Interview © Subba-Cultcha.com
von Eddie Thomas
Master of all he surveys, Subba quizzes the legendary artist and producer for Queens Of The Stone Age, Kyuss & 80’s Matchbox B-Line Disaster...
As a producer he’s known for his work with everyone from Kyuss and Queens Of The Stone Age to the ‘80’s Matchbox B-Line Disaster and pioneered the so-called Desert Sound in the process; as a musician he has piloted the Masters Of Reality through the changing rock landscapes of the last twenty years. Now, the legend that is Chris Goss is back in the UK with a new album, “Pine/Cross Dover” in the pipeline and a load of words for you lucky Subba readers!
Hi Chris - so what’s been going on with you recently?
Well, I’ve been travelling around Europe doing press for the new record. I got into London late last night, I’m a little bit jetlagged, but I’m alright, thanks.
Does the travelling take it out of you a bit?
Well in this day and age travelling is different. Since 9-11 it’s become laborious and paranoid, tedious… and with the economy too, I mean I paid $10 for a bottle of still water here last night. I got to my room and I realised I had no water. Everybody is nickel and diming everyone for everything ”‘ soon it’ll be £4 for someone to tell you the time. That’s kind of annoying, but what the fuck, we’re still lucky.
I believe you’re staying around for a few days, doing some stuff with UNKLE?
Yes, I’m going to be here for 3 weeks.
Anything else on the agenda?
Always. Yeah, I want to see some good shows hopefully. I want to see my old boy from Yes on Saturday night, Jon Anderson, the singer. He’s doing a solo show. I love his voice, it’s like a woodwind instrument, you know. Yes is touring without him with a replacement singer, cause he had a near-fatal bronchial asthma attack about a year and a half ago, so they got a singer from a Yes tribute band they found in Montreal. Wouldn’t they know that people who like ‘70’s Yes, which to me is where it is, ’70 ”‘ ’77 when they were out there trying to do something, wouldn’t want to see them using a tribute singer. And now the real guy is back, his voice is good, he’s doing solo shows, by all means grab him.
So back to the Masters Of Reality ”‘ you’ve been going for 20 years with this band, is there a line-up you’ve put together in that time that stands out as being a particular favourite?
Yeah, there’s been a couple, most recently was the last long tour which was with Josh and Nick from Queens. They are amazing players ”‘ obviously they are ”‘ but we rehearsed about four hours for that tour - they knew the material because we know each others music. They were in the middle of making “Songs For The Deaf” at the time. That was great because we wung it ”‘ wung? winged? ”‘ and I really like doing that, keeping it loose, learning under fire. I shouldn’t say it because I’ll probably fuck up the next show I play! I like to play like that, my (current) drummer John pretty much knows instinctually where I’m going to go with a song too. So we would do the songs differently every night, doing a different intro every night sometimes for four or five minutes before the body of the song kicks in. Sometimes it works, sometimes it’s boring, but it’s worth the chance, worth the risk, because the pay-off when it does work is great. Then there was another tour, maybe about ‘99 when we had a full-on dedicated keyboard player, Monteas Schneeburger, a German friend of mine who’s also in The Earthlings, we call him Schneeby. Also Paul Powell on bass who’s from London, a really good musician, and Brendan McNichol on guitar who also played with Queens for a while ”‘ that was a great line-up too.
There’s one other person I have to ask you about ”‘ Ginger Baker ”‘ what are your abiding memories of working with him?
Fantastic ”‘ even the sour memories are fantastic. There were times when if the guitars were coming through his monitors too loudly there were times he would throw his sticks down and put his hands over his ears, or throw his drumstick at the monitor man ”‘ I watched him nail a guy in the neck with a stick from 30 feet away because the guy wasn’t paying attention when Ginger was trying to signal him. So I’ve seen the pirate he can be and it’s still amusing. Plus I learned so much from a master, one of the architects of what I do, what we all do. His is probably the most identifiable drumming style ”‘ everyone knows the John Bonham style, it’s the most copied, elephant-playing-drums style ”‘ but Ginger’s style, the unusual approach of playing the main beat of the tom on the toms and not kick-snare-kick-snare. It’s from the big band sound that he grew up with and also the African music he loves. So to play with someone like that was great, then there was his insistence on dynamics. That was the lesson. It’s changed the way I play with other musicians for the rest of my life. If you start out loud, you have nowhere to go ”‘ it’s like if you do a foot long line of cocaine, it’s just stupid. There are a few exceptions to the rule ”‘ The Ramones, for instance, where the aesthetic is everything loud all the time right to the end of the show, just high energy. But in the different style of rock that I prefer myself, even being a Ramones fan, it needs to breathe to make it interesting. You need to let your brain relax and take the shape of water, and you change the shape as you’re playing with the volume and the dynamics of music, and it’s healthy, musically, aesthetically and probably psychologically too, to have that kind of control and relaxation when you’re playing. So that’s what he insisted on from square one. He would start playing a drumbeat very softly from the first jam onwards ”‘ you feel like “we’re going somewhere”, not “we’re there already”. Ginger was amazing. I hear he’s going to have his 70th birthday party in London in October so I hope I see him, I haven’t seen him in years. Happy birthday Ginger!
Indeed! So can we talk about Pine/Cross Dover, the new record ”‘ how was it to make?
It was made with a similar technique to the way we usually do. John and I communicate briefly for a month or two before about possible directions. He’ll go “What are you thinking this time Goss?” And this time it was “somewhere between Presence-era Zeppelin and Mahavishnu John McLaughlin’s Shakti” ”‘ one’s a bunch of whacked-out junkies and the other’s a bunch of Indian jazz geniuses using 13:9 tempos, but strangely enough, we have the kind of relationship where I think he knows what that meant. It probably menat swing and rhythm, in general a lot of rhythm, because that’s what those two examples mean to me, crazy rhythms. So I told him to be prepared to play his drums and to have no rules, except I don’t want any typical rock drums ”‘ think outside that. It’s a different record, and I’m proud of that.
So with regard to the “Desert Sound” ”‘ is it fair to characterise that as something you invented or was it more a product of the combination of you and the musicians who played on the Sessions?
I know what I contributed to it ”‘ it’s hard to explain it but I think I told them to think. I have had a long musical relationship with Josh for instance, and in one sense Kyuss swung ”‘ they had a great swing to them, they weren’t the uptempo, staccato metal of the day back in 1991-92. That was what was intriguing to me and what gave me goose-bumps when I saw them. When heavy music is done right ”‘ it’s so rare that it’s done right, especially now where there’s so much heavy music missing the mark, 99% at least. From the vocals to the guitars, everything sounds the same. Even most of the stuff that calls itself metal is so far off the target. Everyones’ “we’re thrash metal, we’re death metal”, that’s kiddie shit, that’s rubbish. Anyway, the desert sound, what it was was to loosen up and to keep it loose, that was the intention from the start.
As a producer who would you say has been the most fun to work with?
Kyuss of course, but more recently, ‘80’s Matchbox B-Line Disaster. I’m still enamoured by them. I haven’t heard anything from them in a while, I have to call them, last I knew they were still living in Brighton. Andy Huxley left the band ”‘ he was the main guitarist and the leader of the band pretty much when I was working with them, and he had a band called the Vile Imbeciles. They were amazingly talented kids. I learned as much from them as anyone, and with a great sense of humour, a lot of fun to work with. Writing their own rule book too. I suppose the record was very ambitious and they brought a lot of styles in. It was probably too early on in their career to cover that much ground, but those was the songs they had and they worked wonderfully together. I’ve never seen such a bungled business opportunity in my fucking life; whoever’s responsible should have their fucking fingernails pulled out for letting that record rot on the shelves. Every little boy in England should have been reciting those lyrics in the playground. They’re brilliant, like nursery-rhyme lyrics to these crazy songs. The imagination at work is mind-boggling and I stand by that record 4, 5 years on. It’s just one of those ones that comes along once in a long time. Someone should buy the record, re-release it, get Andy back in the band… great band. Duke Spirit is a great band ”‘ it wasn’t that much fun to record, but they’re still great songwriters, I still respect them and they’ve got something going on. I just mixed Creature With The Atom Brain ”‘ Aldo from Millionaire, that was a really fun record to work on, great songs and he’s such a fan of obscure psychedelic music. Even maybe too obscure. Like there’s an Australian band with a really terrible name ”‘ Tame Impala ”‘ I mean, Tame Impala! Tame is just a terrible word to use anyway ”‘ I told them, can’t it be untame or something? Anyway, they’re a totally obscure band, just sent me some demos from Australia, 17-18 years old, but the guitarist is really onto something, it’s like The Ventures go to outer space, ‘60’s garage surf psychedelica, it sounds like a band from California. They’ve never put out anything official, and they’re from fucking Australia, yet Aldo knew about them and was a fan of them!
And is there anyone you’ve heard recently who you’d like to work with in future?
I’d still like to work with some of the old guys ”‘ I’d love to work with Jon Anderson. Let’s see ”‘ I’d love to work with Joanna Newsom, Bjork, I suppose I’m setting these unrealistically high goals but they’re the ones who come to mind, people who make grandiose music, who aren’t ashamed of it. The quirkier the better, I think. There’s a band from Belgium again called Drums Are For Parades, who have a similarly heavy sound I haven’t heard similar since Kyuss. That kind of swing - swinging lava!
Any crazy tour stories?
Compared to most people I’m pretty mellow on the road. In London one night, though it wasn’t me who did this, we had a bottle of absinthe on the bus and a band came to visit me. We were talking about working together ”‘ they were already drunk when they came to say hello after our show at the Astoria. One of them just grabbed the bottle and started chugging down straight absinthe ”‘ and immediately within 60 seconds, projectile vomited six feet like St George and the fucking dragon! That was pretty funny. But me, I’m pretty mellow on the road, I save my energy for the stage. I’m obsessed with trying to stay clean ”‘ it’s filthy touring. The bus is always parked in alleys where everyone is pissing, so you’re constantly treading piss onto the carpet on the bus and then you’re walking on the carpet later without shoes on and it’s like a travelling petri dish ”‘ a piss bus. Not my favourite thing!
Finally, if you were asked to headline a festival and you could have any five musicians or bands from the past or present to play with you, who would you choose?
Wow, that would be great ”‘ we came close to it one night when we did a Desert Sessions followed by Radiohead and Kraftwerk. Which was great! But in that context, I’d say Radiohead, Bjork, Kraftwerk, Yes and Led Zeppelin, and maybe Joanna Newsom next to Bjork.
Pine/ Cross Dover is out now on Brownhouse Records. Masters Of Reality will be back to the UK for some shows in October. Many thanks to Chris for his time, and to Karl at Eleven PR for sorting the chat.