Interview: Adam Goldberg

He made it big with Saving Private Ryan and Friends - now he's hoping to top the charts


By Robert Collins, April 28, 2011
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On set with his ex-girlfriend and 2 Days in Paris co-star Julie Delpy in a still from the 2007 romantic comedy

On set with his ex-girlfriend and 2 Days in Paris co-star Julie Delpy in a still from the 2007 romantic comedy

People tend to recognise Adam Goldberg's face before his name. He is the actor most remembered for playing the Jewish soldier Private Mellish in Saving Private Ryan and Eddie Meneuk, Chandler's scene-stealing, reality-challenged roommate, in Friends. Talking to Goldberg, it is not long before it becomes apparent that the nervous energy that permeated these and dozens more roles is very much part of his real-life personality.

"My celebrity has held steady since the day I began acting," he explains with a shrug. "I don't view it as celebrity. I'm just a worker. There are periods where I'll get stopped in the street several times a day, and there are periods where it doesn't happen at all. I honestly couldn't tell you what it depends on. After doing this for 20 years, people do tend to know my name now."

The Los Angeles-based actor, writer and filmmaker was recently in Europe, not for a film shoot, but for his first tour as a musician. His second album of psychedelic, orchestral pop, the first under the name The Goldberg Sisters, was released globally this month. His first album came out in 2009. Back then, he and his collaborators, including Steven Drozd of The Flaming Lips, were known as LANDy.

"I loved that name," sighs Goldberg. "Coming up with band names is awful. They're all pretty bad. I felt LANDy suited me perfectly, so it was annoying to find that it suited a lot of other people perfectly too."

Goldberg soon realised that he was fighting a losing battle against Taiwanese pop star Landy Wen, Mexican troubadour Landy, the Landy Insurance Company, Landy Cognac, a song about Landy Cognac by Snoop Dogg, and Myspace rapper Landy. Thus was born The Goldberg Sisters. The enforced name-change was more a minor hitch than a problem. Goldberg is just happy that anyone is listening. LANDy and The Goldberg Sisters are projects that have grown organically; music that Goldberg wanted to write and record in his own time and space. He certainly has not used his Hollywood connections to get a head start in the music business. The idea of throwing a hissy fit, à la Billy Bob Thornton, when a journalist has the audacity to mention his on-screen career during a music interview, is not his style at all.

"Nothing surprises me when it comes to people in the entertainment business," he laughs when the issue of Thornton's well-publicised meltdown is brought up. "I'm not sure if being known opened or closed doors for me. I don't have a frame of reference. The first record I put out I did totally independently. The actual act of putting it out was no different to anyone else willing to pay to do it themselves. The difference is that you get what you pay for in terms of publicity. This time around, I'm not paying for the publicist, the record label is."

Snapshot

Born: Santa Monica, California, October 25, 1970
Early life: Parents Donna Gable and Earl Goldberg. He became fascinated with acting as a teenager after seeing a school Shakespeare production and started performing at college.
Career: Breakthrough came in Billy Crystal's 1992 film Mr Saturday Night. Appeared in Friends and the spin-off series Joey. Film roles include Saving Private Ryan, The Unusuals and 2 Days in Paris
Personal life: Lives with his violinist girlfriend Roxanne Daner, a graphic designer and violinist.

Goldberg's movie career was already under way when he began taking music seriously. He bought his first guitar and a four-track recorder on the same day 16 years ago.

"I felt frustrated by my complete lack of discipline or ability to play and write music," he says. "I remember having a dream that I could do it, so I learnt a couple of chords and those first songs had a style that isn't that different to what it is now. The act of song writing and recording became one and the same to me; because I essentially recorded everything I did from the day I began trying to write songs. I've always had a lot to say. I'd always written poems.

"I was engrossed with jazz when I was growing up. After that, David Bowie was the first rock star that I really became obsessed with. I was a huge Elvis Costello fan and still am. For a long time I was listening to pretty much anything from the Class of '77 - The Clash, Wire, Patti Smith, and all the CBGBs stuff. And as time went on I became more interested in orchestral pop like Burt Bacharach."

The spirit and sound of Bacharach echo through Goldberg's music, layer upon layer of audio tracks producing sonically lush results. The difficulty of recreating this complexity in a live environment was one of the reasons Goldberg dreaded touring with his album's co-collaborators, including his violinist girlfriend, Roxanne Daner. Although reading between the lines, perhaps this reluctance to take the stage was more down to the neuroses that translate so well on screen.

"I really don't like playing live," he says. "I get really anxious doing it. Any public performance makes me heave. It's hard to translate the music live. We can do stripped down versions, but fully realising the songs isn't something I can afford to do. I'm a terrible flyer and a terrible traveller. It's totally hindered my cultural experiences.

"On some level the opportunity to tour was exciting and I'm extremely grateful. I want to learn to love it, but I haven't spent enough time on stage to be comfortable doing it.

"This tour was a trial by fire. I like what we're doing and think it's really interesting to have orchestral ideas rather than guitars, bass and drums. It's more challenging. But when it worked it was really cool. I had lined up a couple of LA gigs for us to get us ready, but I had to cancel them to film a TV show. So this band never played a gig before we appeared live on a French TV show."

If Adam Goldberg is the actor who refuses to play the rock 'n' roll star, it does not mean The Goldberg Sisters are ever going to be less than entertaining. Search for them online and you'll find a brilliant one-take video for the single Shush, and a hilarious "interview" with Adam and his identical (and bearded) sister "Celeste". He is the same as every other musician just starting out - apart from the small matter that everyone knows who he is and he is not planning on quitting his day job any time soon.

"My expectations are extremely low," he admits. "My goal is to continue to make records, and ideally, not have to make it with my own money. These things get really expensive!"

The Goldberg Sisters' self-titled album is available on PIAS

    Last updated: 5:13pm, May 4 2011