Deb Googe is best known for her work as bassist for the bands My Bloody Valentine, Primal Scream, and most recently, The Thurston Moore Group. She has played keyboards with the massed fuzz organ experimentalists band Pimmel and she has also played drums and she has done backing vocals for Rockhard. In
2014, she joined Thurston Moore for his solo project The Best Day, alongside Steve Shelley, and the UK musician James Sedwards.

HVUM: Thanks for taking time to interview with us. We know that you hail from Yeovil, Somerset, England and it seems that you launched your music career with the Bikini Mutants along with Christine Cole, Dave Goldsworthy and Martin Herring. You were very much part of the west country scene and appeared along with The Mob and The Review. You joined My Bloody Valentine in the mid-1980’s to mid-1990s and the from 2008. In between you played with Katharine Gifford in rock band Snowpony. You teamed up with Thurston Moore in 2014.

Assuming we have the story straight, rewind and tell us a bit about how you came to decide on a music career. What led you to want to play music professionally? Was it part of a very deliberate plan or did you evolve into music and rock?

DG: I’m not sure I’ve ever really evolved and I definitely never had a plan but yes you have got the story more or less straight. I would just add that I played with Primal Scream for the best part of 2012, cause I did and I wouldn’t want to upset them by making them think I’d forgotten them.

Like I said, there was never a plan, I was just into music. As a kid I used to listen to the radio endlessly, pop, glam, that sort of stuff. I never thought about playing music, no one really played music in my family. We did have a little Bontempi organ which was very cute but not particularly useful and my dad had a mandolin, which was beautiful but I don’t remember him playing it that much, mind you he didn’t really have the time, he was working pretty much every waking hour as there were six little Googes to feed.

My first musical involvement was around the age 14 when I was asked to form a little group as part of a project in my music class. There were four of us (Joanne, Karen, Alyce and me), none of us actually had an instrument but Karen had a brother who played guitar, so because of her proximity to an actual instrument she sort of became band leader, she then bestowed various roles on the rest of us. She named herself the guitarist, obviously, and I was told I was the bassist. I didn’t actually have a bass or much of an idea of what a bass player did but I knew that was Suzi Quatro was a bass player and a women and she looked cool, so I was very happy with my new position.

Unsurprisingly that band never did anything but it did evolve into a band that did actually play a couple ‘gigs’. We were bloody awful, we had no drummer, no musical skills, no idea what so ever. We played covers somehow managing to shoehorn the same three chords into anything from Leader of the Pack to Smoke on the Water. Looking back it must have been totally bizarre for anyone unfortunate enough to have actually seen us, we would definitely have given the Shagg’s a run for their money.

But then, fortunately for me punk happened and that just totally shifted the goalposts. Suddenly it wasn’t about musicianship so much as attitude and as a 15 year musical illiterate you can imagine that was very appealing. So I adopted anarchy, concentrated on one string instead of pretending to play four and that was it really. Things haven’t really evolved too much since then but for some reason I’m still getting away with it.

HVUM: Thanks for the correction on Primal Scream. Your career really took root during a period when there was a revolt against establishment or mainstream rock of the time leading to hard edged and stripped-down instrumentation, and in fact, that period gave rise to what we know today as a D.I.Y. Reflecting, where was your musical head in (say) 1980 and where are you today? We’re interested in knowing about your musical mindset.

DG: Yes you’re right, in the late 70’s/ early 80s I was very involved in the anarco punk scene. Starting when I was a teenager in Somerset, we would put on gigs and we had a fanzine and eventually a record label called All the Madmen. The hub of our little world was the garage/shed at my friend Gem’s parent’s house (she was the original guitarist with Bikini Mutants…you missed her!). It was totally DIY and actually a very creative and productive space and time. And like a lot of things that happen at that stage in your life, mid/late teens, it sort of informs and shapes you for the rest of your life. I’m still friends with a lot of people from that era and I still hold a lot of those beliefs.

Having been involved with major labels over the years I appreciate that not everybody associated that side of the business is evil, in the way that I thought they were when I was a kid, there’s some great people and of course there’s a lot of really amazing music released and developed on major labels but I still think there’s a lot to be said for the DIY/indepent scene, whatever you want to call it.

The internet has had such a phenomenal effect on the world and of course the music industry has been as effected as everything else by it, maybe more. These days we really are able to release music completely independently. The last MBV record was released not only without a major label but without any major distribution or major streaming services (iTunes/ Spotify ect) involved. I think it’s great that you can do that. I’m not saying it’s the only way or the best way but it a great option to have.

Really though, how the music is released or whether is does or doesn’t get released is just one part of the story. The main thing that came out of the punk era for me and the thing that is still very important is the attitude to the music itself. And I think that the bands I been involved with, regardless of their relationship to major labels have always been very uncompromising when it comes to the music and that to me is the most important thing.

HVUM: Two questions…. There is a very impressive line of female bassists and there are flashy bassists and solid traditional bassists like Carol Kaye (interviewed by HorizonVU in 2014). What draws you to the bass? What makes for a great bassist?

DG: As I said before I was kind of told to play bass by Karen but I am very happy that she did because I love the bass and I think it suits my personality. I’m not the most delicate person and I’m incredibly, almost comically clumsy, so I think the physicality of the bass suits me.

I don’t think there’s any one thing that makes one bass player better than the other, like all musicians it’s more important that you suit the band you are playing with. MBV would sound completely different if they had a really super busy bass player, and to be honest I don’t think they would be the MBV bass player very long.

Personally I prefer what I suppose would be considered unfussy, more riffy style bass playing or melodic stuff over really technically flashy playing. I love Carol Kaye who you just mentioned, I think she’s an absolute amazing she never overplays and what she does play always feels like a really integral part of the song. I guess I’m not particularly fond of really busy bass playing but I totally appreciate it is technically very good and I can see why it suits some kind of music but it’s just not really my thing, but that’s just my ignorance, it doesn’t mean that they’re not great players.

HVUM: Thinking about The Thurston Moore Group, you all have ties to what we (for better or worse) like to call “alternative” or “experimental”. Apart from individual lineages you, Steve, James and Thurston have taken parts in scrapping pigeonholed views of rock, experimenting with rhythm, dissonance, instrumentation, noise and electronics. What is first and foremost in the collaboration?

DG: First and foremost are the songs, and that is the same with all the bands I’ve played with.
Thurston is definitely more open to improvisation, especially live but the starting point is always the song and they are very much formed in Thurston’s head first, so not really a collaboration.

Thurston likes to work very fast so most of the recordings on the albums are only the third / fourth time we’ve played through the song as a band. Sometimes we have been introduced to the idea during a soundchecks on tour but often he introduces stuff in the studio just before we record it. And he’s fairly relaxed with his directions, he might just say something like hold back in that bit or push that a bit more, that kind of thing.

Live though is different, lots of the songs have room to expand when we play them live and those change every night but I never think before hand: ‘I’m going to play this or do that during that bit tonight,’ because there’s three other people up there and you have to listen to what they are doing too, so in that respect there’s never anything that’s more important, you just try and make it sound like you’re all on the same journey.

HVUM: Let’s have a look and listen to The Thurston Moore Group playing earlier this year in Helsinki.

HVUM: Looking over your musical track record, are there any very special moments that you consider to be a career highpoint, the kind of memory that can keep you going on in the toughest of times?

DG: No there’s no one particular highpoint. The whole thing kind of amazes me. I’m constantly surprised I’ve got away with it this long. I am very aware that there are a lot of musicians who are technically much better than I am who never make it past the bedroom. I have been very lucky, I’ve managed to survive doing something that I love and I’ve worked with some amazing and really lovely people so I think the whole thing’s been pretty special.

HVUM: It seems that we’ve come to a point in the recorded music business where heavy use of audio processing effects, multitracking, pitch correction and quantization have become commonplace. Where do you draw a line between experimentation or innovation and mechanically minded studio manipulation?

DG:I don’t think you should draw the line. There’s lots of very experimental music created by using those effects, there’s also a lot of very, to my mind, bland music but I think there’s room for everything, just cause I don’t personally like something I don’t think that make it any less valid. Besides l do love a lot of pop music, as much as I love experimental music, I always have.

I grew up listening to all that Chinn and Chapman stuff that came out in the early 70’s, they produced loads of great pop records: The Sweet, and Suzi Quotro of course. Mike Chapman went on to produced Parallel Lines by Blondie. I’m sure they used everything at their disposal to make great pop records and they were very successful at it. Technology has moved on a lot since then but I’m sure they would still use whatever they could if they thought it would make a better record today. I don’t see anything wrong in it at all.

I don’t think you should really judge pop against experimental music, they’re coming from different places and aiming for different end results. I actually don’t think one is more valid than the other. I guess the real difference is the machinery/business involved in selling to the public.

People can get very tied up on whether something is ‘genuine’ or ‘authentic’, the minute you record something it is processed and manipulated, I guess the thing is some artist have more say in how their music takes form but does that means the music is any more real? It’s still music, whether it’s just someone singing in the bedroom, or a totally manufactured multi million selling record. It still means something to someone, validating something by ‘nicheness’ is just as silly as validating something by the number of sales…. Ha ha, as you can see I’d never make a good business person.

HVUM: On a very personal level, what are the social issues that you care about the most? Are you a social advocate?

DG: I guess being a gay woman immediately brings up two issues that are very personal to me and I think gay rights and gender politics have arguably been the most important issues in the western world over the past decade.

But really I think they are part of a bigger issue, which is equality. I genuinely believe that most people are good and that if you treat people as equals, regardless of gender, sexual preference, the colour of their skin, their theological or spiritual beliefs or whatever. If you give people respect and kindness and understanding you will generally get that in return. And if you don’t and you are treated unfairly or contemptuously based on any of those things then you should shout out the perpetrator as the bigoted, half wit, shit-head, ignoramus, dotard (please feel free to add anything you like in here) that they are. That’s basically what I think.

HVUM: Great, we’re on the same page. Last, what’s ahead for Deb Googe? Any projects in the works or on the horizon?

DG: Yes, I’m currently in the middle of a European tour with Thurston, so my immediate plan is to finish that. Then I have a tour in the States with Thurston next February and there’s talk of a few other projects for next year. And there’s also very likely to be some MBV action next year, so all in all I think it should be a pretty interesting year.

Deb, thanks so much for your time and your very thoughtful answers to all of our questions. Your honesty and openness are appreciated. We hope to see you back in Paris with Thurston Moore, or maybe you’ll be with MBV! Either way, it will be awesome. In the meantime, enjoy the upcoming holiday season and take care. Sending you all our best wishes.