It’s a bit of an anathema when creative people switch, um, artistic modes – models becoming actors, actors becoming senators, singers becoming painters… Michael Cera writes short stories! Remember Jerry Garcia’s tie collection? I digress… Usually the switch fails miserably, but sometimes you get a sparkling jewel out of the whole train wreck. Chris Goss, for instance, is the only constant member of the band Masters of Reality, which has been around since the late 80’s. He is also a renowned music producer who breathed life into the term “desert rock” and made bands like Queens of the Stone Age exist.
Just as he straddles his talent between being in a band and making other bands into something amazing, his latest album Pine/Cross Dover (released in 2009) falls somewhere between hauntingly bucolic and darkly frenetic. This interview was carried out via email, so he had a lot of time to mull over the questions and undercut his own quotes about his music from the press release. Read the interview and then give Pine/Cross Dover a listen, see if you think the album succeeded the artistic crossover.
I heard Obama has Kyuss on his iPod. How do you feel about that?
No accounting for taste, is there?
You’re deemed a music legend, spearheading the “Desert Rock” genre and expanding into other musical territories like producing PJ Harvey and Lupe Fiasco. What qualities do you look for in a band you enjoy working with?
Actually I co-wrote with them. But first and foremost, I'm listening for natural rhythm and swing. Groove. I think I listen with my body first, brain second.
Regarding Masters Of Reality you say, “We have absolutely no intentions other than making music that we want to hear, and other musicians definitely sense that wonderful freedom and experimentation and try to emulate it, to great profit. Proof of good design, I'd assume.” Does this means you think you are a musicians’ musician, the way Ezra Pound was deemed a poet’s poet? How did you feel appointing yourself that title? And who's emulating you presently?
My mommy told me I was a musician's musician, bless her heart. And my cousin once said “Hey, there's a new song on the radio that sounds just like Masters. ”
In your press release you say, “Art and music can be loaded with aesthetic and esoteric nano-timebombs, each level of delivery and digestion can and should be emotionally manipulated and shaped for the future…” What does that mean?
It means that Picasso would be transfixed by the inclusion of one additional brush stroke Matisse added to a painting. One brush stroke completely defining or re-defining the work's balance, content, even humor and an eternal aesthetic message sent to art forever. That's what that means.
You go on to say, “…and the best part is, no one knows what we're building because it will never be finished. Look how the world of food is fusing, well, that's happening to a million things simultaneously. Our brains and nervous systems, even in our rock and roll, hopefully.” Are you talking about genetically modified foods, or Pan-Asian fusion or what?
Science cannot define, predict or hinder our collective or individual imaginations, as I unapologetically believe we are Divine spirits. And yes actually, Korean bbq tacos with a pomegranate pesto salsa would probably especially please Carl Jung, ya think? Tiny incremental steps toward oneness.
Masters of Reality is well known for its ever-changing cast of musicians, from Ginger Baker of Cream to Mark Lanegan of Screaming Trees. For this album, you teamed up with John Leamy, whom you met when he painted an album cover for you. How has your relationship with him grown into one of musical collaboration?
We get along as friends really well, that's first and foremost. Add to that, he's my favorite drummer on the planet, as well as our in-house art department. Finally the clincher, he is fanatically in love with 1970s Yes music.
The new album is touted to sound like Public Image and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Many of the tracks have thundering, trance-inducing loops, but are kept light by some fucked up Steve Miller vibes. Where did this album channel its industrial blues? If not industrial blues, how would you describe it?
Maybe throw surreal and/or ethereal into your synopsis and I think that's close enough. A soundman once told me, “You guys are just a fancy blues band.”
Can you talk about the lyrics on this album? They are dominant in the recording. Is there a theme?
Dreams. Nightmares. With some particular current world malaise, and joy thrown in. (Your astute Steve Miller angle.) Disjointedness and the strange hangover from a night of weird dreams. Not too sure, but I think it's a similar fucked up musical presentation to how David Lynch edits his films. A series of twisted mood moments maybe, but playing it as rock and roll music simultaneously.
How long did you spend on this album?
All in all about two and a half months studio, spread out over a four month period. But always years of compiled tidbits scrolled through for ideas that didn't get utilized in the past.
Masters of Reality has a supergroup touring with them, including the likes of Eagles of Death Metal bassist Brian O’Connor and former Queens of the Stone Age guitarist Brendon McNichol. You’re also sharing the stage with The Cult for part of this tour. It’s literally a full house of rock and roll and you’ve had your creative hand in half of these artists’ lives. When traveling with them, is there a sense of preciousness? Like the Algonquin Round Table of Rock? Or is it more like you are traveling with great friends? Or something between?
If that makes me rock's Dorothy Parker reincarnate, maybe I'll pass on the round table analogy. Preciousness? Maybe to some. Honestly, I think it's more of a feeling that we have a job to do, and with the same friends watching night after night, probably just a bit more profound. Individuals tour differently. Being a singer, my obsession on every tour is a good night's sleep and not getting ill. I think it's a good line-up, Masters and Cult.
I notice you are playing Pappy and Harriet’s. That place has their own All-Star supergroups. Ever been there before?
I live 12 miles away from Pioneertown and it's my favorite bar in the world!
Marked For Death is a great movie. How did you find yourself sharing film time with Jimmy Cliff?
Steven [Seagal] was a fan and requested us. We were treated very kindly, especially having both music and SAG royalties from a film that was number one around the world.