Earlier this year, Tom Goss had an epiphany, all the more remarkable for how uncharacteristic it was.
“I should write a really big fat gay ass Christmas record,” Goss recalls of the thought that popped into his head.
With a touch of farce, the idea sounds facetious, especially coming from an artist who has described himself as “no fan of Christmas music.” But rather than dismiss it out of hand, Goss started giving serious consideration to the prospect, eventually motivated to do it, but as a particular kind of Christmas album — playful and bold, positive and rollicking, and “authentically queer as fuck.” Oh yeah, and also one that lives up to a title stemming from his epiphanic-esque thought.
The result is a new four-track EP of original tunes with eight featured artists joining Goss, all from the LGBTQ community. The roster includes de ROCHE, a frequent Goss collaborator, who is responsible for the caroler-inspired vocals on “Ho Ho Homo,” and rapper Big Daddy Karsten and singer/rapper Keith Lawrence, who each contribute a verse to “Put that Ass in Christmass.”
“My chosen family is queer as fuck,” Goss says. “My chosen family is oftentimes fat, but not always. My chosen family is really diverse. My chosen family lives all over the world. So I wanted that to be represented in the collaborators I worked with.” Given Goss’s well-established penchant for bears and plus-sized men in general, it’s no surprise to learn that two of the four songs are odes to the most famous denizen of the North Pole.
“First of all, Santa is sexy to me,” he says about “Sassy Santa,” the first track written for Big Fat Gay Ass Christmas. “Then I thought, if I were trying to seduce Santa, what would I want him to be like? And, of course, I want Santa to be sassy, because that’s fun. And how would I seduce him?” Featured on the track is Benjamin Koll, “an artist out of Mexico who looks like Santa — he’s adorable and I just love his energy and his positivity. I wrote the track hoping he would want to get on it.”
Kicking off the EP is “Santa Slay,” a dance/ballroom track co-written with Jaake Castro and featuring Canadian country artist Drake Jensen as the deep-voiced title character and L.A. drag queen Roxy Wood taking on lead vocals. Says Goss: “She’s got such big, great, positive, and sexy energy, totally unapologetic, totally fun [and] what I wanted this whole album to be about.”
Released the week before Thanksgiving, Big Fat Gay Ass Christmas is the first album from the artist since 2019’s Territories. That stunningly realized but ill-starred full-length was dealt a death blow once the pandemic settled in and thwarted Goss’s plans for extensive touring in support of it.
Instead, Goss busied himself with writing and recording a plethora of songs, among which he’s only produced and released a few to date. After the holidays, he’ll likely release more. And come spring, he plans to drop a new full-length set.
During a lengthy interview conducted over Zoom a few days before Thanksgiving, the 41-year-old was as amiable, effusive, and high-spirited as ever. Life, including his love life, seems to be on the up-and-up, and all outward signs suggest that the move he made not quite eight years ago from D.C. to Los Angeles, alongside his husband Michael Briggs, was a step in the right direction.
The one-time aspiring priest who came out and grew up to become a one-of-a-kind quirkily earnest, seriously silly, and boldly queer singer-songwriter remains committed to that cause. If anything, Goss seems bolder as he’s gotten older, slightly more comfortably and confidently queer — recognizing and appreciating ways in which he’s evolved as an artist over the past dozen years through his industry, the community, and the broader culture. Given the opportunity to name and say a few words about an elder who helped inspire him along the way, he immediately singles out his late maternal grandfather, John Esposito, an Italian immigrant who worked the railroads in Chicago.
“He was the most brilliant storyteller that I’ve ever met,” Goss says. “I can remember listening to him recite poetry from memory, Shakespeare from memory, and a limerick from memory. He was very educated, but not schooled — he learned everything himself. He could craft a story and hold somebody’s attention like nobody that I have met since. And he was very soft-spoken. It wasn’t with exuberance, it was with confidence and preciseness. If I think about why I’m a storyteller to this day, it’s probably because a piece of me came from him.”
METRO WEEKLY: Let’s dive right in by establishing when it was exactly that you left D.C.
TOM GOSS: I moved to L.A. in the spring of 2015, so going on eight years now, which is sad. I miss D.C. I was at City Winery in September. It was really nice. I spent three or four days wandering around the city and looking at what was different, which was everything.
MW: Do you like living in L.A.?
GOSS: I do like it. It’s very, very different. It’s very exciting in a lot of ways, especially as a creative. The weather is unbeatable. It’s sometimes hard. It’s very similar to D.C., in that it’s an industry town and everybody’s always working an angle. And sometimes it’s hard to make friends — you think you’ve made friends, but then you haven’t. At least in D.C., I was completely out of the industry. So if anybody talked to me it was probably because they wanted to talk to me, not because I could do anything for them.
MW: I know that you moved to D.C. to go to seminary, not to study music. When did your passion for music develop, and when did it become your focus?
GOSS: I started playing the guitar when I graduated from high school, and it was a great outlet for me, emotionally and mentally. I was an athlete — I was wrestling a lot, and I loved it, but wrestling’s not really mentally or intellectually stimulating. And I was also trying to understand who I was at the time. And I don’t think from a familial standpoint, I was really equipped to have a voice.
Sitting in my room playing the guitar and writing became my voice for myself. I started writing songs when I was in college, and I really started to learn a lot about myself through the writing of those songs. I was really into Dave Matthews at the time, and David Gray, Jack Johnson, Ben Harper, Damien Rice. I really liked the positivity that they were putting out into the world through their music. I saw it as a really great conduit for bringing people together and creating positive social change.
When I went to seminary, I was still playing the guitar. And when seminary didn’t work out for me and I left, I was really drawn to the idea of creating positive change in the world through music. I had moved to this strange city, Washington, D.C., where I didn’t know anybody. All of the people I had met were through the seminary, so I lost all my friends and my place to live and any kind of connection that I had had. It became a great opportunity to ask myself, “What is interesting to you right now? What would you like to do?” And for me that was, “I want to make a record.” And that’s what I did.
MW: What record was that, just to be clear?
GOSS: This was in 2006, and the record was called Naked Without — which you can’t hear anywhere in the world. I pulled it off everything.
GOSS: Because it’s not great. It doesn’t feel like an accurate representation of who I am or what I can do. In 2022, I don’t want anyone’s first experience of me as a musician coming from listening to 2006’s Naked Without — which I did entirely by myself, not knowing anything about making or recording music. I’m still proud of it in terms of, “Wow, I can’t believe I made that,” and “I can’t believe I had the balls to just do that on my own,” but it’s just badly recorded and badly produced.
MW: So what is your first record that people can hear? Or where should someone start if they’re unfamiliar with you or your recorded output?
GOSS: You could listen to an EP called Rise, which I released in 2008. That would be the earliest recorded material that you can get.
MW: I remember Rise. Your sound has definitely evolved and progressed since then.
GOSS: It’s really interesting how one evolves as an artist. And one of the great things about now being in Los Angeles is you’re around so many people creating art that you can really evolve in different ways. Making music in 2022 is so different than making music in 2008.
I feel really grateful to have an audience that loves what I do. Whatever kind of journey I go on, they come with me. For a while I was afraid that that wasn’t the case. There may have been instances where I wanted to go in a different direction, but I didn’t think anybody would come with me, or I thought they’d resent me for it, or be mad at me for it, or talk badly about me on the Internet, stuff like that. And now in my agedness, I’m just like, “This makes me feel good and this makes me happy and that’s what I’m going to do.”
MW: I’m sure no small part of your coming to that realization was the pandemic. How would you say the pandemic affected you and your music?
GOSS: I spent years making my last full album, Territories, and put so much time and energy into it. And released it at the end of 2019. I was on this big tour and I was gearing up for bigger tours and constantly doing press, and building and building and building, and making these high-concept music videos. And then it all just disappeared. That album was the opposite of what the world needed at the time. It wasn’t like this thing that fit into the moment. As soon as the moment happened, it was like, this album doesn’t resonate anymore. 2020 was not about that vibe. It was really hard to see the thing that I worked so hard on for so long just evaporate.
I think the pandemic affected me in a lot of ways, but more than anything, it taught me that I’m really lucky. And made me really grateful. I’m married to someone that I enjoy spending my time with. I have people in my life that love my music and support me and love what I do and love my joy. And it really helped me get back to trying to live a joyful life. I had my nose to the grindstone for so long, and I was always driving and always aspiring, always searching, that I forgot to just exist and be grateful.
MW: Listening to Territories now, it registered as something of a shock for me actually, but in a good way. It’s quite different from what I had come to know of your music.
GOSS: I’m so proud of that record. I think the record’s brilliant in a lot of ways, and I think it did some things that really challenged me. I really wanted to do something totally unexpected and totally different. But it was also really heavy. And once the pandemic came around, nobody wanted that anymore. We were dealing with enough heaviness on our own. And the truth of the matter is, I needed something lighter. I couldn’t be living in that heaviness all the time, either.
MW: I know you’ve worked on new, lighter music during the pandemic, and already released some of what you’ve created — a few singles here and there, and then the Christmas EP.
GOSS: I have the EP that just came out, and I’ll be releasing a new album in the spring. I’ve been making a ton of music and it’s just sitting on my computer. I love making music. Releasing music is horrible. So I just kind of have not been wanting to do that. The pandemic is part of that, too. It’s just such an emotional journey to release music, and I’m not sure I had the capacity for it. I released a handful of singles, “Nerdy Bear,” “Enemy of Good.” I released a bunch of music videos — I had shot so much video content that I could just sit there and edit them over the pandemic and release them.
MW: Would you say during the pandemic you were more productive, in terms of writing and recording music, than you had been before?
GOSS: It just was different, really. I also hadn’t been home much since I started touring a lot in 2008. So I really hadn’t spent much time at home for a dozen years. Maybe no more than, honestly, six weeks at a time, I would say. And so that was different. It was different to settle into a life. I started biking a lot. I stopped driving in Los Angeles. I started taking my time and just enjoying the fact that every single morning you wake up and it’s the most beautiful day.
I’ve got a studio down in Englewood now — a studio outside of my house, which has really been wonderful for my mental health. But I don’t know, I just started enjoying what was around me instead of searching for what I didn’t have. And I made a lot of content that was in front of me instead of trying to do something different.
Touring is really wonderful because it’s constant affirmation, and you’re seeing that affirmation in real-time. There’s something really addictive about being in a room full of people who love you, showcasing a thing that you created, and having them accept you for who you are in that moment. It’s the thing that we always search for in our lives — authenticity, and people who love us for our authenticity.
Being home was a little bit of a challenge at first because you’re not getting that feedback. It’s also why I was perpetually on the road [in the first place], because you want that feedback to feel like you’re doing something worthwhile with your life. And the internet is just as horrible a place as it is a wonderful place. I try to spend as little time in the internet world as possible. So yes, I created a lot of things, but I really had to believe in them, or myself, in order to make it happen rather than have somebody else justify my existence.
MW: How would you say your use of the internet has changed over time? Particularly when it comes to social media, which of course is pretty crucial for getting the word out about new music and touring.
GOSS: I’ve really learned the power of music videos and creating powerful visual content. And I learned that from my good friends Marc Fellon and Fausto Fernós, who have this podcast called Feast of Fun. They really kind of drove it in my head. I was there in Chicago on tour and we were making a little silly video and I was being a little impatient because I had a show that night and they said, “Tom, chill out. More people are going to see this video than are going to see you on your entire tour.”
I was a little pissed off when they said that, but it was, “Oh shit, they’re right. I’m in the first third of this 60-city nationwide tour and it’s not going to be seen by as many people as this silly video that we’re making.” Videos became a really great tool for me.
Facebook at that time was really easy to share things. I would post something and it would go wild. I still do social media a lot, but what’s changed is, it’s all become about the profit, and the industry has caught on more than anything. It has become a lot harder to make high-concept art that is profitable or breaks even. Even though I have the numbers now — I have 300,000 followers across all platforms — it never grows. And when I post something, it doesn’t get seen unless I pay for it to get seen. And I’m not on a label. I’ve been independent the whole time and I don’t have a hundred-thousand-dollar marketing budget. And so it’s a little more difficult to get the word out, to be honest. Because social media has become corporatized in a way that makes it really hard for independent people to get their music out there.
Before I was — competing’s the wrong word, but you are competing for eyeballs. Before, we were all sharing the space and it was really nice. But now I’m competing against Dua Lipa or Selena Gomez and it’s like, “I’m not going to win that battle. That’s not going to happen.”
MW: Would you like to join a big label, or become a major label artist?
GOSS: Yeah, 100 percent. I’m not going to say I would love it, because I don’t know, but I would love the opportunity to grow. I always welcome a challenge, I always welcome a new relationship.
I put out my first record in 2006, and at the time, being a queer songwriter was poison — there’s really no other way to say that. And now being a queer songwriter is a golden ticket in some ways. It makes you more appealing to an audience, which is great and I’m grateful for that. This is a business where, when you’re 24, you’re aged out of it. So I can’t go back in time and make my 24-year-old self exist right now. So it just is what it is. I’m a little too old for the business in a lot of ways, and that’s fine with me. I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything because I’m really grateful for the work that I’ve done.
And I did a lot of that work because it needed to be done, because we needed to have queer songwriters going from town to town, to small-town gay bars and coffee houses, playing for people who didn’t have a voice. And making video content for people who didn’t have a voice, and had never seen themselves reflected in media before. And I feel grateful to have been able to do that.
MW: You were 24 when you started this journey?
GOSS: I was 25. So by the time I started I was already too old. That’s the truth. I didn’t know it at the time. I’m lucky because I’ve always looked younger than I am, so people probably thought I was younger. I used to play at coffee houses and songwriter showcases around D.C. And people would always go up to Mike and tell him that his son was so talented. They thought I was 16.
One really interesting thing that happened over the pandemic is, I’ve been around for so long that people will take my calls. I’ve felt like the young guy who people don’t respect for so long, and pushing through that and making it regardless of what the world thinks. And that’s changed — I feel that in my bones. It could just be my perspective. I’m sure people were always nice. I think I was intimidated, and maybe I’m just a little less intimidated. I just reach out if I want to collaborate with somebody, and most of the time they write me back. It doesn’t always work out, but it does sometimes.
MW: That reminds me of a time I saw you during Bear Week in Provincetown roughly a decade ago. You were essentially busking at the Pier, which was full of people coming and going but none of them were explicitly there for you and most didn’t stop to listen or even acknowledge and respond to you. I just remember thinking, I couldn’t do that. It requires tremendous conviction and confidence as well as a kind of fearlessness to persevere in the face of so much rejection.
GOSS: The rejection is constant and it’s part of the game, too. I love P Town. There’s a really collaborative spirit in that town. That’s a place where you can show up anywhere and play. It’s the same with Puerto Vallarta. When I did a residency down there, you would just pop around and play all the time and there’s beauty in that. Because ultimately people just want to connect and to have fun. Not everybody’s going to connect with you, and that’s okay. But if you don’t show up and if you don’t open your heart and present yourself authentically as who you are — and for me, that’s through my music — then you’re not giving yourself the opportunity to connect with people and you’re not giving people the opportunity to connect with you.
MW: I don’t remember, do you identify as a bear?
GOSS: No, I don’t know what animal I am, but it doesn’t really matter. I’m Tom. Sometimes I say I’m a bear just because it starts arguments with people. It’s self-identification. And whatever you want to be. It’s really interesting because people in the bear community come to me for advice on who they are. I just say, “What do you want to be?” Because all of this is silly. We’re not four-legged animals, we’re human beings. If saying that you’re a bear, or an otter, muskrat, or hippopotamus helps you identify with a community and helps you feel good about who you are, then identify as that. But it’s not for anybody else to say who you are, how you should identify. If it feels good, wear it. And if it doesn’t feel good the next day, you don’t have to wear it.
MW: Well, on that topic, it’s almost been a decade since you released “Bear.”
GOSS: Oh my God, it’s been nine years. That was July of 2013. So next July it’ll be 10 years.
I think the way in which the community is perceived by society at large has changed so much in 10 years. You can’t even describe it to a 25-year-old if you tried. “Bears” at the time was groundbreaking in many ways, just like “Lover” was groundbreaking before that. And “Till The End” was groundbreaking in a lot of ways in 2008. It’s not now, and that’s great. It’s great that you can go to a queer body positive party in Los Angeles any night of the week. That did not used to be the case. There was Blowoff and there was Bear Happy Hour, and that was it.
Those events were strong, but the rest of the week you were an outsider. And now that’s not the case. The truth of the matter is, I don’t think that that video could be made at any other time in any other place in the history of the world. The bear community in D.C. between, I don’t know, 2010 and 2016 was so strong and so vibrant because of Charger and Scott and Bear Happy Hour at Town. I thought that’s how it was everywhere, and then I started going everywhere on tour and it was not. The fact that we could throw a music video party at Town and have hundreds of people show up and just have a party together on a Thursday night — that was an anomaly. I didn’t realize it at the time. And I feel so very grateful to D.C. at that time. There were 1,500 guys every Friday night at Town. That doesn’t happen anymore. Part of the video is me being in the right place at the right time, and soaking in that energy and bouncing it back to people.
MW: Is that song on Spotify?
GOSS: Yes. But it’s also pre-Spotify. When you think of, “What are his hit songs?” If you go to any bear bar in the world, that will be playing. But the audience for that is older than Spotify — they’re not really using Spotify, so it doesn’t pop up on my Top 10. Talk about how the world has changed — it’s just changed so much.
MW: Do you use Spotify? And do you see any money from it?
GOSS: Yes, but streaming monies are nominal. Sometimes I turn on Growlr Live when I’m producing music, and then I forget that it’s there. The other day, I was producing music, and I looked down and people were starting to have a conversation. They were asking me the same thing about money. And I went to my pages to give a breakdown about how much money I make exactly. And it is quite ridiculous on any platform. This one in particular was YouTube. I probably make between $80 and $120 a month on YouTube. And I get between 100,000 to 250,000 views a month.
MW: That’s not even a penny per view, is it?
GOSS: It’s not even a penny per view. “Son of a Preacher Man” is my most-viewed video, and it has over 5 million views. And the totality of that revenue for me has been about $800. And it’s the same for “Bears,” which is, I don’t know, at 1.3 million, maybe. That’s made about $300. It was demonetized for a large portion of its run because of the queer content. Again, this is how much the world has changed.
MW: It’s changed in the sense that there’s been a real boom in queer content available to stream, but demonetization triggered by objections over streamed content remains a real and present problem affecting queer artists.
GOSS: It still happens. I would say about 60 percent of my videos are demonetized.
MW: Which means you’re not making any money from the streams of those flagged videos, at least not while they’ve been marked “demonetized,” right?
GOSS: When something gets “demonetized,” they’re saying, “We can’t put ads on this because it is too whatever.” In my case, too gay, I guess. People think that I’m rich and famous. I’m not, but it’s okay. I’m still grateful to be here.
MW: “Oh yeah, he moved to L.A.– he must be doing really well.”
GOSS: That’s how it is. “He doesn’t need me to buy a ticket to the show because he has all this money.” It’s like, “No, it would be really great if you bought a ticket to the show or signed up for my Patreon or bought something on my website, because otherwise I don’t make any money at all, really.”
MW: Was Patreon something you developed during the pandemic?
GOSS: I had it a little before the pandemic, constantly growing slowly. I love Patreon, it’s really great. That’s another thing that was really helpful for me. I just started making music for people that really were supporting me instead of focusing on people that were criticizing me or that weren’t paying for anything.
MW: Viewed in light of your new Christmas EP in particular, one rather obvious way you’ve evolved over time is in an increased level of collaboration and diversity. You didn’t really feature rap and hip-hop in your music a dozen or so years ago, nor did you regularly work or perform with drag queens.
GOSS: You have to find collaborators if you want to make great art. At least that’s what I believe, especially in the music business. And I love collaborating.
Here’s the thing. There are some people in this world — Jimmy Corgan or Paul McCartney or Trent Reznor — who can do everything and it’s brilliant. I am not one of those people and that’s okay. I’m also somebody who knows I’m not one of those people, because I think a lot of people, especially in the music world, try to do everything, and it just isn’t as good. I would rather collaborate with people who are going to elevate my message or the message that I’m trying to say, than say and do everything myself and it doesn’t get heard by anybody because the content isn’t good enough. That’s why Naked Without isn’t out anymore, because I did it all myself and it’s not good enough. That’s just what it is.
I think collaboration is fun. I think this record demanded it, to be honest with you. We show a bunch of different ways in which queer people exist. And that’s just how it is. That’s just the world. If I was going to make a Christmas record with a bunch of white gay people playing acoustic music, that wouldn’t be representative of the queer family that I have or the family that I long for. And that’s what I wanted to really showcase.
MW: And that’s also not very representative of you or your musical palette, which goes well beyond acoustic these days.
GOSS: No. And I don’t think it’s ever been representative of me. And I think part of the reason “Bears” did so well is because Ba’Naka was in it. This was a little before Drag Race, but you could see what was coming down the pipeline. And it’s fun. Trans people and drag performers have been at the forefront of our community for all of history. And it’s important to recognize, respect, and honor that.
MW: They’ve also been the first to get punched or to take the hit, literally and figuratively, when homophobic haters attack.
GOSS: 100 percent. I don’t get punched, I don’t get harassed. I have, but it’s pretty rare. I’m in the middle of Arkansas right now because I feel comfortable enough, as a white man who presents in a masculine way, to go on a road trip through rural Arkansas, and that in and of itself is a privilege. And I owe that privilege to them– to queer, trans, and drag people of color, all the people who have been on the front lines the whole time.
MW: Turning to your relationship, how long have you been with Mike now? He entered the picture towards the beginning of your career?
GOSS: Yeah, 17 years. I met Mike two weeks after I left seminary the week of Thanksgiving. So this would be my anniversary for that as well. I left seminary in 2005, so this would be my 17th. And December 6th was our first date.
MW: What’s the secret to your success — beyond, perhaps, not keeping secrets?
GOSS: I don’t know that I have “the secret,” but I do know that we work really hard to support each other and understand each other and love each other and communicate with each other. We’re not the same people who met. We’ve had several different evolutions of who we are and who we are to each other. But ultimately, we’ve never been in each other’s way of growing, even if that sometimes meant growing away from the other person. And in allowing us to grow away from one another, we learned to love each other even more because we have the safety and the freedom to become who we are.
Honestly, I’m going to start crying. Most days I think of a thing that Mike does or has done for me and I want to cry because I know that no matter who I am, I can always be that person with him.
MW: I know your relationship has inspired many of your songs, although I’m assuming your lyrics are not all autobiographical.
GOSS: Not all of them, but the vast majority are.
MW: As great as your love and domestic life has been, even a passing glance at your lyrics makes plain that your relationship has come with its fair share of challenges.
GOSS: Oh, yes. And I’ve written about plenty of those as well — airing out the hardest things in our relationship, and the worst thing my husband’s ever done, or the worst thing that I’ve ever done. And he lets me do that. It’s part of it because it’s the truth.
MW: This seems like the right time to return to Territories, since some of the “airing out” you refer to happens there. But what was the spark that motivated you with that 2019 album in the first place?
GOSS: I essentially caught Mike cheating on me. We were in a monogamous relationship. And that was really earth-shattering for me. It’s the exploration of questions around the theme of opening our relationship and figuring out how that worked for us, and the struggles with that. And then through that, I fell in love with another person. So it’s also the exploration of how is that possible, to be in love with two people at the same time? And what does that look like for me? What does that look like for me and my relationship with Mike? What does that look like for the other him? What does that look like for him and his husband? It’s an exploration of social norms and mores centered around relationships asking, what do I believe in and what is true for me? And what is something that I have been taught that is no longer speaking truth to me?
MW: How do you characterize or refer to those extramarital relationships and the people you’re intimate with?
GOSS: In the same way that I don’t categorize myself as a bear or as an animal — I’m not sure that I categorize that, either. I’m just me. When I think about my relationship with my husband, it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me, and I’m more in love with him every day.
But at the same time, I do have people that I like to share intimate moments with, as well. And for me, that has to be loving and caring. The emotionality of it is really important to me. I think it comes back to community and family in a way as well. We exist in a community that is often usury, that is often trying to use somebody for your own personal needs or gains or wants or desires, and that never has felt good to me. Whether that’s personal or sexual or financial or from a business perspective. And that’s why emotionality is really important to me and trust is really important to me. I want to be in relationships with people, sexual and nonsexual, who care about me and who allow me to care about them.
Tom Goss’s Big Fat Gay Ass Christmas is available for streaming on all major digital platforms.
For more on Tom Goss, visit www.tomgossmusic.com.
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