HEAD MEDICINE'S EXCLUSIVE LOOK BACK ON GOAT'S FIRST US TOUR
written by KOJAK
photography by MIKE GUALDONI (miketheeye.tumblr.com)
I still find it a bit unbelievable that Goat, one of the most enigmatic and electrifying bands currently on the planet, chose to make a stop in Saint Louis, Missouri on their all-too brief introductory US tour. The fact that Goat had come to the United States at all was extremely exciting, but the thought that they were bringing their gospel so far off the beaten path and virtually to my front steps, a mere three-and-a-half hours away from me square in the middle of nowhere, was almost ridiculously unexpected. Three days prior, i was fortunate enough to witness the group give their most important performance to an American audience at one of the finest mind-expanding music festivals in the world at the Austin Psych Fest in Austin, Texas. The performance was the crown jewel of their recent trek through the heart of the country and solidified their growing international reputation as one of the freshest and most formidable live acts out there. I was still exhausted from the life-altering three-day Austin experience and the long psychic and geographic road trip there and back, but there was no way in hell i was going to miss this performance. The band had granted me a rare face-to-face interview to top it all off. As i drove to Saint Louis, i reflected on Goat's unlikely journey from their far away homeland to that night's performance and how, until just recently, they dwelled in complete obscurity but now find themselves on the furthest edge of a new musical frontier.
Fourteen months ago, Goat was hidden deep within the shadows of Sweden, privately creating a vertigo-inducing style of worldly tribal psychedelia. Only friends and family were aware of their existence. According to their own legend, Goat is the modern incarnation of a centuries old musical tradition from Korpilombolo, a tiny village north of the Arctic Circle with a mysterious past, and are followers of the shamanistic voodoo religion practiced there. Goat was formed over the years by their ancestral ritualistic rhythms and a boundary-less approach passed down by the village elders to absorb all styles of music from around the world and integrate it into their own. The band itself has no real perimeters, featuring dozens of members that float in and out of the lineup; some members are from the original commune in Korpilombolo and others are scattered around Sweden. They had never performed to a live audience outside of their village's commune. UK psychedelic record label Rocket Recordings were the first to catch wind of what was going on when they were tipped off by Hills, a band already on the Rocket roster who shared rehearsal space in Gothenburg with Goat. [read HEAD MEDICINE'S interview with Rocket HERE] Rocket excitedly released Goat's first public recordings with the "Goatman/The Sun the Moon" 7" single, and the genie was out of the bottle. Word quickly spread around the world by people with taste that something extraordinary was rising out of the tundra. Rocket Recordings commissioned an album and Goat retreated to their home studio, coming back a few months later with World Music, their debut full length record. [read HEAD MED'S review HERE] World Music was instantly recognized as a fully formed masterpiece and one of the most exciting debut releases in recent memory. After quietly perfecting their refreshing mix of heavy African tribal rhythms, psyched out guitar, and a seamless blend of virtually every great style of music from around the world over the last 50 years, international demand for live performances began almost immediately.
Goat finally emerged from the shadows with a handful of inaugural public concerts around Europe in the fall of 2012, and word began to gather even more steam when video of their incredible performances trickled online. Their outrageous and flamboyant stage presence reflected their tribal and ritualistic roots as the band members wore masks and brightly colored robes, keeping a sense of anonymity onstage while projecting an unforgettable visual for those in attendance. Goat showed a shocking musical prowess onstage, effortlessly recreating World Music for the audience while stretching the songs into new directions with long improvised jams. This was a band dramatically leaping from out of nowhere into the spotlight, fully formed and firing on all cylinders. Any awkward embryonic steps were long ago worked out. With barely a dozen live performances under their belt, Goat traveled across the Atlantic Ocean in April after a successful appearance at the Roadburn festival in Amsterdam left European fans and new converts clamoring for more. Their first performance on American soil was at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, NYC (beautifully captured on tape by nyctaper), before continuing down the East Coast with dates in Philadelphia and Washington, DC. Goat then turned their sites on the Austin Psych Fest, giving one of the weekend's landmark performances amongst a line up featuring some of the finest consciousness-expanding bands in the entire world. The group changed course and headed back east for the final leg of their US tour, bringing them to this night's gig in St. Louis before eventually returning to Europe for a string of summer festival dates.
I have to be honest. As i walked up to the Old Rock House, an intimate music venue just off of downtown St. Louis, to talk with the members of Goat, i was a bit intimidated. Goat rarely grants interviews, and almost never conducts them face to face, but since i had interviewed a few members of the band via email back in January (read Goat's HEAD MED interview HERE), they were gracious enough to allow me a chance to sit down and get their thoughts on their first US tour. In today's Facebook and Twitter-obsessed culture where everyone knows everything about everybody, Goat has successfully managed to keep a dense air of mystery around themselves. No-one knows what they look like under their masks, and their mysterious background story of shamanistic voodoo worship deep in the Swedish netherworld gives them an air of impenetrable secrecy. As i approached the venues' entrance, i wasn't sure what to expect. I wondered if i would be led backstage to a dimly lit red velvet-draped room with heavy ceremonial incense hanging in the air; the band members cloaked in their ritual garb seated in the shadows on ornamental thrones. i told the doorman that i was there to interview the band. "They are all out on the patio," he said. And there was Goat and their road crew, probably a dozen unmasked smiling and laughing Swedes savoring the beautiful evening air, drinking beer with a perfect view of Eero Searanen's always spectacular Gateway Arch off in the near distance. Everyone was clearly appreciating this moment on what i would assume is one of the greatest journeys of their lives. i couldn't have imagined a less intimidating group of people. After pleasantly chatting with everyone for a bit, i paired off with one of the anonymous band members and was able to ask a few questions about Goat's tour of America and what is next for the band.
HEAD MEDICINE: Have any members of Goat been to the United States before or is this your first time?
GOAT: no, it is the first time. (to female member of Goat) well, you've been here before on some kind of journey?
GOAT-ESS: yes, with my family
HEAD MEDICINE: You have been traveling around this country for a week now, are your experiences different from any preconceived ideas you may have had before you arrived?
GOAT: not really. the people are very very nice. very nice people here. everyone is very friendly and very kind everywhere we go. we knew some people who have been here, telling us that people are kind, friendly, and open minded. and it is true, at least with the ones we have met so far. so, i don't know if we expected it, but we weren't surprised.
HEAD MEDICINE: Goat has had alot of downtime on the road recently. What has been on Goat's road trip playlist?
GOAT: In the car on this trip we have mostly been listening to The Shaggs, Fleetwood Mac's "Future Games," and the Carter Family.
HEAD MEDICINE: Your first American performances were in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC. What was it like playing in those cities and can you tell us about those shows; the energy that was created and the reception you received?
GOAT: well, for us, it was more or less like in europe. there were very many people, the first three places were sold out, so there were alot of people and most of them seemed to enjoy what we were playing.
HEAD MEDICINE: Did you feel that the audience was familiar with your music or did it seem that people were hearing it for the first time?
GOAT: i'm not sure. people up front were singing along with some of the tunes, but we sold alot of albums so i guess alot of people didn't already have it.
HEAD MEDICINE: This tour has taken you a bit off the beaten path to some unusual venues in Newport KY and Denton TX and tonight's show in St. Louis. Since Goat is still relatively obscure in the US, i am curious how these shows in middle America compare to the East Coast performances.
GOAT: the audience was more or less the same. nice people. in denton, it was more students... more of a student town. but, i don't see any differences, really. i really don't.
HEAD MEDICINE: What are your memories from your Austin Psych Fest performance?
GOAT: i think we all were happy with the show and how it went. we had a good sound, and we felt a good vibe from the audience. it was a beautiful location, with the river to our back. and it was beautiful to see the Dead Skeletons there before us. it was great to play there, we had a very nice show.
HEAD MEDICINE: When i first interviewed Goat back in January, the band had only performed a handful of public concerts and any future touring was questionable. Now that you have several shows behind you and it's obvious that there is a receptive and hungry international audience for Goat, how has the band’s opinion towards touring evolved?
GOAT: it's still... we don't know, but we are not going to make alot of touring. there is alot of offering going on right now, and we have taken some offers for some festivals this summer because they are comfortable and close, and some are because it's nice to travel to that place, and we do some festivals because we've never done anything like it, playing outdoors on a big stage. so it's a new experience which is fun to do. but i'm not sure if we are going to do it next year or if we are going to do any more in the future. we are trying it out now. like this tour... we tried it out and we are enjoying it.
HEAD MEDICINE: In a little more than one year, Goat has risen from complete obscurity to stealing the show at some of the world's most prestigious music festivals. With numerous European festival dates throughout the summer, the number of fans and attention will only continue to grow. Do the members of Goat find this growing success and attention overwhelming or intimidating?
GOAT: if people like our music, it is definitely nothing to complain about. it is very nice that people enjoy it and like our music. we are very happy for that. but everything around it doesn't necessary affect us that much. we sit in the van, like now, and then we go to play and have a beer and then we get home and just hang out with our families and work, so it's nothing that we walk around and think about all day. y'know what i mean? you read some reviews and stuff, but it's unreal in a way, that part of it is quite unreal. it's more of a way of thinking, we don't focus so much on that part. this is not something that we have... we are happy for it, but we have not tried to move in this direction. we just released an album and thought we might sell a thousand copies, which is fine, but suddenly it blew up and we hadn't expected that or planned for it. it just happened. we don't think more of it now, really, than we did before.
HEAD MEDICINE: When your world tour is completed in August and you return to Sweden, what comes next for Goat? are there still plans to record in the fall?
GOAT: we really love making music. we really love to record and the whole process of recording. it is more calm, more relaxed, more creative in a way than playing live. when you are creating music and just enjoying it, it's more creative in a way than performing which has it's limitations with the song that you have already created. but playing live is more energetic, which is fun, and it's nice to see when people like it and you meet new people. i think we are going to make a new album. we haven't decided anything, really, but we are going to start recording and see what happens, because we want to record. if we are happy with an album, if we put songs together into an album, than we want people to hear it. if people want to hear it, we feel that they should be able to. but we might not tour for it, we will see. or maybe less shows. it depends, maybe not everyone... this is not a band in that sense. people might feel like they want to do other things, and that's fine. we will see. we will record some stuff with the people that are involved at that time. we will see who that will be and see what happens, and if it turns out to be something that we would like to release.
The show opened with the two guitarists alone onstage slowly setting the hypnotic mood with a simple, repetitive spaced out guitar line. The bassist soon joined them and "Diarabi," the atmospheric opening track off of World Music, slowly began to unfurl. The drummer then walked on, adding dramatic cymbal washes with mallets, enhancing the tension. When the conga player took his seat and the song fully lifted off, the priestesses emerged, dancing through the crowd, and made their way to the stage. As the music swelled and surged, the women danced furiously, banging on a wide variety of assorted percussion instruments and twirling ribbons that were laid out at their feet, generating electricity that fueled the band and the audience. As "Golden Dawn" exploded and the band was washed in undulating swirls of colored liquid lights, the entire performance melted into a pure transcendental psychedelic experience, and the crowd totally flipped.
Now, i have seen many incredible live performances over the last 20+ years from some of the best bands and musicians in the world, but very few, if any, have been this visceral and electrifying, wedging themselves deep into my memory. Goat's performance had to have been what it was like seeing a young Led Zeppelin on their maiden US tour, lighting a place like the Boston Tea Party on fire and leaving its small audience stunned and mystified. Or maybe it was similar to the Bacchanalian carnival of an early Jane's Addiction performance on the Sunset Strip circa 1987. This is a band that has effortlessly lived up to every word of it's hype, and then some; an awesome and entertaining stage presence with blistering musicianship delivering one of the most unique sounds ever produced onstage. If you have the chance to witness this show and it has no effect on you, then get the fuck out and make room for someone else. i can't even imagine what it takes to get your engine cranked up.
The rhythm section formed the solid bedrock of the performance as the drummer's ferocious bass drum and the percussionists rippling conga propelled the entire machine constantly forward, while the bassist, a goddamn monster for the entire set, laid down monumental slabs of thick, rubbery grooves. Meanwhile, the guitarists tore holes in the space/time continuum with blasts of distorted guitars drenched in mesmerizing wah effects. Among the many show highlights was the extended jam on "Disco Fever." On World Music, the last half of the song warps into an LSD-soaked organ solo, but live it honed in and riffed on the Rolling Stones unheralded disco funk classic "Hot Stuff." The spaced out guitars spun around that ass shakin' groove for a solid five minutes, and it was still too short for my tastes. The Hendrix-ian "Stonegoat," a new track from a double A-side single out in June, features some of the tastiest wah guitar out there, with an aggressive drum beat driving it all off the cliff. "Let it Bleed" was slowed down juuuuust enough to allow the groove to dig one step further in and grab hold of your gut. "Dreambuilding," the flip side of the "Stonegoat" single, shows a bit of an evolution for the band. It started off as something that would have fit right in line with the first live Jane's Addiction album, and after a short drum break, cracked open to reveal a blissful, life-affirming ray-of-sunlight wah solo that raised every hair on my body. At that moment, i realized how lucky i was and that there was nowhere else in the entire world i would rather have been. "Run to Your Mama" is a frustratingly short 2:23 on World Music, its monolithic Sabbath roar begging to continue. Live, it delivered the goods and for nearly seven minutes beat the crowd into glorious submission with its dense tribal pulse and blasts of heavy guitar chords. By this point, Goat was in charge and had complete mastery over the room and its inhabitants. On record, the show closer "Det Som Aldrig Förändras" is a psychedelic swirl of organ and bass and drums, but here it was a ruthless monosyllabic pummeling, almost unrecognizable from its previous incarnation. It was a tidal wave of sound that washed over the audience for nearly ten minutes, forcing everyone in the audience to submit to its transcendental power. The mass of people were locked in a hypnotic sway, eyes collectively rolled back in their skulls. The music eventually came back around to the opening melody of "Diarabi" for its finale, and when it was over, Goat left the stage to a stunned applause. i wish St. Louis would have known to ratchet up their ovation to get them back on stage to pull out their encore, a mind blowing rendition of "The Sun the Moon," but it was not to be. the show was over and the congregation stumbled out into the soothing night air, blown out by what their brains had just soaked up for the last hour.
I'm not sure what the future holds for Goat, and do not know whether we will have the opportunity to see this extraordinary performance ever again. But i am going to remain optimistic. We need Goat. They are a reminder that all people from all corners of the globe, to the past and into the future, are connected by a collective musical consciousness. There are no genres, there are no styles, there are no boundaries. Music is a language that we all speak, and when Goat is playing, everything else in the world drops away. All of the pain and misery that beckons right around the corner is lost and all that remains is a joyful musical communion that will not be forgotten anytime soon by those lucky enough to be a part of it.
HEAD MEDICINE would like to thank nyctaper.com for capturing Goat's first US appearance on tape and offering it as a free download HERE for all. please show your support and gratitude and drop a buck or two or five in their tin cup.