GOLI by Michael Bloom
seen Fluttr Effect a few times, though not as often as they deserve.
They’ve always been the kind of band that invokes both hemispheres of
the brain with equal enthusiasm, embraces all sorts of contradictions,
and just plain gets away with an awful lot of peculiar experiments.
Their instrumental lineup has always advertised exactly that: on the
one hand, a couple of guys rockin’ out on guitar and drums; on the
other, a cello and an electronic marimba—actually a MIDI controller
that looks like it was designed by NASA (and Vessela Stoyanova, who
plays it, jokingly refers to it as the massage table)—both played by
women. They couldn’t have symbolized more yin/yang union of opposites
if they’d hired Stanley Kubrick to direct.
Goli turns out to be the two women and their improbable instruments as
an independent entity. And it turns out that, though they’re not as
loud as the larger band, and they miss a little of the contrapuntal
texture, they lose none of the intensity, none of the vibrancy, and
arguably outstrips the determinedly eclectic Fluttr Effect in scope,
both stylistic and emotional. Notably, since there just aren’t any role
models for cello or marimba in rock, they get to make up their own
rules—indeed, they have to—so, among other ideas, they’ve tried to
absorb every extant popular tradition that might contribute to a
solution. Their tunes draw from a world of dance traditions, from
raucous Motown house party to that high and lonesome country twang,
from odd-meter Balkan clogs to sultry tango. Their songs are playful
and intimate; listening to one is not unlike the experience of a beach
day, complete with the appropriate trashy novel, distilled into three
Recently they opened for
Birdsongs of the Mesozoic at Johnny D’s (they’ve sat in with Birdsongs
in the past, typical of their musical elasticity) where, in the middle
of one unusually confessional song, the cellist suddenly stopped and
declared, “My name is Valerie Thompson, and I really like coffee!”
Since I myself am a caffeine-based life form, I got to do the interview.
Noise: Let me ask the naive questions first. How did Goli come to be?
Valerie: There’s two answers to this.
There’s probably two answers to everything! My answer is that when
Fluttr was on the road a lot, we would find ourselves kinda not doing
anything on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday nights, because a lot of small
towns wouldn’t have big venues. So Val and I, and Kara at the time,
started what we used to call Fluttr Effect Acoustic, and we would take
the Fluttr songs and make them into more of an intimate thing, and play
coffee shops, those sorts of places, and that way we wouldn’t leave our
money on the road. And then when we split up with Kara, then Val and I
found ourselves, just the two of us—the guys from Fluttr at the time
were not as excited to play out. The original idea was to have a
different singer for each show, do you remember that?
Valerie: We were ambitious!
Yeah, we thought we could have, like Sarah Rabdau would come and we’d
do half her songs that we’d learn and half of our songs that she would
learn. We thought it was a genius marketing plan, because her fans
would come and our fans would come. But then Valerie started writing
all these awesome songs and she started singing, and the next thing we
know, we’re like, we don’t really need anyone else, we’re perfectly
fine on our own! And we found a lot of creative fulfillment in just
doing it as it was. So at some point we decided to come up with a name
that’s not Fluttr, because honestly, the music we were playing was not
Valerie: And I don’t think as a
duo we realistically did anything that was—like we did some of your
original and my original instrumental stuff that was part of the
original Fluttr Effect Acoustic, but all the songs we were doing were
just completely different material, different direction.
At this point if we were gonna do a Fluttr song, something like
“Transmission,” we would have to credit it as a cover, because it’s
become so far away from it.
Valerie: And then
the other answer is, we’ve been playing together for ten years. We went
to school together—she recently found an old picture of us, literally
from ten years ago. And for me part of us playing together was, here we
are, and Fluttr was kind of taking a break and figuring stuff out, and
we were jonesing to play. And I think there’s a very sympathetic
background, we’re both classically trained on our instruments but have
influences, obviously from Fluttr Effect, from rock and contemporary
music in that sense, but also from different folk styles—Vess is
obviously influenced by Balkan folk music, seeing as how she grew up in
Bulgaria, and for me, kind of my folkie Americana interests, Celtic
music and stuff like that.
extremely organic too, I think the two of us have a kind of telepathy,
we rarely have to even discuss things. Usually if we have an issue or
something to be taken care of, I would call her with three sentences
into the conversation already, ’cause there’s no need for the beginning
to even be there.
Valerie: Sometimes I just
ask her questions to hear her say what I was gonna say. So Vess, how do
you feel about this? when I know the answer is the same as the answer
that I have.
Noise: Interesting to hear you say Americana, I get a very European vibe from your songs, kinda Left Bank, cabaret…
I think a lot of that comes from my classical background. There are a
lot of colors and chords that I gravitate to that totally come from
Romantic classical music. I don’t talk about it so much, it’s not so
much a part of my everyday existence, I didn’t sing for quite some
time, but when I was younger, I was classically trained in voice, and I
did study Kurt Weill and other art songs, and those sounds are
definitely an influence, and the theatrical element of some of the
vocal stuff that I think I gravitate towards comes from that classical
influence, and those songs that (sigh) I sang back in the day.
Vessela: The new song we’re working on, there’s a direct quote from Bach…
The fifth measure of the Bach cello suite, it just shows up. And I did
it on purpose, I was like, I’m totally gonna rip this from Bach, right
here! It’s always about the homage, to whatever influences you.
Part of this project isn’t just whatever original stuff we’re working
at in the moment, but we’ve had the opportunity to put together little
satellite ensembles based on this duo, and get exposed to other styles
of music that we love the sound of but have never played. We were the
pit band for a vaudeville show that a friend of ours put up in February
this past year, and we did a bunch of these Tin Pan Alley songs, which
are cute as hell! And so much fun to play—who wouldn’t want to play
them? We seek out those opportunities sometimes, to be forced to learn
music that we love the sound of, but we don’t have any other reason to
Vessela: And before that we were the
core for a tango ensemble, we did about a half hour worth of repertoire
and we arranged it for guitar, violin, viola, the two of us, accordion
and percussion. We went out and actually took tango dance lessons, and
did the whole thing, got immersed in it for a month, and did a show,
and it was very successful. For us it’s just a way to give ourselves a
reason to really sink our teeth into something.
Noise: I wanted to ask about your Bulgarian folk music heritage, were you presented with this music all your life?
Yes, I started on piano when I was six, and I started with regular
classical music, and by the time I was nine I had switched on to
percussion. And the professor who had developed the school of
percussion was a very adamant supporter of Bulgarian folk music, so his
entire school, how he taught music in general was through Bulgarian
folk music. And in addition to that, my mother is an educator in
Bulgaria whose biggest work is preserving Bulgarian folk music and
incorporating it into regular school. So between those two influences,
I grew up listening, playing, dancing, analyzing, singing, really being
immersed in the tradition.
Noise: Is it common for Bulgarian kids to get that kind of upbringing?
Not really. Actually it wasn’t hip at all, it was kind of a dorky thing
to do. We’d have these folk ensembles that were the pride of the
nation, you know, the Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices, and there were a
few other ensembles that were sponsored by the state at the time, the
communist regime, whatever. So you would hear it on TV during holidays
and stuff, but it still wasn’t hip, it wasn’t cool, everybody wanted to
duplicate Western music, and it was forbidden. American music was not
Nevertheless, it just stayed in my
system all these years. And then when I moved to the States, very
quickly, within a semester or so at Berklee, I realized how precious of
a thing I had that I never really even thought of, or that I considered
an asset. But then Berklee so concentrated on world music and there’s
so much appreciation for it that very quickly I realized that I have
something special, and I actually started a band called .wav at the
time, that had nine people from six different countries, that did all
kinds of folk music combined with surf rock, like Dick Dale stuff, and
jazz. That’s when I actually started to realize how much of a heritage
I had, that I had completely taken for granted. So now it’s a
combination of still having that background but now I’m active in
seeking good interpretations of that sort of folklore. Because the
folklore itself is starting to die, it’s not part of the culture any
more, it’s an obsolete art form that you see in a museum.
But there are a few people out there who are doing really cool stuff
with it. We recently got the luxury of opening for Theodosii Spassov,
one of my heroes from when I was 18 years old, he plays a Bulgarian
wooden flute called a kaval. And Val and I were able to open for him in
Boston, and it was one of those dreams come true, my life is just now
making the circle complete. He’s a good example of someone who’s making
the folklore, fully immersed himself into it, really knows what he’s
doing, and then taking it a step further and connecting it to
contemporary people, and found a way to make this music to not be
obsolete. And that’s part of my goal with it too. And Goli does a few
of my tunes that are heavily influenced by that.
Noise: Tell me about singing while playing the cello.
Valerie: Playing cello and singing at the same time is hard. It’s not impossible.
Vessela: It seems to be getting easier.
Valerie: It is getting easier, but that’s because a part of my brain is eating another part of my brain!
Noise: Where do the songs come from? Do you actually have imaginary friends?
I talk to myself all the time when I’m walking down the street, and
it’s really awkward! I don’t know that I have imaginary friends. I have
imaginary conversations of future interactions that will never occur.
There are totally characters from “Imaginary Friends” that are my real
I think for most songwriters it is
that way, and the balance is making sure it’s not so you-you-you that
it doesn’t connect with anyone, you know? I’m heavily influenced by
Paul Simon, and I listen to him all the time, and one of the things
that I appreciate is, there are songs that he sings that may be about
experiences that he had, but he presents them as complete and total
stories: here are my two characters, I’ve presented them, I’m just
watching this, and there are moments where I might be speaking from
this person’s voice, but I am just telling you the story that I
Vessela: The thing I love about
the songs is that nothing is ever too literal, so nothing feels too
corny or too direct. But I know what she’s talking about all the time.
And it’s one of those shared experiences where if I know, coming from a
completely different culture and all that, if I know what she’s talking
about, then other people are gonna know what she’s talking about. And
it makes me excited to want to play her songs, it makes me excited to
want to contribute with whatever skills I have to her songs, so much so
that very soon they become our songs. Even if you wrote it, I feel very
connected to it in ways that I appreciate.
We’re also very fortunate to be part of a community of artists and
other musicians and people who are, one, very interesting and two, very
dynamic. So a lot of our common experiences have to do with friends,
and people who are going through a lot of different things. So it’s not
an isolated thing, the way that we relate to other people, there’s a
lot of friends and musicians that we know a lot about. Sometimes too
much! We’re immersed in a lot of really interesting, really creative
people’s lives, and I think that helps. We don’t live in isolation,
even though we spend a lot of time practicing our instruments. If you
don’t live life, then you have nothing to really talk about.
Goli’s next show is Thursday, October 1st at the Lizard Lounge. It’s Valerie’s pre-birthday bash.