Gods of Distortion: The Interviews (Part One)

Pub date August 5, 2010

Check out Ben Richardson’s story on the Southern Lord Mini-Tour in this week’s Guardian. Here, he talks with Southern Lord founder and Goatsnake and SunnO))) guitarist Greg Anderson.

San Francisco Bay Guardian: So, first off, could you describe the planning of the Power of the Riff festival, and the Southern Lord Mini Tour that’s sort of spun off of that?

Greg Anderson: Well, last summer we did a Southern Lord event in Seattle with SunnO))), the other group that I play in. Basically it was two nights up there at this venue Neumo’s, and SunnO))) headlined each night, playing different sets each night. The support for both shows was Lord bands: we had Black Breath, Accused, Pelican, Earth, Trap Them. It was great! So the promoter of that venue – who put that on for us last year – called and asked if we wanted to do something similar this year – another Southern Lord event. So we were trying to put something together for that, and right around the same time, another good friend of mine told me that he’d been asked to put together something down here in Los Angeles, at the Echo and the Echoplex, and was I interested in getting involved in that. So with these things impending on the horizon, I thought I’d put together a decent line-up of Lord bands and make it happen.

Also, at the same time, I’d been talking with Mike Dean from C.O.C., who told me that they wanted to get out and play some shows with the three-piece line-up, the 80s Animosity line-up, and asked me if I was interested in working with them on that. So I thought I’d base it around them being the headliner and some of our bands on the bill as well. So that’s how it came together, and over the last couple months, I’ve been slowly putting together the pieces, getting other bands on board.

San Francisco just seemed like a natural choice, also, to do a show. San Francisco’s always been very supportive of Southern Lord and heavy music in general, so I thought “we’ve gotta do a show in San Francisco with this package – it’s gotta happen!”

SFBG: How long have you known Mike?

GA: He stayed at my house in 1986, when C.O.C. played in Seattle, actually, on the Animosity tour. It was an amazing show, and back then there were a lot of bands crashing on people’s floors. They still do, of course. I had a lot of bands stay at my house, and they were one of them. I met him then, but I didn’t reconnect with him as far as a working relationship goes until about 2003 – he was on the Probot record, as one of the vocalists on that, and I reconnected with him that way. A couple years later, he produced and recorded a record by this band on Southern Lord called Earthride.

It was kind of off and on. C.O.C.’s come to town, and I’ve talked to him and what-not. I have a lot of respect for his playing, over the years.

SFBG: Did the idea of playing the shows this summer precede the idea of releasing the seven-inch you guys are putting out, with the new track by that Animosity trio line-up?

GA: No, it all kinda came at the same time. I suggested it might be cool to have some new material, and he was really gung ho for doing that too, so we’re putting it together really for the shows that they’re playing – in time for the shows.

We thought it’d be cool. There are a lot of bands getting back together these days that rarely if ever have any new material, or really anything new. We had talked about that, and told me “hey, we’re actually playing a handful of new songs at these shows, so we’re really into writing new material.” So I said, “well, lets try to get something out there,” and that’s how the seven-inch happened.

SFBG: What’s your feeling on older, defunct, previously broken-up bands coming out of the woodwork? I saw an interesting comment of yours in another interview about the “Kyuss Syndrome,” in which a band isn’t a draw while they’re together, but if you give them some time, they build up this huge fanbase, whether or not they’re actually active and playing shows. What kind of ramifications do you see this trend having?

GA: First of all, I think it’s really great, actually. Some people kind of have a bitter attitude about it. They say “where were these people back in the day!” But the truth of the matter is that its really based around the internet, and the fact that information is so easily available, and cataloged and documented meticulously on the internet. You can find out a lot of stuff!

The other thing about the internet is that it’s like a trail, a path you can get on, on which you find one thing, and it leads to another thing, and it’s just a snowball effect. I think it’s just an amazing tool for discovery. It’s great, because there’s important music that’s been made, that before the internet, or without the internet, would have been much more difficult to learn about. Now, it’s easy, and I think people are getting turned on to all this stuff. The interest grows, and it makes it possible for these bands to come out and play to three to four times as many people as they did in their heyday.

It’s amazing! I’ve seen it in different genres. I saw At the Gates play in Los Angeles, and they sold out this huge place. I saw them in their first tour in the U.S., in the mid-nineties, and there were 50 people. It was the same thing with Saint Vitus. I saw them in the 80’s and it was a very select audience; very few people were there. Then, they come back, and they’re playing for three or four hundred people. I think it’s cool, I think it’s a real testament to the fact that this music is valid and incredible. It needs to be heard, and it needs to be given the respect that it’s due.

SFBG: Particularly in the case of At The Gates, there’s almost a sense of justice, in that a lot of people made a lot of money aping ATG when they weren’t around. Now they’re able to take advantage of a bunch of people who were introduced to the music through other bands that were playing an At the Gates style.

Do you think the proliferation of big summer metal festivals has had an effect on bands reforming? From what I can glean, that seemed to be an influence on Goatsnake getting back together, having this opportunity to play Roadburn, and you guys thinking “hey, why not?”

GA: I think there are two big factors: one – I won’t lie – the money is really attractive, especially when you get older, and you’ve got families, mortgages, etc. You can’t just crash on people’s couches – you’ve got responsibilities. When these festivals come along, or sponsorship from Scion or Converse comes along, it makes it so it can actually happen – the resources are there. And that’s something that wasn’t available – to my knowledge – in the 80s. These opportunities involving people with deep pockets who are willing to put it into underground music. It just didn’t exist. It definitely didn’t exist in the 80s and in the 90s, with the alternative music boom, stuff was available, but for underground metal and hardcore it wasn’t available.

Now, you’ve got these corporate sponsors who are putting together these insane events, and a lot of times – they’re free! Like the Power of the Riff fest that we’re putting on. We were able to get the funding to make it a free event. And at the request of the sponsor – they demanded that it be a free event – and we were like, “Wow! This is cool!” I think it’s an interesting time right now. There’s nothing like it. That wasn’t possible before. Like you’re saying with your question, it makes it so that these bands can get out there and do stuff. They have the resources to do that.

A lot of the bands I’ve seen are really kicking ass! I saw Saint Vitus a couple weeks ago, and it was mind-blowing – it was absolutely mind-blowing. They had it, man, they were killing. Eyehategod, same thing! These bands are charged! I saw Death Row play, which is like the original Pentagram – they were killer. It’s an interesting and cool time in music right now.

SFBG: Your bringing up Eyehategod and Death Row provides a good segue to my next question: does the doom metal genre have a particular affinity for a lot of interpollination between bands and musicians? For this kind of freewheeling collaboration, in which Goatsnake is tied into the Obsessed, and tied into SunnO))). I think of Eyehategod in the same way, with their connections to Down, and therefore C.O.C., and so forth. Do you think there’s something particular about doom-stoner metal that enables or inspires this kind of collaboration?

GA: I’ve never really thought about it before, to be honest with you. It’s just kind of a friendship or a brotherhood between the musicians, and kind of a desire to take things in different directions and do different things with it. You mentioned the Eyehategod thing, and that whole New Orleans scene is super, super-intertwined. Outlaw Order, Crowbar, Arson Anthem, and all these other bands that all share members. I think it’s really cool. Soilent Green. There’s tons of those bands, and I think it’s cool when bands can branch and do different side-projects. For me, as a fan, it’s interesting, and if you’re into the player or the players, and what they’re doing, it’s a real treat to have all these different outlets, rather than just doing one band, and one album a year.

I think it has to do with the punk rock roots that these people have and come from, and the DIY aesthetic of doing things on your own, and not really having to answer to a major label or someone telling you, “Well, you can’t do that, and you can only focus on this one band.” It’s kind of a shame, when you think about it. What if that spirit, and that mentality was happening with bands like Led Zeppelin and Sabbath? We’d have all these spin-offs and different projects that they were involved in, that were kind of pushing boundaries and doing different things. I think these [younger] people do what the hell they wanna do.

SFBG: Well you’re making my job easy, mentioning the punk rock ethos and the DIY ethos of these musicians, because my next question was about all the connections that exist between the 80s hardcore scene and the doom metal bands, and the doom bands that grow out of that scene and the musicians that play in hardcore bands and then do metal bands. I think I remember reading that you were a hardcore fan in your youth, and played in a more hardcore-oriented band. Do you have any insight into how those connections came to be? Stylistically, the types of music have some serious differences, and I know that at particular points in history, there was a lot of animosity between people who like their music fast and those who like it super-slow. Is there anything you can point to that speaks to the connection between those two worlds?

GA: I’m not sure I can explain or pinpoint why that’s a phenomenon, but you’re definitely right. What I was thinking when you were asking the question – I was thinking about Black Sabbath, because I think they’re one of those bands that everyone likes, and there are a couple hardcore bands like that too, like the Cro-Mags, and Bad Brains. Everyone can agree on those bands – at least a lot of people can.

I grew up in Seattle, and we didn’t get a chance to see a lot of outside, touring bands, because we were way up in the corner – we were sort of geographically isolated. There’s a lot of stuff that can happen because of that, and one result was the grunge explosion, where a strong local scene grew and was cultivated because there wasn’t a lot of outside influence. That also adds to how people got some of their open-mindedness. Grunge is a fusion of a bunch of different musical styles – punk included, metal included. What I thought was cool about Soundgarden, from the beginning, was that they sounded like a fusion of Zeppelin, Sabbath, and [Black] Flag. And the most important band in that scene growing up, at least for me, was the Melvins, who were the perfect combination of Black Sabbath and Black Flag. To have these prejudices against certain styles of music didn’t seem right to me, because there were all kinds of cool music happening around me. I know what you’re talking about – some of the punk rock attitude, and some of the metal attitude can be pretty narrow-minded at times. But at the time that I grew up in, the bands that I was heavily influenced by were available for me to see on a regular basis. That wasn’t the attitude, and it was obvious why it wasn’t the attitude.

I was turned onto metal first – Metallica, Motorhead, Raven, Slayer, Venom. Through those bands, and their attitude, and who they thanked on their records, and which T-shirts they wore, I got turned onto punk rock. And hardcore was a revelation because metal was played so fast and heavy, but then there were these hardcore bands that were playing even faster, like C.O.C. or D.R.I. The excitement involved in discovering new music has carried on throughout my entire life. And that was the start of it: being into metal, and then getting into hardcore.

SFBG: So the liner notes and sweaty T-shirts were like the internet of the 80s? Sticking with that theme of Seattle, and hardcore, and being psyched about discovering new music, can you talk to me about how you first came in contact with Black Breath, and the process of getting them on Southern Lord, and getting them on the tour this summer?

GA: It’s actually an interesting story! Over the last couple of years, especially playing with SunnO))), and working on this last record we were working on, I really turned away from, or wasn’t listening to much aggressive music. It was either experimental, or I was actually really into jazz music. It’s not like I was turning my back on heavy music, but my taste had just drifted a bit.

And then something snapped. I started listening to old hardcore records, like Jerry’s Kids, and Crucifix, which was sort of a reaction to where my mind was with the SunnO))) stuff. I wanted something that was the complete opposite of it. And so I was rediscovering stuff that I was listening to when I was younger, and I really got heavily into that. And I started searching about bands now that were happening, and I got turned onto His Hero is Gone, and a band called Cursed, and I was like “gosh, there’s actually some great music happening in the hardcore scene that I didn’t have any clue about!”

I got more into checking out the hardcore stuff that was happening over the last couple of years, and I got a record in the mail – a 12-inch, in the mail – by Black Breath. The font of their band logo was stolen from Celtic Frost, and they listed Poison Idea and Dismember as influences, and they were from Seattle, and I was like “Wow!” Because I actually get a lot of demo submissions, and most of it’s just CD-Rs, and honestly I just don’t have time to listen to ’em, but when we get a 12-inch we stop and think “that’s cool!”

SFBG: If I publish that information, you’re gonna get a lot more twelve-inches…

GA: [Laughs] If people are going to take the time to do that, it almost warrants me taking the time to listen to it. I think it’s a cool thing.

So I threw this record on, and I was totally blown away by the energy and intensity of it, and it so happened that this was close to a time that I was going back up to Seattle for Christmas. I ended up looking at the local paper to see what was going on around town, and they were playing one of the venues in Seattle. I went down to check it out, and their live show totally, totally blew me away. I hit ’em up after the show to see if they wanted to get a drink and talk about stuff, and it just kinda went from there.

SFBG: What was their reaction to that? It sounds sort of like the Miracle on 34th St. of metal…

GA: The funny thing is – and one of the things that really sold me on these guys – was that they were more impressed by the old hardcore band that I was in in Seattle – this band called Brotherhood, a hardcore band in the late 80’s. Being able to talk about that sold them on me. We bonded on a lot of different music. They’re really into the Swedish death metal of the 90s, which I’m really obsessed with as well.

Those guys actually turned me onto to a lot of other music as well. There’s this band that we just signed called Nails – they played a couple shows with Black Breath and I thought, “God, that’s great!”

SFBG: One last band-signing question. I noticed in another interview you did, you used a phrase “vigilantly heavy” to describe bands that you you appreciate. I can sort of figure out from context what you mean, but you applied it to Black Breath and I was hoping to get a more detailed description of how you’re using the word “vigilantly” in that way.

GA: I think it’s about being focused on what you’re doing. I notice a lot of intense focus from those guys on creating really amazing songs and riffs, especially. I’ve talked to them, and had in-depth conversations about that, and about how they write songs, and what they want. And they’re not just throwing the stuff together, and that’s pretty obvious. That’s one thing I’ve seen, with a lot of music these days. I won’t name any names, but there are more bands than ever, and more labels than ever – that’s kind of the curse of the internet, that there’s just too much music, too much information! It makes it more difficult to really find the good stuff. But I’m a seeker, man, and I enjoy that part of it, whether that’s going to a used record store and spending two hours flipping through all the used records, or really searching out music. When I find out about a band, I want to know everything about them – what other bands the members have been in, who’s influenced by them, who their influences were. That’s the same type of thing with Black Breath. They’re not just blowing stuff out there, and they’re really careful about what they do.


SFBG: To switch gears to a couple of Goatsnake questions to wrap up: do you remember the moment you first heard a Sunn amplifier?

GA: I do. I have two different recollections. One is Buzz Osbourne [of the Melvins], using the solid-state versions of the Sunn amps. I actually had no idea that Sunn had made a tube amp. I thought they were all about solid-state. In a lot of ways, to use a geek analogy, they were kind of the Peavey of the Northwest. They were based in central Oregon, in a town called Tualatin, and their whole thing, at least how I saw it, was that they were creating solid state amps and putting them out there at a reasonable price, for people who were getting into music. It was a good and cost-effective alternative to a Marshall, like a high-end model. Peavey was the same way – an inexpensive amplifier, usually solid-state, for people who were just learning to play guitar. Now, playing guitar is just so accepted and so huge that every company has a line of amps now that is targeted to this audience.

So this to me was what Sunn was about, and back in those days, you could go to any fucking pawn shop or any used store and get a Sunn head for really cheap! Especially pawn shops. That’s why bands like the Melvins picked up on them – because they were readily available.

The first time I heard the Model T, which is the amp I use in SunnO))), was actually in the mid-90’s. I was seeing this band in Olympia called Life, and the guitar player was this dude – actually a San Francisco dude, now – Tim Green, who went on to be in the [Fucking] Champs, and records bands now in San Francisco. And he played in this band that was amazing. Pretty Eyehategod-influenced. I went and saw him play in this basement, and he had this Sunn head, a tube amp, and I was like “what the hell is that!” It was super-loud, ripping, super-heavy, and immediately after I saw that, I searched one out – I had to have that amp. That was the beginning. I had never seen anyone play Sunn tube heads. I didn’t know they existed! And of course, after my search, I realized that they made a lot of them. But they stopped making them around the mid-70s, and that’s when they started making the solid-states, as a more reasonably-priced option.

SFBG: Do you remember the specific influences that were working on you around the time that Goatsnake was created?

GA: I moved to Los Angeles from Seattle in the mid-90s, and I had played in this band in Seattle called Engine Kid that was more – it was more about melody and dynamics, and we were really influenced by a lot of the stuff that was happening in Chicago, the Touch and Go style of bands like Shellac and Slint and Bastro and those kinda bands. But we were always into the heavy stuff too, and the Melvins, so there was that kinda influence.

When I moved to L.A., I had a chance to jam with the rhythm section from the Obsessed, because [Scott] Wino [Weinrich, singer-guitarist in the Obsessed] had just basically left town, and he was the leader of the band, and the band ended. They were just looking to do something new, and a friend of mine knew them and knew that I was looking to do something new too, so we put it together, under the guise of creating a heavy band, but with no guidelines.

At that point, I was listening to a ton of Eyehategod and a lot of Kyuss, and Slayer. Our common interests in that band – the bass player, drummer and I – were Pentagram, St. Vitus, and Trouble. That type of stuff. Basically, I started bringing them some music that I had written, and it was really heavy.

But we didn’t have a vocalist. And we thought, “how are we gonna do this?” We thought it would be too obvious to get a screamer, in the Eyehategod style. I really like that kind of music, but we wanted to go somewhere different, and to have some bit of melody in there. Pete Stahl was an old friend of all of ours, and we played him some of the demos, and he said “this is great, I think I could really do something with this.” It was a perfect combination, because the music’s really heavy, and I think you really expect someone to come screaming over it, but the vocals are really soulful, and really melodic. It was a really interesting contrast, and it set it apart from a lot of the other stuff coming out at that time.

SFBG: Was the harmonica Pete’s idea? That’s one of the things that put the music’s uniqueness over the top for me, is that it has this element that no other band takes advantage of.

GA: He’s a great harp player, too! When he first started doing it, I thought, “this reminds me of the first Sabbath record,” of “Wizard.” One thing I didn’t mention when you asked about the influences – at that point, I was overly super-obsessed with Sabbath. They’re my favorite band of all time, but at that time especially, I wanted to tap into something that had that sort of vibe. A lot of the music that was written for Goatsnake — all the time, but especially back then – was just sort of re-working Sabbath riffs. Turning them around, and playing them with much more distortion and tuned down a little bit more. Sabbath has always been, and always will be the most important inspiration for me. Also Sabbath, in my eyes, were basically just a heavy blues band. People ask me “Is Goatsnake stoner rock?” and I say, “No, it’s blues played slower, down-tuned and played a little heavier than you might have been used to hearing.”

SFBG: Can Goatsnake fans expect sort of a retrospective set? Is it gonna match up pretty closely with what you guys played at Roadburn?

GA: Yeah, it’s pretty much the same material that we’ve been working on. The big difference is that on Roadburn, we were playing with the original bass player for Goatsnake, Guy [Pinhas], who was in The Obsessed, and Acid King after that. But he lives in Europe, and he’s not able to come out for these other shows, so we’re going to be playing with Scott Reeder, who was in Kyuss, and who was actually in the Obsessed also – Guy took Scott’s place in the Obsessed. It’s amazing, because he’s actually played with Goatsnake before. He played on the last EP that we released, as well.

His playing is very different than Guy’s, and we’re going to attempt one song off the EP that we did with Scott. So we’re working on that, and he’s fitting in well with the other material. Actually, the last time Goatsnake played San Francisco was with Scott, in 2004. We played another Southern Lord showcase [at the Elbo Room].

SFBG: Is there a future plan for other Goatsnake shows down the road? I know you’re super-busy with your other band and, of course, your label, but I’m assuming that the people who read this interview will be dying to hear whether there’s a chance of a more extensive tour, or some new recordings.

GA: There definitely won’t be any extensive touring. Given all of our schedules, that’s just not possible. To be honest with you, I don’t think it’s an appropriate thing for this band to do. We’ve sort of made the decision, “We’re all having a good time, but let’s keep this special. Let’s do special events, and not beat it into the ground.” I think it’ll be every once in a while. We have actually already committed to doing one other show at the end of October, here in Los Angeles. Friends of ours and labelmates Pelican are doing their tenth anniversary show, and they asked us to play that show with them. That band Nails that I mentioned are going to open.

Other than that, we’ve gotten a lot of offers, and a lot of interesting ones, which have been really flattering. But we’re taking the mellow approach to it. Definitely not a “get in the van” kind of approach.

But I would love to make some more music with these guys. It’s just a matter of scheduling, and seeing what that’s about. That’s definitely something that I’m hoping for, but we’ll see. I don’t want to push anything. If it happens, it happens, and I’ll be stoked, but if it doesn’t, so be it.


Corrosion of Conformity, Goatsnake, Black Breath, Eagle Twin, Righteous Fool

7 p.m., $25

DNA Lounge

375 11th St., SF