By David Rolland
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It's hard to say which is more awesome: Rachel Goodrich's catchy song "The Black Hole" or its lo-fi video. In it, she sings while kneeling on her friend's unmade bed; she's wearing, for no particular reason, a ladybug costume and a pair of sunglasses. Meanwhile, her friend Jon Estes plays the double bass.
There is just something sublimely perfect about the clip, and about Goodrich herself. Maybe it's her goofiness. Maybe it's her genuineness. Maybe it's that she kicks ass on, like, 16 different instruments, including spoons. Whatever it is, as soon as people get wind of this chick, they want to be her friend. At least one dude has asked to be her boyfriend. At the very least, listeners get her songs stuck in their head for three weeks. She just has that effect.
Take, for example, the show Goodrich played at PS14, in downtown Miami, last month. The minute she plugged in her amp, her smile seemed too big for her head, her voice seemed too big for the room, and members of the audience could be overheard declaring her their New Favorite Singer. She wore Converse, suspenders, and not a lick of makeup. Her shiny brown ponytail snaked in front of her shoulder. (The girl can pull off bangs.) The crowd swooned collectively as though developing a giant crush. Where was Oprah's couch when you needed it?
"I got a shovel the size of a teacup," Goodrich whispered into the mic like a secret, making the "p" in "teacup" pop for her song "Little Brass Bear." "A dream as big as China," she sang louder, her voice breaking into a gallop, and then — "we can go far, we can go far" — brought back down to a trot. Then her kazoo kicked in.
At any given show, Goodrich might play by herself or invite a rotating cast of friends. It helps if said friends know how to handle an upright bass, or come with something interesting to bang on. On this particular night, she was joined by a drummer with a drum kit, plus a bowtied percussionist who had brought along what looked like a kitchen rack draped with chimes and blocks and — was that a bicycle seat? He wielded a drumstick in one hand; with the other, he rattled a tambourine. The supporting musicians had also coordinated their outfits; it was easy to imagine them calling one another before the show, asking, "Do you have a shirt with black-and-white stripes? A pair of aviators?"
Goodrich calls her mostly upbeat music "shake-a-billy:" "Not rockabilly — it doesn't rock, it shakes." Although she just turned 24, there is something classic about her, and she treats her voice not like a product to be perfected but a toy to be played with. It warbles here, it sails there, now it slips into country twang. The word "joyful" comes to mind.
A few days after her show, Goodrich, rocking a pair of red stretch jeans, rides her ten-speed to a South Beach café. She says the affection she's getting has been a surprise: It's not just dutiful friends who come out and support her anymore. She notices clubbers, headbangers, and etceteras at the increasingly packed shows. "I don't know where they came from," she muses. "That's what I love the most, though. That part of the adventure. Bringing people together. Not clashing, but meshing."
Born and raised in and around Miami, Goodrich began playing music when she was 5 or 6 years old and hanging out with her dad. "He'd play guitar, I'd tap my foot," she explains. He never forced music lessons, but "he did kind of throw it in my face. And I was like, 'I'll take it!'"
She tackled guitar at age 12, and for her bat mitzvah was allowed to get a "real" one — the choice came down to either a Rickenbacker or a Les Paul. The Les Paul was too heavy, so she took the Rick. "I loved the tone of it," she says.
In tenth grade she started to collaborate with her best friend Johnny D., and together they formed an alt-grunge outfit, Deezel, and wrote songs about teenage angst, running away, and of course "love — stupid love." She remembers her mom bringing her to her first gig at Churchill's, and being allowed to play at Señor Frog's on the beach. "That was huge. Quarter beer night — underage kids getting wasted!"
When the time came to break up with the band, she moved to Gainesville and tried studying music at the University of Florida. "School was like the excuse," she says. But she just "didn't dig it. It stunted my growth." So she split and just learned all she could from her records — mostly old blues masters, Joni Mitchell, and anybody who could coax sweet tunes out of a ukulele. (Although her own music isn't noodly, the girl has an unabashed love for the Grateful Dead.)
After that, she says, "I spent two years in my bedroom. My own little universe." When she flung the door open and emerged, she made music her only job and started playing around town in full force. That's how she met good pals and local musicians like Raffa & Rainer and Jesse Jackson. "We all love each other and help each other out," Goodrich says of the tight-knit scene. "What a beautiful friendship." She went on tour with Raffa up to North Carolina, and she has played as far as New York and Boston. When she performed a set at South by Southwest this past March, some called it her "coming-out party."