Goatsnake Vol. 1: an oral history

Los Angeles doom metallers Goatsnake have teamed up again with producer Nick Raskulinecz for their new album ‘Black Age Blues’, some fifteen years after the release of their second record, ‘Flower Of Disease’.

The quartet are hitting the UK for the Temples Festival this month, so we caught up with vocalist Pete Stahl and guitarist Greg Anderson to reflect on the band’s thunderously heavy debut – 1999’s Goatsnake Vol. 1– as the machine revs up once again…

**First of all, tell us about the recording process… **Pete Stahl: “It was probably a unique one compared to how most records are done. I had just joined the band – those guys had already been working out a bunch of different tunes and they asked me to come in and sing. They were old friends of mine. At the same time I was travelling and working, so I wasn’t able to work on the songs with them. It was kind of piecemeal that way. They would give me songs and I would work on them away from the rehearsal room and we would have to cobble them together that way. And also budget-wise, we were kind of at the mercy of whenever the producer Mathias Schneeberger could get us in. It probably took a good year at least to get everything recorded and mixed.” Greg Anderson: “It was the first stuff we had ever recorded, and it was kind of done in a few different sessions, if I remember correctly. At first we weren’t really intending it to be a full album – we just started recording demos really as we were writing the songs. The first session was probably four songs, and then when we had a few more and felt ready to go, we recorded those.”

Greg, did it feel disjointed as a result of Pete being away? GA: “I wouldn’t say disjointed. I guess the band has always operated as in we did what we could when we had the time to do it. And it wasn’t really until the second album that we started writing in the same room. And on the new record, most of it was all in the same room as well. [The first album] was done somewhat separately, as far as the music and vocals were concerned, but there’s a few songs that were done together as well. Pete always has a schedule like that. It’s the way it is for everyone in the band really – we all have a lot of different things going on. Sometimes there’s other stuff that takes priority.”

Have you got any particular highlights from the recording? PS: “One of my highlights is Slippin’ the Stealth. It was one that we kind of came up with at the last minute. We were jamming it and some of the guys didn’t want to do it because they didn’t feel comfortable with it. But we recorded it and it ended up pretty much being the song that everyone wants to hear. An old friend of mine from back home in Washington DC, Danny Frankel, played percussion and he added a flavour to the record that is kind of characteristic of all of our records. We bring in different elements every time; we try to push the envelope.”

Were there any lowpoints? PS: “Not really. It’s a bit trying when you’re having to work like that, here and there, trying to keep it consistent, trying to keep it sounding consistent. But nah, this was our first record. We don’t get to play that often anyway, even then, so for me it’s just a joy to be able to get together and tear it up.”

**Melvins’ Buzz Osborne produced the track ‘Dog Catcher’. How did that come about? **GA: “We had this track that we didn’t really know what to do with, to be honest. There’s a lot of ideas that got thrown away or changed drastically before they were recorded. At the time, I bet there was one person at least that didn’t want to record it, but somebody probably said ‘let’s do it’, because it’s different. And it was like, well, let’s take it even further by asking Buzz to mess it up. And we were like ‘Yes, this is perfect because if there’s anyone to make it even more fucked up, it’ll be him’. So we asked him, he was a friend of the band – at the time we were even sharing our practice space with the Melvins – and he’s an old acquaintance of mine back from Seattle… I used to go see the Melvins every single chance I could get in the 80s. He came in and did some tweaking to mess that track up. And to me, it turned into something that is way better than it could have been if we’d just followed the same path as the other songs.”

What sort of bands were you listening to at the time? PS: “This band came out of The Obsessed, so to speak, so I think it’s kind of from that world. And Greg Anderson – he actually came more from my world, coming from the hardcore scene. So you know, we had that element of his guitar style, and my vocals are what make Goatsnake a bit different to other bands.”

**Seeing as it was your first Goatsnake album, do you have a particular affinity towards it? **PS: “Yeah, there’s a special place in my heart [laughs]. But you kind of move on from it. What we’re working on now is what I’m really into. I love listening to old stuff, but I only really revisit it in a live setting. I rarely listen to the old records, but I definitely love playing them and I love singing them just as much as I did then, if not more now. But I don’t like listening to my voice on record really. It just makes me nervous. I think everybody’s like that.”

Is there anything in hindsight on the album that you’d go back and change? GA: “No, not at all. I feel like it’s a great document of a moment in time where the band was at. I’m really glad that it came out the way that it did. I think the recording is exceptional for where we were at at the time. I think it was captured perfectly. There’s a bit of shine on it, and I would say back then we were probably live a lot rougher than the record sounds – there’s a bit of shine but there’s also a lot of raw truth on it. There’s mistakes all over that record and I think that’s what gives it its charm, keeps it loose and it really adds to some of the heaviness to it.”

**Goatsnake 2015 (from l-r): Greg Anderson, Greg Rogers, Pete Stahl and Scott Renner. **Photo by Samantha Muljat.

Are these mistakes ones that that you have to really be listening out for to catch? GA: “Every band probably says the same thing, that there’s little mistakes here and there. There’s a school of thought that stuff should be corrected and it should be as good as possible – especially these days with the technology, it makes it so easy to do that. But I think a lot of the charm and character is lost when you go back and fix the mistakes. If you hear a hard rock or metal song or a record from the 60s, 70s, 80s and even some of the 90s – they all have mistakes all over it. This music isn’t pretty, it’s not perfect. So to try to make it that way is to me not honest and it’s just not the kind of band that we were and that we are now. I wouldn’t even want to remix it or nothing. It’s a nice document of the band at that time period.”

How do you feel when you think of that particular record? GA: “I look back with really fond memories, because it was an exciting time. It was all brand new for us. Not only our friendships and working together, but the kind of music we were creating, which for me was totally different than things I’d done in the past. And it was also the same for the other guys too. And the other thing for me is that I’m blown away that it’s lasted and people are still connecting with it. I’d never have guessed that when we were making the band. This goes for a lot of bands who have had a second chance or have come back together - when we were around and playing this music, the interest was very minimal. And that’s fine, it’s just the way it was; not a lot of people gave a shit about the music, no-one cared. We obviously weren’t making it to be popular, but we did what we wanted to do and for better or for worse, there wasn’t a large audience for that. But now, there’s a whole new audience for this stuff. People are discovering it again, a lot of it because of the internet of course, and that’s amazing. I’m really honoured that people are still interested in the music. It’s stood the test of time.”

Goatsnake’s new album, Black Age Blues will be released on June 1 through Southern Lord. The band play the main stage at Bristol’s Temples Festival on May 30 at 6pm.

Chris Cope

A writer for Prog magazine since 2014, armed with a particular taste for the darker side of rock. The dayjob is local news, so writing about the music on the side keeps things exciting - especially when Chris is based in the wild norths of Scotland. Previous bylines include national newspapers and magazines.