When Wreckless Eric released Donovan of Trash in 1993, few people noticed. Wreckless Eric, the stage name of Eric Goulden, wasn’t expecting the album to make him a star, but he hoped it would get a little bit of attention, at least from his fans. Instead, the record was dismissed and forgotten. So when Fire Records offered to rerelease the album this spring, Goulden was initially hesitant.
“I didn’t want to listen to it,” Goulden says in a phone interview. “I was really scared of what I might find. But I was pleasantly surprised. Everyone else at the time said it sounded terrible. … People said I didn’t know what I was doing, and I started to believe that, but I listen to it now, I think I knew exactly what I was doing.”
With its rerelease, Donovan of Trash has not gone platinum, but it has finally gotten recognition from fans and critics. Says Goulden:
“It almost feels like a bit of success, in comparison to what I usually have,” Goulden says.
Wreckless Eric came up in the U.K. punk scene of the late 1970s. He recorded his best-known song, “(I’d Go the) Whole Wide World”—which featured Nick Lowe on guitar and bass and Steve Goulding of the Mekons on drums—in 1977. The song, released on the legendary Stiff Records label, became a cult hit. “It was like being in the basement and we were dismantling the place and it was going fall down on our heads and it was very exciting,” Goulden says of the punk scene in England at the time.
Although many punk groups were reacting against the bombastic stadium rock bands of the ’70s, Goulden never thought of his music as “anti-pop.”
“It was very pro-pop,” he says. “It was just a different definition of pop. It was a return to freeing songs, where there was an energy to it.”
While Goulden never became a pop star, he did build a following and kept putting out records. But when he set out to make Donovan of Trash in 1993, he couldn’t bear to do it in a studio.
“I hated recording studios, and I didn’t want to go in one, so I was going to make a homemade record,” Goulden says. It turned out to be liberating, as Goulden began to understand what had always seemed like a mystical process. “It’s horrible when you’re trying to tell a guy on a mixing board what you want, and he’s very self-important and guarding his position and not letting you know what he’s doing. I used to be in awe in how much [engineers] knew, and now I’m struck by how little they know.”
He recorded Donovan of Trash in a farmhouse and a dancehall in rural France with used equipment he’d cobbled together. Although lo-fi recordings were trendy at the time, Goulden was oblivious to the fad.
“I was in my own bubble,” he says. “I wasn’t interested in what was going on anywhere else.”
After the album flopped, Goulden continued to play the songs live, but he hadn’t listened to the record in years. “You don’t go listen to your albums all the time—sometimes you listen out of curiosity or because you have to relearn something,” he says. “I hadn’t sat and listened to it for years, and when I did, I was pleased. … There’s a lot of truth and oddity in it. As a songwriter, I had come of age, I think. There’s a wealth of observation in that record.”
The album sounds like junkyard folk. “Birthday Blues” is a sparse affair, with acoustic guitar and organ, while other songs, like “The Nerd/Turkey Song,” are more raucous, with a full band. Goulden says the record was made while he was coming out of an emotional low.
“It was just me writing about my life and the stuff around me,” he says. “‘The Turkey Song’ is about being in a mental hospital, which thankfully I wasn’t anymore, but I had been.”
Since then, Goulden, who turned 60 in May, has etched out a comfortable space in the indie-rock world. He has recorded three albums with his wife, Amy Rigby. The couple lives in Catskill, N.Y., near the Hudson River. Goulden will be touring in support Donovan of Trash this summer without Rigby, who is finishing up a book.
Goulden says he’s very much in love with Rigby—and happy. “I went through all that time and it was very hard, but I never complained about it, and kept going,” he says. “I always thought, one day someone will recognize what I’ve done. I suppose that time is now. I’m very thankful for it.”