On the evening of May 23, singer-songwriter Austin Jewell sent out a tweet about the fact that, as the lead vocalist for his band, Goose, he would soon fulfill a dream he and co-frontman Kevin Jones, both 25, had harbored since the days of their high school garage band almost a decade prior.
“Attempting to look calm but am terribly nervous right meow,” the feline tweet read. “Let’s do this Riverfest.”
A picture alongside the message showed Jewell propped against a loading ramp in a psychedelic button-down. An anxious mien beneath sepia shades revealed what seemed a weighted understanding that, far from the empty-garage womb of his and Jones’ fledgling high school band, Wayside, Goose had arrived. They went on at 6:30 p.m., opening Riverfest for one of the most prolific rock ‘n’ roll bands of the 1970s and ’80s, Chicago. What the photo didn’t show was that Jewell did it barefoot.
“I like to play barefoot,” Jewell said. “It just makes me feel like I’m playing in my own house.”
But in front of the early crowd at Riverfest, Jewell couldn’t deny that Goose had made it out of the living room and onto the Coors Light stage, deservingly. The band’s resume lists venues like George’s Majestic Lounge in Fayetteville and Juanita’s in Little Rock, as well as a loyal and far-flung fan base comprised of children and young adults alike, including many students from the University of Arkansas, where Jewell and Jones attended college. But, in spite of its success, the band remains a small-scale, independent operation with no record label and a strapped budget.
So when they needed money to produce their third album, they turned to the crowdfunding website Kickstarter. They finished the fundraiser in August, amassing more than $10,000 for the record, set for release this coming winter. The new album, as yet unnamed, will blend the mixed sounds of Goose’s first album, “Bad Idea,” (2010) and the more cohesive folksiness of “Champagne and Wine” (2012).
Jewell wrote the music for “Bad Idea” over the course of his high school and college years, and the album’s thematic diversity reflects this. An environmentalist plea in “If You Won’t Then I Will” kicks off a record that also includes a resonant piano love song, “If She’s Not You,” and a few rips on an electric guitar in “Soul Searching.”
Goose producers Kyle Reeves and Joe Kane pushed for a more consistent sound on the follow up, “Champagne and Wine,” and together in the studio, Jones and Jewell worked out a mode that Jewell calls “Americana partyfolk.”
“R&B,” he said. “Rhythm and banjo.”
The music featured in “Champagne and Wine” generally flows lightly and loosely, laying a folk feeling over sounds inspired by singer-songwriters like Jack Johnson and Jason Isbell, as well as groups like Guster and Dave Matthews Band. “What Am I Running From,” features a tambourine, a harmonica and, of course, a banjo. “Champagne and Wine,” the album’s namesake, uses an acoustic guitar and a bluesy harmonica beneath lyrics about a beautiful woman with “hair like champagne, lips like wine.”
“Very rarely do I write a song with a purpose in mind … or something I’m drawing from,” Jewell said. “Usually it’s just me creating a story. There were songs in high school — one song called ‘Lazy Fish,’ and it was just a song about a fish, kind of the same thing.
“The way I write songs is I’ll just start playing music and singing jibberish and the first line will just pop up and that’ll be the theme.”
Jewell said people told him that, in contrast to “Bad Idea,” the partyfolk sound of “Champagne and Wine” “sounded more like me.” But at the same time, Jones and Jewell both said, the new album will feature a range of different sounds, though all anchored to the musical theme developed in the production of their second album.
“We just bring all of our influences, so that could be Aretha Franklin or Mariah Carey or it could be DMB or Jack Johnson and Stevie Wonder,” Jones said. “Maybe you think dance music, but then Austin writes some of the greatest love songs. We’re just kind of our own thing.”
For Goose, it seems authenticity is multiplicity. “Our own thing” can mean a lot of things: humor, psychedelic clothing, spontaneous dancing (featured in their Kickstarter promo video) and, increasingly, the sounds of banjos, harmonicas and acoustic guitars. And sometimes “our own thing” means bare feet.