Hailing from Tallahassee, Florida, Pool Kids started out as the duo of guitarist and vocalist Christine Goodwyne and drummer Caden Clinton, who wrote the entirety of the emo band’s 2018 debut Music to Practice Safe Sex To. The LP, equal parts forceful and contemplative, caught the attention of Hayley Williams, who claimed it sounded like what Paramore “WISHED we sounded like in the early 2000s.” Now a four-piece featuring Andy Anaya on guitar and Nicolette Alvarez on bass, Pool Kids have only grown since then, having toured with acts like the Wonder Years and Into It. Over It. For their sophomore outing, out tomorrow, they teamed up with producer Mike Vernon Davis, polishing up their sound and dialing up the dynamics: Pool Kids balances technical virtuosity with tight hooks, explosive choruses and nuanced, evocative lyricism in a way that few bands can pull off with such infectious confidence. Emotionally and otherwise, it wasn’t an easy process: not just because the songs touch on childhood trauma and the dissolution of a long-term relationship – the ferocity of the music sweeps away any negativity that comes up – but because an actual flood hit the studio just days before the record was completed. Knowing that they powered through and managed to save Pool Kids only makes it more of a triumph.
We caught up with Pool Kids’ Christine Goodwyne for this edition of our Artist Spotlight interview series to talk about her upbringing in Florida, the evolution of her songwriting, the making of Pool Kids, and more.
I was talking to the band Camp Trash, who also grew up in Florida but whose members are now based in different places, and they told me about how they found music and connected through the church, how you either have to get out of Florida or you’re kind of stuck there. What was your experience growing up there?
That’s actually funny because all the things that you said Camp Trash had said also apply exactly to us. We grew up in Florida – I actually haven’t gotten a chance to talk about it a lot, but I also started with church music. And now, Nicolette and I live together in Chicago, and Caden lives in Pittsburgh. Andy made it out of Florida, but he did go back and he has a house with his wife now in Melbourne Florida, but he might be leaving again, I don’t know. But yeah, growing up in Florida was interesting. I wasn’t exposed to this world, any of this DIY touring and this whole circle of music until I actually got to college. Not to say that that’s everybody’s experience – for some reason, I just didn’t find it.
Nicola and I met in college radio, actually. I was tabling shows, and I was like, “Oh my god, these are people that start a band and just go on tour.” And I was like, “I can fucking do that. I’ve been playing guitar since I was 10. I was in a church band, I can do this shit.” It was just me and my Baptist Church, which I obviously have stepped away from many years later. But playing for the youth band Christian songs, it’s kind of funny, but that was my entire music experience until college, even through high school. I went to like one of Montreal show at the Orpheum. And I was like, “Whoa, this is cool!” And then I didn’t realize that I could just go to those all the time and they were happening all the time. But yeah, pretty basic, pretty, like, deprived. I know the rest of the band, though, had different experiences. Caden, he’s from Vero Beach, and he was all into music stuff. Same with Andy, Andy was playing in bands in high school. Nicola had a high school band. But I was literally just in my church band. [laughs] No one wanted to be in a band with me.
You mean in high school?
Yeah. Another thing about it, I was in my high school guitar class, and people were always talking about their bands. And I was, like, one of the best kids in the fucking class, and I was interested, but no one ever wanted to be in a band with me. I was also the only girl in that entire class.
What do you feel like you learned from talking to other people in the band about their experiences in music before?
Kind of thesame thing, just realizing I could have started this so much sooner in my life. Even though it’s not like being college, you’re old, but everyone else I feel like I talked to started being in bands in high school, even if it was just casual. Safe Sex was really the first feet of songwriting and being in a band and stuff, and I wish I had more experience earlier.
How do you reflect on those early attempts at songwriting?
I can definitely see the growth and the changes. I remember when I was writing for Safe Sex, I would just get the first idea and go with it. Once I had a full song laid out, I was like, “We’re not fucking with it, we’re not changing it.” Like, “This is the song structure, this is what’s happening.” And part of that was, I felt so in a rush to get it out, I was like, “This record needs to happen ASAP.” And I really didn’t give myself the time, I wasn’t comfortable fucking with the songs. So it was just first idea, best idea. And then with this record, the self-titled, I was like, “I do not want to do that. I want to lay something out and then pull it apart, turn it inside out if we have to.” Really work on every song, change stuff around until it’s the best song that it can be, rather than just sticking with the first idea. And I’m very glad because if I compare some of the end products of the self-titled album with what the song started with, I’m like, “Damn, I’m so glad we ripped this apart.” It’s crazy to think about what this album would have been if I took the approach that I took in Safe Sex with the songwriting. It would be way less good.
When did you decide that this album was going to be self-titled and that you were going to have this approach to it?
We were already decently through all the songs, and throughout the whole thing, I was in the back of my head like, “What is this going to be called?” Like, we’re never gonna make an album title better than Music to Practice Safe Sex To. I think that’s the best title ever. And it was like, “How are we going to top it?” Honestly, the initial idea was just like, it’s an easy cop out – we can’t come up with an album title, we can just self-title it. But then we started realizing, “Wait, this actually makes so much sense because it’s not just me and Caden anymore. This is Pool Kids, the four of us, this is the band. We all contributed to this album, we all made it together. And this is our fully-realized sound.” And we felt like that’s a good statement, self-titling it, because this is actually who we are. Music to Practice Safe Sex To was just figuring it out, and then throughout the past four years, we’ve found the full band and started grinding together. And it’s like, “OK, this is actually us.”
It sounds like LP3 will be hard to title.
Was that an emotional moment, when you all realized as a group that this could be self-titled?
Maybe a little bit. I would say there was other moments that were emotional. Listening back to songs I would say was probably the most emotional moment. Other than the studio flood, that was definitely emotional. [laughs] Realizing it was self-titled was more a cool, like, “Hell yeah, let’s do that. That’s us.”
Do you recall a specific moment of listening back to a song and having strong feelings about it? Or was it just the whole album?
I’d say the most emotional was probably the whole album. The first time we did a listen-through, the producer, Mike [Vernon Davis], who is like family now, he rearranged the whole little studio, he moved the couch so it was facing the speakers, he turned all the lights off. We got some wine, I think, or champagne, and we just started playing it through the nice speakers. Obviously, no one said a word the whole time. And then 46 minutes later, we were just like, “Holy fuck.” The producer was like, “I know this might sound dramatic, but I feel like I could die right now and feel fully satisfied just because we created that.” And I was like, “Honestly, same.” And I remember being like, normally I’m so concerned about the reception, what’s gonna happen after the release, but I was like, “I don’t even care. I feel like we don’t even have to release it. I just feel so satisfied that we made this product.” Yeah, it was really emotional all around. We all just sat there for probably another hour or two just having a big heart-to-heart. I’ll always remember that.
Going back to how intentional you were about every detail, I love how the record balances technical playing with immediately affecting songwriting. Was that something you were always conscious of in the process of making the album?
Yeah, I would say I was kind of always focused on that. Every song I was trying to think, like, Is this actually something I would want to turn on and vibe out to? Or is this just cool for a musician to watch? And so, we would have songs that weren’t fully-realized yet, and I was like, “It’s just missing that catchy piece.” And then we would eventually figure it out, which was great. I feel like we got there with all the songs. I mean, there’s some that aren’t earwormy, but they serve their purpose too, for sure. I just wanted a good portion of the album to have the catchy stuff. When I felt like it was a song that needed it, which was most of them, I was very, like, tunnel vision on achieving that.
I was looking at the press release and you were talking about leaning into some of your pop influences a bit as a means of inspiration, including “very select Taylor Swift songs.” Define “very select.”
That’s such a good question. Let me literally pull up my Spotify ’cause I actually I haven’t been on my Taylor Swift shit recently. Let me pull up my actual liked Taylor Swift songs. I have nine songs that I like by Taylor Swift, apparently. ‘False God’ I think is her best song ever, off Lover, which is super underrated. ‘Call It What You Want’ from Reputation – so many people do this, but she does this thing where she’ll just repeat a line, and that’s the whole pre-chorus or something. And I literally have been trying to figure out which song made me – I know it’s a Taylor Swift song, and she just repeated the same line a bunch, but I remember being like, “That’s a good way to do that.” Because I was having so much trouble writing courses and pre-choruses, and that’s what I thought to do for ‘That’s Physics, Baby’. “Telling you what I, telling you what I need,” just saying that over and over again. She kind of does that in ‘Call It What You Want’. ‘the 1’. ‘last great american dynasty’. ‘Cowboy Like Me. ‘Clean’. ‘Red’, obviously. ‘Dancing With Our Hands Tied’ from Reputation. I really like ‘I Forgot That You Existed’ off of Lover. That’s my list of Taylor Swift songs.
I wasn’t trying to call you out, by the way. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Damon Albarn controversy…
It just stood out to me that there was a list of pop singers and then “very select” Taylor Swift songs.
Honestly, what made me clarify “very select” is that I’ve said that before, I’ll say certain things about influences from her, and I really think she’s a good songwriter. And people just immediately jump to, “Oh, Christine’s a Swiftie.” And I’m like, “OK, calm down.”
That’s too much responsibility.
Yeah. I respect a lot of things about her songwriting and I enjoy chunks of her songs, for sure, but I also think she does some really cringey things in her songs that I kind of hate. But she also does some amazing things that I, like, copy, so there’s a balance. I’m not like a full-on – like, Billie Eilish, I’m pretty much a stan. I like the whole package pretty much with Billie Eilish, but Taylor Swift, I take some and then I leave the rest at arm’s length. [laughs]
To be fair, that’s very close to what Damon Albarn said. He was like, “Yeah, Taylor Swift, whatever, but what about Billie Eilish though?”
Oh, you’re right, you’re right. [laughs] He did say that. He was like, “I love what she’s doing! But fuck Taylor Swift, she’s not writing her own songs.” Isn’t that what it is? That is such bullshit. It’s so obvious that Taylor Swift writes her own songs. You can say you don’t like it, for sure, but to claim that she doesn’t write it – that’s ridiculous.
I wanted to ask about your music videos. I feel like it’s quite rare for a band nowadays to pair each single with a music video, or even just a visualizer. What made you want to invest in that side of the project?
Caden and I were talking about this last night – I think we spent the same amount of money just on those three music videos as we did on the entire record. [laughs] I’m pretty sure. Which is just crazy. But from the very start, I think before we even started writing, we were just like, “We need fucking music videos.” I don’t even know why exactly, because we all simultaneously recognize that music videos do nothing for a band nowadays. Unless one goes viral, they do close to nothing. It’s not MTV era anymore. But we just wanted it. It’s something that lasts forever, we can always look back on it.
Also, sometimes when you’re making a song or listening to a song, you just picture a video, and I just want to see that out. And Caden was like, “I want to make as many music videos as we can possibly make.” So we’re like, three or four. Obviously, if I could make a music video for every song in the album, I totally would. But it was like a goal we just always wanted to do because we didn’t do it for Safe Sex. I think that was the main thing. We made a music video for ‘$5 Subtweet’, like, four years after it was released, which was weird, but we were like, “This time around the music videos need to come out before the release, we’re either gonna do it or we’re not gonna do it. We’re choosing to do it, so it’s going to happen.”
Do you think you’d do it again?
Yeah. Again, I can’t put my finger on exactly what they’re accomplishing for the band, but it’s just part of the creative vision. It’s one of the things that, at least for me personally, feels creatively fulfilling, to have that visual element going along with the song. I just love good music videos. I’m always picturing them and thinking about ideas for them. And even before I started making music, as a kid, I would listen to songs and picture what a cool music video would be for that. So I think it’s definitely something we’re gonna continue doing, even though it’s so fucking expensive.
A lot of the songs on the album revolve around feelings and ideas that are personal but presented in a way that’s universal. The track ‘Couch’ stands out to me lyrically, though, just the intimate and physical detail that it goes into in describing this relationship dynamic. Was it a challenging one to write?
That one almost didn’t make the record, actually. Yeah, that was definitely extremely personal. I wouldn’t say any of them were actually hard to write. The only thing that’s ever been hard for me to write was something that I started during the breakup, and it actually was just hitting too deeply and I put it away. I could never come back to it. Maybe one day I can try to, now that those emotions are totally not there anymore. But I wouldn’t say it was hard to write; it was definitely a very personal song that had a pretty specific theme with the lyrics. I was like, this is turning into a song sort of about aging, growing apart from each other and coming to terms with irreconcilable differences. Just themes of growing tired of the same old friend group, I guess, like “They’ve heard all your stories,” that line – no motivation, sort of just being depressed and coming to terms with things like that.
When I’m listening to an album, I usually like to give it a couple of listens without any added context. So I really didn’t know that the voice recording on ‘Pathetic’ had to do with your studio being flooded. I think it’s really fitting, how the words “What can we make of this?” tie into the bigger themes of the album, just like the lyrics themselves can apply to different situations. For you, when you listen to that part of the song or any one of your songs, do you think you’re always going to associate it with this one thing, or is it always changing?
How much was destroyed in the flood? Did you end up having to re-record anything?
The recordings were not lost, thank fucking God. That was the main thing getting us through. But Caden’s entire drum set got flooded, my entire pedal board – I literally saw it in the case closed, and it was sort of above the waterline, so I was like, “Oh my God, I’m gonna go save it.” So I jumped in the water and I sloshed over to it and I picked it up, and it was unlocked. So it unlocked, opened up, and my pedals all at once fell face first into the water. My pedals were submerged, the drumset was submerged, Andy’s amp was submerged but ended up actually being fine because the important stuff is at the top of the amp and only the first half of the amp was flooded. A bunch of studio equipment that wasn’t ours was submerged. The whole tracking room, the actual studio, so we just couldn’t be in there with the computer and stuff.
More than anything, it was the momentum that it killed and the time that it ate up because we were on our last week. So we had days left and we had songs that were not working that we had to fix and we just couldn’t go in the studio. We were all just hella depressed and had no motivation. And when you listen to songs in that mindset, everything just sounds like shit. It was just a horrible, horrible place to be mentally for the last few days of the record.
To end on a positive note: What do you love most about being in Pool Kids?
I love that all actually love each other and are best friends and enjoy each other’s company. And I love the dynamic that we have. It’s so unique, and it’s so good. And it’s so built to last. I feel like we can just do this forever because we just love each other so much and have so much fun together.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.