Aaron Goldstein’s own songs haven’t been a priority over the last decade or two but this weekend the singer, songwriter, guitarist and producer comes back to Hamilton to showcase his recently released album and band called Espanola.
Back when Goldstein came to Hamilton to study at McMaster University, he’d connect with a clutch of Hamilton musicians and start making waves in the local scene. He’d become a radio host at 93.3 CFMU FM and trade bootlegs of Canadian bands with friends. But he’d also have a DIY ethic that would make him learn how to play pedal steel guitar and produce bands simply by doing it. When he befriended Max Kerman, he’d offer the first recordings of the band that would become Arkells. Goldstein would even play pedal steel in a super group featuring Kerman called the Surly Young Bucks. He’d also take on guitar duties for Huron, a band he formed with Cam Malcolm whose recording sessions introduced him to famed producer Ian Blurton. Huron would impress the discriminating producer so much that he’d enlist the Hamilton band to tour behind him as Happy Endings.
Goldstein had a profound effect with his six years in Hamilton and he readily admits that “All schooling was just an excuse for me was to remain in Hamilton and continue playing” who never ended up graduating from Mac. But the Toronto native moved back to Hogtown and formed a family and his own studio, Baldwin Street Sound. In the years since his Hamilton days, he’s played pedal steel for Matt Mays, Elliott Brood, Tom Wilson’s Lee Harvey Osmond, Dallas Green’s CIty and Colour and more. He’s also become a sought after studio producer for national Canadian acts. But after a decade of work, Goldstein only now offers an official release for his own songs.
“Ian Blurton’s Future Now is his latest project and he’d recorded an album, which was basically a solo record but he’d decided to get a band together with Glen Milchem (Blue Rodeo, Change of Heart, Simply Saucer) and Anna Ruddick (City and Colour, Terra LIghtfoot, Junkhouse) and he needed another guitarist to bring the tracks to the live stage and he asked me,” says Goldstein. “By far, it’s the heaviest, loudest and most challenging band I’ve been in. I’ve always been a guitar player but kind of focused on the pedal steel for a long time and had to get back into my guitar chops for this. We toured across Canada and we even recorded an album in Calgary.
“But he ended up pitching the idea that the same quartet would go up and play a set of my songs as Espanola and then we’d do a Future Now set," adds Goldstein. “Because of that, I had to finish the record for the tour we did in June. I had two and a half months to finish the record and so I got myself in gear and put it out and I’m happy that I did. I’ve been so obsessed with the minutiae of the recordings but I was finally able to pull the trigger because there was no other choice because I needed records to sell on the tour. It freed me of having all of these old songs hanging over me all of these years.”
One kick ass backing band for Goldstein for a Canadian tour no less meant that Goldstein suddenly went from the shadows into one serious spotlight. But it was very natural for the seasoned stage veteran and the songs are almost second nature after these many years.
“I’ve used the name Espanola for ten years and I guess the songwriting started back when I was in Huron,” says Goldstein. “To be honest, half of these songs could have ended up on the second Huron record if we ever had made one. But five years ago, I’d recorded the first tracks in Saskatchewan, almost a full length, but scrapped some of them although four or five of them made it onto the new record. And over the years, as a producer with a studio at my disposal, when I wasn’t recording someone else, I’d end up working on my own songs so that’s made up the other half of the new record.
“As a producer, I don’t like to record songs that aren’t great — that I’m not happy with the composition, whether it’s someone else’s or my own,” adds Goldstein. “I’ve got a blues rock thing and a Black Sabbath riff rock vibe because I love that stuff but with Huron, I got introduced to a lot of power pop music because of Cam and who doesn’t love music with great melodies and great energy. It ended up being something that showed up a lot on this record. I’ve got a lot of friends that have become career musicians themselves, so while most of the songs started off as just me on the instruments, there are a lot of dear friends that came in and helped make the songs so much better.”
The title cut is the oldest song written back in 2009 and “Espanola” is a brooding rocker that conjures up Huron’s sound, while “Ever Kind and True” shows more of a mid–temp blues tinged inspiration and then “Tricks of the Heart” sounds like a Jerry Doucette homage, “Tricks of the Heart” channels the shimmering pop of Cheap Trick and “That Old Feeling” sounds like a Sloan outtake. Espanola’s debut is an energetic and melodic rock and roll romp and for Goldstein it’s about rocking out on the guitar especially for the live show. The band who backs him has been fluid and for this week’s Hamilton show, Goldstein’s Espanola enlists Glenn Milchem on drums, Ian Docherty (July Talk) on guitar, Anthony Carone (Arkells) on keyboards and Andew Boulos [Kelly Prescott] on bass.
“I love being out front, I love playing guitar — I feel my chops are way up from doing the better part of a year with Ian’s band,” says Goldstein. “It’s a treat. I do this side man stuff for other people live and on their records so it’s nice to break it up with this kind of project. I’ve got great players playing with me and it’s important to have that caliber of musicians with me so this band is going to rock. I mean, this will slow down after a while and I’ll go back to producing again but after a while I really believe a new album will come out in the next year or two. I’m very happy to make it a part of my professional life. Perhaps I didn’t have the confidence in the past but I realized there was an audience for what I’m doing. One of the songs, “Outside Saskatoon” was added to the CBC and played all over the country for nine months and I’m still getting the cheques so you can’t argue with that. I’m loving writing and singing — I’m a career musician and I’ve accepted this can be a part of what I do professionally.
“I’m excited for our Hamilton gig and this is going to be a rock and roll show for sure,” adds Goldstein. “I’m lucky these musicians have agreed to do these shows with me. There is going to be a good dose of guitar playing and while there’s some chill psychedelic moments, it’s mostly a front to back loud rock show that I’m pretty proud of.”
Espanola plays this Friday November 29 at the Mule Spinner (11 Lansdowne Ave) with Delta Days and JR. Doors open at 7:00 pm and tickets are $20 or Pay-What-You-Can at the door for students or unemployed. Click on instagram.com/agoldrules or ticketscene.ca