When Goners formed in 2012, the garage-punk trio adopted a mindset similar to Jim Carrey’s character in the film “Yes Man,” a loan officer who challenges himself to eliminate the word no from his vocabulary.
“We decided we’d just say yes to every show we got asked to play,” said singer/guitarist Alex Mussawir, who joins bandmates Catherine Elicson (drums/vocals) and Aaron Miller (bass) for a concert at 4th St. Bar & Grill on Thursday, May 8. “So we played at a lot of places and with bands we otherwise wouldn’t have. It was about trying to not have any set opinions or feelings and just being open to the experience.”
The band embraces a similar open-mindedness when it comes to music, and Mussawir, 22, reached by phone outside Milwaukee in the midst of a week-long tour, said the band had listened to everything from Suicidal Tendencies to Alanis Morissette during its time in the van. It’s a diversity reflected in the group’s output, which swings from scrappy, riff-driven burners (“Too Much, Too Soon”) to more somber turns like “Builders,” a fuzzy, slow-rolling number inspired, in part, by a Richard Yates short story where Mussawir casts himself in the role of a rock ’n’ roll Charlie Brown, singing, “Right now I feel so dumb/ I feel so unaware.”
In general, the frontman said he’s drawn to writing downcast tunes, and many of the band’s songs echo the struggles of being in your early 20s and trying to figure out what exactly comes next. Witness “Teenage Depression,” where the singer tries to shake the rain cloud that’s hovered over him since his days as a student at Clintonville’s Whetstone High School.
“I was sad in high school a lot, but I feel like a lot of people were,” he said. “That song was feeling like it’s not any different now in terms of a lot of things.”
Then, as in now, Mussawir, who started playing guitar in sixth grade because he wasn’t good at sports and he felt, in his own words, “a vague pressure to do something,” coped with these complex emotions by immersing himself in music, frequently skipping class to browse the stacks at Used Kids and Magnolia Thunderpussy. But while his truancy often went unpunished at home, his tastes in music did occasionally raise his father’s ire.
“I remember in the sixth grade I bought Take Off Your Pants and Jacket by Blink-182 … and when my dad heard me listening to it and he took me back to [the store] and bought me The Wall by Pink Floyd and made me listen to that instead,” he said, and laughed. “It was funny, because even now I still don’t like Pink Floyd.”
Photo by Jodi Miller