photo by Carla Cummings
Their Amazing Rise and Inglorious Fall
by Peter Crigler
Goldfinger came out in a time when ska and punk had blended together in a beautiful, seamless fashion. When they came out in 1996, they were fresh, cool and inventive. But as the years went on, they began treading water and ultimately found their career lying down in the dirt while hundreds of other bands they helped give birth to passed them by, being unable or unwilling to help them out. Finally, they found their personal differences going public in a very nasty way.
But it didn’t always feel like that. The genesis of Goldfinger starts with a band called Electric Love Hogs. They formed in L.A. in the late eighties and jumped on the hair metal bandwagon that was slowly dwindling at that point. Though they managed to sign a big deal with Polygram Records and had Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee co-produce their 1992 self-titled debut, they had little else going for them and the record flopped. Ironically, the members ended up having much more success after the split. Lead guitarist Dave Kushner went on to join Velvet Revolver, rhythm guitarist Donni Campion ended up joining post-hardcore supergroup Handsome while drummer Bobby Hewitt started Orgy. Vocalist/guitarist John Feldmann drifted for a few years, before winding up working at a shoe star in L.A.
While there, he met bassist Simon Williams and they decided to start a new band and go in a new direction. Hooking up with guitarist Charlie Paulson and playing with a succession of drummers before meeting Darrin Pfeiffer, they named the new band Goldfinger and began playing around L.A. and making demos. Around the same time, Feldmann started working at Mojo Records, a small label that was making a wave in the industry. Feldmann started signing bands and one of them was Reel Big Fish, who quickly made a huge splash at rock radio in the spring of 1996 and went on to have a very successful career. Shortly thereafter, Goldfinger signed their own deal with Mojo and went into the studio to begin working on their debut album.
In the summer of 1996, when ska punk seemed to be at its zenith in popularity, their self-titled debut was released and the first single, “Here in Your Bedroom” took off at modern rock radio and pretty soon the video was all over MTV and before the band knew what had hit it, the album had gone gold and they were headlining clubs and theatres all over the country. After seemingly a year of nonstop touring, the band went back to the studio to craft their sophomore record. In the fall of 1997, Hang-Ups was released and proceeded to stall on the charts. The first single, a kind of down tempo track, “This Lonely Place” didn’t set the airwaves on fire but the video, a very tongue in cheek parody of Aliens managed to get a lot of airplay on MTV. Undeterred, the band went back out on the road and toured with the likes of 311 and Fishbone.
1998 rolled around and the band kept busy by recording songs for various soundtracks including The Waterboy and BASEketball. In the summer of ’98, bassist Simon Williams departed the band and started his own projects. To fill the void, the band recruited Feldmann’s former Electric Love Hogs bandmate Kelly LeMieux to come in. During the downtime in recording, the band released the live covers EP Darrin’s Coconut Ass: Live from Omaha and contributed a track to the first American Pie soundtrack. In 1999, the band finally reentered the studio to begin work on their third record.
In the spring of 2000, they came back to the record racks with Stomping Ground, the record charted very well in America but then quickly fell from sight. The record became a smash in Europe where the band spent the majority of their time touring. They ended up having a hit single in Europe with a cover of Nena’s cheesy ‘80s new wave classic “99 Luft Balloons.” Over the subsequent months, the band underwent a label change as Mojo’s parent company merged with the Zomba Label Group, which meant that bands like Goldfinger and Reel Big Fish now recorded for Jive Records, home of the Backstreet Boys, ‘N Sync and Britney Spears. The band had no choice in the matter but around this time, John Feldmann began to get distracted by outside interests.
He had begun using his connections to get several bands major label deals and in return, helped them write or produce several songs; bands that benefited from this included Mest and Showoff. When Goldfinger got their act together and went back into the studio to work on album number four, they welcomed a new member, Brian Arthur, formerly of the nu metal band Unloco that Feldmann had signed to Maverick Records. Charlie Paulson left the band halfway through the recording sessions, leaving only two original members. The band were joined in the studio by friends from other bands including Lefty, Mest, Good Charlotte and a new band that Feldmann was producing for Reprise Records, The Used.
When Goldfinger’s record Open Your Eyes was released in the spring of 2002, it was greeted as a return to form back to basics record. The band even managed to get back on the radio in America with the title track. But the lyrics started to take on a bit of a preachy feel. Feldmann had become a big advocate of animal rights and veganism and all the seeming hypocrisy of everything around him. But the band were able to inject their well established sense of humor on the proceedings; one of their more famous songs live was “FTN,” which stood for 'Fuck Ted Nugent,' a slam of that chauvinistic macho SOB. After touring behind the record, Feldmann dove headfirst into producing, writing and discovering new bands. During this time, he had a hand in bringing The Used, Good Charlotte and Story of the Year to America’s attention.
While Feldmann was off doing his own thing, the other members stayed behind the curtain, laying low and working on material for the next record. Sometime during all of this, the band split from Mojo/Jive/Zomba and signed a deal with Maverick Records, whom coincidentally, Feldmann worked for at the time. Finally, in 2005, the band reemerged with Disconnection Notice, a more political record that was seemingly missing a lot of the fun that marked the band’s earlier material. The first single, a song with heavy influence from Flogging Molly, “Wasted” was co-written by Benji Madden from Good Charlotte. The band’s influence was now widespread over alternative radio but it couldn’t help the band’s own career. Not long into the touring schedule for the record, the band announced that Charlie Paulson would be returning to the band, marking them as 3/4ths back to their classic lineup.
During this new downtime, Mojo/Jive/Zomba released The Best of Goldfinger, complete with a bonus DVD of some music videos and on some copies, a video of PETA investigating slaughterhouses. This didn’t go over too well with the band’s core fanbase and the subsequent years would see the band struggling to win back their fanbase once again. But for the time being, Feldmann became an in demand producer, working with the likes of everyone from Ashlee Simpson and Hilary Duff to Atreyu and Escape the Fate. Disconnection Notice ended up becoming the band’s biggest disappointment and the band took a break as Feldmann went back to producing and taking care of his new family.
About two years later in 2007, the band announced they had left Maverick and had signed a new deal with the smaller but much more relevant Side One Dummy, one of the most lauded punk indie labels. They then started working on their next record. In the summer of 2008, in the midst of Feldmann’s busy schedule, their sixth album, Hello Destiny was released. Upon its release, the band got some good critical notice for going back to their old, established sound but beyond that there was not much to recommend about the album. Songs like “Handjobs for Jesus” just made them look like they were unable to grow up. Hell, even Lagwagon and NOFX have written mature songs. In the end, the album basically backfired on them, instead of reestablishing their fanbase and allowing them to gracefully grow old like Bad Religion they were starting to become a joke, like the Offspring.
After touring and putting on a brave face, the band went on another break as Feldmann got more and more busy working with other bands. Now he was seen as some kind of guru for pop bands and for punk bands trying to find their place on the radio. It was during this time he began working with bands established bands like Neon Trees, Plain White T’s and Panic! At the Disco and smaller, more tween friendly bands like Four Year Strong, Allstar Weekend and Attack! Attack. He also started creating bands, putting together the ‘emo’ supergroup D.R.U.G.S. (Destroy Rebuild Until God Shows), comprised of members of Matchbook Romance, Chiodos, From First to Last and Story of the Year, among others. He produced their album, got them signed and may have even helped with the songwriting.
During this time, Goldfinger continued touring, playing the odd show here and there. A memorable show in 2010 featured Branden Steineckert of Rancid filling in for Darrin Pfeiffer and former bassist Simon Williams joining the band for some oldies. After that, they retreated back to the studio and began working on a seventh album. By 2011, Feldmann reported that the drum tracks had been completed and they were just waiting for everything else to get done. But near the end of 2012, no album had surfaced and no word from the band was forthcoming regarding the circumstances behind the scenes. Then in November of 2012, it was reported that the band was heading to Australia to play some shows but it would be with a different lineup. Kelly LeMieux and Darrin Pfeiffer went on Facebook and announced to fans that they would not be joining Feldmann on the upcoming shows due to personality differences between the four of them.
Feldmann stunned their fanbase by going to Australia with Aaron from Reel Big Fish, Mike from MxPx and Aaron from D.R.U.G.S. as the temporary lineup of Goldfinger. Since those shows in the fall, no more word has been forthcoming from the Goldfinger camp or from the individual members as to what the hell has been going on. Feldmann is still busy producing bands like We Came as Romans and Black Veil Brides. He also works as an A&R man for Red Bull Records and helps many other bands and artists out as a songwriter for hire. The other three are busy with their own pursuits and bands and seem perfectly content if there wasn’t any more Goldfinger. Their fans on the other hand, are hoping the band can resolve their differences and stage a comeback equal to Green Day in 2004 and not equal to what the Offspring are currently doing as of 2013.
See/hear more about Goldfinger at their official website
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