© www.modernguitars.com 2006
Autor: Brian D. Holland
Fotos: Thomas Rabsch
Chris Goss Interview
Chris Goss is, first and foremost, a musician and songwriter. Those who remember 1988's Blue Garden album by Masters Of Reality, or especially its 1990 repackaged successor, Masters Of Reality, know what I mean. For rock and roll purists, the arrival of the self-titled CD was like welcoming home a long lost friend. Throughout the days of hair bands and the new wave '80s, rock albums as classic and as agreeable to the ears as this one were hard to come by. To just hear the sound of a blues-rock oriented album, Cream-like and Zeppelin-ish in style, yet refreshingly new in its own right, was a breath of fresh air. To this day, many consider Masters Of Reality to be one of the greatest guitar-oriented rock albums ever released.
Though a revolving door membership, Goss' Masters Of Reality went on to make a handful of additional records, including 1992's Sunrise On The Sufferbus (with Ginger Baker on drums), 1997's How High The Moon - Live At The Viper Room, 1999's Welcome To The Western Lodge, 2001's Deep In The Hole, 2002's Flak 'n' Flight, and 2004's Give Us Barabbas. Rick Rubin was the producer of note on the related first two releases, but Chris did most of the producing thereafter, and still does.
During all of this, Chris was/is busy playing on the CDs of others, producing them as well. He's known widely for his work and for his relationship with guitarist and singer, Josh Homme. Goss lent his talents in producing at least three Kyuss CDs, and did the same in the next Homme venture, Queens Of The Stone Age. 'Stoner Rock', as it soon became known as, was due largely to the combined talents of California desert dwellers, Goss and Homme, and through the sounds of Kyuss.
Goss is also the producer and/or musician on many other CDs released over the last decade or so, including those by The Cult's Ian Astbury, Black Cat Bone, Desert Sessions, The Flys, Mark Lanegan, Screaming Trees, Stone Temple Pilots, UNKLE, and Scott Weiland, just to name a few. Goss and Homme are presently touring their new band, The 5:15ers.
Below is my conversational interview with Chris Goss, in which he talks about his relationship with Josh Homme, Ginger Baker, and ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons, his adoration for music and the making of it, and also about the guitar and the gear he uses.
"Masters Of Reality", released in 1990, is one of my favorite CDs still. I thought the band was going places for sure, and that it was the best thing since Cream or Led Zeppelin. The strength and the blues-rock influences were all there, which was a breath of fresh air at the time, because there wasn't too much of that going around in the late 80s.
Chris Goss: Not at that time, no.
MOR CDs are hard to come by now. In fact, the one I had just mentioned, the self-titled release, is hard to find.
CG: Who knew? [Laughing] You can get certain versions of them on the official website.
Have you ever thought of re-releasing that album?
CG: The thought comes up every once in a while.
It's a great album. I don't think there's a bad cut on it, which is hard to come by in any age. I get a real kick out of "Doraldina's Prophecies" every time I hear it.
CG: Thanks, Brian. That's one of my favorites, too.
Everything about Masters Of Reality constantly changes, including the lineup. Is it more of an experimental device than a band?
CG: Well, I suppose I have to look at it that way now, obviously, with all of the member changes over the years.
Have you ever thought of touring the band again?
CG: I'd love to. I release records in Europe on a regular basis. We find it very easy to tour in Europe.
Classic rockers, blues, and jazz musicians say that all the time.
CG: Yeah. The cities are only an hour or two drive from each other. I really don't understand how Europeans keep up with so much music all the time. They're on to new music like crazy and they're into the old music like crazy. On any given night, in Amsterdam, Hamburg or Cologne, you can have B.B. King, David Lee Roth, and somebody like Wishbone Ash all playing. There's just so much respect there for players who've paid their dues. If it weren't for Europe, jazz would have ended in about 1960 probably.
It seems it has always been that way when it comes to jazz and blues. It's kept alive in places like France and Germany.
CG: Yeah. It's pretty amazing actually. I don't know how they afford to keep supporting it but they really do. I know that the governments over there subsidize a lot of tours, and even the clubs and venues are government subsidized for certain programs. But yeah, it's pretty cool.
The recent appearance on the Leno show, which was actually a Queens Of The Stone Age gig, with you and Billy Gibbons added, how did that come about?
CG: Josh Homme, the guitarist for Queens, asked me to do backups on the song. We've been collaborating for years and years, so I said, "Sure. I'll come and play." He said, "By the way, Billy's playing, too." I said that's great, and it even makes it better. Billy's just fantastic.
Billy Gibbons is playing and jamming with lots of musicians of different styles these days.
CG: That's the thing, man. You know, like, he's everywhere, out all the time seeing bands. The last time we spoke he had asked me if I had heard of a singer named Imogen Heap. I said yes, and that I thought her stuff was fantastic. It was funny he said that because she had really caught my attention, too. I had found out that one of her shows was going to be broadcasted this Sunday night on KCRW, the public radio station of Santa Monica College. They constantly introduce music from all over the world. It's a great source to hear new music. But anyway, I've been trying to track Billy down just to tell him that. [Laughing] People tell me all the time that they'd seen him at this show or that show. He was at this show last night, a Depeche Mode concert, or some other show. I see him at Queens Of The Stone Age concerts all the time.
He really does divert from the Texas blues and rock.
CG: Absolutely. He's an artist and he's still looking for music and inspiration. That's what makes him one of the great music artists of the century.
CG: Yeah. For me, the three guitarists are Jimmy Page, Steve Howe, and Billy Gibbons. If I was stranded on a desert Island, those are the guitarists whose records I'd want with me. It would cover all the ground.
Getting back to that Leno show, it was basically a Queens Of The Stone Age gig, and the song was "Burn The Witch". It would have been great if you guys broke into "Regular John" or especially "Feel Good Hit Of The Summer". But I suppose you wouldn't have gotten away with that on major TV.
CG: Well, "Feel Good" was a number one single in Europe. They took it exactly as it was; it was a joke. It's a really funny song. When we recorded that album, that song was kind of like an after thought. Josh was just going to throw a few seconds of that chant in at the end of the record. I said, "No, man. That rocks!" And it ended up opening the record. [Laughing]
They're a great band, too.
CG: Yeah. They're a fantastic band. In that situation you just let the music make the decisions for you. It's as easy as that, you know.
Is there a present Masters Of Reality lineup?
CG: At the moment, the backbone of the band is John Leamy, who's my drummer in New York City, and myself. The other Masters Of Reality members are to be announced, whenever it comes up. [Laughing] Whenever it's time to tour or record. We played in Spain back in September; it was our last show. We had two additional players, two friends of ours who were just able to come along. It worked fine, literally two rehearsals in New York City, and then we played in front of 25,000 people. I really like that. I love that challenge. I love that feeling of being not quite sure. When it works it feels spectacular.
Talk about working with Ginger Baker.
CG: It was the best thing ever. I learned so much from him. It almost erased all that I knew about music and playing. He's an incredible musician/artist. He really understands the aesthetics of rock and roll, blues, and jazz. I learned so much about dynamics. Since playing with him, I only use Marshalls on big stages. It's the importance of keeping the volume low at rehearsals, and being able to hear everyone in the band, the dynamics. If you start out loud you have nowhere else to go. It was great; we had a great music relationship.
Talk about UNKLE.
CG: It's a British electronic band that wanted more rock. So I gave it to them. [Laughing] It's a lot more guitar oriented now. I had Josh come in and play on it as well as myself. It's a totally different sounding band now.
I had read somewhere that you were sick for a while and were in intensive care, some kind of internal infection or something.
CG: Yeah. A year ago I had hernia surgery that went awry. A staff infection had set in while I was in the hospital. I ended up ill for about eight months because of it. It was pretty bad. But it's done now and I feel better. I had three or four surgical procedures over it. They couldn't find the source of the infection. I was on the strongest antibiotics imaginable for months and months. They still couldn't nab it. They went in and did two surgeries to find the source of the infection. My mantra was to get to Spain. I kept saying that I had to get to Spain. I knew if I made it to that show I'd be okay. Rock 'n' roll saved the day again.
I know we've covered this a bit, but talk about your inspirations and influences.
CG: All music. The Beatles, from early to late. I changed musically with them, from the time I was a little boy. They kind of led the way. They took everybody on a real educational trip. As they changed, we all did, I think.
They were one of the few bands that manifestly progressed as time went one, in a very short period of time as well.
CG: They had the perfect time for it, though, didn't they? Psychedelic rock, Cream and Hendrix were going on at the same time. The Beatles just reflected it right back. Everyone kicked the door open and they just walked right in behind them all the time.
And from that point, The Rolling Stones, Cream, Led Zeppelin, and Jimi Hendrix did it for me. Just go from the 60s into the 70s to Led Zeppelin and Yes, the prog stuff and the fusion, Mahavishnu Orchestra and Weather Report. Some of my favorite musicians aren't even guitarists. Joe Zawinul, from Weather Report, is one of my musical heroes. It's classical music to me. He fuses all of these influences together. The interplay of those guys. Weather Report was always about really great interplay and not showing off. The first ten Weather Report records just blow my mind still to this day. The first few Mahavishnu records are the same way for me. What's exciting now is that there's a whole generation of young people hearing that music for the first time and loving it. They've never heard anything like Mahavishnu Orchestra, or some of the 1970s Yes, the long pieces of prog music that were written at the time.
You must have been a fan of Chick Corea and Return To Forever as well.
CG: Of course. I use to follow Return To Forever around actually. They were fantastic, too.
And punk rock, it had its plusses and its minuses. It gave us the appreciation of simplicity. We have really good stuff like The White Stripes now, and we had The Ramones. It's really simple, fun, genius music. But at the same time, it made a lot of rules. And it wasn't supposed to be about that. It was supposed to be about breaking rules. So now, if you really want to break rules you listen to prog. [Laughing]
And classical music, Stravinsky was real important to me growing up, same with Beethoven, Puccini, and all kinds of classical composers. You can see the influence on Joe Zawinul and Jon Anderson.
Suppose you put five of your favorite current CDs in a CD player, with the plan to listen in any order. What would they be?
CG: At the moment, off the top of my head, a San Francisco band called Deerhoof would be one. Their new album is called The Runners Four. They were just reviewed in Rolling Stone. They've been underground for years. They're kind of prog/art/rock, but modern. I love 'em, and that would definitely be in there. Probably a Yes CD, like Close To The Edge would be in there. A girl named Joanna Newsom, who sings and plays the harp. She's just a genius, singer, harpist, and one-girl show. That would be in there. A band from England named Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster, believe it or not. That would be in there. They're really great, imaginative, and crazy hard rock. A Band from LA that's pretty happening right now, called Autolux, they're like genius, weird music; I don't know any other way to put it. I guess that would be it. Though there's a desert band called Gram Rabbit. I know that's six. They're kind of like spacey, nutty pop music.
You're always producing when time permits.
CG: Yeah. It takes up a lot of time, that's for sure. Right now I'm finishing up the UNKLE record. The best news for me is that Josh Homme has asked me to record the next Queens Of The Stone Age record with him. I mean, to be able to tear shit up again with my best friend, that's what making music is all about, isn't it?
That's excellent. I understand your relationship with Josh Homme goes back to the Kyuss days.
CG: Yeah. I produced three Kyuss records. I've been working with Josh for fifteen years now.
What's happening with rock guitar these days, Chris?
CG: I hear people cleaning up their sound quite a bit at the moment. I'd say we're about 1966 again, cyclically. It's an era where anything goes, where people are looking for new stuff. While some guitarists are using cleaner sounds, others are into complete over the top distortion. So, it's the kind of era where anything could work. You have The White Stripes or The Hives, or something that sounds very primal and garage-like, and at the same time it's brilliant with simplicity. Then you have this new style prog, like Deerhoof, popping up. It's everywhere; it's all over the board. And it's as it should be. That's where the world is, too, I guess.
Let's talk about you, as a guitarist. Do you prefer certain keys to write or play in?
CG: I like C# and F#.
For your voice or for the sound of the guitar?
CG: For the sound of the guitar, especially C#. The open low E, over it, that position always amazes me. It's like a Robin Trower position or something. I like odd keys; I like F also. It's probably because I'm bored with E and A, from playing and jamming in those keys so much over the years. You become dogmatic, and automatically go to that position, with the open octaves and stuff.
Do you get into alternate tunings?
CG: Yeah. I have my own tunings that I like to use. I have an A major and an A minor tuning that I use quite a bit actually. It's from tuned down low to tuned up high, and it's probably not too good for the necks of the guitars. I could play in it for hours.
When in standard tuning, do you sometimes tune down?
CG: Depending on whether or not I'm touring a lot, or if I'm playing a lot, I'll have a tendency to drop a half step down, from what normally would be E to E flat, maybe even to D. It also depends on the band and the shape my voice is in. I really have no rules on that. "Masters" records are tuned all over the place, and half the time I can't even remember what I tuned to. [Laughing]
It must be difficult when touring, all the different guitars in different tunings.
CG: Well, I'll standardize the tunings for a tour. I'll go to like E, E flat for touring, for a happy medium.
Let's talk about gear.
CG: I'm a Telecaster man. My two main Telecasters are a '65 and a '69.
You utilize so many tones that it's hard to identify them as Telecasters.
CG: They're set up unlike any other Telecasters really, with DiMarzio X2N pickup systems. Overblown pickups, and custom wiring jobs also. Their sound resembles Les Pauls a lot. At the same time, it's a really wide range of sound. I use the tone pot a lot. I can go from a totally clean, almost jazz sound, to a Robert Fripp sound just with the volume and tone pots on the guitar. It's really controlled mainly from the guitar. I rarely use any pedals live, just for lack of coordination. It's hard enough to sing and play, let alone step on something. [Laughing] Unless I've got to do something with an octave divider or maybe a reverb on/off switch, most of the time it's guitar, tuner, amp, and that's it.
For big stages I use a Marshall JCM-900. They made some nice 900s in the early 90s. I had to go through about fifty of them before I found the two that I really liked, that I have still. I tour with those two all the time. When playing in a club or jamming, I'll either break out a couple of my Supros, I have some Thunderbolts, or I'll break out my old '61 Super Reverb. I used to pick up the Supros for a couple of hundred dollars apiece; they're worth a fortune now. For recording, I use small amps exclusively, usually the Supros. You can hear the tubes ring, and they have a great midrange. Kind of a furry and a ringing midrange. And the highs are easily digestible, too. If I do use any pedals, I like the new Z. Vex pedals that are out now. They're kind of over the top. They're like hand painted, custom pedals.
There are no rules when recording guitars. I use small Fenders and small Supros most of the time, and sometimes old Silvertones. I like something that sounds broken up and old. The microphone really likes that. I'll even plug into a small Peavey, depending on where you put it and where you put the microphone. I'll even go direct a lot, into the board, maybe through a funky, old pedal, or even distort the mic on the board. Anything goes really. Whatever presents texture, I want to see the texture of the tone.
The Supros all have Jensens in them. That makes a big difference. I'll bring my Marshall heads, and the cabinets are all provided by the Backline Company. I use the 1960 Celestions. For strings, I use GHS Boomers, the 9s.