Self-described as “Chamber music for the modern era”, Goli is a dynamic post-modernistic duo that celebrates a plethora of musical eras from around the globe. With sultry classical undertones layered with a modern twist of irony, “this is not a love song” truly emulates the rhetoric of the here and now, and shape of music to come.
Valerie Thompson (cello, vocals) and Vessela Stoyanova (MIDI marimba) met when they were both studying performance at Berklee College of Music in the early 2000s. Since then, the two have been making music together in various ensembles and arrangements. Their individual virtuosity is apparent throughout the album, in tandem with their symphonious collectivity. this is not a love song also features a variety of guest musicians from Boston and beyond.
The lyrics throughout this is not a love song are unapologetically honest and raw, and beautifully pieced together to create a quilt of expression and authenticity. Individually, these songs are all incredibly moving, but listening to the album in its entirety offers a truly other-worldly perspective and serves as a wake up call to remind us that we’re only human.
The album opens with You, a comforting track that empowers the listener by reiterating what we often forget. “You’re not the only one who’s reaching out in the dark/ you’re not the only one who’s searching for something, and finding very little these days/ you’re not the only one who’s feeling disconnected/ you’re not the only one, you’re just the only you”.
This sanguine optimism continues through songs like Jills, where Thompson sings, “So what if we falter, what if we fail/Like drunken surgeons and paper ships that sail on troubled waters”.
The fourth track, Four Chord stands a stark contrast to the tracks prior, with its brash instrumentation and lyricism. “He plays in a rock band so that some day he’ll get laid/ She plays all the wrong cards so that some day she’ll get paid”. The energy encapsulated in this song is unfathomably raw and speaks to the listener in such a way that makes this track an anthem for a generation. “And you’re underage and it’s strange and you think that you found/ the question, the answer, the coolest place in town”. Every time I hear this song, I want to sing, and dance, and jump around, and maybe even fold the pile of laundry that has been sitting at the foot of my bed since God-knows-when.
Over the course of the album, Thompson grapples with the existential fear of inadequacy often brought out by the pursuit of time. In the song, Time, Thompson sings, “I feel uncertain that in this brief moment, I’ve got enough time to change the world & make it better”.
The in-betweens are equally charming in their ironic lyricism and complex musicality. Nihilist Love Song features airy, filtered vocals that confront an unacknowledged romance.“Oh! What can I do? I love lots of stupid things but I don’t love you”. Other songs, like DJ Saves The World and Valentine’s Day embrace the incandescent plutonic flame of the friend zone, ornamented with shimmering instrumentals. Thompson’s articulate vocals on Alone are refreshingly frank and point our overwhelming tendency to seek a significant other to the fear of ending up alone: “It’s not our love that keeps us together… it’s just the fear we have of living forever… Don’t want to be alone”.
A common thread of “almost” weaves the album together in a heartbreaking manner that truly reflects the tangled web of human longing and captivates the listener. In the final track, So Perfect, Thompson leaves the listener searching for answers in a sea of maybes. “Maybe I’ll hold you or just let you go, maybe I’ll kiss you or just tell you no, maybe I’ll love you forever and a day… but I’ll probably just say goodbye”. This uncertainty denies the listener the concrete conclusion that is so often handed to them in songs, and truly makes one reflect on the trend examined in this song, of how we tend often to coerce ourselves into compromise when opportunities are missed.
This album resonates with the LGBT community in its raw presentation of life’s realities. Often, as queer youth, our decisions are burdened with a significant ripple effect and thus tend to inherently be more stressful. This album affirms our struggles yet reminds us not to let these stresses consume our thoughts, and that it’s only natural to stumble and slip through certain walks of life as we travel forth in a perpetual pursuit to achieve great things.
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Valerie Thompson, lead vocalist and songwriter for Goli:
Where did the band name “GOLI” come from?
Goli comes from an irreverent Bulgarian toast. Chisto Goli! It means bare-naked. Nazdrave is the more traditional toast but I like to think of Chisto Goli as being the toast later in the evening, when all of your walls are down. So Goli means naked and we kind of interpret it from the standpoint of being exposed.You won’t be finding a Girls of Goli Calendar anytime soon but I think we present our songs as personal even when we are presenting characters in an experience.
How did you meet Vessela?
I met Vessela at the Berklee College of Music where we were both undergrads. I was one of maybe half-a-dozen cellists (out of 3,000 music students) and she was a film-scoring major. String players were a hot commodity back then and I feel like I spent half of my time at Berklee in the film-scoring recording studio playing on fellow students’ projects. She had her finger on a really cool performance art/music scene in the Boston area and she invited me to play with her for indie-films and loft parties and I was hooked. Eventually I joined the world music influenced art-rock band, Fluttr Effect, that she had started with Troy Kidwell and Jason Marchionna (they joined us on Four Chord.)
What’s the best part of being in a duo rather than a larger ensemble? What were some pros & cons of this when recording the album?
Being a duo is great! You can fit in a station wagon (even with big instruments like the cello & MIDI-Marimba!) You can decide on a whim to do a photoshoot down the street! Scheduling is easier! You have fewer people to consult when making decisions… that can be good or bad. When you are on the same page being a duo is great. When you hit an impasse, being a duo can be a real challenge. Luckily, we haven’t found ourselves in too many of those situations and while it could’ve been hard to make some decisions in the recording process if it had just been the two of us, we had an amazing co-producer in Peter Moore. He really did a great job of balance out Vess’s drive to get it done and my extreme perfectionist tendencies. A plus for the duo is that you only have to satisfy 2 people before you start asking your guest musicians to join in the fun. The adage “many hands make light work” is so applicable in today’s world of being an independent musician. As such, if it is to get done one or both of us has to do it and trying to keep any band moving forward can be a lot to do when you’ve got 4 or 5 people pushing it let alone when you’ve only got two. What we lack in manpower, we make up for with flexibility & general dexterity!
I’ve watched older videos of GOLI performances, & it’s really incredible to see how much you’ve grown over the past few years as individual musicians & as a duo. What do you attribute this growth to?
As much as I would wish for any moment of my musicianship that might be documented and shared with the larger world to be perfect & stunning, I would be a little disappointed if there wasn’t some improvement in what I was presenting. Sometimes there is quite a bit of improvement. Vess & I went back to grad school recently-ish. We both got our Masters from New England Conservatory’s Contemporary Improvisation Department and we were definitely stretched while we were there. Let us not forget that time is an amazing force. Some of the material that was written for the album comes from 2012 (which is not really that recent) but much of it dates back to as early as 2008. We’ve had time to sit with the arrangements and forget and relearn and revisit our music. Just vocally speaking, I had never really sung lead for a band before Goli got started. I still feel very green as a singer in many ways compared to the decades I’ve spent playing the cello. It is so much fun to explore what my voice can do & I find myself trying to incorporate that sense of play in my cello playing as well.
What word of advice would you like to leave for LGBTQ youth who are reading this interview?
The most important thing for us to do… Well, one of the most important things for us to do in the world is to bravely be ourselves. We have to understand that as humans we are not done, we are not finished and as such we have to treat each other with kindness and understanding as we figure out what bravely being ourselves even means. We have to always be students learning and always be teachers to those around us. Some people do not have the safety or privilege to openly pursue being themselves and so if you find yourself in a position to really be yourself, you must. People glow when they are doing what they are meant to do and being who they are meant to be. The goofiest person can turn into the most beautiful. I think this idea is important for all humans regardless of your sexual orientation/gender identity. I am an angry optimist but I believe that we can all lift each other up when we see each other truly being ourselves even when it is not popular, not accepted, and hard.
Can you talk about some of the sentiments you had in mind when writing/arranging this album?
Going into the album we knew that we wanted it to range from the small and intimate to the grander and overt, while keeping the duo of cello & MIDI-Marimba at the core of the sound. Vessela & I have honed that core over the years by trying to explore the most lush and most sparse textures we could get with just two people. The counterpoint that we cling to is something that we’ve been into for years. We worked with Peter Moore as co-producer and while Vessela & I had many arrangement ideas of our own, he often took what we had in mind and made it hipper, more colorful, and sit in a place that really supported the song. We would joke in the studio about not remembering what part of which arrangement was done by Peter or myself as the ideas blended so nicely. That’s when you know that the creative team is really working. However, all the backup vocal ideas were Peter’s and he is a wiz at that. We tried to treat each song as it’s own discreet experience sonically, so sometimes we had strings enter like flowers opening or we added some mandolin & melodica for some sass and other times we just tried to lay down our imaging of a punk song or vintage R&B shuffle.
How did the album title, ‘this is not a love song’ come about?
In many ways, the title of the album just was. We started with more songs than we needed for the album and when we tried to find a thru-line in the material we noticed that we could piece some of them together under the guise of not being love songs. Some of the songs are actually platonic love songs of a sort (You, Jill’s, Valentine’s Day) and others are more clearly about love not working for some reason or another. Actually, most of them are about love not really working. Really, the album is full of songs about love just not love songs, if that makes sense.
If you weren’t a musician, what would you be?
I would either be a teacher of just about anything (it runs in my blood) or a film editor… maybe a director but probably a film editor. There is something so amazing about the impact that a great editor can have on the pacing and proportions and sense of expectation that develops during a great film. They create the speed and tone of the narrative in many ways while trying to capture the vision of the director and that dance between ideal and the way that ideal in manipulated really intrigues me.