William Goldsmith (The Fire Theft): Interview
The Fire Theft’s Drummer on Now and Zen
Little Johnny proudly proclaims, "Mommy, I wanna be a drummer when I grow up!"
"But Johnny," she chides, "you can't do both."
Or so she thought. In a career spanning just one decade, William Goldsmith has
been there, done that, and bought the shirt of seasoned veterans. His first rise
to notoriety came about as an agent for the mythic, Seattle-based Sunny Day Real
Estate. Alas! Business went bad after just two records and, one breakup later,
he and bassist Nate Mendel donned spacesuits as extraterrestrials aboard Foo
Fighters. Then, over the years, one thing led to another, and the realtors
returned to market Sunny daze (confused yet?). William opted to come down to
Earth for this lineup, while Nate stuck to the stars. Double alas! Two final
albums later, Sunny Day Real Estate bought the farm. However Will and
singer/guitarist/walking orchestra Jeremy Enigk knew that they would be working
together in the near future. When Nate set aside time from the Foo for this new
project, the holy trinity of The Fire Theft was finally birthed. And what a
newborn it was. With a name derived partially from Greek mythology, the
comparison to a sage Athena sprung forth fully mature from the minds of three
extremely passionate individuals is not so pretentious considering a history
that defies all rational explanation. Thus far The Fire Theft have released one
self-titled album, one single ("Chain") with a b-side and a video, as well as
toured the United States several times and Europe once. Where does one begin to
inquire about such an epic past?
This interview took place in the middle of the group's May/June US tour. William
(as he prefers to be called) was absolutely gracious. Although visibly weary and
in desperate need of a nap after several consecutive nights of shows, there was
still that piercing intensity and glint of mischief in his eyes which
beautifully complemented the depth of thought as well as humor apparent in his
carefully selected words...
how's the current tour been going for you?
That's a good question. Uh, fun. [laughs]
had to cancel five shows on a recent tour with Saves the Day and Grandaddy. What
WG: Jeremy [Enigk]
blew his voice out and could not sing.
band released a letter of apology saying that they'd make it up to those cities.
How do you think you'll make it up to those fans?
Hopefully play those places. It was a drag because a lot of those people
couldn't get their money back because we weren't headlining the shows. We
weren't in control over that. So, hopefully play those places again and then
still try to think of some sort of creative way to make it up to people. It's
You've been on several Fire Theft tours already, even though you're a fairly new
band. Any favorite tour memories so far?
[pause] not that I can think of right now.
You never got a
chance to go to Europe with Sunny Day Real Estate. You have been there with some
other bands. What'd you think about touring Europe with The Fire Theft?
WG: I loved
it. It was great.
How's it different from touring the US?
WG: It's a
different country. It's difficult to articulate. But just the general, like,
feeling. It's just different.
particular countries that you felt drawn to?
Barcelona. Catalonia. I've just always liked it there. Every time I've toured
Europe, I've always really liked Spain.
watching you play, you just look so impassioned on stage, like your facial
expressions and everything. What's going through your head? What're you thinking
of? What're you picturing?
little as possible.
WG: The more
empty my mind is, the more I'm able to just be a part of the song. So I try not
to think or see or picture anything. Although there are times when my thoughts
get away from me, and that's when playing gets difficult.
is kind of a two-part question: Which song do you most like to play live and
why? / Which song has the most meaning for you and why?
isn't one. I kind of take it just as a whole. So there isn't one particular song
that means any more or less than the other.
a better air drummer than I'm a drummer, actually."
it because you have a concept album?
But I just try to look at the big picture, like the whole set.
this doesn't vary at all each night?
WG: No. Just
the whole thing. What I like about "Sinatra" is the revelation, the whole
freeing yourself from your mind thing.
You've mentioned in previous interviews that you've tried to tone down your
drumming style to use the space between the notes to make the songs more
effective. What sparked that change?
originally it was just going from playing hardcore to when Jeremy joined Sunny
Day: actually having someone that could sing, and, for the first time, having a
reason to leave space so the vocal melody could actually have a chance to like
breathe. So it was just a process over time, learning how to leave space for the
vocals. But then it evolved into learning how to let the songs themselves
breathe. So not just the vocals, but the music itself, learning that most of the
time, but not all of the time; it's the space in between the notes that are the
does this parallel what you were saying earlier about your philosophy of not
thinking about anything, that emptiness is more?
well, kind of. But, no, I mean that's just more like just the space between the
notes. I mean, yeah, I guess you can draw a parallel. But in the space between
the drum notes there's music going on as well.
also stated in past interviews that, because of overexertion while drumming, you
were on a wheatgrass juice regimen to help correct your health problems. Are you
still doing that now?
As much as
you do anything else?
WG: You know
the thing that really helped me the most was just, uh, cleaning my digestive
system. [laughs] That was the biggest one. But exercising as much as possible.
do you do when you exercise?
particular martial art?
Going back to eating healthfully, do you have a sweet tooth?
WG: More so
now than ever before.
Chocolate, man. I love chocolate.
you air drum?
WG: Bands of
the drummers that I'm listening to that I like. I'm a better air drummer than
I'm a drummer, actually.
that because the air is emptiness...?
Which drummer do you admire more: Keith Moon or John Bonham?
you describe why?
Moon: he was who I first really looked up to when I was a kid. Just his reckless
abandon, like his personality shining through so powerfully in his drumming. He
was honestly expressing himself and just was off the handle. And John Bonham for
his taste and restraint and choosing his moments, his sense of feel for the
pocket. So both equally for different reasons.
you have any heroes aside from musicians?
WG: Yeah, I
"It's the space in between the notes that are the most
you tell us whom?
hmmm... Depends on whether I want to get into this or not. [pause] Let's not get
are your top five albums of all time?
Why is that?
WG: I just
love a lot of different records. And I can't ever say "These are the absolute
top five." I just can't. I can't look at things like that.
So you can't rank your own songs and you can't rank your favorite
WG: I don't
like to rate things. I don't believe in things coming in first place. [laughs] I
think just everything is a winner.
Speaking of albums, is there any new material for The Fire Theft's sophomore
WG: A lot of
skeletons. So there's still quite a bit of work to do.
old are they?
WG: Some are
a few years old. Some are as recent as two months.
Even though you guys have been busy touring, you've
still been creating the basics of your new material?
There have been the basic skeletal things laying around.
We've got recordings of tons of different song ideas that Nate
[Mendel] and I were gonna start sorting through actually pretty soon.
Can you describe any sneak previews?
It remains to be
you mentioned how Jeremy's presence in your life has really changed your music.
What's it like working with him?
like working with a family member, you know. It's like working with your
brother. So there's unconditional love; and then there's fun; and then there's
he a perfectionist?
[pause] I think all of us are to a degree. But I don't know. A part of me can
say "yes," but I don't like to pigeonhole.
So Jeremy's kind of like your brother—
He is your brother. You two are so close, you've
even lived with him.
Right, for four years.
Inquiring minds want to know: does he sing in the shower?
[laughs] uh, no.
Seriously. He sings in the bath.
TMT: On a
truly more serious note, the band's got a great web site run by one of your
biggest fans, John DeSpirito. Do you read the message board at all?
WG: No. I've
never seen the web site. I don't get on computers. I've never been on the
Aren't you tempted?
WG: No. Not
in the slightest.
WG: I just
don't have any interest. And I don't like to message board things. It's like
what other people think about me or the band is none of my business.
don't you want to hear people praise you guys?
because I'm my own worst critic. And then there's times when I'm also feeling
good about what I'm doing; and I don't need other people to figure that out for
me. Other people's opinions about me is, like I said, is just absolutely none of
my business. I just have no need to know.
about the other band members?
WG: I think
Jeremy has and Nate has. Well, okay, I did see it once. One time they threw some
responses on there, and I was like, "Okay, include me in it."
to announce that drummer Scott Jernigan, your friend, passed away last summer.
I'm sorry about that.
Now we're going to get kind
of broad here. For your very personal gift of music, is there anything you can
think of that you would want from your fans in return?
Enthusiasm, I guess. I dunno. Enthusiasm is really nice. But I dunno. I mean I
try not to have expectations.
TFT are still fairly new and you're touring right now
to try to build up more of a fan base—
So fans going out to your shows to express support would
It's weird being in a new band when Jeremy and I realized we've
been playing together for 16 years. We're like, "Man, that's weird."
How popular would you like to go? And do you think
you'd be happy with that amount of popularity?
Uh... [pause] I
don't know if "popularity" is the word. I mean I think we'd like to be
successful so we can keep doing it, so we can keep making records. But I don't
think we're necessarily aiming for popularity. To have as many people connect
with this music as possible is something that we want.
And you guys are definitely getting out there now. You even have
a few Lollapalooza dates set up. What's your opinion of that?
WG: I'm sure
it'll be weird. I know we're playing on the same day as The Flaming Lips and I
really like them. So that's really cool.*
you could say any one thing in this interview to help people out, what would it
stop identifying with your mind; i.e. your mind isn't who you are; your thoughts
aren't who you are.
Then who are you?
Something far more intelligent.
* Lollapalooza 2004 has since been cancelled and, true to their word, the
band is currently working on new material.