"Hello. Fuzzmaster?," I say, beginning what is, for me, an unusual interview. A serious voice greets me tentatively in precise, sing-song English. The voice belongs to a male member of Gothenburg-based psych collective Goat, who has suggested I call him Fuzzmaster Flex for the purposes of our chat. The members of Goat always do interviews this way and perform in masks and costumes to stay anonymous. They claim to be part of a generations-old musical tradition and "voodoo cult" founded hundreds of years ago in a village in Northern Sweden. It would be all sorts of off-putting—except that that's exactly what their music sounds like.
This is particularly true on their new double album, Requiem, a harmonious riot of trilling acoustic guitars and flutes, multi-layered rhythmic drones, and mystical lyrics intoned by female voices. Some might want to take them to task for cultural appropriation; the trouble is that it's hard to say what exactly they are appropriating at any given moment. They make a lot of sounds that almost sound West African and their costumes suggest a tribal group – but none in particular. A close look reveals their outfits are made of things that could be easily collected from a decently stocked Goodwill or the clearance bins at Pier-1 Imports. It's rock 'n' roll masquerading as world music, and world music isn't actually a thing; apart from being the title of their debut album.
The anonymity and made-up back story presents a challenge for journalists, but their fans don't seem to mind and Fuzzmaster and I manage a cordial and illuminating conversation. A band hiding their faces can seem like a gimmick, but it can also make it easier for musicians and audience to connect with each other in a direct way, through the music itself. In the case of Goat, hiding their faces does seem to have that effect during their wild groove and percussion-driven shows. Taking their individual identities out of the equation helps both the band and their listeners "lose themselves," in Fuzzmaster's words.
The interview with Fuzzmaster touches on music making, the nature of performance and other topics that suggest concealed identities and an imaginative biography are hardly the most interesting things about Goat. If it's a gimmick, it's one they don't need. That said, it was also the sort of conversation that makes you wonder who exactly your interlocutor might be.
Noisey: Why is this album called Requiem? It really doesn't sound very mournful.
Fuzzmaster: Well, you know, the end of something doesn't have to be sad. It's always the beginning of something else, so it could be a very happy thing also.
You describe your performances as a ritual…
That's a little bit of a misunderstanding. Normally, we don't describe our performances that way. Normally, the labels describe our performances as rituals. It was invented by Rocket or something, but I think it seems kind of nice? It wasn't us who invented the term but, in a way, it makes sense. A live performance is a kind of ritual. People use it the same way as a religious ritual.
So, it's not entirely inaccurate?
I guess, but it's not just for us. It works for any kind of band or artist or performance, as long as it awakes feelings that make you get a good vibe and dance and lose yourself a bit. It's some sort of ritual.
What kind of experience do you hope people have when they go to one of your shows?
I just hope they enjoy the music and that they can relax and lose themselves if they can or if they want to. I just want them to be happy.
Has playing big festivals and touring changed the way you make music together in any way?
Not really. Playing live and making music is two different things for us. When we play live we still perform songs. We jam a lot, but we still play songs. When we rehearse or record or make music we don't focus on songs at all we just play... record grooves, you know?
How do you know when you have a song?
Normally, we have something and we make overdubs on it. It's not the same people involved in everything, every song, you know. In the end, we try to keep things very simple, not overwork things.
I understand there are many members of Goat, so it could be anyone involved in the recording.
Right, we don't define that so carefully you know, who is a member, who is not a member. People take part in recordings and bring friends. It's a very open environment, a very free environment. But the people who play live are mostly the same, because it's too hard to rehearse with different people all the time.
I see, and when you find a good groove you figure out how to reproduce it live?
Exactly. The songs don't sound the same live because we don't think it's the same thing. We don't want it to sound the same but it's also impossible so we just try to change it so it works. It's more energetic live. We can't do it exactly the way it sounds on the record or it will sound lifeless.
You said when people see you live you hope that they might be able to lose themselves a little. Do you think the masks help with that?
Maybe. I hope so. How can I explain? For us, it's easier to play better when you don't have any focus on yourself as a person, at least it feels like that for me, and for the rest of us too. The masks become part of the show, and they enjoy the show and maybe lose themselves a bit more because of that.
Do you talk to your fans after shows?
Of course, but one thing about wearing a mask is that we can be free to go out after shows. People don't know who we are. But sometimes people show up backstage, and of course we talk to them. It's different when you are face to face with someone. The masks and anonymity, it's not about not being able to look anyone in the eyes when you talk. It's an official thing. You don't want to have your face out in the public. It's two different things.
Was there anything in particular that was influencing the collective while you were working on this one?
Since it's a double album, it's influenced by other double albums. Many double albums are hard to grasp at first listen but grow through the years and become something you pick up over and over again and you don't get tired of it the way you can with a single album. A double album is harder to grasp. It's not so striking at first listen. Many of the greatest double albums took years to become the albums that they are. There are so many double albums that have had bad reviews at first, but, say, ten years later it's considered a group's best work; Exile on Main Street for example or The White Album. I'm not comparing this one to those albums, but these were the albums that we talked about, like, "it would be nice to try and make an album that was not so direct. Maybe, it would be nice to try and make an album that grows." That was in our minds.
What was the process of recording this double album like, compared with other albums you've done?
Well, it took a longer time. [Laughs.] We wanted to have instrumental songs and then we wanted to have songs like the last one on the album. We wanted to make an album that when you end with the last song, it's a long way from the first one. You say, "How did this album really sound?" and then you have to start from the beginning and after you listen ten times you haven't really grasped it. Then maybe in five years you try it again.
I've heard that you practice transcendental meditation. Does it play a role in your creative life as a band?
Yeah, I guess so. I'm not sure how, but, you know, it's important to be relaxed in life. It's a matter of keeping your mind open and keeping your head open, and being relaxed so you don't control everything so much, and that's a good formula for keeping your creativity in constant motion.
In some of your materials you describe Goat as a spiritual as well as a musical tradition. Is there any piece of spiritual insight that informs the band that you would want to share with your fans?
Just be kind to each other. [Laughs.] The less things matter to you, the more important it gets somehow. Just try to be relaxed about stuff, because if you try to hang on to stuff, squeeze it, you know, then it's very hard to get the good parts of it. If you just let go of things, then it gets really good. Like our band, if it ended tomorrow I would be fine with it, and to think like that is what really makes me enjoy it while it lasts. If I tried to make this thing last as much as possible, then I would miss the whole experience.
'Requiem' will be available on Sub Pop Records in North America, on Stranded Rekords in Nordic countries and Rocket Recordings for the rest of the world on CD / 2xLP / DL / CS on October 7th, 2016.
Photo by Andreas Johansson
Beverly Bryan is staying psyched on Twitter.