|Masters of Reality were
formed in 1981 by singer and guitarist Chris Goss and
lead guitarist Tim Harrington, with their current line-up
having existed for more than three years. The individual
members of the band previously played a myriad of musical
directions including hard rock, jazz and Seventies
Chris Goss: "When Tim and I founded the band, we concentrated on experimental music and tried to combine it with metal influences. One of my absolute favourites were Kraftwerk (German experimental progressive band). At the time there weren't many metal bands around, and hard rock looked like dying out. We wanted to play music that sounded up to date, but had it's roots in hard rock."
The result is an unusual mixture of blues, metal, hard rock and psychedelic influences, jumbled together yet combined so well that the resulting sound is unique. The major American record companies initially completely missed out, no doubt because their mainstream saturated ears couldn't cope with the band's different sound. Although Masters of Reality had sent recorded demos to the various companies, without any success.
The man who finally recognised the band's virtues, had made his name because of his open mind regarding new bands. This man doesn't choose bands according to the kind of music they play, he's far more interested in bands having their own style. The talk is of Rick Rubin and his Def American label (also home to bands like Danzig and Trouble).
Chris: "I think it's sad that some people don't realise this, because it's true. I think Rick Rubin is respected for his work more in Europe than here in the States, although his records sell well here too. Especially his rap productions, Run DMC, the Beastie Boys and LL Cool J. He already had a reputation as a producer that would have enabled him to produce bigger bands and get paid a million dollars to do so. Instead, he listens to demos by completely unknown bands like Trouble, or ours, and signed them up to his label. That says something about the man's qualities..."
...the qualities of a man who isn't just well known for his unusual choice in bands, but also for his perfectionist approach to work.
Chris Goss: "Oh yeah, he's a one hundred percent perfectionist. He is very hard. I am personally more easy going and if a take sounds good, okay, then that's good enough for me, we'll use it. I'm ready then. But with Rick, everything has to be perfect which is one of the reasons it took so long for us to record the album. We kept on trying out different things, to check if some things could sound even better. We took six months to complete the whole album. At the same time he never made any decision without us, all decisions were made jointly by him and the whole band; and when a group of people makes joint decisions and discusses different aspects and styles, you can hardly expect the work to be completed from one day to the next. Anyway, it was his money, there aren't very many record companies that would spend so much money on a debut album."
The time factor seems to be one of the most important in the lives and works of Masters of Reality, whether it be gaining a record company contract, recording an album or simply song writing; everything they do seems to take ages to finish off.
Chris: "Most of the song ideas come from Tim and me, although we normally only work out the first structure in our heads, and develop it slowly from there. Some of the songs took forever until they were ready. We are all completely neurotic, it takes time for all our different personalities to combine so as to create a joint product. It's extremely difficult getting the different ideas together especially when you can already hear the finished song in your head. Once you've heard the other guys' versions you realise that it isn't anything like you originally imagined. To be honest, it takes a lot of hard work for us to finish writing a song that we're all completely happy with."
It was worth waiting for, despite everything taking so much longer for the band to complete. Their debut album Blue Garden was praised by a hell of a lot of critics, and even the Americans seem to quite like the LP. Chris is sceptical...
"I think I'm more worried than happy about all the enthusiasm. At the end of the day, it's not the critics who make decisions about the music, but the audience. I haven't got a clue what to expect from the critics - they make decisions about an album, often before it's even available in the shops and I find that worrying. Writers are usually so horribly trendy. First of all they'll rip something to pieces, but as soon as they realise that the people do like it after all, they'll start singing the praises of it.
I have never bought a record just because of reading a good write up about it. I wouldn't pay ten dollars for a record just because of what a writer, who I don't even know, says about it. As far as I'm concerned Blue Garden won't please everyone, which is why I was so surprised to read some of the excellent reviews. It's not a fashionable album, I hope it's more timeless."
So this album isn't for trendies. It could remind you of lots of different things, seldom however a band from the American east coast (they're from Syracuse, which lies about four hours drive from New York City) - one would have thought the American southern states would seem a more logical place for this band to hail from.
Chris: "I think one of the reasons we play the music we do is because we're from a completely isolated industrial town. When I used to buy a record as a teenager, then it was holy for me and it helped me escape from the depressing reality. Fashions were one of the last things to interest me. Your not really interested in your hair colour at that age, the only important thing is the music and not the trend, apart from the fact that you can't even afford to follow every single trend even if you wanted to. Once you've decided to become a musician, you're forced to move on to a bigger town to get anywhere. We only live four hours car drive away from New York, but the difference is enormous; you have to try and combine these two basically completely different impressions. But I never want to lose the feeling of being a child, whose only way out of all the misery is through the music. The record is made for people like that."
Chris' biggest influence was Jimmy Page, as far as song writing is concerned "because he was able to give every note a special secretive sound." He also likes Black Sabbath (that's where the name comes from), Neil Young and ZZ Top.
Chris: "I like a melody and that seems to be the problem lots of bands have, who despite being able to play really hard and fast, hardly have any melody in their songs. The members of Masters of Reality are really open to all musical directions. We listen to anything."
What seems a disadvantage at first seems to have turned out to the band's advantage, although Blue Garden does blow the minds of style purists. Most listeners must have a pretty open attitude to different musical styles.
Chris: "But that's the problem with music these days, it's categorised, it's virtually unheard of for different musical directions to be combined, and bands like us who can't be categorised in any musical direction are largely ignored by the media, for the one and only reason that they don't know where to put us. That starts with the fact that MTV won't play the video we recorded for 'The Blue Garden'. It's a really cool video, it's nice to look at, but because it's not a proper metal video, it's not shown at all.
The worst thing is that millions of people watch MTV and they think a band must be good if they play their video. That means that the fans don't decide what they do or don't want to hear themselves, because they are dictated by the media what records they should buy. The thought really confused me, but what's new? We can only try and help change the situation. If the fans mouth to mouth propaganda works, we should make it without MTV and similar things."
Live shows probably aren't the worst idea here either. At the time of the interview, the band were sitting in LA where they were playing various headline shows. Masters of Reality might even be coming over to Europe in September to promote their Blue Garden album (they already played Holland in the Summer, to celebrate a Dutch music magazine) so we won't have to wait too long.
One final question to Chris: did he think it was good or bad for the band to have signed a record deal fairly late in their career, maybe wasting valuable time in the process?
"There are always two ways of looking at something. If I were twenty now, I'd probably have a really good time and really let myself go, just like people do at that age. On the other hand a young band just signed to a record company will probably be exploited because they're just so young, and not aware of what they're doing. They only think about releasing records, hanging out with a girl and a gram of cocaine in the hotel rooms and really get off on the whole situation. They can really get into all that, but would be out of the question for me. I'm thirty now, and I've got the feeling that the band have finally received what we really deserved a long time ago, and with a bit of luck, I'll still have another thirty years ahead of me during which I can do what I feel like doing. Apart from the fact that deep down inside I can still feel like a fifteen year old. Age is really unimportant, what would the difference be if I were five years younger? I could just as easily have been asleep for those five years."