After a quick coffee and some frantic note scribbling from my Impiety interview, I caught up with bassist James Harvey, vocalist Ben Falgoust, and vocal/guitarist Sammy Duet from Goatwhore in their hotel room.
Steff: Your latest album, Blood for the Master, came out on Valentine’s Day this year. Are you happy with the reception the album’s had so far?
Sammy: Oh yeah, it’s going really good. I was surprised because I get really nervous before a release comes out, and it did better than I expected.
Steff: I’ve noticed it’s been hitting a lot of the mid-year top-ten lists on various magazines and websites.
James: yeah, it’s been hitting the “top ten albums of 2012” lists.
Sammy: And 2012 is only halfway done.
James: And Blood for the Master was released in February, so people are still remembering it, and that’s cool.
Ben: it’s been going really well. We’re not trying to build expectations. We just go along and do what we do. We don’t need that extra, added stress. A lot of bands go in thinking “can we beat our last record?” or “can we do better than this?”. We just go in and forge forward.
Sammy: it’s more of a primal instinct almost that we don’t really try to be top our last release. We just go with what feels right to us at the time.
Steff: Was the ironic nature of the album’s release date intentional?
James: that was completely coincidental.
Ben: It just fell in place like that. It was one of those lucky things.
Steff: How is the tour going so far?
James: It’s going very well.
Ben: It’s been great.
James: We’ve never played Hobart, Tasmania, and we’ve never played Wellington, but we’ve played Auckland and everywhere else in Australia, so we got to do those shows this time around. We didn’t know what to expect last time, and it went pretty good, and this time has been smooth – we’ve got a really good response.
Steff: How are the new songs being received by the fans that come to see you live?
Ben: Pretty good. Actually all material – we’ve been playing some songs from the first two records, which aren’t as familiar as our last three records. But the feedback for all of the tour has been good.
Steff: You were saying before about Hobart being a unique show.
James: Hobart was awesome.
Ben: Because it’s a small town, so maybe you might pull 50, but we got about 100 or so.
James: Everybody was real appreciative of the fact we were there. A lot of bands don’t go there.
Steff: It’s the same down here, in Wellington. Most bands will play Auckland, but that’s it.
Were there any bands, old or new, that were on your radar during the writing of Blood for the Master?
Ben: Just everything from when we were conceived. We have our elements of Celtic Frost, Venom, Motorhead, more crustpunk stuff like Discharge, and then we have our old classics like Judas Priest, and there are just elements here and there. Some of us are a little older, some a little younger, and we all have different genres and styles we’ve listened to for the duration of their lives. It all kind of plays a part.
And of course, as a band – hopefully, just like any other band – we’ve evolved and we create our own sound from those influences.
It’s not as if we’re doing anything groundbreaking or new, but we’re taking things we’re influenced by and reinventing them in our own fashion.
Sammy: We’re not trying to start a new genre. We’re just taking the influences that we have and refining them in a way.
James: Mixing things up.
The band has been on a pretty major upswing in terms of popularity and attention over the last few years, particularly since the release of Carving Out the Eyes of God. How do you think this has impacted the band in terms of the music you’re writing and the tour?
Sammy: As far as the music goes, I don’t think it really changes that much. On Carving, we took a step away from the one before that, which was Haunting Curse, which was super ruthless, but that’s what we wanted to do on Haunting Curse – create the most extreme album we could. On Carving … we didn’t think of it that way when we were writing it, we just went in thinking, “OK, we did the speed thing. We proved we can play a million miles an hour, so let’s just jam some stuff we would like to hear, that’s fun to play, that’s heavy.” That’s our main concern: that it has to be extremely heavy in one way or another.
The touring it just gives us better opportunities to do cool things. We try to keep ourselves as busy as we possibly can. And the way the music industry is – I realise it’s kinda fucked up to say this – the more popular you are, the more opportunities you have. It’s almost backwards to a band that is unknown won’t have as many opportunities as a band that’s more popular that it’s an automatic thing for them to draw people that they have more opportunities. It’s kinda weird how that works.
Ben: It’s an uncontrolled element, you know. We could’ve done Carving out the Eyes of God and it could have totally failed in the element of it making us more recognised.
The element of us touring and taking the risks of certain tours and just getting out a bunch – like when we came over to Australia and NZ with the Behemoth tour two years ago, we didn’t know what to expect, and we were the first band out of the package. And we did really well out of it.
James: We got lucky.
Ben: It was one of those ironic things that just fell into place. Being in a band, you can’t really put your finger on how things are going to turn out. You can’t say “this is how things are going to go.” You have to do it, and the way the chips fall is how things turn out. You just have to go after it as best you can.
Sammy: You could put out an album you think is the most amazing thing ever, but if the fans don’t like it, you’re kinda fucked at that point.
Steff: What shows or tours have you been on in recent years that have been particularly good?
James: We just got back from Europe with 3 Inches of Blood, did a headlining run in the US before that with Hate Eternal.
Ben: When the record first came out we did a week and a half with Lockup in the NE part of the states and Canada, and then we met up with Hate Eternal. We had a co-headlining tour where we headlined pretty much all of the nights. That was with Hate Eternal, Fallujah and Cerebral Bore were supposed to be on, but they had some visa problems. And we went from that to a tour with Dying Fetus and a couple of other bands.
It’s varying. Some people might listen to the bands and think they don’t sound that different from each other. In the US it’s a different crowd. Even within extreme metal, you have breakdowns of different structures of people who come to certain shows. So we have that element where we can play with Hate Eternal, then turn around and tour with Dying Fetus or Lockup and still have something to offer the crowd.
James: We can kinda bridge the gap between traditional thrash fans and extreme metal fans because, as <> said, it’s often segregated.
Ben: Europe’s like that, too. It’s segregated. We get listed as a black metal band, but we have a lot more elements internally than that – thrash and death. Sometimes the elitist people who are really into one style say, “Oh you’re not black metal enough to BE black metal”, or “You’re not death metal enough to be death metal” so we fall into an area where some people are afraid to go because they say, “this is what I’m about, and I don’t want to travel over into this other area.” It’s a crossover in that fashion between the styles.
Steff: And that’s interesting, because over here the scene is so small you can’t really be much of an elitist, because you’ve only got two bands you can see.
Steff: So that’s a weird thing for us. Especially when folk over here go and see shows overseas. They think “Ah, that’s pretty weird.”
Ben: It’s different a lot of places. You start to see the differences in the scenes – like in different places in Europe, how the scenes are split up, and then the States, and in Australia and New Zealand, and how things are here. It’s very different. Even though everyone has the same agenda and everyone is supporting the music, they all have their own ideas on how things are.
Steff: Although, I’ve always found it cool how the European festivals have the multi-genre line-ups. People seem to like that, but then that’s very different from club shows.
Ben: Yeah, they have the fest thing, and that works. But then you do a tour and you mix it up a bit, people are weird about it. But they’ll also go to something like Wacken or Summer Breeze and see all these different bands, and everyone’s there and it’s packed.
Steff: What can New Zealand fans except from a Goatwhore show?
Sammy: Hopefully, a very, very loud show.
James: A loud metal show.
Sammy: That’s it, basically. When it comes to our live show, we’re pretty stripped down. We don’t have any theatrics-
Ben: or props of anything. But we do put more than 100% into it, and that’s where I think the element comes out most for us. When we come to record we’re always thinking “how can we capture the way we are live?” It’s something I think you’ll never be able to do – because you have a crowd and you’re feeding off of each other and it’s impacted like that, but a lot of people tell us, the live experience is where it’s at.
Eric Rutan’s production is a big part in the success of Blood for the Master – to me it has the rawest, most organic sound of any of your albums. In terms of production, do you have an idea of what you want the finished product to sound like before you enter the studio, or do you let the songs themselves dictate the final sound?
Sammy: We try to keep it as raw as possible, but without it sounding like crap. It’s a fine line where it’s raw, but it’s not very abrasive. It’s hard to explain. You don’t want it to sound too polished, but you don’t want it to sound too dirty also.
James: Controlled chaos.
Steff: That’s the one.
Ben: You just have to work with it. Like with Rutan – he came from the school of death metal where they started refining the sound – not polishing it as such, but cleaning it up really nice to have the music come across. When we went there we said, “No. We want to do it like this.” But he’s good at working around things and working with us and making everything work out. I’d say it’s pretty much organic as much as it can possibly be, because we don’t want to go in there and mess with it. We want it to come out how we wrote it. Rutan adds that extra touch that brings it to that point.
Steff: So how long does it take you to write a song or album?
Ben: It depends. Sometimes the guy can put together a song in a day. Sometimes it can take a couple of weeks, depending on how things fall, how the songs come together or the different structures within it. You don’t like certain elements of it, so you tear it apart and put it back together. And sometimes it just rolls out. It just depends on the moment, the feeling and how things are fitting together.
Steff: One of my readers wanted to know how it was you came up with the name Goatwhore?
Steff: I bet you get asked all the time.
James: We do.
Steff: Which begs the question of why he hasn’t already read it somewhere.
Sammy: Yeah, I have a question for your readers: Do they have a Google?
Sammy: There are two different stories. The original one was that of course we are a very occult-based band. We were reading a lot of Aleister Crowley literature and we found a ritual that he did where he had a women, and she had sex with all these men and at the climax of the ritual she would have sex with a goat. So put two and two together …
Then, add a little emphasis from one of our friends, who had a little too much to drink at a strip club and decided to insult a stripper with the name, and that’s when we just knew it was the right band name for us.
Steff: You guys originated in New Orleans, a city rich in some pretty rich cultural and spiritual history. Do you think this history and atmosphere has an influence over Goatwhore’s music?
Sammy: Yes, absolutely. There’s some kind of underlying darkness in the city that you can’t really pinpoint. I don’t know if it’s from the voodoo culture or that back in the day it was a penal colony and they sent all the criminals there … it’s hard to pinpoint. But if we were from somewhere else, I don’t think we would sound like this. I think our environment has a lot to do with the way we sound. It’s hard to explain.
Ben: It’s like a … what would be a good word to explain it, James?
Ben: James is like, “I ain’t even from New Orleans, so fuck off.”
Sammy: There’s some kind of darkness in that city. You have to go there to know what I’m talking about. Like I said, you can’t explain it.
Steff: You just have to go yourself.
Sammy: Exactly. It’s unlike any other city on earth.
Steff: I heard that while you were recording the Funeral Dirge … album, you experienced some strange things in the studio, and it was haunted. Can you tell us about that?
Sammy: Phew! Where should we start?
Ben: Start with the place.
Sammy: The place, right. The place had a very bad history. It used to be a bookie house, and a rival mafia gang came in and murdered 30 or 40 people in the building. Ever since then, they’d have a lot of supernatural shit happening in there.
Sometimes, you’d hear something crash in the kitchen, and me and Ben and the producer would be the only people there – it was all locked up and no one else could come in. The coffee pot would fly five feet off the coffee burner, and it was like, “how did THAT happen?”
One night we were listening to some mixes … It was a two storey building, and the studio area was on the bottom storey, with the sleeping/living/lounge area was on top. We were down in the studio really late at night, and it sounded like an army was marching above us-
Ben: running around on the second storey.
James: So we go up the stairs. The lights were off and there was no one there at all.
And remember there was a sound like a baby crying in the chimney?
Ben: Yeah, there was a horrid noise like that.
There was also the time where we were in the control room. The door was here (indicates area to his right), and out of the corner of your eye, you could see something move past. No one said anything – it just happened.
And then, you think you’re the only one, and so you don’t say anything? But then it happened again, really quickly. And I said, “Oh, that’s it,” and he said, “Dude, you saw that?” And then at least we weren’t feeling foolish.
So there were a lot of strange elements going on in that studio. I don’t even think that place exists – didn’t it flood or something?
Sammy: Yeah, it doesn’t exist anymore.
Steff: Probably for the best.
Sammy: Yeah! But there was another story. We’d had a break that night from recording because Cephalic Carnage – some mates of ours – were playing a show in town, so the producer and I and Zack our old drummer went to the show. We were there hanging out, and met some people – including a couple of girls – so we said, “Let’s go back to the studio – we got beer there and we can hang out.”
One of the girls was drinking a bit too heavily and she wanted to go to sleep, and I said, “fine, just go in this room (one of the empty bedrooms upstairs) and pass out, drink some water and relax.” Nobody else went in the room with her at all.
Half an hour goes by. Everybody’s hanging out, drinking and talking, and she comes out of the room, crying, saying that “something cold” crawled into bed with her. She swore it was a human being but nobody else stepped into that room. So yeah – there’s some wicked shit going on in that studio.
Ben: That was a weird time, doing that record.
Ben: aside from that place, different things were going on individually, and stuff like that.
James: There’s an underlying doomy presence to that album for a lot of reasons.
Steff: You guys seem to be constantly on tour. Is this because you find touring the best way to promote the music, or because you love the road, or what?
James: It’s a mixture.
Ben: There are elements of enjoying being out there and doing the things you love to do. I mean, we’ve toured the US so much, you get a bit “been there, done that”, so when you get to go outside of the US and be in other places, it’s definitely an advantage. But when you do all these different tours it gets you in front of people who might not come see you when you’re doing your own headlining tour, depending on what band you’re touring with. So I guess it all helps get your name out and build an audience.
James: Touring in this day and age is the best way to keep yourself a relevant band. With the whole album sales thing, if you’re not on the road or out there in front of people, in people’s faces ….
Labels have cut back on promotion, and people have such short attention spans, they’ll see it and forget. But if you’re touring and they see the show … it’ll stick.
Steff: What’s next for Goatwhore when this tour is finished?
Ben: We do Wellington (tonight!), we do Auckland (Thursday night), then we fly home for a couple of days, then we head to California to do the Summer Slaughter tour in the US, with Cannibal Corpse, Between the Buried and Me, the Faceless, Exhumed, Cerebral Bore, and some other bands. After that … I’m not too sure, but I think we’re gonna do another tour in the states, likely October, early November. And from there … things just unfold. You can’t plan too far in the future, because you don’t know what’s going to happen. Sometimes you don’t find out till three weeks prior that you’ve got a tour you can jump on, and you just get in and go.
Steff: Do you have any advice for other musicians trying to make a go of it in metal?
Sammy: Try to play as many shows as you possibly can.
Ben: Practice a lot, and then take everybody who is in the band with you, jump in a vehicle, and go hang out for a couple of weeks and see if they can cope with you.
Sammy: Yeah. If you can get along, that’s how you know you have your band together.
Ben: You find a lot of bands who are together but they never really tour, and then they get out on the road and realise some guys don’t get it. They think it’s one thing, and get out there and it’s a totally different thing, and they can’t cope. They think, “Oh shit. I never expected it to be like this.”
Sammy: There’s a big difference between spending an hour with someone at practice and three months together with someone in a van.
Steff: Yeah, James was saying you guys just sleep in the van in the US, like on the Summer Slaughter tour.
Ben: Every US tour or going to Canada, that’s how we usually do it. If we get a room-
James: -it might be once a month, it’s very rare.
Ben: We’ll be in the middle of some crap state or town, and there will be nothing to do, and we’ll say, “Let’s get a room, clean ourselves up, maybe get some proper rest, then just get back to it.”
Steff: So you’ve really got to get on with each other.
Louis: Yeah, you really do. You have to compromise a lot, and bend some things so it all works.
Steff: So if there are no last words …
James: We don’t really like to add the whole last words thing.
Steff: I’d just like to say thanks for taking the time to do this with me, and I’m definitely looking forward to the show.
Sammy: No problem.
Ben: Thanks so much.
James: See you tomorrow night!
See Goatwhore tonight with Impiety, Exordium Mors and Bulletbelt at Bar Bodega in Wellington, or tomorrow night at the King’s Arms in Auckland. Tickets $60 from Chaos NZ or at the door.