2010’s Pine/Cross Dover marks the first Masters Of Reality album to be released in the US since 1992’s Sunrise On The Sufferbus. Oh, there have been other records—1999’s psychedelic Welcome To The Western Lodge, 2001’s desert masterpiece Deep In The Hole, 2003’s live document Flak ‘N’ Flight and 2004’s textured Give Us Barabbas—but only for those willing to pay import price, and among those, only those who know where to find them. As band mastermind, vocalist, guitarist and producer Chris Goss explains in the interview below, commercial success has never been much of a priority.
Goss, hailing from Joshua Tree, California, is an instrumental figure in the formation of desert rock. In both his own band and as producer for the likes of Kyuss and offshoot acts Slo Burn, Queens Of The Stone Age and Mondo Generator, as well as many, many others, his approach has been an integral part of establishing a worldwide sound. It’s as though all desert rock bears some form or other of his signature, however faint or bold it might be.
In the interview below, Goss discusses the desert’s affect on what rock is today, writing and recording Pine/Cross Dover, the touring in the States, and a lot more. What follows is just a portion of the total conversation:
The initial, European, release date was pushed back and you said then you were going back to do more writing. What made you do that and what came out of that extra time putting together the songs?
We do our records very spontaneously. I get together with John Leamy, our drummer, who lives in New York, and in the meantime a few years go by. I accumulate little bits and pieces of ideas on the mini-recorder and have riffs and beats and ideas, blah blah blah, and bring John to the desert—this is what’s happened the last three albums of new material—and we jam.
We expound on these ideas and in the process of jamming, come up with 20 more ideas in addition to the 20 or 30 I may have had in the first place. It’s wonderful. It said in the press release, we both were so busy with production all the time of other people’s stuff, that when we get in a room together and we just go, we’re playing ourselves, and for the pure joy of it. It’s just wonderful.
It’s us, and it’s what we want to do, and there’s no one dictating anything to us. Totally by instinct. So he comes out for a few years, and we get drum tracks out of the jams, and then I finish the record with vocals and overdubs. This last record that just happened, to answer your question, we got a lot of great drum tracks, and also a lot of jams down on tape, and the task of getting those sorted and edited and made into songs took a little bit longer than I thought.
In my world, three or four months for me is a long time to do a Masters record. In “normal world,” most bands take a year or two to garner enough material to put together a cohesive record. Even though it was delayed over and over again, it really only took, in physical studio time, maybe three months, four months, spread out over a little bit of time.
For example, the last song on the record, that long jam session. We had so many of those kinds of jams for these sessions, that to actually go through and say, “Okay, what here is cohesive? What here is enjoyable and is representative of how we feel at that moment?” what we’re proud of, I guess—took longer than it would, normally.
What do you think of the way that the desert rock, desert scene—Kyuss, Queens Of The Stone Age, Mark Lanegan, Masters Of Reality—has been adopted around the world?
Boy, it really has been. I hear it in everything. Obviously, if you’re doing six degrees of Kevin Bacon, you don’t have to take it that far with the work we’ve done. It goes back to Nirvana. Nirvana were huge Kyuss fans, and we knew it at the time and I started hearing Kyuss in Nirvana, and I started to hear my work with Kyuss in Nirvana, and take it from there. Nirvana set a million ships asail, and I think rhythmically, that’s the biggest influence.
The rhythm. That’s why I liked Kyuss, mainly. They had a lot of swing, and there’s a certain slant to the rhythm of the things they did. So if it influenced Nirvana, and obviously Foo Fighters, Dave Grohl’s connection to it all, then there you go. It landed then, and I think the world knows about it. I have musicians who come to the desert to work with me, and it’s funny.
We start working together, and they hear the stuff that I start to add to their music, and then they start realizing, “Oh shit, yeah, those harmonies.” That particular way of looking at harmony and rhythm, and if you get an ear for it, even the grunge movement—I had that fucking word; I hate all these words (laughs)—but it got influenced a lot by what we were doing here, and now in the world of electronica, with UNKLE and Massive Attack, you can hear the desert influence happening in worldwide DJ music too. I hear it everywhere, I guess because I know it.
It’s like a flavor. A flavor I know really well, and it’s like, “Ah, there it is.” It could be a little turn or instrumentation in a song, or a repetition, or a certain heaviness, a particular kind of heaviness, and yeah, it’s all over the place now. The cat’s out of the bag.
Can you talk a little bit about the liner notes you made for the songs and the setup, where you’re on the beach writing them? What brought that about?
Very odd. I still really am not sure I did that (laughs). It’s very uncharacteristic, and I don’t like to expound too much, especially on a record cover, but there’s something that said, “You have to talk this time. You have to let people know what’s on your mind.” I don’t know what it is. I think we’re at this really strange crossroads in our evolution at this moment. We’re at this strange point in communication.
We’re in uncharted waters. Hence the water reference, I think. We’ve never been in this position of the world being connected so instantaneously, and what the implications of that are, there’s beauty and horror in the implications of this situation we’re in. Opportunity and total destruction are closer than ever before.
I think that flipside of where we’re at as a species, it’s why the record has two covers. One is pretty creepy, with the bell falling in the ocean. That was like hopelessness and being in a storm. And the other side is this pine, which I think has a double entendre at work. Almost half-excited and half-terrified.
That’s what I’m feeling in the air, and I think at the time, and still now, I don’t regret those liner notes. Like I said, it was something I’d never do and I’ll probably never do again, but it just felt like it was the time. It was this freezing day in May on the ocean, which was very strange and that’s what came out of the notebook.
Do you have anything planned for live shows?
I want to play so bad, and the last European tour we did in the Fall was really, really not right. The rehearsal situation was a nightmare. We decided to rehearse in Holland, and the logistics were terrible, and we had gear that was blowing up and everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong. We were locked in the building all night. It was ridiculous.
After the first show, we were arrested by the police in Germany, and six hours late arriving to the second show. One of the biggest shows on the tour was the second show, and we were supposed to go on at 10 and we got there at nine, no soundcheck, completely frazzled after being harassed by the German police for hours. That was the whole tour.
After about four shows, we got our groove on and then you forget the problems when you’re grooving, but yeah, it wasn’t the show I wanted to do. I wanted to do a lot more material than we presented at the time, and so it was like getting the shit beat out of you and then saying, “Okay, go play for two weeks.” That’s what it was.
These American shows, I want to confront a bunch of material that I wanted to do in Europe, but we couldn’t for time purposes. Just didn’t have time to get into the intricacies of it. And especially for fans in the US.
We’ve probably been crueler to our fans than any band ever, as far as letting them down from time to time. It’s almost a consistent one letdown after another. And that bothers me. It bothers me. I feel like we rarely play in the States, and I can’t wait to fucking play.
Masters Of Reality’s Pine/Cross Dover is available now on Cool Green Recordings. More info at mastersofreality.com.
JJ Koczan was not named after a Black Sabbath album, and is all the poorer for it. firstname.lastname@example.org.