The Voice and the Vision...
Greeting Chris, I mention that we've talked before, and to my total amazement he tells me he remembers! Now whether he's being sincere or just jovially polite, I really don't know, but either way, it's nice that he says it at all. The first thing I quiz Mr. Goss about is the Give Us Barabbas album. I ask him, is this truly a new studio release, or is it effectively a 'best of/rarities' retrospective type thing.
"Well, in my eyes, and in other people's ears, I think it might be two different things." he begins. "But to me it's a retrospective - an acoustic, weird retrospective of materials I had hard times finding slots for in the past on other records because so much of it is very 'brushed' acoustic sounding. And so I had accumulated all of these songs over the years, some of them being lush, weird, psychedelic acoustic, and others of them being very simple four-track cassettes that I'd literally recorded in my bedroom. So it's literally twenty years worth of accumulated stuff, including the John Lennon cover song ['It's So Hard']. So to me it's a retrospective, yeah!"
I tell Chris that to me it has a very beautiful, lilting, gentle, whimsical, graceful quality, highlighting the most sensitive side of his career to date, but I wonder if Chris thinks that's a fair comment?
"Graceful? Hmmm. Hey, I like that! It's probably because I'm very, very comfortable sitting down with an acoustic guitar. That's how I learned to play guitar, honestly off of Led Zeppelin III and Cat Stevens records... it's a very light kind of style of strumming that I probably learned off Jimmy Page and Cat Stevens. And it's also Martin guitars kind of strumming - it's not hitting the guitar to hard. In the world of acoustic guitars for rock, for me, there's 'Beatle' acoustics which are Gibsons - you kind of hit them harder, they have more of a ringing 'low end' sound, then there's the more of the Jimmy Page/Cat Stevens style of strumming, which is lighter and a bit more graceful. To me, the thing kind of sounds like a kid still strumming G and D chords, you know what I mean? So it just has a lot to do with that comfort of sitting there and playing a Martin acoustic."
I know I have my personal favourite moments on the album, particularly 'The Desert Song', and it may be a tad unfair to ask him this, but does Chris have any particular favourites?
"The first song, the opener ['The Ballad Of Jody Frosty']. It's the longest piece. I put it at the front, I guess, to be..." he pauses and laughs, "...a dick! You know what I mean? It's like:'Well, you have to get through this one!' he laughs wickedly. So I held that track for many years because I simply couldn't fit it anywhere, and I like that song, especially for performance purposes; to 'go away' for eight or nine minutes during the performance of that song. Then there's a song called 'Brown House On The Green Road' that I wrestled with for many years. It has strange chords for me, from a G major to a D minor, and I don't want to get too technical here, too muso, but it's just like the chord progression constantly perplexed me; I didn't know if it was right or wrong, and it bugged me! It just took me a long time to finish that song. And it sounds like a stupid little two and a half minute ditty, which it is!"
I put it to Chris that he's one of the most difficult people to describe musically, having always avoided trends and musical traps and the like. So just how does he do that? Just not listen to what's going on around him at all?
"Um... I don't know," he ponders. "What I like is new music. Right now, off the top of my head... I like Peaches, I like drum machine punk rock right at the moment, and I probably won't do a drum machine punk rock record, but it's still what I'm listening to at the moment. Actually, a British band called Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster, that's become my favourite band now. They're 22 years old! I think what I try to do, unintentionally, is remain astute to new stuff that I like, then I keep dumbing myself down. I don't know how to read music, or even how to count out time signatures. I guess I almost hit myself on the head with a frying pan to keep myself retarded!" he chuckles.
Whether he particularly likes it or not, Chris is looked up to as the godfather of the stoner and modern day psychedelic scenes. Does that adoration and reverence sit easily with him? How does he feel about almost being put on a pedestal? What about the constant high expectations people have of him: is that a problem?
"Not at all, man," comes the soft reply, "The people I'm really out to please are my wife and family, to be honest. From day to day, those are the people I make sure are happy, and then myself. This may sound selfish, but I make the music for myself, and then there's the personal life of course, then the rest of it to me. Any kind of praise or respect is a bonus, and I'm humbled by it. I don't feel like I'm being put under pressure, so it's really like a blessing that people do receive so well what I do! So, no, it doesn't bother me. I don't, however, always agree with the terms like stoner rock, psychedelic rock, etc., but I don't make them up. Y'know what Simon? Stravinski was more psychedelic than anything ever... so I'm doing nothing new! I'm busy re-presenting what was presented to me in, I think, a garbled manner, a little bit of everything that entertained me, probably from the time I was a little boy up until today when I hear something on the radio that I like. I think it's a matter of observing it, perhaps subconciously trying to represent that feeling outwards again, like learning a magic trick."
So where does Chris draw fresh inspiration? As there are no obvious frames of reference, and I'll admit to being surprised by, not so much the Led Zep, but certainly the Cat Stevens frame of reference. Is that a stupid question?
"No, not at all Simon. That's what I mean. For example, I don't own a White Stripes record, but I love The White Stripes! Do you know what I mean? From what I hear of them on the radio, from what I see of them out live, from what I see of them on TV, I get enough from that to know what's going on there, and I don't need to have the whole record playing all the time to understand how important, how great that is - that someone with a guitar and drums can come along and be childish again with their music and make such a great impact! It's kind of like emptying the canvas, changing everything over again, so it's knocked down and starts being re-structured again for a new generation to build on, and so it's subtlety of design over the years, and the design elements of rock music, and what's on the palette... and the palette right now is fantastic. I believe it's anything goes at the moment! So that's where I get it from. Maybe I'm due for a 'noise' record?"
Having talked about a 'noise' record, let's talk about loud, out 'n' out rock records... well, one in particular anyway - Auf der Maur. It's the self-titled debut by ex-Smashing Pumpkins and Hole bassist Melissa Auf der Maur, and it is absolutely sensational. This is relevant because Chris part wrote, arranged, played on, and most importantly, produced the monster! But how did he come to be involved in the first place?
"How did I come to be involved? Melissa called me, and asked if she could write me a letter," he laughs. "Yeah, she wrote me about nine pages about the kind of record she wanted to make, and I loved it! I just read this fax that went on and on and on, but the clincher was that on the telephone she told me her two favourite bands were Kyuss and The Smiths. And I totally understood because they're two of my favourite bands over the years, and most Kyuss fans on hearing the words 'The Smiths' would turn green, and vice versa probably. But to understand why someone would like both of those bands - that's how we liked each other. It was kind of like 'of course I understand why you like both of them!' To me, in her record you can hear both elements, because there's a 'swirling-ness' to it. Johnny Marr, The Smiths' guitar player, his 'jangle rock' guitar playing kind of sounds like it was scribbled in crayon to me, and Kyuss sounds like it was scribbled in crayon to me also. So there's this 'abandonment' in both kinds of guitar, even though they're two different kinds of guitar style. There's also a similarity there that I think she [Melissa] understood too. So we just hit it off instantly, and we've become fast friends. She's actually coming over to Europe next week, and she's going to come to Paris and sing a couple of songs with me over there, and do an acoustic set. I really look forward to that too, because we really have become firm friends over making her record, and it was a lovely record to make. She sent me a couple of dirty demos, really musically gritty and dirty demos, just the kind I like, very rough. If there's one thing I could tell a musician these days, it's don't over-produce a demo, and Melissa totally already understood that. There was an energy to her demo. I felt the energy she was trying to convey, she has a 'witchy' side to her, a very sexy, witchy, vibe, and that struck me, I found that intriguing. With her red hair and her height, it just all fitted together. I just saw this unbroken, possessed woman; very, very busy, a very hard worker, and very perceptive. When you see someone who works that hard, as a producer you say 'Well, this person is going to be fighting for good music all the way, so it's not going to be that tough a battle.' In fact it was no battle at all! So that was a really good start to things. When it came to the album, it took a while; we'd work a few weeks at a time, and take a month or two, and then come back together a couple of weeks later. We had all of our friends play on it, there's probably a dozen guests play on it. I think that the word 'grace' comes in again - Melissa understands playing heavy music with grace. I wrote one of the songs with Josh Homme and I did a lot of the arranging. I think my main strength as a producer is as someone who understands how to help with arrangements and building the emotion of the song, and if you have a three-minute song, how best to use that three minutes, how things fall in order. Then it's a matter of seeing if the artist takes my lead. And if they do, and if they add to it, which they always do in my case (I'm pretty lucky as to who I work with) then I'll suggest one harmony, and maybe they'll come up with a better one, and then open up a section of a song that at one time was empty... and the next thing you know, there's something maybe glorious going on for the next couple of hours. It's just knowing something is good, and trying to feel around the emotion of a song. I'm more that kind of person, rather than being a 'choose that kind of microphone' type producer."
Given that Chris is often perceived as being Masters of Reality personified, where does Chris - the individual - end and Masters of Reality begin?
"I wish I knew where I ended," he sighs, "because I wouldn't go there. Out of respect for whoever is playing in the band at any given time, that's Masters of Reality right there. That's why this new record is Masters of Reality/Chris Goss, because the people who played on tracks on that record were doing it as members of Masters of Reality, and even though I may have fucked with the tracks over the years, and added to them or changed them, it still was done with those people playing for that purpose, so I have to stay true to that thing. They weren't playing on a Chris Goss solo record; we were a band when we did some of those songs. Other times when it's just me fiddling around then it's as Chris Goss, solo artist, obviously."
At which point, Chris lets slip a very interesting piece of news: "I think this fall when I tour again with the Masters of Reality band, it will be with my longstanding drummer John Leamy, and most probably with Twiggy Ramirez on bass guitar, because he and I also have another project that we'll be working on all summer. So I think we'll finish our 'Snowballs' record that me and Twiggy have been working on for a while. He's another great musician! I was always a Marilyn Manson fan, from the early '90s. I went to their very first show at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go in LA and there were like 50 people there. It was great, dark theatre, which is, I think, a part of what I do too. I've always enjoyed them from then, but over the years I realised that a lot of my favourite Marilyn Manson songs were co-written with Twiggy, so I started saying, 'Wow! What a great musician this fuckin' bass player is!' He started playing most of the guitars on the Marilyn Manson albums too, and I think the original guitar player left Manson early on, so Twiggy took on that role too. Then 'The Beautiful People' came out, and 'Dope Show', and some of my favourite songs ever on the radio started popping up. I see Twiggy as co-writer on all these songs, and I'm thinking, 'Christ, there really is a great writing partnership at play here!' and I became a Twiggy Ramirez fan. Then it started becoming less of a band, and more industrial, it started sounding like someone sitting in front of a computer making the records, and I suspected that Twiggy wouldn't be into that. So I ran into them at a festival right around the time that The Strokes and The White Stripes started breaking, about four years ago probably, and we met and I sort of said to him, 'It's a great time to be making rock music, isn't it?' And he was like, 'Yeah', so I said 'Let's jam sometime', and he was going, 'Oh yeah, I'd love to! We really have to!' And that was that. So we got together a couple of times, and every time we did we wrote four or five songs, so in a matter of just a few meetings we had over a dozen song ideas sketched out, and we really enjoy writing together. So here we go! Musically it sounds like an amalgamation of everything he's ever liked and everything I've ever liked. You travel with your favourite CDs in this business, and round about the first things we did I had my Introducing DJ Shadow CD, and The Teachers CD, right next to The Strokes CD, and he was going 'I have those three exact same CDs too!' It's like we're writing on exactly the same page, and it's a strange combination of musical taste and hard rock background really. So I don't know exactly what it will end up sounding like. I can't imagine it coming out much before early next year to be honest. By the time we've finished the CD and filed it, it'll be time for me to do a Masters tour, so it'll probably be out early next year."
I then ask Chris about his take on the Queens Of The Stone Age split. He's always been close, but simply doesn't want to be drawn on a delicate situation, other than to lament the loss of the three lead singer sound they did so well, and to add that "Their personal happiness was simply more important than the art." That's all he had to say on that subject.
As we head towards the interview's close, I ask Chris with everything that he's achieved, what's left for him? What drives Chris Goss ever forward? He hesitates for a long time, then sighs, and says: "I love making music is all", and that, as they say, is that.
Finally, I can't resist asking him if there's anything else he wants to talk about. He laughs long and loud. "Breakfast!", he chuckles. "I'll happily talk to you about breakfast. I'm very superficial, so I'm fine. I'm gonna enjoy my stay in London, and this little romp around Europe, because it's a chance to talk to people, and it's been lovely to talk to you again, Simon."
And with that, he's gone.