COMEDY

The Unexpected Journey of Allie Goertz

0 Comments 29 April 2013

Singer-songwriter/comedian Allie Goertz talks about how she broke out by making nerdy love letters to the things she loves.

By Daniel Barron

 

[Editor’s Note: The following article was posted in 2013 back when Allie Goertz was performing under the name Cossbsweater. This has since been changed for obvious reasons.]

 

     Allison Goertz’s teachers had lied to her. 

     She had always been introverted, even a little offbeat.  As a Harry Potter-obsessed sixth grader entering a new school, she fashioned a cloak, dyed her hair blonde, and committed to a faux British accent for an entire semester.  In her mind, everyone fell for it.  Years later, as a self-admitted hippie, she could often be seen floating around her high school campus with a guitar slung over her back, its surface mistakenly scribbled with a Mercedes-Benz logo that had been intended as peace sign.  She never had a large group of friends, the list of classmates who could wax rhapsodic about the Marx Brothers or reenact old Saturday Night Live sketches being short.  She had little interest in school assignments and less in navigating the food chain of the public school system.

     Her teachers assured her that apathy was just a natural gas guzzler of the teenage experience.  But release was on the way.  College was where the impenetrables of youth would suddenly begin to make sense, where she could uncuff herself from everything that was holding her back and find her place among an enriching forum for art and individuality and ideas.  Surely, they thought, this bright young woman was destined for a promising future at a distinguished university.  Surely she wouldn’t settle for a state school, surrounded by bronzed beach bums.

     Yet Goertz remained tethered to her hometown of Long Beach.  The first day of college was less-than-auspicious: “My dorm mate she said to me, ‘You need more makeup,’ and I said, ‘You need to read more.’  We did not get along.”  She would move out two months later.  After a couple years of so-called higher learning, it became clear that the build-up to college had been all pomp with no circumstance.  The homework didn’t seem seem less optional nor the desire to widen her net more urgent.  Not when she was receiving a much more essential education as an employee at her local Blockbuster.

     As it had been since her teenage years, Goertz was most at peace when passing the time writing and performing her own songs.  Raised in a “musical” family but self-taught, she began developing her own material at age five and was frequenting open mics by her junior year of high school.  The subject matter of her songs was less concerned with the expected topics, such as matters of the heart, than it was with the obscure pockets of pop culture that captured her interests.  A tribute to the OxiClean spokesman Billy Mayes, for example.  One song she had posted online about Flight of the Concords had even received a positive message from the group.  “I got so excited.  It made me realize, ‘I wanna do this always,’” says Goertz.

     But her most significant audience member would not be the Conchords.  Nor would they arrive in a bar or coffee shop.  One evening, she logged into ChatRoulette, an online chat website that pairs strangers from around the world together for webcam-based conversations.  Through the unforgiving window of her computer screen, Goertz performed private concerts for one curious web surfer after another.  That night she was trying out “Comedians,” her cheeky ode to the many men who made her laugh.  “It is not my fault that I like Patton Oswalt/It is not a crime that I’ve got Rob Huebel on my mind,” she sang.  The screen would reload and a new person would turn up.  “All of my friends call me “Smeagol”/‘cause I’m looking for a ring from Jason Segel.” 

     This continued for a few hours until she was presented with one user whom she sensed was tuned to her frequency of pop savvy.  Following a well-received performance of “Comedians,” the man suggested Goertz upload a video of the song on YouTube.  She was hesitant.  It just wasn’t something she had planned to do.  He dared her to post it for just one day to test the results.  What was the worst that could happen?

     Two days later, she received a cryptic text message from a friend: “Were you on ChatRoulette last night?”  As it was not the type of message one expects or desires to receive, Goertz nervously inquired how she knew this.  “Because you’re on the front page of Reddit,” her friend responded.  Goertz’s anonymous admirer had posted her YouTube video on the popular meme-factory, and in a matter of hours “Comedians” had gone viral.  Soon, a gallery of famous faces name-checked in the song began publicly expressing their love of it, including one Patton Oswalt.

     “This is the most validated I’ve felt in my entire career,” he wrote.

“Comedians”

     Under the moniker of Cossbysweater, the ethereal-voiced Goertz has since transitioned from an avid hobbyist into a bona-fide online sensation, with a YouTube channel that has racked up nearly 6,000 subscribers and over 500,000 views since its launch less than two years ago.  Her videos have garnered enthusiastic attention from a number of popular blogs including The Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, Laugh Spin, and Badass Digest, as well as endorsements from actors such as Elijah Wood and Ian McKellan.   Generous donations from fans have allowed her to upgrade her camera and microphone equipment from her low-grade beginnings.  And that was after only posting three videos.

     The name Cossbysweater is a reference to a line spoken by Jack Black’s Barry in her favorite film High Fidelity.  Appropriately enough, her tendencies would seem influenced by protagonist Rob Gordon’s guiding philosophy: “What really matters is what you like, not what you are like.”  For Goertz, this is an eclectic mix of the nerdy and the niche, from fantasy novels to cult TV programs to classic comedies.  The Hobbit, The Simpsons, Dungeons & Dragons, Freaks & Geeks, and the Steve Martin film The Jerk are just a few of the subjects that have proven to be fertile material for her lyrical pen.  

     What it’s not is a calculation.  “It’s definitely not about, ‘What would be popular?’” she says, “Because if I was doing that I wouldn’t be writing a song about Rob Bottin, the special effects artist.”  She simply writes what she knows, which in her case means spending a considerable amount of time ingesting TV and books.

 “The Hobbit Song”

    Don’t call it a novelty act.  Were her songs simply an exercise in Did-You-Get-the-Reference?, Cossbysweater might have already joined Rebecca Black and the “Leave Britney Alone” guy in the crypt of forgotten online celebrities.  The key to her longevity lies in her ability to locate personal truths within what is ostensibly impersonal.  Goertz cops to a certain difficulty expressing her emotions honestly, yet within her pop celebrations exist coded expressions of deep desires and wistful longing.  They can have the qualities of any other love letter- passionate, vulnerable, and raw. 

     To the uninitiated, the concept of a song about Dungeons & Dragons might conjure up images of socially-inept virgins stuffing their faces with Doritos.  But from the silken tones of Goertz, a topic some might dismiss as tragically dorky becomes a poignant ode to the shelter of creativity.  (“He’s strong, charismatic/and he doesn’t look like you/being brave’s not problematic/when your AC’s 22”)  Elsewhere, an Arrested Development song about young George-Michael Bluth’s romantic yearning for his cousin attains a sensitivity the show could never contain.  The deluge of references make you want to laugh, but the context defies it.

     “The way that I kind of talk about my music is that it’s not really comedy music, it’s music about comedy.  It’s very sincere and earnest songs about things that maybe aren’t supposed to be sung about earnestly,” she says.  The nebulous position her work occupies in the genre Venn diagram is a quality she believes makes her material somewhat of a tough sell.  “I’m trying to bridge the gap between comedy music and sad bastard music like Aimee Mann or Elliot Smith and really marrying the two.”

     The internet, home to no shortage of sad bastards, has at times responded to her music on a level that has shocked and humbled her.  “I got a very sweet message from someone who said that he’s losing a family member and that he just wanted to be listening to something very comforting and that he had been watching my YouTube videos.  It was really sweet that someone could turn to songs that most people see as nerdy, silly songs.”

     It also moved Buffy the Vampire Slayer actor and Common Rotation singer Adam Busch, who stumbled upon Cossbysweater after a suggestion from YouTube.  “I was immediately struck,” he says, “A point of view I’d always believed existed, but had never found expressed so clearly before.  That familiar sound of something you’ve never heard?  I respond to things that are both sad and funny.  I root for the confident underdog.  Cossbysweater puts voice to a world that has not been speaking up, let alone singing.”

     Busch proselytized the gospel of Cossbysweater when he guested on a July 2012 episode of Gallery 1988 owner Jensen Karp’s podcast, “Get Up On This.”  News of his endorsement found its way back to Goertz and after a bit of online back-and-forths the two became friends.  To her astonishment, he offered to produce her first album.  The project was paid for as a campaign through the crowd-funding platform Indiegogo.  The target sum, which was set at $10,000 was reached in only four days.  The final number of donations tallied over $14,000.

     Cossbysweater’s self-titled debut finally drops on May 26th.  The thirteen-track album will feature a number of YouTube-approved hits such as “Tonight,” “The Hobbit Song,” and “Song For Ulvaak,” alongside a handful of brand new material, some of which abandon the referential confines that have defined her work.  She describes one particularly intimate track, “Stagnant’s Fine”:  “The song is essentially about being in a relationship and realizing that it’s not particularly great but it’s not bad either.  That moment where you think, ‘Should I just stay in this forever?  Is it okay to be stagnant?  I guess it’s fine so I should just stay here.’  Even though you know you shouldn’t.”

     While such frank material might be taken as a sign of artistic maturation, Goertz sees no distinction from her songs about pop culture.  Every one is essentially about her.  “When I wrote about a serious emotion, without pop culture involved, I wouldn’t even say it’s a departure, it’s just another thing that I know.” 

     Busch is in full agreement: “Something special was captured in Allison’s YouTube videos.  That unique experience of getting to watch a private moment in public.  You feel like you’re spying and I didn’t want her record to lose that.”

“Maeby One Day”

     The 26th of May will mark another milestone for Goertz, as it is the premiere date of the long-awaited fourth season of Arrested Development, in which she has a brief role.  Goertz was one of six chosen to appear on the cult program as part of the “You’re Gonna Get Some Walk-ons” contest, which tasked fans to show their devotion by crafting an original work of art.  Her winning submission was her song “Maeby One Day.”  Other selected entries included a chess set and a full-scale recreation of the show’s frozen banana stand.  “[Creator] Mitch Hurwitz was very, very considerate of all the extras.  We all expected a very small role and got something bigger so each person’s entry was incorporated into the show.”  Hurwitz could be heard singing her song under his breath, much to Goertz’s delight.

     She recently left Long Beach behind for Los Angeles and has all but dropped out of school to focus on her music.  Like a character from the pages of so many fantasy novels she has embraced her calling and ventured from her comforts into the unexpected and unknown.  She has made the perilous journey from consumer to artist to becoming a part of pop culture, herself.  And the cycle continues: “I’ve had a few people say, ‘Your songwriting is making me want to write songs,’ and I just tell them, ‘Do it!  Just go for it!’”

“Open Letter to Myself”

 

“Tonight”

 

“Stagnant’s Fine,” dir. by Wendy McColm

 

Purchase Allie Goertz’ debut LP on iTunes or Bandcamp.

Featured image by Michael Ramstead.

Learn more about Allie Goertz by visiting her official website.

Listen to more of her music on Soundcloud or head over to her YouTube channel.

Follow Cossbysweater on Twitter and Instagram.

 

Cossbysweater album cover by Michael Ramstead

 

Cossbysweater by Chase Montgomery

Photo by Chase Montgomery.

 

Cossbysweater by Chase Montgomery

Photo by Chase Montgomery.

 

Cossbysweater by Chase Montgomery

Photo by Chase Montgomery.

 

allie goertz cossbysweater

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- who has written 424 posts on Yay! LA | Arts & Culture Magazine.

Rudderless college graduate Daniel Barron founded Yay! LA Magazine on a love of writing, passion for the arts, and a firm belief that people really like talking about themselves. He contributed to a number of publications, including LA Music Blog and the defunct The Site Unscene, before deciding to cover arts and entertainment the way he wanted to read it. He works as a freelance writer and digital PR consultant in his current home of Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter at @YayDanielBarron.

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