The Reality Concept
Article by Jim Filiault
Photo by Joe Giron
Originally appeared in Metal CD (1993)

When Masters of Reality signed a major deal with Rick Rubin's Def American label in 1987, after 10 years of chasing rainbows through New York's dive circuit, it should have been like finding the proverbial pot o' gold. No chance...

"It's interesting when you sign a record deal," says bassist Googe. "That's the thing you've been working towards since you were first in a band. It's like, 'Now I can sit back and just play rock 'n' roll'. But it gets complicated. With the changing of the record companies, luckily, we've had good enough songs to where another label was always interested."

From the time of the band's self-titled debut, it was an uphill battle through a band break-up and a new deal on Delicious Vinyl. Various members joined and quit the nucleus of Googe and vocalist / guitarist Chris Goss, and management changes were made along the way as well. Somehow, the band ended up with Googe and Goss being joined by legendary drummer Ginger Baker and signing a new deal with Chrysalis.

Heck, from that point they only had to record Sunrise On The Sufferbus twice and lose guitarist Daniel Rey before things settled down to where they are now.

But with the pieces finally fully intact, MOR have emerged with what is perhaps this year's greatest artistic achievement hard music-wise in Sunrise On The Sufferbus. It's classic rock without the cobwebs; it's serious music played with a distinct sense of fun and mischief; it's full to the gills with fresh, intelligent music and light hearted lyrics. In short, it's one of those records that will be listened to as much in 10 years as it is now.

"Things can never be perfect," explains Googe. "But I think the pieces have come together. Especially musically, I think we're the best we've ever been. I think I've got the premier rock drummer right now playing with us. I mean, he's made me a better player with the stuff he teaches me. The way the three of us play together... after playing with Ginger for two years it'd be really difficult to play with someone else. Ginger's a real melodic drummer and fills in the spaces, the little gaps between guitar and bass. It's just this constant sea of melody and rhythm.

"Every once in a while I'll have to laugh, because I remember hanging out at home, with headphones on, stereo cranked, listening to Cream. Now here I am some 20 years later playing with the guy!

"But it's like any famous person you meet. He's a rock legend, but after you play with him and know him for two years you realise he's just a normal person who's got a really great personality."

It's been a good few years since MOR's debut, but perhaps it's been to their benefit. Not just in terms of getting Ginger Baker in their line-up, but when we last saw them the band - who in the image department are hardly Poison - was in the midst of an era where both musically and visually you had to fit neatly into categories. MOR don't on either count. But it's now 1993, and how you look seems to mean a whole lot less.

"I think it's great that that has happened, and it will help us a lot," says Googe. "I mean, we're not 25 years old and we don't have hair down to our ankles. We're just playing great songs. A lot of people are starting to realise this. Look at Los Lobos: they're some of the best musicians in the world, but they're hardly teen idols. Most people are intelligent, and they understand that okay - this is good music."

Part of the band's appeal, especially on Sunrise..., comes from their transition from quartet to trio. Their music, always kind of wispy and laid back, has been given even more room to breathe. It's an airy, open sound that benefits from underplaying if anything.

"Before, I almost had the AC/DC thing going on," admits Googe. "Is there a bass player there? Now I get a chance to embellish more. The first time we played together was a surprise. It sounded a lot more than I imagined. I thought we'd lose the body, but it came out even more. I think our band has dynamics, and we'll let air space just sound - be a part of the music that people don't use anymore.

"Some trios think you have to fill in all the space, but you really don't. The harmonies and melodies will take care of themselves."

Did it come naturally, or did Googe and Co. have to practice restraint?

"The best part is that the music we do now is so natural. This is all coming out of just closing your eyes and playing. When you play with a guy for 10 years, like I have with Chris, you'll be across the room from each other, with your backs turned, and hit the same riff. It's weird."

With the serious vibe in the music, it's lucky the band chose to keep things light-hearted in the lyrical department, especially on 'T.U.S.A.' (Ginger Baker's angry tea-making lecture: "One thing that really bothers me / Is the inability of Yanks to make a good cup of tea," he scowls).

"When you think about it," laughs Googe, "when you go to a restaurant here they do give you a cup of luke warm water. But the instructions are printed right on the damn bag! Pour boiling water...! But it's got that 'Pressed Rat And Warthog' (Baker penned Cream song) feel. The music was just something we'd been jamming. It was like, 'Ginger, why don't you put that tea poem on top of that?' It worked."

Is it a conscious thing to keep it light with the lyrics?

"Yeah, there's mean little kittens, rabbits, birds..." explains Googe. "It's up to the person to take it for what it is. There's not much deep thought... or maybe there is. Someone called it Chris' own version of haiku."

Regardless of it's intent, Masters of Reality have created on Sunrise... a masterful combination of classic music and light hearted words. It may have been a rock 'n' roll obstacle course to get to this point, but Googe keeps smiling and maintains that it's all done for love.

"We wouldn't be doing this if we didn't enjoy it," he says. "Ginger's 53 and he likes to play polo a hell of a lot more than he likes to play music. It's truly a labour of love!"