In the past three years, Sonoma County-based solo artist Goodriddler (real name: Nicholas Philip Sprague-Wolch) has garnered quite a following. A uniquely engaging musician, the sounds he creates stand in sharp contrast to his person. Intensely loud and relentlessly demanding on stage, Wolch is soft-spoken and unassuming off it. And although he sometimes struggles to talk about himself, it’s clear that where music is concerned, Wolch has no reservations.
He first began playing music in his younger years, starting with the clarinet in elementary school at the insistence of his parents. However, he quickly switched to the trumpet, which appealed to him namely because it only had three keys. His history with that instrument was less fleeting, spanning six years. But it was his exposure to the drums – which his music teacher let him mess around with in jazz band – that sealed his musical fate.
In the years since, Wolch has picked up other instruments – including piano and ukulele – but maintains that the drums are his first and true love.
“By far, always and forever, I’ll be a percussionist,” he said.
Although he has played the drums for more than a decade now, it wasn’t until a few years ago that Wolch began following the path of a solo artist. This decision was something that was inspired by his attitude toward music at the time.
“I get really bored, tired, of the guitar-driven band,” he shared. “That was something that like, really, got overplayed to me. Especially in the local scene. Like every band you went to watch was always, like, a three-piece. Bass, drums and guitar. And I just think that sound has been done so often…and I didn’t want to participate anymore.”
Instead, he embarked on utilizing his personal background of various musical skill-sets to create something different. And although his teenage years were spent listening to music of the indie rock persuasion, Wolch felt like embarking into the electronic territory was his way to meld what he knew with something new.
“Electronic music is really interesting ’cause you have so much control over every sound,” he said. “It’s like, really, a very limitless form of making music. And so I was really drawn to that.”
Where his live show consists of him singing, playing drums, and sometimes dabbling with other instruments, they also consist of a lot of pre-recorded music. Wolch said he does most of this writing in Logic, but also plays around with Reason and Ableton Live from time to time.
For the most part, people react positively to his music, although some have a difficult time wrapping their heads around the idea of not every aspect of a live performance being live.
“I think having the 70 percent of it be non-organic, digital, is kind of strange for a lot of people,” he said, but insisted, “it’s strange for me too.”
Yet it also is the most effective way to play. According to Wolch, as it pertains to live performances, less is more.
“I had big grand expectations in the beginning…and that totally did not work at all,” he said of his initial inclination to play as many things as possible while on stage. “[So] I tried to focus it a little more, and stick to my roots, which is the drums. I am a drummer. That’s what I care about.”
Issues of instrumentation aside, Wolch admitted that in the beginning of his solo endeavors, he also had to deal with the fact that when he was on stage, he was the center of attention. For some, this is a welcomed attention, but it was a series of trial and error before Wolch was able to figure out what to do with being in the spotlight.
“Mentally it took me a long time to be able to be OK to step on the stage as a solo dude. To, like, be able to stand up in front of people and have every single eyeball in the room, like on you, like, there’s no way to diffuse it,” he said. “So, like, to be able to be comfortable, and to like, have somewhere to go? Now you have everybody’s attention. Where do you take it? What do you do with that? And so, as soon as I kind of like, got into the zone of like, not necessarily controlling a crowd but like steering it, you know, into like, different pulses, that’s when I fully started to get [the hang of it].“
As much as he likes playing, Wolch particularly loves writing music. He is a self-described perfectionist, more so when it comes to the actual sounds contained in the music than lyrics themselves. But of course, as a solo artist, there can be a downside to even that.
“You really have nobody else to bounce things off of, You’re totally, like, stuck in your own head,” he explained.
On the flipside, he said he also enjoys the freedom of working at his own pace and making the creative decisions without having to consult others.
To date, Wolch has released two recordings – one full-length and one EP – under the Goodriddler moniker. The most recent, last year’s “The Strength of Weak Ties,” came out on Sell the Heart Records and featured four tracks that tackled the heartbreakingly wrenching and revealing.
And while there is a motivation to write as means of healing, Wolch said that dealing with such topics eventually takes a toll on him.
“As therapy I’m writing this music that is like, totally, like, about me in a bad part of my life,” he said. “And now, you’ve written that material, you need to go on the stage and share it every night with different crowds.”
Wolch shook his head to emphasize that writing about the difficult moments in life is not what he wants to do right now, although he readily admitted that it’s what seems to inspire a lot of art.
In particular, Wolch said he’s been having a lot of in-depth conversations with fellow musicians about what gets them writing. The answer of the majority?
“It’s sorrow. And like, you find those moments in your life that are the biggest, hardest moments ever, and that’s when you really can connect with people,” he said. “And, you know, I agreed with that. I wrote two records about that already. [But] at the moment, you know what? Fuck that. I think that’s totally bullshit. I think the goal of my record that I’m doing right now is to celebrate the things that I enjoy as a person. And like, the things that I enjoy are food, sex, biking, drinking, friends. And if I have those things, like, I’m like sooooo down. I’m so happy. There are songs that break it down that simply. Like, this is supposed to be fun. This is joy. That’s what’s inspiring me right now: getting through the problems that can happen.”
Additionally, he doesn’t want to be perceived or remembered as the musician playing a heavy and intense set.
“[I] don’t want to, like, bum everybody out. Like, I wanna be the band that made you, like, stomp your feet, you know? That’s kind of where I’m at right now,” he said. “I wanna reach my hands out through the speakers and grab your head and pull it back and forth.”
Goodriddler will play a show at Mama Buzz in Oakland, Calif., tomorrow night with Early & Often. The show starts at 6:30 p.m. and is all ages. It is the second date of his third West Coast tour, which will extend California and Washington.