By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
“Music usually makes its way into the hands that want it,” he says quietly. “Eventually, if you’re meant to have it, it’ll get to you, through weird channels that you’d never expect.”
I’m catching up with Goss at an interesting point in his career. The night before, he was in Studio City, contributing work to the new Queens of the Stone Age album at the request of longtime friend Joshua Homme, with whom Goss has collaborated since taking Homme’s desert-rock teenagers Kyuss under his producer’s protective wing in 1992. (Goss was featured on last year’s Homme-supervised Desert Sessions Volume 9/10 in a duet with PJ Harvey on the desolate “There Will Never Be a Better Time.”) QOTSA co-vocalist Mark Lanegan’s new solo album, Bubblegum, which Goss co-produced and performs on, is finally out. Goss just finished producing the new album from buzzed-up Britfreaks the Eighties B-Line Matchbox Disaster, and is itching to start writing songs in a new project called Sno-Balls, with ex–Marilyn Manson bassist Twiggy Ramirez and Hella drummer Zach Hill. And his old band, Masters of Reality, has a new album out.
Well, in Europe, anyway. Like the last three Masters albums, Give Us Barabbas has no American distribution and is available only as an import at specialty stores on- and offline. And Barabbas, technically credited to “Masters of Reality/Chris Goss,” is not really a “new” album, it’s a collection of Goss-penned songs from the last 20 years that have gone previously unreleased in studio form. Why many of these songs are only appearing now is a long, serendipitous story involving Rick Rubin, band turnover, a grunge-choked ’90s marketplace inhospitable to the Masters’ varied classic rock sound and non-pretty-boy look, an impasse with a major record label, a “lost” album and Goss’ busy career as a producer. Cautionary and instructional as that tale may be, it is ultimately less important than the songs themselves: gems like the windswept, string-laden “The Ballad of Jody Frosty,” the campfire sing-along “I Walk Beside Your Love,” the majestic chorale “Still on the Hill,” the country-blues chantey “Bela Alef Rose,” the gorgeous epic “Jindalee Jindalie.” Any collection spanning two decades inevitably carries with it the air of biography, and Barabbas is certainly that; but it also feels like a secret monograph — a collection of timeless scrolls from a legendary Master that will be passed among acolytes and disseminated to those who are meant to hear it.
“Whatever will be, will be,” says Goss, with a smile.
Yes, the songs speakfor themselves, but given Goss’ long career and his reputation as wisdom-carrier, there must be interesting stories behind the music as well. So, before the Master returns to his desert home of 12 years, his work in the city finished once again, let’s hear some. Like, how did ex-Cream drummer Ginger Baker, featured on Barabbas’ dreamily rocking “The Desert Song,” come to join Masters of Reality for a studio album and several tours in the early ’90s?
“I met Ginger at Tone Loc’s manager’s house in the Hollywood Hills,” says Goss. “Two days later we had a jam session, wrote what ended up being three or four songs. I think we were both stunned. The sound of Ginger doing that fill across all of the toms put me right back to hearing the live Cream album with headphones on when I was a little boy. It was too much! My circuit board almost shut down.
“Ginger loved a groove: the body groove of playing, the physical exertion, the kind of exertion where it’s a euphoric exercise. To get to where you’re grooving and that kicks in, that’s what both of us lived for. [The 1993 album] Sunrise on the Sufferbus came out of miles of turning those riffs upside down and sideways. We called ’em ‘blues acrobatics.’ When we did the groove for ‘Rabbit One,’ we looked at each other like a couple of old junkies. And if you can groove like that, you really don’t need dope. It’s mental and body transportation. The bands that were able to combine the soul, tits and ass with brain — that’s the stuff you learn from, that’s where you reach these highs.”
There’s another Goss connection to a late-’60s/early-’70s rock hero on Barabbas in the form of a cover of John Lennon’s dirty blues “It’s So Hard.”
“It’s my favorite song on the Imagine record,” says Goss. “When I was 12, John and Yoko were in my hometown for a while, setting up an art exhibit and having an opening. So the yellow Rolls Royce with the painted flowers on it that Lennon used to have, that was in town, I’d see it go by the window of my junior high classroom, and then I would sneak into the museum after school and see John and Yoko walking around setting up the exhibit. In that period, Yoko’s art was really white, her exhibitions were white rooms, white canvases, a white ladder, a white shell of a Volkswagen Beetle. Whenever I had the nerve, I’d go, ‘Hi John!’ from like 30 feet away, and he’d always give me a little grin. They looked like they were having the most fuckin’ fun. Globe-hopping, doing drugs, making art . . .”