smoke and overdosing with...
Chris Goss is an amiable gentle giant of a man as he sits in the bar of London's famed Columbia Hotel. So much so that at times you'd be hard pushed to guess that this man is, to all intents and purposes, the godfather of stoner rock. Not only has his hand guided the sound of bands like the now defunct Kyuss, Queens Of The Stone Age, The Flys and Unida, but his own band Masters of Reality have, ever since they released their '88 self-titled debut album, been rightly hailed as serious movers and shakers of the rock underground. Yet the plaudits they have received along the way are the kind normally reserved for rock giants who have knocked the commercial world for six. Some 14 years down the line from that debut, Masters of Reality have released just three more studio albums, one live offering, and despite their cult status, are still playing the smaller venues in the UK, when they make their rare forays over here. Perhaps it's this that's led to Goss describing the Masters of Reality as having had such a fucked-up career.
"Now more than ever," he laughs. "It keeps getting more and more as time goes on. When you play underneath the rule game, what do you expect? In a nutshell, that kind of wraps it up. And I don't look like your average rock kid - add all those things up and I don't expect to be playing basketball on MTV with Flea and Marky Mark. It's a slightly different school. My Oxford has no rowing team."
Sadly Goss is right. In an increasingly sanitised music/market place full of conveyer belt rubbish in whatever genre you care to choose, the Masters of Reality have steadfastly refused to deviate from their own chosen path.
"I understand that niche," says Goss. "I have my own bands that I embrace that most people can't stand to listen to. At the same time, as well as a fucked-up career, I know there's been some really good songs. People will discover them over time."
For Goss it all started in the early 80s, but on a different sonic path to the sound most people associate with Masters of Reality.
"What we were doing in the 80s was fucked up. It was drum machine metal in '82. That's psycho stuff so it's not like I expected a bidding war. We played few and far between too. It was almost like a hobby thing, though I knew there was something there that someone would pick up on one day. It stayed experimental for a while, but as I moved back towards my hard rock roots in '85/86, looking to the power of Led Zeppelin rather than the hypnosis of Joy Division."
Eight years down the line, and Goss and his then band, Tim Harrington (guitar), Googe (bass) and Vinnie Ludovico (drums) finally inked a deal with Rick Rubin's Def American label. The irony of being a band inspired by the likes of Zeppelin, Sabbath and Cream and being on a label best known for rap is not lost on Goss.
"It was weird," he says. "I felt I had been crucified on the misty mountains for years before I met Rubin. I knew the stuff he was getting into like the back of my hand. In one way it was weird to entrust it to a guy who had done Danzig, The Cult and Slayer, but I knew he was doing something twisted to it, drying it up, and that intrigued me."
Masters of Reality was critically lauded at a time when thrash metal was in the ascendant, fans finding much to delight in it's dark, powerful yet undeniably traditional grooves. But it didn't take long for all that to change. Within a year Goss had split the band up, kept the name for himself and seemingly vanished. He resurfaced on Chrysalis in '93 with the stunning Sunrise On The Sufferbus, ex-Cream drumming legend Ginger Baker in tow!
"We met up at a mutual friend's barbecue," Goss explains. "This guy said we should jam. Ginger just rolled his eyes back thinking it was just some dumbass band, but my friend pushed it. A few days later we had a great jam session with drinks and good weed. It was set up right."
For Goss, a long time Cream fan, it was something of a dream come true.
"I tell you man, Cream set up a lot of people to do what they did. For some reason I wasn't nervous, I just thought it would be fun. And it was fun, I felt like I was seven years old listening to my older brother's Live Cream album."
"It's my favourite package that I've done, from the cover to the music. The first single did really well in the States, and MTV promised us that when it went Top Five it would go on heavy rotation. The single hit Top Five and they didn't add it. It was an out and out lie. Without that push it was a real blow, 'cause we couldn't tour properly. That started a series of sour events. I talked Ginger into touring with Alice In Chains in arenas to get exposure. Ginger thought we should be doing our own shows in theatres, but we weren't that strong. Halfway through the Alice tour, Layne Staley OD'd on stage and the tour was cancelled. We did a few gigs on our own, but when we got back Ginger didn't want to do it any more, if it was going to be like that. Within six weeks of the album's release I got the call that it was over.
So what was it like, working with a bona fide rock legend?
"When he had a pocket full of cash and was being treated the way he deserved he was wonderful," Goss relates. "Of course he's a wacko, he's a brilliant artist, but when things were good he was cool, but when they got itchy... and Ginger Baker and LA are like vinegar and baking soda. I don't blame him for not going through with it."
Within months of everything coming crashing around him once more, Goss discovered that EMI (Chrysalis' parent label) had failed to pick up on the option on another Masters of Reality album, and as a free agent he went his own way. Not however, into the studio for a new Masters record, but to make a name for himself as a pioneering producer of a new genre.
"I always assumed that I'd be making my own music and that I'd always get back to that and so far I've been blessed," he says. "But working with Kyuss was incredible. The first two records were brilliant experiences. Blues For The Red Sun was laughing for three weeks and Welcome To Sky Valley was laughing until Brant Bjork announced he was leaving. I'm a fan basically. It wasn't about getting some schmuck to thin 'em out, make 'em tune up and write grunge songs. They've all been friends, which can have moments of weirdness, but 99 per cent of the time has been good."
Work with the likes of Kyuss, Queens et al also brought more diverse work with The Cult's Ian Astbury, actor Russell Crowe's 30 Odd Foot Of Grunts and even Stone Temple Pilots. Yet it's the stoner rumble Goss is best known for, despite not being too fond of the tag himself.
"Lyrically Kyuss were evasive and never obvious and that separates them from a lot of the stoner stuff, the Championship Wrestling / cartoon side of it," he explains. "When I was a kid I was a Kiss fan for about a year, until I realised that the river wasn't too deep. I knew I had a hot fish though, in Kyuss. I've been a fan of this music since it was invented. And they swung like motherfuckers."
In '97, Goss was persuaded to bring Masters of Reality out of the garage and dust themselves down for a live show that was recorded for posterity in that year's How High The Moon... Live At The Viper Room. Since then, the band's work rate has gone into overdrive with Welcome To The Western Lodge following two years later, and last year, the quite brilliant Deep In The Hole appearing on the Brownhouse label in Europe and appearing in most magazines annual top album lists. With the band slimmed to a duo of Goss and drummer John Leamy, their recent European tour was bolstered by the appearance of mates Josh Homme, Nick Oliveri and Mark Lanegan.
"I'm on a roll," Goss laughs. "Living in the desert means I've got nothing else to do. And I've been avoiding LA unless I have to work there. The live record acted as the catalyst for all of that."
So what can we expect for the future?
"I'm a weirdo," he smiles "and I make weird rock 'n' roll."