Molly Venter and Eben Pariser are the husband-and-wife musical team behind the New Haven-based band Goodnight Moonshine. Their new album is called “I’m the Only One Who Will Tell You, You’re Bad.” WSHU’s Davis Dunavin spoke with Venter and Pariser about the album’s themes of celebrating partnership and grappling with loss.
Below is a transcript of their conversation.
DUNAVIN: Both Venter and Pariser come from bands with a more traditional Americana feel — Venter is in the band Red Molly and Pariser is the frontman of Roosevelt Dime. Goodnight Moonshine is a different direction for them. They came to WSHU’s studios to perform a few songs, including “January Skies.” It’s a really interesting song to me. It just feels — it feels — and I don’t know if it is, but it feels very autobiographical. There’s details in there, that to me, just have to be drawn from real life. How real is it?
VENTER: That’s funny that you should ask, ‘cause I lived in Texas for ten years and there are a lot of details in that song that I kind of picked out from those times in Texas. But the song is really about falling in love with Eben, and we first met in somewhat of a violent headbutting accident in a hotel in Memphis. So it was not very romantic, our initial meeting, so when I went to write the song, like, all of the feelings are real but all of those details are fictional for us.
PARISER: You’re kind of asking one of the biggest questions which is: ‘What is real?’ I mean what is more real, a photograph or a painting? And it’s sort of that same type of thing where maybe some of this stuff didn’t exactly happen detail for detail, but it’s all very real to us.
DUNAVIN: Well, what’s it like to write about real people? Both of you come from a little more traditional Americana backgrounds, is this something that’s new or have you always kind of been approaching more raw, more confessional type of songwriting?
VENTER: Yeah, I grew up listening to the more, the Elaine Griffith, the Tracy Chapman — even Ani DiFranco —
PARISER: Yeah and for me when it’s just a solo singer with an acoustic guitar and that kind of content, it overwhelms me and it’s too much. So I’ve always been interested in finding how the music can support these themes and how you can say something really difficult to say. But packaged up in the right musical product it could become not only palatable, but cathartic.
VENTER: When you go deeply personal, you become universal. So, to be able to, kind of, craft these songs that still, you know, were really emotional for me to write, but then you put music around it, or maybe you try to make it a little more fun. Like I have a song that’s a lot about death, but it’s called “Bowie,” it’s kind of fun.
DUNAVIN: You’re referencing things like Bowie, but you’re also drawing I think from things that might not be so apparent. It’s a very literary style of songwriting.
VENTER: I’m someone who’s just gobbling up so much information all the time in the form of podcasts and radio and interviews, books, articles, you know, about philosophy, about a lot of things. I find myself, sometimes, loving this new book I read and then fumbling over my words when I go to try to talk about it to somebody so, you know, I use the songwriting process as a way to just stop my brain. I don’t have an agenda, I just start making sounds, and they don’t come from nowhere, they come from whatever I was reading, or the movie I watched last week. But they come because I’ve let everything go, and I’m not trying hard to think about anything.
DUNAVIN: One of my absolute favorite songs on the album is “We Need You,” which I felt to be a very hopeful, encouraging song.
VENTER: I just remember seeing something from a reporter, it was Van Jones, and he was going into people’s houses and he was trying to understand their perspective and share with them his perspective. And at one point, he was just like, ‘’Cause we need you man, we need you.’ And I just, it hit me, like we really do need everybody, in whatever capacity, we can get on each other’s side, and hear each other out, I do think we have to figure out a way to get along. You know, people are difficult, we’re all difficult, and you realize that in a marriage and you realize that in a band.
DUNAVIN: Venter and Pariser are in both a marriage and a band. And a lot of their songs address the ups and downs of marriage in a frank and honest way. Like this one, “Lost and Found.” That honest depiction of marriage is reflected by the album’s title, “I’m the Only One Who Will Tell You, You’re Bad.” [LAUGHTER] Where does the title come from?
VENTER: I’m so glad you asked. We thought it would make a good —
PARISER: I think it kind of encapsulates the couple dynamic pretty well. You’re lucky if you’ve got someone to tell you how far out of line you are. You’re lucky if you’ve got someone to tell you that your clothes don’t fit or that you really need a shower. Whatever it is.
DUNAVIN: You’re husband and wife, you’re in it for the long term. What do you think for the future? More of this kind of collaboration, closer collaboration? Where do you see it going?
VENTER: I want our writing to get better, I want our singing to get better and more entangled. And we —
PARISER: And we want to drill down deeper. We want to give people that insight into our inner life, as much as we feel comfortable with and can do. Honestly, a really compelling look inside of a relationship — the most common, basic, vanilla relationship imaginable, husband and wife — really rare in musical form. ‘Cause every song you hear is about someone they’re not with, or someone alone, talking about their, their, their, experience, every, every song —
VENTER: Or falling in love, right at the beginning.
PARISER: Which, again, is totally one-sided. So to explore that in a way that feels healthy and interesting and not terribly shy seems like there’s a place in the musical world for that kind of content to exist.