In conversation with Guy Pinhas of Goatsnake and The Obsessed
Goatsnake was formed in 1996 after the disbanding of The Obsessed. After The Obsessed’s disbanding, the rhythm section consisting of Guy Pinhas (former bassist of the Dutch stoner band Beaver) on bass and Greg Rogers on drums began jamming with guitarist Greg Anderson (Thorr’s Hammer, Burning Witch, Sunn O)))). They soon found a vocalist in Pete Stahl (Scream, Wool, Earthlings?, Desert Sessions). Goatsnake recorded and released two 7″ EPs in 1998 and were featured on several metal compilations. They released their debut full-length, 1, in 1999 on Man’s Ruin Records/Rise Above Records.
Goatsnake toured Europe in support of their debut album and played with bands such as Unida, Fatso Jetson, and Electric Wizard. They returned in 2000 for a U.K. tour with Orange Goblin and Sunn O))), another Anderson project. In 2000 Pinhas left Goatsnake to join Acid King and was replaced by Stuart Dahlquist of Burning Witch. Goatsnake released a split with Burning Witch on Hydra Head Records that same year. They also released the Dog Days EP on Anderson’s Southern Lord Records that same year. Later that year they released their second album, Flower of Disease on Man’s Ruin Records/Rise Above Records. The band split up in 2001 and Anderson continued with Sunn O))) and played in Teeth of Lions Rule the Divine.
In 2004 the band reformed with Anderson and Stahl being joined by bassist Scott Reeder (The Obsessed, Kyuss) and drummer JR (Cave In). They recorded three songs which were released on the Trampled Under Hoof EP along with two previously vinyl-only tracks. This same year also saw the release of the compilation 1 + Dog Days by Southern Lord Records, which combines the first album and the Dog Days EP as well as a track from the Man of Light EP.
Goatsnake: Yes, interesting. Some of the art is interesting. I like some of it, not all of it. Metal artwork is kind of, I don’t know, these days it tends to be a little generic. The last few days, actually, I’ve looked at a few things and I was just going like, I think it was like the Incubate lineup, and I was looking at the pictures of some of the metal bands that were playing this year and I was going like, “Fuck, man.” Everybody just has that same thing going on, and kind of the same with the artwork. There is very few artists or things that really stick out.
HMA: Well, first of all, I want to thank you for this opportunity and for your interest in Heavy Music Artwork.
HMA: So what is happening with Goatsnake?
Goatsnake: Right now, nothing, to be quite honest. Everybody is super busy. Greg is really busy with the label. Greg Rogers. He has a family as well, and Greg Rogers, he’s kind of like, as a family, he works. Pete is on the road all the time. He’s tour-managing this band called the Rival Sons. I’m busy as well. Nobody really has that much time to … Basically, the difficult part is to get all of us in the same room for longer than 48 hours. That’s the problem.
HMA: A few of the Goatsnake albums share the same symbol from the Sunn O))) logo… the Baphomet over the “O.” Can you tell me why that is? Is it just because of the other band members’ involvement?
Goatsnake: First of all, I think the Sunn O))) thing, if I remember correctly, we first recorded four songs that were on the demo that we were shopping. I think the songs were the two songs from the singles, so it’s “Innocent,” and “IV,” and there were two other songs, which I can’t remember which ones they were, but they all ended up either on a single or on the first album.
Basically, Greg Anderson was working with Caroline and I was working at another label and I had access to a really shitty graphic design program. If you notice, the Goatsnake characters on the first album are very different than they are a little later on. That’s basically there was some really cheap font that we found on one of those programs that I had and Steve O’Malley kind of stretched it, fucked with it a little bit. I had sent that to Greg Anderson and he basically had the Sunn O))) logo and put a Baphomet thing on it and it kind have stuck for a little while. It stuck as the band’s kind of logo. There was no particular reasons for the Baphomet goat except because it’s a cool goat, I guess, and the Sunn O))) logo because, well, Greg used Sunn O))) amps. That was it. That was the sound for Goatsnake, his amps.
No secret brotherhood, crazy handshakes, nothing like that, unfortunately. No Satanism in the band. It’s a cool logo, it’s a cool symbol. I think also the Baphomet goat, more than anything, is more coming from pagan imagery rather than anything Satanic, as far as I know. I could be wrong, of course. I could be completely wrong, but from what I know, especially that particular one is definitely more related towards paganism, but let me make it very clear that I don’t think there was anybody in the band that really gives a shit about Satan or paganism. Nobody really cares about that. That definitely was never a consideration.
HMA: Do you guys ever build or make a relationship between the cover art and the music?
Goatsnake: Not really. I think there never really was… The same with the name. It’s just all kind of very happenstance. We’re just looking for a name. I think we thought that the goats were really good, but at that time there was a hip-hop band called The Goats, and snakes were kind of stuff, so both Gregs go like oh, “Goatsnake,” and it became such a ridiculous thing that it stuck. It’s just completely Goatsnake. What a name, if you think of it. Goatsnake? Really?
Oh, it’s a good name, but if you really think of it, it’s like, “What the fuck?” It’s kind of retarded, but it stuck and we all liked it and it was good. Pretty much the same with the record sleeves. None of the sleeves really have much of a meaning as far as it reaches within the album, so to speak, but it does have references to what was going on in the bands within the history of the band, basically.
HMA: Also, looking at the lyrical theme, life experience is the main topic. Is there anything in particular that you guys like to write about?
Goatsnake: Actually, the lyrics were all Pete. Pete was all about the lyrics. We never told him what to write. I’ll just give you an example is when Pete joined the band. Pete comes from Scream and Wool, which were more, like, well, Scream was DC hardcore and Wool was kind of a little more like a rock band straight-up. We never thought that Pete wanted to join the band, would ever want to do anything with Goatsnake.
When Pete joined the band, he came to rehearsal with his four-track and recorded, and two weeks later he gave us basically the vocals and what would become the first single. We never told him anything about lyrical content. It’s all him. There was never an effort; there was never a group effort of, what are the lyrics about. To be quite honest, sometimes I was just like “what is he singing there?”
Pete definitely draws … Most of his lyrics are definitely drawn from life experience. Pete has been around for a long time travelling a lot, doing a lot of work for bands so there is definitely a lot of life experience in those lyrics.
HMA: Moving on to The Obsessed. Dave Grohl called The Obsessed as one of the greatest bands of all time.
Goatsnake: Oh, that’s a very nice compliment and I would like to thank him for that, but… It’s flattering, definitely. I think Wino is an excellent guitar player. I won’t say necessarily underrated, because he’s not, but I think a lot of people miss the nuances of his playing because everybody thinks that what he does is simple, and in a way, it is. It’s very fluid. He doesn’t feel like there is something too much or there is too much mystery around it, but if you actually start playing the songs and everything like that or try to listen to the record and try to learn the songs, you will find that there is a lot of very subtle things that he does which makes him a very interesting guitar player.
Wino is definitely a very strong guitar player, and excellent lyricist as well. I think his lyrics are really strong. He has a really good command of the language. His guitar playing is great, obviously, and he has a beautiful voice, but the lyrics, to me, are always the ones that really touch.
HMA: The Obsessed’s greatest album is Lunar Womb. The album cover is a painting by Goya. Do you know how that came about?
Goatsnake: I think everybody was looking around for something, and I think Wino and Scotty and Greg just agreed like it. It’s a public domain picture; you know what I’m saying? You don’t have to pay rights for it, so it was easily available, and it looked good and I think it fits within the theme of The Obsessed, maybe not the theme of the album necessarily, but I think it fits with the theme of the band.
HMA: Your latest involvement music-wise was with the band called In-Graved.
Goatsnake: Yes. I played one track on the album and then did a short tour with them.
HMA: Do you have any favourite graphic artist that is worth mentioning?
Goatsnake: I like what Steve O’Malley does. I think in an odd way, I won’t say that we grew up together, but I think artistically there is a similar path in what we like.
You can definitely see the progression from the first Goatsnake sleeve, the CD sleeve, from doing something that’s a little more rock ‘n roll and a little more Photoshopped, a little more … I won’t say “busy,” to later stuff that’s a little more focused and he’s finding his palates a little more minimalist…
I really appreciate not only just the music but also the rest of his art, the design and just everything else. I guess it’s a personal taste. It’s not only because he’s a friend, to be quite honest. I have plenty of friends who are artists and I don’t necessarily like what they do. I think it’s very interesting.
Who else do I like? I like Justin Bartlett. I like all the drawings that he does with the little pointing and stuff like that. Obviously kind of reminds me a little bit of Theodor Kittelsen.
Farron Loathing, I think, has some cool stuff, when he kind of gets away a little bit from the black metal imagery, which at some point will get away. I think Farron is a really good artist in general because I think how he directed the video for his band actually was pretty good, and the fact that he’s getting into actually directing videos just shows that there is just a little more than that, you know what I mean?
All the Malleus, the guys from Ufomammut, I like their stuff, specifically because they’re keeping the silk screen stuff alive and I think that’s really important. I think it’s kind of slowly but surely becoming a little bit of a lost art. Even though I don’t like so much the psychedelic stuff, I personally, on my personal taste, I like to stuff a little more not as busy, a lot more simple, but I do appreciate Malleus a lot. Every time I look at their posters, I go like, “Oh, man, this is really cool.” It’s a good group of people and they have a variety of stuff that they do like. Seldon Hunt, I think there’s some killer stuff.
I think the wife of Buzz from the Melvins, Mackie, she does a lot of the Melvins’ artwork. I like some of it. Not all of it, but some of it I think she really hits the nail on the head.
HMA: Where do you find inspiration outside the music world?
Goatsnake: Photography, I’ll say. Movies. Just art in general. I think it’s all tied for me. I think music, photography and art and all of it are kind of tied together. I think I like the idea of simplicity and cleanliness in an odd way in art, at least for me, with photography or with art in general. Just a little simple and clean and not cluttered.
I’ll give you a couple of funny little anecdotes about the Goatsnake stuff.
HMA: That’s what we’re looking for.
Goatsnake: All right. Dog Days, are you familiar with “the dog days of summer,” the expression?
HMA: No, I’m not.
Goatsnake: “Dog days of summer” basically relates to the baseball season in the summer. Basically, baseball games are really long and basically, they start somewhere in the heat of the day. They start somewhere on 1:00 or 2:00 in the afternoon, maybe sometimes later, but generally it’s really difficult to play under the circumstances because generally, it’s hot, and depending on where you are, it’s humid. So it’s called the dog days of summer.
That time when we were recording that stuff, the drummer, Greg Rogers, basically fell and broke his leg and his hip, so he was out of commission for nine days, and basically, the dog days of summer.
HMA: All right. Interesting.
Goatsnake: The first album, the CD cover of the first album, when The Obsessed broke up, Greg Rogers and me kept on playing. We moved into a rehearsal room together with Melvins. Basically we had to empty all our storage units with all the Obsessed here and there, which was after a tour that we have done. There was there just my amps, Greg’s drums, and a bunch of boxes with God knows what. Out of the boxes and God knows what came a few tapestries. Those tapestries, I think Wino got them on the road during an Obsessed tour. The one was with the Viking and the other one was with the woman with the panther.
Both those tapestries hang in our rehearsal room behind Greg Rogers for a very long time. It just stood there and everybody looked at it and it was just, ‘What is it?’ If you really look at the anatomy of the woman with the tiger, she’s one bizarre built woman. The legs are too long and suddenly her arm is missing. It’s like a weird thing and we all thought it was fucking hilarious.
I don’t know where I was during that period, at least, but I didn’t participate in the designing. I think Steve, Greg Rogers and Greg Anderson and Pete did. When they showed it to me, I was like, “What the fuck is this?” and everybody was laughing. I thought it was hilarious and we just went with that.
It’s funny because I know when it finally got released on Man’s Ruin, Frank Kozik wasn’t really happy about the record cover, so when the Man’s Ruin vinyl came out, he designed a record cover, which was that weird kind of Satan, Baphomet thing, whatever it was on there. Everybody always asks about that first Goatsnake cover.
There is that one and then there is Flower of Disease, which is the second album.
I wasn’t in the band at that time, so I can’t really remember what the deal was with the designing the record, but if you look carefully at how the sleeve is designed, you can already see how Steve is changing a bit his style and how some … not just with some of the imagery but some of the contents basically, from then on, is pretty much through most of his releases. Use of fonts, use of certain things, you can see that.
As far as Obsessed, let’s see… “The Church Within”, the drawing inside with the kind of that bust with the heart coming out, it was designed by an artist who is now dead named Marc Rude. He did the cover, I think, of “Wolf’s Blood from the Misfits”, he did the cover for Battalion of Saints record, and he did so much work for old punk rock bands and he was around for a really long time. Mad Marc Rude. He unfortunately died, I think, in the mid to late ‘90s. Young man, about my age, but now he would be about my age, about 48, 50 or something like that. He passed away due to illness.
The other part of it was, if you look on the lyric sheets of “The Church Within” for the CD, you will see that there is a face behind the lyrics, and that artwork is called “Awake” by a friend of Wino called Vince, if I remember correctly. The reason why it was called “Awake” is because, well, he never slept because he liked a certain drug. I won’t mention which one. That’s up for everybody to guess.
Interview by Alex Milazzo – Copyright 2012-2014 © Heavy Music Artwork.