Interview with a Master

KTVU.com Talks To Goon Moon’s Chris Goss
By David Pehling

UPDATED: 12:55 am PDT October 26, 2007

http://www.ktvu.com/entertainment/14424829/detail.html

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.
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CHRIS GOSS in the kitchen (Arthur No. 17/July 2005)

From the “Come On In My Kitchen” column originally published in Arthur No. 17 (July 02005):

First, singer-guitarist-songwriter-producer-artist-pottery collector-Southern California desert denizen Chris Goss a true three-stripes vet of rock and part-time Master of Reality and Queen of the Stone Age, takes a weirder than usual deep-career turn with his involvement in the pan-prog Soft Machine-Hawkwind-and-Yes-burn-one trio with Hella drummer Zach Hill and ex-M. Manson bassist Twiggy Ramirez called Goon Moon, whose inexplicably wonderful debut EP release, “I Got a Brand New Egg Layin’ Machine,” has recently been released through the Suicide Squeeze label. Now, for this month’s “Come On in My Kitchen” column, Goss gives us a recipe for an Italian-American pasta sauce that has no garlic. It figures. Watch out for this guy on the freeway, he’ll signal a change to a lane you didn’t know existed…

IMMIGRANT’S SAUCE
by Chris Goss

1988: Newly arrived in Los Angeles, it becomes obvious within a few months: I am not going to find the style of Italian-American cooking that is so easy to find in my former stomping grounds of Upstate New York, or for that matter, all of the Italian American communities that stretch from the Jersey Shore to Chicago. With further investigation, I find this had been a favorite L.A.-gripe topic among displanted New Yorkers since the Rat Pack days. Every so often, a new tip: “There’s a place in Brentwood.” “There’s a place in Silver Lake.” Mythical stories of truckloads of New Jersey water brought in for bread and pizza dough. Lots of added-up little reasons and harebrained schemes…this is our world. But today, it’s the pork sauce. And the theory: It’s the economy, ‘Stupidon’! And the weather. And the soil.

1920: Shiploads of poor Southern Italian immigrants like Mr. and Mrs. Anthony and Rose Modafferi hit Ellis Island and spin off to any Northeastern industrial city that may have a brother, a cousin, or best yet, a cherished factory job waiting for them. In most cases, the poorer they are, the less West, or South they travel. To this day I wonder, “Jesus, Tony! Why did you stop at Syracuse?” It turns out, food aesthetic-wise, I’m really glad he did.

1950: Plain and simple. The men’s asses having been worked off holding down two shifts at the iron foundry or whatever factory, for the first time in their lives they can afford to buy meat. From the beloved family butcher to the dinner table in their own two-story duplex in the Italian part of town with a new flock of grandchildren and expanded family living upstairs. Oh yeah, and just enough room for a backyard garden with the Eastern clay soil and sticky, humid summers that tomatoes seem to love. (You can smell a sweet Jersey/NY/PA tomato in August from 20 feet away. Serious.) So the nonas have a ball with their expanded food budgets, gardens and neighborhood import delis. Don’t get me wrong. Remember, they had just survived TWO world wars, a depression, and a disease-ridden trip across the ocean with a few dollars on hand. Death and starvation spawn amazing cooks. Holds true for ALL of the world’s cultures. My nona and her friends were foragers in the summertime. Wild dandelions, rhubarb, onions from the empty lots down the street wrapped in their aprons. Trading homegrown tomatoes for backyard pears or handmade pasta. Always making do for a large family with very little and wasting nothing. The thought of their strength and perseverance still gives me hope for this world. “Get together, one more time” – Jim Morrison

1965: Everyday at 5p.m. in my newly built Upstate suburban neighborhood, the air smells like sausage and peppers frying. Tomato and basil simmering. Eggplant and zucchini baking. Every family’s sauce is slightly different from the next. The Modafferi meat sauce didn’t have garlic in it, so the myriad of possible side courses—meatballs, braciolla (stuffed steak rolls usually included on Sunday) and sauteed greens that had lots of garlic included really stood out against the sweet sauce. Store-bought, canned tomatoes are allowed, sometimes even admired, for their sweetness and convenience when the home canned tomatoes ran out in springtime. Every nona (now in their 70s) thinks she is the best cook around. And actually they ALL are the best cooks around. Unbelievably good food. Pass it on.

2005: Here is a simplified, reasonable facsimile of Rose’s rich, meat and fat laden sauce. Give yourself a full day’s time to do this properly. It needs constant tending. Your kitchen will most likely end up being a greasy, tomato splattered mess. If you live in Southern California like me, keep in mind the brutally cold East Coast winters can almost stretch to six months long, and it’s hard to eat like this as often in the consistently warm climate of the Southwest. The same holds true for the Northern European cuisine that my German dad cooked so well. But HA, that’s another page, in another issue, of this wonderful rag: Arthur.

You’ll only need:

1.5 pound of whatever pork meat is on sale this week. (cheap chops, ribs, neckbones. Or no bone necessary. Some fat with meat attached.)
1.5 pound Italian pork sausage (most store brands are acceptable. Look for clues; if you can see fennel seeds and red pepper flakes, that’s good)
2 chopped med. onions
1/4 cup olive oil
2- 28 oz. cans tomato puree (save the empty cans, I’ll explain)
2- 6 oz. cans tomato paste
20 oz. of water (2/3 full of the empty can that you will later use for skimmed fat. The other for your spoon rest.)
1/2 cup (7-8 leafs) fresh, torn basil (or, if you have to use dried,1 tbsp)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tbs sugar (none admit it, but most nonas use it)

In a heavy, large saucepan that you know won’t burn easily,(at least 10 qt. to give you lots of room for stirring and meat) thoroughly brown the pork meat and sausage on medium heat. Remove the cooked meat and sausage. Set aside. Leave the fat and browned renderings on the bottom of the pot.

Add chopped onions and olive oil. This process will deglaze the bottom of the pot and turn the onions brown quickly. Saute’ until onions soften and go transparent.

Add tomato paste and a few tablespoons of water. This mixture of paste, onions, fat and renderings needs to be constantly stirred. It will spit and glop like lava. It’s alive. Don’t let it stick. In about 10 minutes the paste will seem to change from its original dark red color to a lighter orange. Apparently, this is a sign from St. Anthony (patron saint of big eaters) that the sugar and acidity levels in the tomato paste have reached their perfect balance. When Mario Batali mentioned the color change a few years ago on Molto Mario, that’s the moment I knew he was for real. This is secret knowledge of the Southern Italian Ragu Illuminati. (Now formerly secret knowledge.) This is food alchemy.

Now add the two large cans of tomato puree and 2/3 can of water. Stir in thoroughly. Lower heat to a very low simmer. Cover. Take a breath. The grease and paste splattering battle of the last hour has calmed. Clean up the stove and kitchen a few minutes. Keep an eye on the sauce. “Feel” the bottom with your spoon to always make sure no sticking is happening.

Add pork meat and sausage back to sauce.

Add basil, salt, peppers, sugar.

Play your fave CDs, put Leave it to Beaver on TVLand in the background. Gently stir and feel every 10 minutes and cook covered at a very low simmer boil for about five hours. During all of this period lots of the water will start to evaporate. Fat will rise to the top. The sauce will thicken.

Start to skim. We wanted all of the fat to start with, but now we don’t want it too greasy. The once-empty can will now be about a third full of skimmed fat.

By now, the pork meat and sausage will be almost tenderly falling apart and infiltrated with the sweet tomato sauce. Boil your pasta water.

Lordy. Cook your favorite pasta shape.

This was served on Thursday and Sunday at nona’s house. The men usually liked the heavier Rigatoni, Rotelle (‘springs’) and homemade Gnocchi shapes. And always a platter of spaghetti too. Always topped with grated Locatelli romano. (Available at the Monte Carlo/Pinnochio Italian Deli in Burbank on Magnolia. Go there.)

Eat. Have a heart attack. Enjoy.

Note: I had promised Jay Babcock a meatball recipe and the world’s best pineapple upside-down cake recipe. But alas, I’m going back to sleep now. Hope I’m invited back. Bye.