into a band that's equal parts internationally renowned throwbacks and prolific local underdogs.
  •   MISSION OF BURMA'S SONIC FURY STILL BURNS  |  January 18, 2012
    It already seems like ages ago when Mission of Burma announced their reunion.
  •   TRYING TO FIND NOW  |  January 04, 2012
    William Gibson — the writer who famously coined the term "cyberpunk" and whose classic tech-punk novels like Neuromancer and The Difference Engine helped spawn a couple generations' worth of bleak, busted fantasies — is now on tour promoting his first collection of nonfiction.
  •   HAVE BILL SIMMONS AND GRANTLAND MADE IT COOL FOR GEEKS TO LIKE SPORTS?  |  December 14, 2011
    "The paper quickly began its operations, grabbing all of the talent money could buy."
  •   DENGUE FEVER ADD ECCENTRICITY TO PSYCH POP  |  June 01, 2011
    For all the kitsch and B-movie flair of Dengue Fever, there are still a few aspects of their obsession with Cambodian pop that they haven't put on record.  

 See all articles by: MATT PARISH