Interview with Greg Anderson of SunnO))) & Goatsnake: Living With Doom

As the founder of Southern Lord Recordings and a member of acts such as Goatsnake, SunnO))), Ascend and Thorr’s Hammer, Greg Anderson has had more of an impact on underground metal over the last decade than have entire genres. The L.A.-based guitarist recently reunited with heavy rock outfit Goatsnake for a landmark performance at the Roadburn festival in the Netherlands, marking the occasion with a re-release of their second album, Flower Of Disease, of course on Southern Lord. Below, Anderson talks about getting back together with original Goatsnake members Pete Stahl (vocals), Guy Pinhas (bass) and Greg Rogers (drums), and what the future holds for both that band and his main outfit, SunnO))).

Whose idea was the Goatsnake reunion?

Another band that I’m involved with, called Thorr’s Hammer—which was actually Stephen O’Malley from SunnO))) and my first band together—we got asked to play a festival in Birmingham, England, last summer called Supersonic. The bass player for that group is out of the picture, we haven’t talked to him for (laughs) 10 years or whatever, so it was like, ‘Okay, if we’re gonna do a Thorr’s Hammer set, we need to find a bass player,’ and the first person who came to mind was this guy Guy, who was a founding member of Goatsnake as well, and he was always a huge fan of Thorr’s Hammer, and actually helped fund Southern Lord to release the Thorr’s Hammer recordings. We asked him to take part in it, and he was living in Europe, and that made it a bit easier for travel and expenses and stuff like that—plus he’s a killer player. We enlisted him to play in Thorr’s Hammer, and at that festival, the two guys that organize the Roadburn festival were in attendance, and they saw Guy and I hanging out and they said, ‘Hey, what are the chances of Goatsnake playing in the future?’ Guy and I were like, ‘Yeah, why not?’

We were having a great time playing music together again, and Goatsnake never officially broke up and there was never any real bad blood between any of the members, it was just kind of one of those things where members got busy doing other things, and it was just put on a lengthy hiatus. Guy and I kicked around the idea, talked to the other founding members of the band, Pete and Greg, and everyone was real excited to try getting back together and playing music again. So that’s what we did. I really like the Roadburn festival, so it was an honor to be asked to play, and they asked us to headline, so it was a really great opportunity we couldn’t pass up, so we basically put a lot of work and effort into getting it together for that thing and played the fest.

How was the set?

It was awesome. It was really, really great. It exceeded my expectations. We worked really hard and rehearsed and spent a lot of time trying to get the tone right, making sure everything sounded as good as possible, but a lot of that shit just goes out the window when you play live (laughs), because there’s different forces at work. There’s adrenaline, there’s nerves, and my experience, honestly, Goatsnake, to me, was never a great live band. I didn’t really feel like we rehearsed enough, and I didn’t feel like we pulled off what we had recorded in a live setting, so I had that lingering in my mind. And Goatsnake never played a lot of shows. We never played east of the Rockies, and we did some stuff overseas, but we never did anything extensive, and I always felt like Goatsnake always sounded better on record. I had that nagging at me in the back of my mind. This is for me personally, I think the other guys would say something different. This is my own personal scrutiny and analysis of what worked.

I was pretty nervous for this show, because I wanted to be good. Everyone put a lot of time and effort into it, and I know there was a lot of expectations and a lot of people were really excited to see it, people had traveled to see it and stuff. It was one of those nights where it was pretty magical. Everything really worked out well. The crowd was amazing. I thought everyone played really well and there wasn’t too many mistakes (laughs). It was just a really good vibe. The other thing that was really daunting about the whole thing was the stage we played on was fucking humongous, and Goatsnake had never played on a stage that size. The other thing was the most people we had ever played to was probably about a thousand people, and that was one time. But we never played on a stage that big and we never headlined for sure. It was never these kind of expectations on us. I had some anxiety about it, but I thought it went off really, really well, and I was very pleased with it and the audience was amazing.

Were you surprised at the reaction to Goatsnake now as opposed to the first time around?

I’m actually not surprised (laughs). I’m grateful. I think it’s cool that people are discovering it later. It seems like it’s stood the test of time, but it’s kind of an age-old story with music in this genre that when a band is around, they’re not appreciated, or underappreciated, then they break up and all of a sudden they’re huge. It happened to Sleep, it happened to Kyuss. I call it ‘The Kyuss Syndrome.’ When those guys were around, they’d be lucky if 50 people came to their shows and nobody cared, but after they broke up it became this legend.

Basically people want what they can’t have (laughs), and they couldn’t have it, so it made them become even more rabid and obsessed about it. I don’t think Goatsnake is at that level. Goatsnake has gone in and out of hiatus here and there, so I don’t think we’ve driven up the obsession like Sleep or Kyuss, but it’s that same sort of thing, where people really want to see it and they can’t so it makes them even more obsessive. But I think it’s cool. I’m really excited that it still works for people. There’s a lot of music that I’ve been into at some points in my life and I go back and listen to it 10 or 15 years later, and it just doesn’t work for me in the same way that it did. But there is music that I listened to in the ‘80s that, to me, still sounds amazing, and I hope that Goatsnake can be that way for some people, and it seems like it is, so that’s really cool.

Since there was never really a Goatsnake breakup, would you consider the band back together? How does that work?

I don’t know. At the moment, the way we’re treating it is we had a great time doing the show, and that was kind of a testing ground, ‘Okay, we’ll see how this goes, then we’ll decide from there.’ Everyone had a really great time. The show was amazing. We’re looking at doing some shows in August on the West Coast, and if there’s a decent offer and it works with people’s schedules, I think we may do it, but beyond that, I don’t know. I’d love to make some more music with those guys and maybe even record something new, but it’s a pretty slow process (laughs), because everyone has so much going on. We did accomplish this one thing, so maybe we’ll do some more of that, but we’re taking it as it comes and we’ll go from there.

So the Goatsnake/Saint Vitus world tour—not scheduled yet?

No (laughs). Would be great though.

Have you actually given any thought or put any time into writing Goatsnake?

No. We were just really, solely focused on getting ready for this show. I have little riffs here and there, but I haven’t actually had a chance to play them with other members yet, just because (laughs), with my schedule being pretty busy and the other guys’ schedules being pretty busy, when we got together, it was like, ‘Okay, we’re gonna play this set and focus on making these songs sound good,’ in preparation for the show. Really just focusing on that.

And what’s up with SunnO)))?

We’re doing the ATP festival in New York with Boris, performing the Altar record together. Other than that, we don’t have anything scheduled. We hit it pretty hard last year, and into the beginning of this year, where we basically did six different legs of touring, and we did it in this really weird way. So it was a lot, and this year, we already did a European tour that took January and into the beginning of February that was about 20 shows as well. From the release of the record, in May, to the beginning of February this year, we just did a lot of work. Long story short, we’re just taking some time to regroup and do some other things, and hopefully get back together, reconvene, next year and figure out what we’re gonna do. I think there’s going to be a few releases that come out this year. There may be a live recording that comes out on vinyl-only from the last bunch of shows and touring that we did. And we’ve had it on the back burner to reissue the 00void record, which has been out of print for a long time now. So a few little things here and there, then this ATP thing as well.

Goatsnake’s Flower Of Disease is available now reissued by Southern Lord.