What happens when a diehard Boards of Canada fan becomes obsessed with Taylor Swift while questioning his faith in Christianity? In the case of LA musician and visual artist Kenny Becker, you get Dusk of Punk, the sludgy, twangy, grunge-addled debut EP by his band Goon.
The six-song output, which drops September 16, marks a sincere exploration of their sound's malleable boundaries, from drop tunings to drum machines—not just for listeners, but for Becker as well, due to a medical condition that periodically impairs half of his senses—a bit of an undertaking for someone who has played music his whole life.
After cutting their teeth opening for the likes of Dilly Dally and Lucy Dacus, the band is gearing up to strike out on their own with the EP's release. We gave Becker a call to talk the project, what it feels like for him to hear ("It's kind of a high"), being the first Christian in his family, losing his faith, and, of course, what his favorite emojis are. Read on to learn more about the process of making Dusk of Punk, an excellent addition to new-era grunge, and stream the EP exclusively on Noisey below.
NOISEY: You have a medical condition that affects your sense of smell and hearing—can you talk more about that?
Kenny Becker: Basically, I have nasal polyps that are really bad. Like, worse than most people; they always come back. The short version of it, I guess, is that they just sort of mess everything up. They keep growing all the time, and they block my sense of smell. And my ears, as you probably know, your ears and nose are highly connected. And it kind of makes the pressure in my ears weird, and pretty much always imbalanced. And basically I get sinus and ear infections all the time.
Wow, that sounds horrible.
Yeah, it is pretty horrible — but it's ok! I've learned to cope with it, you know, I've had it my whole life. I can never smell, and my hearing is pretty diminished most of the time because of that. Like, I have a perforated eardrum. But what's cool though is sometimes if I sweet talk my doctor a little bit he'll hook me up with some Prednisone, which is a steroid, and it's like the most amazing thing. It makes me feel normal, basically. Like, it will restore my sense of smell for a couple weeks to a month. And I feel like I can hear better too. It just makes music way more fun. It's kind of a high, feeling normal, because that's so crazy to me. I end up being really productive in music during those times. I guess that's kind of the short version.
It sounds like writing music and being able to hear it is a treat for you.
Oh yeah, definitely. Completely… Playing live music with my bandmates is just, awesome. It just feels more immersive.
When did you meet your bandmates, and when did you start writing music?
We all met at Biola, which is a private, super Christian college. Because at the time I was really strong in my faith and curious to get deeper answers. So yeah, I ended up studying drawing and painting there, and ended up getting a degree in that three years later… My mom would be mad if I didn't mention I've been playing piano since I was a little kid, and so I would make up little songs and she would record them on cassette tapes. So I've been playing music for a while; that's something I've been interested in, writing my own stuff. I actually was, backing up to high school, which actually coincides when I became a really strong Christian, I was going to this youth group in San Diego for a while, and a cute girl in the in the worship band said that I should learn drums, because the drummer had just quit. And so I did, and the drums became my main instrument throughout all of high school. And then I graduated and picked up a guitar and realized the guitar was super awesome. But falling in love with the drums was really important, in the way I write songs now too, I tend to think of things pretty rhythmically, I guess.
Give me a glimpse into your writing process.
It typically goes like, I'll be messing around on guitar alone somewhere, or around people, whatever, but I'll just come up with something that sort of excites me. And then I'll just quickly open my voice memos app or jot it down. I have so many voice memo recordings. And then inevitably I'll be driving somewhere and I'll just start playing random voice memos. Sometimes I'll put an emoji, a cool one, next to the ones I really like and I'll come back to it later. Then I'll go home and flesh it out on my computer…but I'll try to keep it more open ended, so that way we can try it as a band and make it more interesting instead of it being, "these are all the parts for all the instruments!"
Which emojis are your favorites?
I try to change it up. I like the cactus one, and the stars. The chick coming out of the egg is a really good one.
I read that "Green Peppers" was written during a period of intense Taylor Swift fandom. Is that still going strong? How do you feel about the drama between her and Kim Kardashian?
Oh man. That was interesting. I don't know, I definitely don't feel the same about her as I did. I guess I kind of just fell for it. You know, she seems so cool, and relatable, kind of, but she's probably not. And being actually friends with her would be probably pretty shitty if you weren't equally as famous…I feel like you could never have a meaningful relationship with someone that famous. I feel like she wrote a really good pop album—I feel like she probably didn't write most of it, even—but she wrote some of it, and I really enjoyed it. You know what part of it it is? I'm pretty sure she's like, 2 months younger than me, and something about that weirdly got to me at that time. I was just like, "man, she's been around just as long as I have essentially, and she's killing it." I think I just sort of obsess on things, and so I'll get so obsessed on something like that, and then I'll realize, "wait a minute, that is the last music I would ever want to make."
What's your latest obsession?
There's always my ongoing obsession with Boards of Canada. Like, forever. In fact, I would say that they're my favorite band of all time. Always something to come back to. I have so many questions, because they're kind of the opposite of pop stars.
There are a lot of characters in your song "Gay Rage"—women online, a lonely Wiccan, your mom. Who are they, and what's the story behind the song?
I guess I was just thinking about sexuality a lot. And around the time, that's when my brother had come out as gay—he's like five years younger than me—and I was really proud of him for that. And so I was just thinking about, in a more personal way, unfair treatment of any genderqueer person. And so I thought it would be funny to have all the gay people in Los Angeles go on this like, comic book, rage-filled rampage…I feel like I tend to write stuff that I don't even know what it means. People and names come up in my songs a lot…
Yeah, I noticed that, and a lot of religious references, too.
Oh yeah, big time. I mean it kind of goes back to why I even chose to go to Biola in the first place. I had this very strong faith coming from high school, yet I had all these questions, which is not uncommon, but I was hoping I would go to this place that was, like, a Bible school, and I would get all the answers I need. And while I did get some interesting answers, one of the main things that sort of shocked me, which I guess it shouldn't have, was you have to sign this "Statement of Faith" before you even go there. So, you're kind of under the assumption in any class that you already know this stuff. Which is fine, but I was hoping to be like, "let's just pretend I don't know anything. How would you pitch to me that Christianity is the truth?" I don't know, it just makes me wonder why anybody believes anything. First, it's kind of arbitrary that you might be born into a family that raises you a certain way…like, why would God allow that? Why would God sustain somebody their whole life and, supposedly, allow them to be so wrong? Honestly, I sometimes think Christianity can be too small of a way of looking at the world. I don't know, sorry, I tend to ramble (Laughs).
Is your family very religious?
They actually became Christian after I did. Which made me the spiritual leader in my household, which was weird.
Artemis Thomas-Hansard is a writer based in LA. Follow her on Twitter.