Ragtag Manchester-based five-piece The Goa Express are on a mission to sonically encapsulate the feeling of growing up in the middle of nowhere – having just about transcended their modest roots, the lads are showing no intention of slowing things down.
Words: Finlay Holden. Photos: Sarah Louise Bennett.
While the five lads making up The Goa Express were born and bred in the countryside, they’ve found themselves busy up and down the country this summer following a long, hard graft. At Latitude, the first major festival to reintroduce live music, these guys started the show with the first set. “It was crazy – there was a huge crowd like we’d never played to before, none of us expected it to be that busy,” singer and songwriter James Douglas Clarke recalls. “That really threw us in at the deep end, but in a good way; it set us up nicely for the future, especially with the year to come.”
Showing up to a large audience is a feat no one could have expected just a few years ago, as the band have worked hard to progress not only their music careers but also, vitally, their respective instrumental capabilities. Looking back to their beginnings, James admits: “Fundamentally, we weren’t good enough. We all learned our instruments just for the sake of being in a band; none of us had any training prior to that, none of us went to music lessons or studied music or anything. Back in the day, it was just an excuse to hang out and get up to a bit of trouble. It couldn’t have got any worse from the point we started at, basically.”
Although each member has had stepped up their musical skill to keep up with the tunes now being penned, and indeed the shows now being played, the ‘excuse to hang out’ factor has not changed. “Like anyone from a small town, we didn’t really have anywhere to hang out, so we’d just go to each other’s houses to piss around and play instruments, and it’s led us to where we are now,” says James. “We always did things in our own time, we didn’t feel rushed or like anyone was hounding us to do anything we didn’t want to, so that’s why it’s taken this long to get going as a band – but also why it’s happened so naturally and calmly.”
The Goa Express have been enjoying their own company for almost a decade now, having met in their early teens and stuck together ever since. “I’ve known these boys since I was 13, and obviously I’ve known Joe all my life, so each member is irreplaceable, really. The chemistry works, the dynamic works, everyone’s quite respectful of each other, and we all have our own individuality and personality.” In fact, the gang have solemnly vowed loyalty to each other as a line-up due to each member’s essential contributions to the dynamic. “We keep things light-hearted, but we’ve said since day one that as soon as it starts becoming too serious or we stop enjoying it, everyone’s got a right to decide to do something else. The balance would shift in a way that wouldn’t be evenly supported if someone new came in.”
“We all learned our instruments just for the sake of being in a band”James Douglas Clarke
As he alludes to, James and Joe (keys) are actually brothers, but this certainly hasn’t caused anything more than the regular sibling squabble – no Gallagher-level feuds here, folks. Amongst a heap of potential but, in fact, non-existent tensions, you might wonder whether this relaxed group have faced any serious difficulties in their journey to date.
“We found picking a band name to be, still to this day, the hardest part of being in a band by some considerable distance,” James laughs – and what a nice problem to have. “The name sounds mundane – there was a soup in Morrisons at the time called Goa Express soup… we’d gone through every imaginable name and were tired of it, exhausted. There’s no real context apart from the fact that my mum thought her soup had quite a nice name.” Unfortunately, mother Clarke didn’t consider an unforeseen repercussion here: “We get loads of complaints from people in India annoyed that their trains are delayed; people always ask us for timetables and departure schedules, and we’re a bit confused.”
The band name seems to be the only label The Goa Express care about, as their crudely-defined residence in psych-rock doesn’t restrain or contain an ever-expanding discography. “We were initially part of that scene for a while around Manchester, and we were thrown in with the psych-rock label, but the songs come about entirely individually. There isn’t much thought process going into making them sound one way or another, or making them fit under the same umbrella, so it varies,” James considers. “For us as a band, we’ve never had a conversation about what we want to sound like or what genre we’re in; we just let things unfold and see what happens. We’re happy to let the tunes come out, and other people can categorise them for me if they want.”
Instead of falling into genres of sound, the four’s currently released singles – including 2021 hit ‘Second Time’ and its recent follow up ‘Overpass’ – tend to share only an intended vibe: a young and carefree energy. “We don’t want our songs to sound foolish and naïve, but we want to capture our experience of youth which we’re living at this moment,” James agrees. “We’re all young, we’re all stupid, we all have no idea what’s going on even though we pretend to know exactly what’s going on. That’s the best way to summarise us; we piss around and let our experiences come through our music.”
Defining their own coming of age story in terms of sonics and attitude, The Goa Express’ music is bathed in these youthful themes, and the quintet are making sure that it is their own personal experience that shines through – while they have spent this year touring alongside acclaimed acts such as The Magic Gang and Shame, James reveals that they deliberately avoiding asking for pearls of wisdom while on the road. “We’re more comfortable doing things ourselves – letting the mishaps happen, seeing things go wrong and then learning from it for the next time. We got ourselves this far with no backing or no real reason to get here, so that’s our mindset with everything else too.”
While in the studio whirring up some new material, James has learnt that learning their lessons on the go also serves to instil their recordings with some much-needed urgency. “Having a song in its purest form, without having too many ears on it and with you in control of where it starts and ends, is more important for us than anything else. The longer you sit on a track, and the more you add, the more it loses its original sound. Bang it out, get it down, and move on.” This momentum has allowed the boys to ditch a pretence of perfectionism and covertly coalesce a growing collection of songs yet to be debuted – keep your eyes peeled for a stream of songs coming in 2022.
“We never take the foot off the gas,” the elected frontman concludes. “As soon as we stop moving, things are going to go wrong. It gives you too much time to think and rethink – just keep moving forward.” So, what can we expect coming up to truly cement The Goa Express’ Hype status? As James only half-jokingly answers: “I haven’t thought about next year; I haven’t thought about tomorrow either.” However, fans aren’t going to be disappointed – they’ve a slew of material (apparently an album’s worth) in the bank. “If you like our music now, you’ll like it even more in three months’ time. Just keep listening.”
Taken from the December 2021 / January 2022 edition of Dork, out now.