The Son Also Rises: Jason Gould Finds His Voice. A Stargayzing Exclusive Interview, Plus the Debut of His Song “Morning Prayer!”
“(Making music) was something that I kept very deeply hidden within me. You know, it’s funny, this is sort of second coming out”
Here are a few things you should know about Jason Gould: he is one of the most unassuming, loyal, and loving friends a person could ever have. People used to find him quirky and aloof, but he was really just quirky and shy. Here’s another thing: he has never had any of the temperament or entitlement issues one might ascribe to someone whose life seemed so charmed from the outside. Being the son of Barbra Streisand and Elliot Gould may seem like a decided advantage in life but, as you’ll see, it’s not without its own unique hurdles. Through the years Jason has taken many creative paths but usually in a very private way. As you’re a about to read, he is on the cusp of taking some very public chances.
The first time we met was in 1987 on Stage 15 at Warner Bros. Studio on the set of Nuts. I was a production assistant on the film and he was in town visiting him mom from N.Y.U. We had a mutual friend, Nancy Balbirer, who has told us all about each other. Not being shy, I went up to him, said “hello,” extended my hand, and made a friend for life. Even though Jason’s familial circumstances were unusual, we quickly found we a great deal in common: a shared interests in film and music, similar values and cultural backgrounds, and, oh yeah, we were both gay (though Jason hadn’t quite come out yet). I think he appreciated my complete lack of inhibition and I, in turn, appreciated his intellect, modesty, and extremely refined taste—qualities that he brings to bear on whatever he puts his mind to.
All these qualities and more are shown to great advantage with his newest project, writing songs and—perhaps more surprisingly—singing, and this time he’s letting all of us share his work. Having heard the results I can vouch for them: his music is melodic, personal, and deeply affecting. Perhaps even more significantly, I see in my friend someone who has cultivated enviable confidence along with his prodigious gifts, and I feel extremely proud that he’s gotten to the point where he sees in himself what I have always seen: someone with great talent, insight, and character.
I spoke to Jason by phone in Los Angeles last Friday, as he was preparing to leave for Philadelphia to begin rehearsing for Barbra Streisand’s tour, which will find him making his live singing debut in front of 20,000 people at the Wells Fargo Stadium in Philadelphia this Monday night. The following day his first collection of songs—the eponymous Jason Gould—is released. The Philadelphia show will be followed by stops in Brooklyn, Chicago, Vancouver, Las Vegas, San Jose, and the Hollywood Bowl. Here is our revealing and very personal conversation:
David Munk: Good morning! So I’ve been spending a lot of time listening to your EP this morning and I just want to tell you again, I think you’ve done something really significant with this, musically and personally, you know?
Jason Gould: Thank you. It’s so funny, because I have a second EP (an “EP” is the old analog term for something more than a single but less than a full album, technically standing for “extended play”) and I was considering just putting it out ASAP, and then somebody was saying “well I think you should make a whole album and you could probably just put these songs onto that album,” and I was thinking maybe I should do that. I don’t know, it’s all unfolding so quickly, I guess.
Munk: It sort of has a life of its own—in a way—you’re involved in shaping it, but I think the way that teaser (of his music) was leaked yesterday is an example of the fact that there are aspects of this—
Gould: (Laughing) —I cannot control, that’s for sure.
Munk: Which I would imagine is part of what is exciting about it.
“I finally got to the place in my life where the fear of not being good enough was not as great as my need to express myself.”
Gould: Yeah. I mean, I don’t even want to control it, really, as I said to you before, there’s something bigger going on here and I’m just sort of taking the ride, and I did my part.
Munk: Well you definitely did your part, and one of the things that I’m interested in talking about is the process, and going back to the beginning of it. Over the years, you’ve expressed yourself in a lot of different ways—you were an actor, a film director, an interior designer and worked with clay. I’m just wondering—your music—was it a spontaneous decision or something that was sitting in the back of your mind?
Gould: I was a kid who always came up with little melodies from way back. I mean, that was probably one of the first creative things I was drawn to do, but I never did anything with them. Some of them I had recorded, in fact, one of them I had put into a birthday present to my mother and she ended up using it in her last concert, I think, (he’s referring to Jason’s Theme, which was incorporated into Streisand’s 2006 show), it was just a piece of music, right? It wasn’t a finished song or anything like that, so there were these things that had come through me. I don’t read or write music but I sit at a keyboard sometimes and work out melodies, and I never quite knew how to make that into a song so I was always looking for a collaborator, somebody work with, to help guide me. So this really began because of my desire to write music, or take the music I wrote and develop it further into songs. So when I met (songwriter) Marsha Malamet at a lecture, literally, that’s how we met—she said “hello” to me, she was sitting behind me—she happened to be the person I collaborated with and we ended up writing several songs together so that started this process for me.
Munk: And that was like what, two years ago?
Gould: Yeah, two years ago.
“My mother and father were famous before I was born, so I grew up with the idea that people were looking and they had their own ideas about what it was like.”
Munk: It’s funny—I always knew you were musical, we’ve always listened to music together and talked about what we liked, but I didn’t know that you’d ever made music.
Gould: It was something that I kept very deeply hidden within me. You know, it’s funny, this is sort of second coming out, it really is, because in the same way that gay kids have to face their own shame and fear about whether or not they’re going to be accepted, it’s very parallel to that in some ways, you know? Like “finding one’s voice,” which is really what this is for me, can take many forms. So, I’m trying to get a website up and I wrote a little two-paragraph thing. I’ll read it to you. Tell me what you think of this. I used this Wayne Dyer quote, which really sums it up for me, the quote is “don’t die with your music still in you.” Have you heard that?
Munk: No, but I like it.
Gould: So this is what I wrote (in part):
“I was recently asked why was doing this now, and the answer was simple: to explore the part of myself that always wanted to make music. I finally got to the place in my life where the fear of not being good enough was not as great as my need to express myself, and it’s taken a long time to recognize that the nagging voice of judgment, self-criticism, and comparison, was not a loving one. I now know a big part of this human experience has been finding my own voice, literally and figuratively. For some of us this happens early in life, for others, later. I don’t know where it will take me next, but at least this music will not have died in me.”
That’s sort of what this is about for me.
Munk: It’s interesting, you sort of dipped your foot in the pool in the mid-90s when I facilitated that one recording session for you, do you remember?
Gould: Of course.
Munk: We cut a Stevie Wonder song and I knew the moment you opened your mouth that you had a beautiful voice, your own voice. I sort of put it in the back of my mind though and thought “I don’t know if he’ll ever get there.” What do you remember about that and why wasn’t it the right time—what’s changed for you?
Gould: Well at that time I hadn’t written songs and I really didn’t know what I would sing, I mean, the Stevie Wonder song (I Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer) was your idea and Stevie Wonder is one of the greatest musicians, writers, singers of all-time, but it wasn’t my voice, because I hadn’t really found my voice and I didn’t know what I wanted to say and I hadn’t really…I probably didn’t know who I was enough yet, because you have to know who you are to be an artist, I think, no matter what form it takes—
Munk: —Or maybe making the art is part of the process of discovering that.
Gould: I was very insecure about my voice, I mean sometimes I hear it and I think “uh, is this good?” but I come from tremendous perfectionism and, I mean…my mother has set a very high standard so it wasn’t like I was just anybody, you know, opening my mouth. I knew I was following in the footsteps of someone who has affected as many people as my mother. It can be a little daunting you might say, right?
Munk: For sure, absolutely. I think I felt that dynamic was almost a presence in the room during that recording session and could feel the weight of it for you as your friend—
Munk: I remember thinking clearly that if you ever got to the point where you were able to manage it that it could be very powerful. Part of what’s happening now, from my vantage point outside of you, is that (your music) has a life of its own because of that aspect, and I’m wondering in what way your upbringing, not just in your family but in that whole world in Los Angeles, has prepared you for a kind of public exposure that you seem to be inviting in a little bit.
Gould: Well I was really uncomfortable with that from the beginning, I mean my mother and father were famous before I was born, so I grew up with the idea that people were looking and they had their own ideas about what it was like. Show business is complex.
Munk: One of your mother’s great skills is, I think, shaping the business aspects of a career, controlling output to create demand, to step away sometimes, to have a strategy, but you seem…well, I’ve noticed you have a very unorthodox business strategy here, do you know what I mean?
Gould: (Laughing) The strategy is that I don’t have a strategy!
Munk: I get a kick out of that.
Gould: My strategy was I wanted to make music and see if I could. Listen, I wrote these songs and I didn’t even know if I could sing them—honestly. I was working in the studio for over a year and gaining confidence by doing it and I learned so much, I mean, this has been a beautiful experience. I have a great collaborator in the studio with Stephan Oberhoff.
Munk: Yeah, I was going to ask you about him because the production is excellent.
Gould: Well he’s a genius, an incredible musician and songwriter in his own right. We were brought together by Marsha Malamet, she had worked with him and I got to know him. I didn’t know him, but I got to know him and he got to know me and a real trust and respect developed.
Munk: I want to talk more specifically about the songs on the EP. The first song is Morning Prayer and I think it’s really stunning. I think I told you that when I was in L.A. I played it for Natalie (Cole) and she was drawn to the intonation of your voice—I think there is a real curiosity about what your voice sounds like—but she was also really moved by your sensitivity and how vulnerable you are, especially on that song. What was that song about, because I feel like you dug pretty deep.
Gould: Hm. Well, that was the only song on this EP that I co-wrote—all the songs we wrote together began with a melody that I had. When you sing something that came through you…I don’t even want to take credit that “I wrote it,” I mean, I don’t know how that happens—the creative process is such a mystery. But I had that melody, and I brought it to Marsha and Liz (Vidal), and Liz wrote this lyric, it was almost like she channeled it, and then we refined the lyric together. So there was a magical quality to how it was created. It’s a spiritual song but I didn’t honestly know what it was about until I recorded it. You can interpret it in different ways. It could be about a person but it could also be about God.
Gould: It was a collaboration on a deep level. I love it too.
“When I do the second EP or the album I was going to dedicate it to ‘anyone who ever believed they were not enough.’ Do you think that’s weird?
Munk: You’ve written many more songs than what you’ve included here. For example, you played me a song called In Time which I really liked, but you’ve held it back.
Gould: Well that will either be on the next EP or the full album, and I have to decide what I’m doing because I really want to get that out, I mean that (song) is something that’s much more personal to me and has a real statement. I already have four or five other songs mixed, I just have to master them.
Munk: You could have gone to a major label but you decided to release this independently.
Gould: Yeah, well, my understanding of how the record industry is at this time is that labels are not what they used to be and the power of the record company is also not what it used to be, you know? Because of YouTube and…really, everybody has access to the unbelievable power of social media and I am kind of stunned by that. It’s kind of incredible. And don’t know what percentage record companies take or even what they would do for me at this point.
Munk: Well what they would do for you is something that’s already done. Today record companies don’t sign someone unless they already have a fan base and you already have a fan base. I think you’re inheriting one. Like for example, that teaser that Broadway World put up the other day, you didn’t give that to them, they just got it.
Gould: I had sent it out to a couple of people to get their feedback and maybe one of those people leaked it, I don’t know.
Munk: Well it doesn’t really matter because the point is for people to be aware of the music and one of the advantages you have is that there are many people who are aware of you and are now aware that you’re making music and they’re going to show up for you. That awareness is something, ostensibly, that a record company could work a long time with a new artist to create.
Munk: When I told Matt Howe (from barbra-archives.com) that I was going to be speaking with you, he was curious about your feelings about standards and pre-rock era pop music in general and wondered if you were drawn to them because of your mother’s association (to the genre) or cautious around it for the same reason.
Gould: Mm. Well it wasn’t that. The way this whole thing unfolded was I first was working on the songs I wrote and trying to find my voice with that and then I thought, “it would be interesting to try to sing a song I didn’t write.” Then it was like “what song would that be?” You know, I didn’t want to sing songs that my mother had sung, obviously, so finding songs that I love that were great songs and so, that’s what drew me to How Deep Is The Ocean?, Nature Boy…these were songs that are great songs that I could identify with that also supported the message that I’m carrying in a sense…that I thought maybe I could bring something new to.
Munk: So what was it about Nature Boy? You knew it before I suggested it—
Gould: —of course—
Munk: —What was it about the lyric that drew you to that song because I love what you’ve done with it.
Gould: Thank you. There’s nothing more profound than what he says: “the greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.” It’s hard to get more profound then that. I also saw myself in it. In some ways, “there was a boy… a little sad…a little shy,” whatever, so I could relate to it.
Munk: Tell me about Hello, because that song blew my mind when you played it in your car. I think it’s a hit. It’s a radio song, albeit a bit of an unconventional one, but there are formats that support this kind of music.
Gould: Well do you know how to do that, because I don’t. How would you do that?
Munk: Well you have to hire independent promotion people. I’ll explain that later, but I wanted to hear about Hello, because this is NOT Lionel Ritchie’s Hello!
Gould: (Laughing) No this is not Lionel Ritchie’s Hello… no, no. You’ll notice there’s a theme in every song I wrote or chose to sing. It’s sort of about the big picture, the human experience, the spiritual experience—whatever you want to call it—I thought that was an interesting point of view that I hadn’t heard in a song before. I thought it was a beautiful melody, you know, it caught me too. I thought it was very…not only catchy…but I really like the sentiment of it, you know, in terms of, the people that we’ve lost, and what is that and how do we relate to people that are no longer “embodied” but that we still love?
Munk: —In the sense that they’re still here. I love the duality that things that are gone are still present.
Gould: Yeah, the love is still present even though someone may not be here in body.
Munk: The song has a sense of presence—I feel it in the music. Would you mind telling me the story again of how your recording of Nature Boy ended up being the catalyst to move from the studio phase of this to live performance, because I think people will find it interesting. The decision to write songs or experiment in the studio is one kind of decision for you with one set of challenges and rewards connected to it. The decision to sing live is, you know, a completely different thing and it’s interesting how you got from point A to point B because, once again, I don’t think you planned on it.
Gould: No, not at all. I mean, I was planning on maybe putting out my own EP, and I didn’t know how that was going to take shape. My mother turned 70, and for her birthday I made her a film montage of our life, our relationship together. I was recording Nature Boy at the time I was doing it and it seemed so perfect. So I used that song and on her birthday it was shown as one of the multiple films that people show at a birthday party. And I think it surprised a lot of people, of course, they didn’t know that I sang. I don’t even think my mother had decided to do a tour yet.
Gould: (Laughing) You and me both!
Munk: I mean it’s not like you grew up with Barbra singing around the spinet!
Gould: No, no, no.
Munk: What did you discover when you started rehearsing with her and started singing live with her? You’ve collaborated with her on film (The Prince of Tides), which is a more controlled experience. What’s it like to sing on stage together, is she “mom” or is she “Barbra Streisand?”
Gould: Well I haven’t done it yet, I can’t tell you.
Munk: (Shocked). What do you mean? You haven’t rehearsed? The concert is in a week, what are you waiting for?
Gould: I haven’t sung on stage with her yet.
Munk: Oh, I see, so you haven’t been in front of an audience, but you’ve been in a room, right?
Gould: (Deadpans) We’ve been in the living room.
Munk: Well you better get busy, no?
Gould: (Laughing) Well that’s why I go to Philadelphia next week!
Munk: Was it a good feeling?
Gould: You know, it was very meaningful, in a lot of ways. It was like a full circle moment in a sense, because I think a part of me was afraid to open my mouth—in front of anyone, but particularly, I think, in front of my mother. So to have that experience with her is really very healing—I think it sort of shocked her. I don’t think she quite knew…listen…I‘m not gonna brag about my singing. I don’t think I’m the greatest singer in the world, but I don’t know that she knew I could sing.
Munk: So it was different when she heard you sing live in a room than when you played her some of the stuff you’d been working on?
Gould: Well yeah, because when you hear recordings nowadays you never know whether the person really sings or not, with what one can do with auto tune, but you can’t auto tune live singing so, they were pleasantly surprised that I didn’t need that.
Munk: The performing piece of this began a gift for your mother, but I’m wondering if, at this point, you feel you may have given a gift to yourself.
Gould: I think it’s true. Absolutely. And giving a gift to the little boy in me that was always afraid to have his own voice. And that’s very meaningful. I think a lot of us gay kids…we have to face this fear: are we going to be accepted? Are we good enough? And that’s a lot of the message of the record I wrote that’s not on this EP, but that will come through much more so in what I have to say there (on the next CD). And that has meaning to me, I’m not just trying to hit notes, or anything like that, this is really something I’m trying to communicate.
“I knew I was following in the footsteps of someone who has affected as many people as my mother. It can be a little daunting you might say, right?”
Munk: Well I’ve heard a few of those songs and I think people are going to be very responsive to it. The thing that makes me kind of a little emotional as your friend is seeing the way that you seem to be embracing yourself and who you are, the comfort—
Gould:—well, that’s the greatest! That’s really all I care about sharing—the best part of the whole thing. I guess part of what doing something like this, when you share yourself in an artistic way with someone, is that maybe it inspires someone, or it touches someone, or they go “yeah, I have something to say too.” When I do the second EP or the album I was going to dedicate it to “anyone who ever believed they were not enough.” Do you think that’s weird?
Munk: No! I think that’s incredibly honest and I think that it’s incredibly relatable, more importantly. I think…look…there were many reasons why you felt like you weren’t enough.
Gould: Yeah, I know that’s a huge piece of the human experience, for all different reasons we struggle. I mean, I have my version of it, but it’s not uncommon, I know that.
Munk: Well your version had a lot of relatable elements to it. When we were much younger I didn’t relate to you on the basis of being the son of famous people, I related to you in other ways.
Gould: I was a deeply insecure, frightened, guy, you know?
Munk: We were just two gay kids trying to make our way!
Gould: Well that’s all we’re really doing here on this planet, trying to make our way. “To learn to love and be loved in return.”
Munk: When was the last time you gave an interview, by the way?
Gould: I spoke to the Advocate about ten years ago and I did some stuff around The Prince of Tides and when I had that short film out in the world (Inside Out), but other than that, no. I’ve been a really private person and I love my privacy.
Munk: You’re a private person who is threatening that privacy to a certain extent by making brave choices, but I feel like you’re doing it with a lot of consciousness, and you know that you might in some ways be changing the nature of that privacy, to some extent, you know?
Gould: Yeah, again, I know I’m not in control, but it’s bigger than me.
Munk: Well it always was, but I think you also see the upside of that, is that, there is built in curiosity, people want to hear what you have to say.
Gould: Right. Well I have a lot to say. It’s taken me a while to find my voice—literally and figuratively. Now the goal is to be comfortable in my own skin, to be enough, to love myself enough to take those risks and express myself. I mean, not everyone is going to like what I’m doing, but if I can feel that I’ve honored myself.
Munk: Well you’ve done more than that. Trust me when I say that it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but nobody’s gonna be saying “who the fuck does he think he is?” It’s better than that, it’s way better than that!
Gould: Well thank you for that. I know that you have your own standards, so thank you.
I promised you a Jason Gould song in its entirety. Here is Morning Prayer, which he co-wrote with Marsha Malamet and Liz Vidal. I think it’s something extraordinary and I’d love to know what you think. If you take the time to comment on the song or on this article I will be sure to share your feedback with Jason personally.
To purchase Jason Gould’s EP, please go to jasongouldmusic.com
What to read next: The Son Also Rises, Part Two: My Follow-Up Interview With Jason Gould