Sons of the Desert
Article by Joshua Sindell
Photos by Lisa Johnson
Originally appeared in Kerrang! (2001)
We begin at an ending of sorts. The club is emptying out, the crowds are dispersing, and the backstage area is a shambolic vista of cigarette smoke and spilled cans of beer.
The mood here at the at The Knitting Factory - a music venue in LA devoted primarily to the avant-garde - is one of satisfaction. Chris Goss, leader of Masters of Reality, has just finished his solo show to a room of wildly cheering fans. Billed as 'Chris Goss & Friends', the concert was a showcase for Goss to reinterpret Masters songs in a new context with new players, including Queens Of The Stone Age duo Josh Homme and Nick Oliveri, and former Screaming Trees vocalist Mark Lanegan.
Ever since producer Rick Rubin released their eponymous debut album in 1988 (sometimes erroneously called The Blue Garden) on his Def American label, Masters of Reality have been one of America's best-kept secrets. Their four albums - that aforementioned debut, plus '93's Sunrise on the Sufferbus, '99's Welcome to the Western Lodge and forthcoming newie Deep In The Hole - are timeless, refreshing and wholly unique.
Here in LA, Chris Goss is something of a legend. As well as the Masters, he's also a producer of some repute - he helped shape the sound of Homme and Oliveri's previous band, Kyuss. Indeed, the bond between Goss and Homme has been strong ever since Josh's former band - then called Sons Of Kyuss - were asked to support the Masters at a gig at local venue The Palace. More recently, the duo produced Queens Of The Stone Age's massively successful Rated R album under the joint monicker 'The Fiffiff Teeners'.
Sitting in the Knitting Factory's dressing room after the show has finished, the duo are ready to look back on their 12-year relationship. The lanky Homme sprawls in a well-upholstered chair, while Goss - bald, burly and possessed of a mellifluous, hypnotic voice - perches next to him on an altogether less comfortable-looking seat. With the imminent release of both the Masters' new album (which includes a track co-written by Homme, who also appears on the record) and another two volumes from Homme's free-form Desert Sessions project (which, unsurprisingly, includes an appearance by Goss), there's plenty to talk about.
Chris, Masters of Reality started life in Syracuse, New York. When did you move to your current home in the desert just outside of LA?
Chris Goss: "I came out here on Rick Rubin's coat-tails. I came out to finish the first Masters of Reality record with him. I lived in Hollywood for five years, but after a couple of years of that I went to the desert to work, to do pre-production with Kyuss, and fell in love with it instantly. The desert can really grab some people by the balls - you either love it or you hate it - and I literally went home after working with the jokers in Kyuss for a week and told my wife to start packing."
Josh Homme: "What's interesting for me, though, is that it made total sense when he said that he was moving in. Lots of people go there for a weekend and think, 'It's a great place to visit, but...'. Like he said, it grabs some people by the balls and they're stuck. Stuck in a good way."
How did you first hear about Kyuss?
Chris: "My wife Cynthia had the Sons Of Kyuss demo tape. She's a rocker from way back, and she was playing this demo tape over and over again. I was thinking, 'This sounds like Danzig...', because my wife was a big Danzig fan at the time. But then there was a quality that started to pop out of their demo, and the more she listened to it, the more I noticed that there was a real 'body-rock' thing going on in there."
Josh: "Yeah. There was a period where we were, in all honesty, kind of taken by the first Danzig record. The mix that Chris heard was from when we were working with people who told us, 'You can't set your guitar like that, and you can't have everything tuned like this...'. The kind of people who would tell you what you can and can't do as if their word rules. It sort of altered what we sounded like live."
Chris: "We went and saw them do a show at a little tiny club in LA called The Gaslight. It may have been their first LA show. There were like five or ten people there. I was blown out the door. Man, the drums really were swinging under those heavy, tuned-down riffs, and at the time all metal was really staccato and anal. It was the time of Megadeth and Metallica, and that's like 'prickly' metal to me. It's not fluid enough. I thought that Kyuss were really influenced by Black Sabbath, and I remember going up to Josh for the first time and saying, 'Wow, you really sound like Sabbath.' And Josh was kind of insulted, and said, 'Well, I'm really not that familiar with Black Sabbath'. That's when I really knew I was on to something."
The Kyuss records you made together - Blues For The Red Sun, Sky Valley, ...And The Circus Leaves Town - have influenced so many other bands. Did you have any inkling that these records would mean anything some day?
Josh: "We talked about that last night in fact. Someone sent me a letter about those albums, and I read it and looked at Chris and said, 'Who'd have believed it?'. We were so focused on our music, we felt like we were playing our favourite music so that no-one else would have to."
Chris: "Kyuss were full of piss and vinegar. They were really touchy. You couldn't say anything to them like, 'People will like this song', because then they'd want to fuck it up."
The records that Chris worked on back then - be it the Masters or Kyuss - sounded so much warmer than most records of the time. Why is that?
Chris: "Well, I was influenced by certain rock 'n' roll records I heard when I was growing up, and those bands wanted the music to embrace you, they wanted the sound to hug you. Great producers like Jimmy Page, they work hard to try to get an emotional reaction out of you when you listen to their records. It's kind of like a chef burning the hash browned potatoes to get just the right kind of crunch! The chef at Denny's doesn't care about that!"
Josh: "It's really just about giving a shit."
Chris: "When you're sitting in a room as a band's rehearsing, and something's happening with all of these sound waves, there's a combination that only occurs when these four musicians on Earth get together, and then that becomes what the goal is - to try to get some of that glow. Josh now makes his own records the same way, where it's about laying the shit down and getting the glow."
Did you learn that from him, Josh?
Josh: "I think that there's something inside people who are passionate about music or art, and those like minds attract. The best way for me to learn is to learn from people that I love and respect. When I met Chris, it was like going to school. When Chris moved to the desert, I would go up to his house and sometimes just be at his house for five hours without even talking to him or Cynthia. I'd walk in the door and just be there, in other rooms, and I'd be writing songs in the music room that he calls The Pit. His delivery struck a chord in me, and I don't know whether it's luck or karma, but to meet up with someone who is going in the same direction as me, but who is just ahead of me a little further up the road was amazing."
Josh, do you see Chris as a kind of mentor or more like a peer?
Josh: "With Kyuss, Chris was definitely a mentor, and he produced our records in the same way we were playing. Chris has technical ability, but it was more about 'feel' in the exact same way we were doing things."
Chris: "To me, Josh is a peer. I think that everybody I work with is a peer. I will only work with peers. I'm not a dog trainer. I look at anyone who is talented and who is a music lover as a peer. This show tonight, I felt like I was in good hands."
Most of the musicians who played tonight were younger than Chris. Does that ever feel awkward?
Josh: "But that's the thing. Age doesn't really matter. When I met Chris I was 17, 18 years old, and he was in his early 30s at the time, and our age difference never came up because it meant nothing. Now, our styles and similarities work well and our differences complement one another."
Chris, when did you realise that Josh was a major talent?
Chris: "He's a growing musician, you know? That's what I admire about him. We get along great musically. I have tapes of us playing at four o'clock in the morning on acoustic guitars outside, on songs that we wrote years ago that will see the light of day some day. If you have fun playing with someone, you get a groove that you know is good. You just know it."
In the late '90s, a few years after Kyuss broke up, Josh moved to Seattle. Did you stay in contact with the knowledge that you'd work together again?
Josh: "I quit playing music for a year, but we stayed friends. It was the music that brought us together. Chris and I are married in a certain way. It doesn't matter if both of us lose our hands and feet anymore. At this point, music is a part of it, but it's not the entire thing."
Was Chris an influence on The Desert Sessions project?
Josh: "The Earthlings? and Ween and the Rancho de la Luna studio are the reasons for The Desert Sessions. Kyuss was so insulated that we refused not only to jam with other people but to let other people jam with us. In all of the years that Chris worked on the records, I'm astounded now that he never played on any of them, with very few exceptions. We were so insulated, and when that was over, I realised that, 'Wait... music is a kind of sharing thing'. If were lucky enough to play, all of us band guys want to know what it's like to play with other people."
Chris: "On top of it all, people's schedules are all over the place. With the Masters record that I just completed, it was the first one where all of my friends were in town. This past year, Josh was doing Desert Sessions and I was doing the Masters record at the same time. It was the best, man! To have a dozen cool musicians within a mile radius of each other, it fuckin' worked out great."
Five Goss/Homme collaborations
Between 1992 and 1995, Homme's band released a trio of groundbreaking albums. Goss was the producer on them all.
Chris: "I thought they were the coolest, heaviest band in the world. The reason I wanted to record them was because I didn't want anyone doing their record to tell them to 'tune up'! They were exactly right the way they were."
Homme's post-Kyuss outfit. Released one Goss-produced single, 'If Only Everything / Born To Hula', via Man's Ruin.
Josh: "I was deliberately trying to get let go by Elektra Records (Kyuss' label) in 1997. I told them I needed this ridiculous amount of money to make a demo, thinking that they would say, 'Fuck it, let him go'. But they agreed to it, so I called Chris and said, 'We got all this dough! Come on up to Seattle and eat some barbecue and play rock!'."
Queens Of The Stone Age
The duo produced the Queens second album, 'Rated R', together.
Josh: "The Queens are a three-record cycle. The first record was us stepping away from Kyuss so that I wasn't copying myself. The way to do that was to get into trance, groove, repetition. The second one, the music broadens out to announce that we're going to play anything that we think is cool."
Masters of Reality
Homme plays on a number of tracks on the new MOR album, 'Deep In The Hole'.
Chris: "He plays great bass on it. It's a typical Masters record in the sense that there's heavy songs and light songs. That's the way they always turn out, from just sheer boredom with having one style."
The Eagles Of Death Metal
Bizarre side-project that consists of Josh, Chris, Nick Oliveri and others.
Josh: "I can describe the music like this: stripper drum-beats, bluegrass slide guitar, bass, death metal and Canned Heat vocals as well. The primary source of the Eagles is a guy named Jesse 'The Devil' Hughes. He's a member of the National Rifle Association who tries to spread the word of the Devil everywhere, loves porno and crystal meth."