A while back I asked your good friend Josh what it is about working with you, from Kyuss up through Queens, that does it for him, and he said one of the best things is that you’re able to push him farther than he thinks he’s willing to go. Is that a conscious model for your technique, or a product of your relationship with one another?
I think it’s my call to arms with everybody I work with. Don’t be scared of art. That’s basically the message. You can’t hurt your career by experimenting. I think it makes a longer career if you take chances. The more records you sell, the heavier the burden you have to repeat your success. And that’s unfortunate, because it should be a license to go crazy. That’s why I feel like a broken record, spewing the Bowie example over and over, the way he took his success of the early ’70s and then just took it where he wanted to. Through the mid-’70s he was making records that RCA deemed unsellable. He just followed his gut, this musical instinct…
That’s what made him so unique and fantastic at the time.
Exactly. So when Low came out and sold like, nothing, and Heroes came out and sold almost nothing, people were like ‘ah man, Bowie’s lost his way.’ But that wasn’t it at all, man. Bowie found his way. Now look back upon this genius ten year period of one masterpiece after another. That’s an example that few people point to, to say yeah, having balls paid off, not being scared of your obligation to everyone who’s working for the band, and so on.
Then it becomes a matter of safe sustainability, and no longer about true artistic drive.
Right, you can start to feel like the head of a company, and if you fuck up, oh my god, there’s gonna be twenty families whose lives will be fucked up too. Look at Neil Young. He does whatever he likes, whatever he wants, and he said when he cancels a tour or changes direction on a record just before it’s going to happen, he can always assure the musicians who were booked to do that tour or that album that that decision was made only, solely on creative reasoning. And you can trust that. And you’ve gotta respect that too. It takes a lot of balls to make that phone call, to tell your best friend that guess what, I’m not going to use you on this record, I’ve decided to do an electronic record instead of a Rock record with Crazy Horse. So for about 60 people, their salary for the next five months has just been flushed down the toilet. It’s not easy to make those kinds of decisions as an artist, but I just encourage fearlessness. If you try to comply with your past success, you’re fucked. You’re over. Move on, don’t try to repeat what’s been done, especially right now, when there’s a lot of thirsty ears looking for leadership and direction.
You’ve undoubtedly watched people fall victim to drugs and seen some great talent fall by the wayside, but it’s a very different experience when unplanned illness comes into play that might not be induced by self-abuse. That brings us to Brian O’Connor (bassist for Eagles Of Death Metal/Masters of Reality) – how’s he been holding up w/treatment?
Yeah, he’s a tough guy, and if anybody can do it he can. He’s in chemotherapy now, and last I heard he just had a poker game at his house a few nights ago that I wish I’d known about but I was kinda busy. I just spoke with Dave Catching the other night and he’s going out to dinner with Brian on Saturday to a great place in the West side we all love to go to. But yeah, God bless Brian and long live Brian. That’s all I can really say. He’s the kind of guy who’s going to enjoy life to the maximum, in any situation. And that’s all that matters, man, because you could walk out right now and get hit by a bus, and if you’re a miserable asshole, you’re dying a miserable asshole. And Brian’s anything but a miserable guy. He’s maybe the coolest person I’ve ever met in my life.
That’s really great to hear. The fans are really pulling for the guy. It was a special moment to be in the room for the benefit show with Queens, Eagles and friends. The love was in the air.
He’s very well loved by his friends, man. And when you’re in that position, and you’re ill, you feel that. And you know you’re loved in that situation, and it really helps. Everyone can take solace in that, that the guy knows he’s the shit, and he knows that we know too.
Excellent. I’m always wondering what kind of crazy ass sounds are coming out of living room gatherings and random sessions amongst you all that nobody ever hears about.
We’re all so busy, man, so it’s hard to make it happen sometimes, but yeah when we do get together, we blow it out. Everyone has their main projects and then their three side projects, so every chance we do get together and whatever, whether through Desert Sessions or just reuniting for any reason, it’s pretty crazy. They’re a lovely group of people making some really whack music, and it’s worldwide. It’s really kind of astounding, from a little ditch in the Mojave Desert to get our claws around the world in places that we never thought.
Will we see the 5:15ers rise again?
(laughs) Uhh… yeah, probably. It’s literally like the fifth side project kind of thing. So god knows, man. Nothing actively happening, but I’ve been wanting to do another Goon Moon record as soon as possible too, and I’m working with the Cult right now…
Ian Astbury called the new Cult music “Textured metaphysical rock music for the contemporary music head.” How’s that hit you?
There’s Ian… (laughs) It’s been crazy working with him. We’ve been dear friends for a long time. He loves to swath new paths, and the man is constantly searching for new music, new aesthetic. He just did a record with Boris, and it’s really cool. He doesn’t want to do what’s been done, and so it’s a constant discovery process.
The last thing I want to ask about is expanding consciousness. The primary reason I fell in love with smoking marijuana as a teenager is how it changed the way I listened to music, how my perception would shift and it felt like listening with entirely new ears. It seems like that’s a rite of passage for kids who tend to be in love with music and are exploring the perimeter of their own minds. What are your thoughts on that as a process of exposure to music, as well as the fact that Prop 19 could make marijuana legal for recreational use very soon?
Obviously a lot of thoughts on that subject. Without prosthelytizing, for me, I can only speak for myself, but for me it’s been a gift from the creator. When I’m working on music, to shut the world out, and in another way to put up a kind of antenna that’s sort of above it all, above the din, and so I kind of get a condensed broadcast of what’s floating out there. A lot of songwriters… Keith Richards, I heard him say that as musicians we’re antennas. We don’t write the stuff, it’s just out there for grabbing, but it’s a matter of hearing it. David Lee Roth had a great quote too, he said if he’s not high on marijuana, and he makes a list of things to do, there’ll be ten things on the list. If he gets stoned, there’s a hundred things on that list. So that kind of sums it up, in a way. For me, through my whole life, it’s always opened up a creative path. But I don’t use it outside of music. I don’t use it to make my list of things to do or to rake the lawn or paint the kitchen. I’m strictly using it for my sacrament, for what I believe I was put here to do, which is make music. So I use it very respectfully when in that process. Also as a listener, particularly live.
I was at a concert at the Hollywood Bowl, seeing some unbelievably great jazz from Herbie Hancock and some friends at this outdoor venue, some really brilliant stuff, and there was a no-smoking rule that was strictly enforced. This is a concert at an outdoor venue, and we’re listening to music that was invented in smoky reefer bars, yet we had to climb up to the very top row away from everybody to sneak a little hash. Because the crowd there would have you arrested… it’s a weird, fascist social order that just blows my mind. We’ve become uptight in a lot of different areas, and very lax in others.
Thanks for your time. Looking forward to catching you guys when Masters Of Reality makes it out to California. Wait, you’re from here, aren’t you?
Yeah, I live in Joshua Tree. I have to work in LA a lot, but now I’m home here in Joshua Tree, and I’m very happy about that. Los Angeles is fine in doses.
Yeah, looking to skip town here myself not too far down the line…
I got out of there about twenty years ago when things started to really change. But with the work you do, with technology you can do it anywhere, just like me in a way. A two hour drive away from LA, with a chance to live the life I love out here in the desert, is perfect. It’s allowed a lot of people to come out here and work with me in these conditions, and not be bothered by three-hour sushi jaunts and the Hollywood scene. There’s no sushi out here – most of the time we grill our own food. It’s just wonderful, it’s been a really privileged lifestyle.
Sounds utopian, man. That’s great to hear.
It’s wide open, man! Come on out!
Keep up with Chris Goss and Masters Of Reality at their official site.
Photos: Pascal Brun