"Preserve That Beauty": talking with CHRIS GOSS of MASTERS OF REALITY

Two endangered species, photographed by Stephanie Smith

A MAGICAL SKILL
Chris Goss, a godfather of desert rock, on the return of Masters of Reality
By Jay Babcock

Originally published November 11, 2010 in LAWeekly

Chris Goss, the 52-year-old leader of Masters of Reality, is near tears. A mountain of a baldheaded man, part Aleister Crowley, part Admiral Kurtz, Goss has been involved in some of the most vital rock ‘n’ roll music made in the last two and a half decades. Masters of Reality’s 1988 debut, a masterwork of concise songwriting and classic rock riffage, was produced by Rick Rubin; their second, the lovely Sunrise on the Sufferbus, featured an actual classic rocker, the formidable Cream drummer/crankyman Ginger Baker.

Around that time, Goss discovered a group of teenagers from the California Low Desert called Kyuss, who played a heavy, trippy mix of Black Sabbath and the Misfits. Goss produced Kyuss’ best work, inaugurating a relationship with guitarist Joshua Homme that would continue into the latter’s subsequent Desert Sessions and Queens of the Stone Age projects.

And while there would be other Masters of Reality albums, other production gigs of varying profile and quality — my favorite is Mark Lanegan’s Bubblegum — and an album-and-a-half as Goon Moon, a bizarro-rock collaboration with Marilyn Manson guitarist Twiggy Ramirez (and, on the first EP, underground free-rock drummer Zach Hill), generally speaking, Goss has slipped into legend: one of those musician’s musicians, a guy who knows the occult secrets of the creative process and can get a great drum sound, who somehow, in this devolved age, still feels it.

Which, I think, is why he’s near tears, as we sit on a patio outside his Joshua Tree home. Masters of Reality have a new album out — a beautiful, musically adventurous, warm affair with double-name Pine/Cross Dover — and are about to play a set of West Coast dates. It’s the first time in years that Goss has been able to line everything up: a great album, a happening band, U.S. gigs. But who is there to hear anymore?

“Hard time for art right now,” he says. “Socially, politically, economically — this is awful right now for everyone, this confusion. We’re in the new Dark Ages. It’s very hard and depressing, and you get angry because just so much attention is paid to so much shit. It’s a shit storm. But there’s no reason to stop making music. The market is down? Fuck the market. If you love what you’re doing, you gotta keep doing it.”

Even making record albums, when record stores are going out of business and everything is available for free on the Internet? Isn’t that tactile experience over?

“I love the album format. I’ll never lose that. Never. I don’t want to lose it. I mean, why can’t we keep experiencing it? It’s easy, it’s palatable. I’m so used to buying music in my hand and I can’t get over it. Packaging matters. The visual album-cover connection to the music matters. Remember the gatefolds with the storybooks in them and the pop-up photos and stuff? This kind of thing is a boutique, elitist origami item now, but when I was a kid it was a five-and-dime item. I remember how it felt when I had Jethro Tull’s Passion Play in my hands as a kid, from a poncy Shakespearean Renaissance Faire English hippie guy, knowing that, like, another million kids also were reading this storybook. There was this feeling that so many other people were experiencing what I was experiencing, at the same time. It was like combining that Harry Potter intrigue with the music for the kid of the time. That’s empowering. Those records connected us. …”

The music experience is more than what meets the ear — is it about actual physical contact?

“This is about warmth, and beauty,” Goss says. “Now vocal tuning is everywhere. What a horrid tone. The chipmunk-robot people are here! Great. Lovely. Did you see Shania Twain live at the CMAs this year, maybe last year, with a vocal tuner on her voice when she was singing live? “And! I! Love! YouuuuUUUU!” It puts that thing on the tone at the end, an artificial lengthening of when you land on the note. So the person’s natural phrasing is gone. Why? When Lennon was flat, it was wonderful. When Keith Richards is flat, it’s wonderful. Because it sounds like the guy is sitting right next to you. He hasn’t been chopped to spam before he gets to you.”

People don’t even know what they’re missing.

“I remember going to see Yes in the ’70s, back when people knew the lost art of properly mic-ing an acoustic guitar live. It has to have a low end, so that if you bump the guitar with an elbow, the PA goes boomf. You need that full spectrum of sound — you gotta feel the chest, and the belly, that part of the sound spectrum. Music should come through your chest, your eyes, your belly, that part of the sound spectrum. I think that’s my favorite part.

“There’s some great Israel Regardie Golden Dawn meditation tapes,” he says, describing one of Crowley’s disciples and his mystical society, “where he talks about getting into a state where your body is made out of spiderweb, like mesh. Continue reading

NEW AEON MASTERS OF REALITY

New Masters of Reality album out in North America in October, with tour (!). Info: mastersofreality.com

Chris Goss: beloved Masters of Reality mainman for twenty-plus years—a storied New York band whose debut album was produced by Rick Rubin and released on American Records, which was followed by a move to California and some time on the record label that brought us Tone-Loc. For two years, three tours and a studio album, Masters of Reality’s drummer was legendary fiercehead Ginger Baker of Cream. Pine/Cross Dover is the band’s first studio effort in five years, and finds longtime drummer John Leamy once again on skins, joined by Brian O’Connor on bass, and Dave Catching (Eagles of Death Metal, Earthlings, QOTSA, etc) and Mark Christian on guitars.

Here’s the two covers for the new album, and the opening salvo…

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Download: “King Richard TLH” — Masters of Reality (mp3)

Stream: [audio:http://www.arthurmag.com/magpie/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/King-Richard-TLH-128.mp3%5D

Goss is also known as: Kyuss producer, occasional Queens of the Stone Age/Desert Sessions member/collaborator, UNKLE contributor, and, with Twiggy Ramirez and Zach Hill, one-third of Goon Moon. As one-half of the pictured-below The 5:15ers (QOTSAer Josh Homme was the other half), he headlined the second night of ArthurBall in Los Angeles in spring 2006.

LARecordBall

Let’s have some classic Masters from the past. Here’s a couple from the Ginger Baker era, first up is a live rendition of “John Brown” off Masters’ first album…

“Mister Who?”: A video by Casey Niccoli from the Ginger Baker era…

A live one from the Queens era…

And an unbelievably majestic 1999 live take on another classic from Masters’ first album…

Also….

“Sound Methods and Weird Channels: How producer and Masters of Reality main man Chris Goss got his groove” (2004 profile I did for the LAWeekly)

Goss is the author of arguably the best piece of neighborhood/cooking writing to appear so far in the pages of Arthur: check out his super-porkout Immigrant’s Sauce recipe/reminisence from the Brian Eno cover ish (No. 17, July 2005—still available, collectors!).

Let’s wrap it up with a message/manifesto to artists from Goss…

One from the Desert Files: CHRIS GOSS (2004)

Sound Methods and Weird Channels
How producer and Masters of Reality main man Chris Goss got his groove

by Jay Babcock

Originally published August 26, 2004 in the LAWeekly

Over a recent leisurely afternoon lunch at Silver Lake’s Astro Family restaurant, musician/producer Chris Goss is in muse-aloud mode.

“Music usually makes its way into the hands that want it,” he says quietly. “Eventually, if you’re meant to have it, it’ll get to you, through weird channels that you’d never expect.”

I’m catching up with Goss at an interesting point in his career. The night before, he was in Studio City, contributing work to the new Queens of the Stone Age album at the request of longtime friend Joshua Homme, with whom Goss has collaborated since taking Homme’s desert-rock teenagers Kyuss under his producer’s protective wing in 1992. (Goss was featured on last year’s Homme-supervised The Desert Sessions Volume 9 & 10 in a duet with PJ Harvey on the desolate “There Will Never Be a Better Time.”) QOTSA co-vocalist Mark Lanegan’s new solo album, Bubblegum, which Goss co-produced and performs on, is finally out. Goss just finished producing the new album from buzzed-up Britfreaks the Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster, and is itching to start writing songs in a new project called Sno-Balls [eventually renamed Goon Moon—Ed.], with ex–Marilyn Manson bassist Twiggy Ramirez and Hella drummer Zach Hill. And his old band, Masters of Reality, has a new album out.

Well, in Europe, anyway. Like the last three Masters albums, Give Us Barabbas has no American distribution and is available only as an import at specialty stores on- and offline. And Barabbas, technically credited to “Masters of Reality/Chris Goss,” is not really a “new” album, it’s a collection of Goss-penned songs from the last 20 years that have gone previously unreleased in studio form. Why many of these songs are only appearing now is a long, serendipitous story involving Rick Rubin, band turnover, a grunge-choked ’90s marketplace inhospitable to the Masters’ varied classic rock sound and non-pretty-boy look, an impasse with a major record label, a “lost” album and Goss’ busy career as a producer. Cautionary and instructional as that tale may be, it is ultimately less important than the songs themselves: gems like the windswept, string-laden “The Ballad of Jody Frosty,” the campfire sing-along “I Walk Beside Your Love,” the majestic chorale “Still on the Hill,” the country-blues chantey “Bela Alef Rose,” the gorgeous epic “Jindalee Jindalie.” Any collection spanning two decades inevitably carries with it the air of biography, and Barabbas is certainly that; but it also feels like a secret monograph—a collection of timeless scrolls from a legendary Master that will be passed among acolytes and disseminated to those who are meant to hear it.

“Whatever will be, will be,” says Goss, with a smile.

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