Interview © Metal Hammer (2007)
Autor: Jerry Ewing
Chris Goss: My Life Story
Where and when were you born? "Syracuse, New York, 1959"
Did you grow up in New York?
"Between Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Syracuse, New York. And then, because of its close proximity, New York City when I was a teenager. This was around the time of punk rock."
What was growing up there like?
"Upstate New York was very dark and dreary. When I was younger I likened it to what it must have been like for Black Sabbath growing up in Birmingham. I heard it in their music, an industrial town, shit weather. I think that has a lot to do with dark and heavy music."
What were you like as a child?
"Very introverted actually. Couldn't wait to get home to put my headphones on and listen to my Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix records and escape."
What was your first introduction to music?
"My older brother's records. I was a Beatles fanatic from when I was five years old. From the age of six years old, I was buying records."
What made music so important to you?
"To me music was joy and escapism from the supposed American ideal of 2.5 children and 2.5 everything. I was much more interested in taking drugs with hippies and travelling the world and learning other languages. I wanted to part of the psychedelic experience. It seemed like a lot more fun."
Did you enjoy school?
"I fucking hated it. I got out a couple of years ahead of time for that reason."
What was the first instrument you learned?
"Guitar. My brother, who was four years older than me, had borrowed a friend's guitar and it was lying around the house and I just started strumming it with my thumb. It was a pretty rare old Gibson, though I didn't realise it. I probably should have robbed it at the time. I didn't buy a guitar until I was 14 years old. A classical guitar with nylon strings."
What was your first band?
"They were called Divine, after the John Waters actor. We covered New York Dolls, Aerosmith, whatever the shock rock was at the moment. David Bowie, Blue Öyster Cult, Alice Cooper, Led Zeppelin. The darkest, hardest early '70s music we could pull off. Or try to."
Can you remember the first song you wrote?
"Yes, it was called 'Keep That Boy In Line'. About 1975. It sounded like Montrose."
Where did the start of Masters of Reality come into play?
"There was a period around 1976 and 1977 when punk rock happened. I was still into this Aerosmith hair thing at the time. Then something major happened and I was part of it. The band name had become Riff Raff, and then it was The Drastics, more punk. I played CBGBs in '78 and started playing in New York more often. Subsequently the New York drug and arts scene took over and I didn't pick up a guitar for a while. I was listening to more electronic music like Kraftwerk and Bowie's Low and Heroes. So '77 to '81 I was in New York and eventually became a club DJ. I liked dance music a lot too."
That's a long way from desert rock...
"It went well with the drugs. I sold all my guitars and started re-thinking a new approach. Punk was pretty much done and the New Romantic crap was taking over. But we had The Psychedelic Furs and PiL and early Cure, good music. But through it all I really missed where I came from. I really liked heavy rock. So I pulled out my Zeppelin and Sabbath records again, craving guitars and a slower beat behind heavy riffs. That was the birth of Masters of Reality. I met up with Tim Harrington. We started a two-piece band with a drum-machine, synthesizers and guitar."
"Looking back on it, it was not too different from what Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson were doing in the '90s. It was very violent and drunken and I don't remember much. I actually don't remember much from 1977 to 1987!"
Rick Rubin signed you to Def Jam didn't he?
"Word had started to spread about Masters of Reality. And I'd heard 'Rock Box' by Run DMC, a hip hop beat with a heavy guitar on it. The subsequently the Beastie Boys came out. And I felt that whoever was making this music would probably hear what we were trying to do. An old punk rock friend of mine, Peter Doherty, who worked at MTV just happened to know Rick Rubin and got a demo in his hand. That was about 1986."
Wasn't the sound of Masters of Reality at odds with what was getting signed back then?
"Good point. When all is said and done we'd have probably fitted in better with the public's ears without Rick Rubin's assistance. Rick really brought out the blues rock part. We were a bit more goth than that. The difference between The Cult's Love and 'Love Removal Machine' is the difference between us pre and post Rubin."
Were you aware of the impact Masters were having?
"I knew it was falling through the right cracks. It's a bit like The Stooges. Iggy Pop didn't sell a lot of records but hearing Iggy was everything. I started to pick up bits of Masters in everything."
Why did you split the band so soon after Masters of Reality came out?
"I'd worked with Tim for almost a whole decade. Maybe there was a nine year itch or something. I just wanted out and a new life. I'd just gotten married, came to California, loved it and said, 'Fuck it, I'm starting afresh'. I just needed a change of scene real bad. We were on a shit tour with King's X and I needed out."
So early on a very transient nature was apparent...
"Yes, and I can imagine it's been a bit of a drag for fans. They want to get behind you and you're not there and then you and then you're not. And the membership changes. When I go see some of my old prog pals like Yes I kind of feel the same."
All of a sudden you resurfaced in 1992 with Sunrise On The Sufferbus with the legendary Ginger Baker in tow...
"It didn't feel strange, it felt normal. It was a joy to play with Ginger. When we were playing it was fantastic. He doesn't have the patience, and rightly so, for the music business game in California. He'd done it all already. Musically I learned so much and had a ball."
But once again it was all over almost as soon as it started.
"Ginger used to say he was in Masters longer than he was in Cream. It took us a while to finish the Sufferbus album, and we would take long breaks. He'd say, 'I've been in this band fucking longer than I was in Cream and we've made one fucking record. We made three in Cream!'. Ginger was actually in the band for three years."
What influenced your decision to go from playing to working on production?
"I was recording the Sufferbus album and my wife had a demo by a band called Sons of Kyuss which she would play around the house in Hollywood. She really liked it and I thought it sounded a bit like a Danzig record. But it started to grow on me and we went to see Kyuss play. They were one of the best sounding bands I'd ever heard in my life. They were tuned down lower than anyone ever, and this was in 1990! They were tuned lower than Black Sabbath, they had a great singer with this gravelly voice and they swung. They swung like a giant blob. I was the new rock guy in LA, so I had the bravado to walk up to them and say, 'I want to produce your record'."
What made you so confident you were the right producer for them?
"It was really an offer of love, because I really didn't want to see some metal guy ruin them. It was post ...And Justice For All metal when everything sounded staccato. Metal started to sound like insects to me, like mosquitoes tap-dancing. And the whole thing about heavy music was the fluidity. And Kyuss had that. When they played it felt like I was having chemotherapy!"
Aside from your many famous production credits Hammer have two words to say to you: Kik Tracee
"I have two words to say to you too! That's great! [laughs] We had the same manager and he asked me to do them a favour. I actually liked the singer's voice and that did it for me. They had the worst fucking name ever, but that EP does sound really good. The name ruined it all."
Were you aware when working with Kyuss that you were helping kickstart desert metal and stoner rock?
"With Kyuss I honestly knew I was making historically heavy music. When you're feeling that there's no denying it."
What do you look for when you decide who to produce?
"Feeling. It's in my gut, not an ear thing. Like even now with the new Queens [Of The Stone Age] album I'm producing, it's how a song feels to me. A lot of Kyuss songs were jammy and not pop songs, but then if I can go through a 13 or 14 minute song and if it's done right then to me it's commercial."
What's the most out there thing you've produced?
"Actually, wait 'til you hear the new Queens album. It really is almost impossible to describe. It's totally fucking crazy. It's almost the craziest thing since Plastic Ono Band. That'll be out in June."
Who's the best musician you've ever worked with?
"It's gotta be Ginger Baker. For the dynamic sense and for paying attention to what's going on while you're playing and being able to bring it down so low... I learned so much."
Who was the biggest pain in the ass?
"[Laughs] Too many to mention."
Give Us Barabbas came out in 2004. When can we expect something new from Masters of Reality?
"The closest you'll get is the new record I did with Twiggy Ramirez called Goon Moon. The record's called Licker's Last Leg. Ipecac are putting it out. It's just the two of us having fun but it's a proper album and has a similar ring to Masters albums. As far as an actual Masters record goes, I'd love to do one this year, but the way it's pointing is that if I don't tour with Goon Moon then we'll record a Masters of Reality album."