KTVU.com Talks To Goon Moon’s Chris Goss
By David Pehling
UPDATED: 12:55 am PDT October 26, 2007
He may not be a household name, but guitarist, songwriter and producer Chris Goss has had a sizeable influence on the sound of underground hard rock over the past two decades. His band Masters of Reality was one of uber-producer Rick Rubin’s great discoveries in the ’80s, showing a depth and level of songwriting rarely heard hard-rock groups of the era on its eponymous debut for Rubin’s Def American label.
Though the band dissolved soon after the release of the album, Goss would later resurrect the band with such illustrious members as former Cream and Blind Faith drummer Ginger Baker. Around this time the musician would enter into another line of work after providing his services as producer for downtuned Palm Desert band Kyuss. The three early ’90s Kyuss albums he helmed in the studio — Blues for the Red Sun, Welcome to Sky Valley and …And The Circus Leaves Town — would become hugely influential to legions of so-called “stoner rock” bands that would follow, mixing elements of psychedelia and monolithic, Sabbath-flavored heaviness.
Goss would continue his collaboration with Kyuss guitarist Josh Homme as producer on several Queens of the Stone Age albums and as a principle player on recordings for Homme’s Desert Sessions side project. The songwriter has continued to use Masters of Reality as a creative outlet, but Goss takes to the road for the first time in ages with his latest band, Goon Moon. Teaming with former Marilyn Manson/A Perfect Circle and current Nine Inch Nails band member Jeordie White (aka Twiggy Ramirez) as well as an A-list group of players including Homme, frequent Desert Session member David Catching and monster drummers Zach Hill (of the band Hella) and Josh Freese (Guns N’ Roses, The Vandals and both NIN and A Perfect Circle with White), the group’s sophomore effort on Ipecac Records Licker’s Last Leg ranges from noisy, experimental dissonance to bracing, hook-filled heavy songs that would sound perfectly at home on modern rock radio. In advance of playing their second show ever at Mezzanine in San Francisco opening for acclaimed British electronic act UNKLE (who’s latest album he produced), Goss took time out to talk to KTVU.com about his rich history in music and his latest projects.
KTVU.com: The songs on Masters of Reality’s debut album were much more sophisticated than the material being recorded by most hard-rock bands in Los Angeles at the time. You managed to sound much more seasoned than the legions of late ’80s bands copying AC/DC or Aerosmith. You were in your late 20s when the debut came out; what previous band experience did you have and had you put out anything prior to Masters of Reality? Were you just working in various bands that never quite got to that level leading up to that band?
Chris Goss: Yeah, basically that was it. I was a club DJ too.
KTVU.com: Really? DJing in rock clubs?
Chris Goss: No, I liked really early electronic stuff. I started spinning records when I was 20 years old. I was spinning Kraftwerk, early industrial stuff and the Psychedelic Furs. Early ’80s all the way through mid ’80s dance music. I was actually one of the first DJs in the country to play Madonna’s stuff.
KTVU.com: Was that after you’d moved to LA?
Chris Goss: No, that was in New York.
KTVU.com: Maybe I should go back a little further. I don’t think of Masters of Reality as from the LA rock scene, but I guess I always associated you with Southern California because of the link to Rick Rubin and American Records.
Chris Goss: When Rick moved from New York and moved his base from Def Jam to Def American, I came out with him.
KTVU.com: So you knew him already in New York?
Chris Goss: Just prior to him putting out our first record, we started hanging out.
KTVU.com: So you were DJing in New York at the same time you were playing guitar in bands?
Chris Goss: I originally came from Syracuse. That was my hometown and I started spinning records there. I’d also played in some punk band in the late 1970s. But my roots go back to when I started listening to music when I was really, really little. I bought my first Beatles album when I was six years old. So it really started early; going out and buying records and aping them as much as I could. I think one of the reasons Masters of Reality stood out at the time is that the water ran a little deeper than most bands as far as the background and the musicianship and what our influences were.
We were never a dumb-ass metal band. I was actually repulsed by that. The championship wrestling kind of quality to metal that Spinal Tap made fun of, you know? And as the ’80s progressed, I realized where my roots were really was classic rock. I was weaned on Beatles, Stones, Zeppelin and other classic rock records. That’s were I felt comfortable. So after going through all these different stages over all the years and listening to lots of stuff, applying all these different aesthetics from different styles of music, that’s what made it what it was. And probably what made it not as big as other things that were going on (laughs).
KTVU.com: It was definitely a very refined distillation of a lot of influences…
Chris Goss: I think Jimmy Page and Robert Plant – to reach back as obvious examples people can relate to – were musicians who were playing hard rock music but when they went home at night, what they listened to wasn’t other hard rock bands. They were listening to more exotic music. I mean, you can hear James Brown and Barry White in mid-70s Zeppelin stuff. You could tell they were listening to the soul music that was going on at the time. And that kind of gets ignored by the dumbed down metal press. These guys don’t go home and listen to Judas Priest. Robert Plant is a musicologist; he keeps up with everything. It’s a matter of keeping aware. You never go stale that way.
KTVU.com: As a respected producer now, is there anything you took away from your experience working with Rick Rubin that has carried over into your own processes as far as producing bands or producing your own material?
Chris Goss: I think I learned what not to do more than what to do. That first record that Rick did, the band was at odds with each other. It wasn’t a very fun record to do. It had a lot to do with where we were all at personally with each other. At that point, I decided that this wasn’t what I’d worked all these years to do and that I wanted to have more fun doing it. The process shouldn’t be belabored or miserable. That record still rings of a very difficult period for me. So from that point on, I’ve gauged the quality of what I’m working on to how much I enjoy doing it. Very few times do miserable records come out well.
KTVU.com: I’m surprised there was so much tension surrounding that album. It’s one of my favorite hard-rock records of the last two decades. There’s a great resonance to it and I still listen to it regularly today. Though I guess the fact that the original band split up not long after it came out hinted that there were some problems. When you decided to put Masters of Reality back together a few years later, you end up working with former Cream drummer Ginger Baker. How did that come about?
Chris Goss: I met him at a barbeque and someone suggested that we jam. And a few days later, we did. We got along really wonderfully musically. It was instantaneous, really. At the end of the jam that day, he said “We should do something together.” So we did.
KTVU.com: Your association with Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age dates way back to your production work on several albums with his hugely influential “desert rock” band Kyuss back in the early ’90s. How did you end up meeting the band and producing them?
Chris Goss: Actually, my wife had received a demo of theirs from a friend and she loved it. And then I caught on to it. We went and saw them play their first LA show, I believe in 1990. There were just a few people there in a really small club. And it was such a breath of fresh air; there wasn’t much metal or hard rock out there at the time that was doing it for me. And they swung; I think that was the thing that made the difference to me. It wasn’t that uptight, staccato style of rhythm. It was very swinging and slow moving. I just think of swing when I think about why I loved Kyuss so much. And they were tuned down lower than anybody at the time. The reason that I got involved with it is that they were tuned down so low and were so original sounding, I was afraid some metal producer – whatever that means – would get a hold of them and ruin it. You know, make them tune up and play more like the flavor of the day whether it was Megadeth or Pantera or whatever was going on at the time.
And so I just really wanted to get it the way they were playing it and record it that way as I was sitting there watching these kids. I hadn’t planned on being a rock producer; I was pretty much content being a songwriter and a guitarist/singer. At this point Ginger was in the band and I pretty much had a course set for myself. Then I saw Kyuss and thought ‘Well, let me be the guy who turns the tape recorder on for them and allows them to be themselves.’ And that was the whole story really.
KTVU.com: Something that’s always struck me about Kyuss is the wealth of great songwriters they had. Usually in a hard rock band you have one or two people writing songs, but here you had Josh Homme and drummer Brant Bjork coming up with great material as well as John Garcia and at various points Nick Oliveri and Scott Reeder. To what extent did you have a hand in determining what songs would make it onto the albums?