CVLT Nation Interviews John Gossard of DISPIRIT
Dispirit is emerging from the immense shadows cast by the brilliance of the other incredibly influential and groundbreaking bands that have been associated with the mastermind behind it all. John Gossard is a Metal God, and his legacy is impenetrable. His reign of excellency has left some of the most classic records in Extreme Metal throughout the entire World. If your band began in the last 15 years and you play Doom or Black Metal, chances are your band worships at this man’s altar.
Weakling existed for a brief moment in time, but they left behind a record titled Dead As Dreams that forever changed the way American Black Metal would be played and perceived.
The Gault is a Psychedelic Death Rock band that John Gossard was in around the turn of the Century. I first found out about this band by talking to the man behind the label Woodsmoke, Paul Reidl. He told me that The Gault record was one of the most powerful records he had ever heard. Immediately after listening for myself, I became enamored with the recording. It is amazing through and through. Due to label troubles, the album didn’t end up coming out until after the band called it quits. Fortunately, we live in a digital age where you can now go to youtube and type in “The Gault” and you can listen to their music. For those that partake in psychedelics, “Even As All Before Us” is magical to listen to when tripping.
After the demise of The Gault & Weakling, John began focusing on Asunder. Asunder is widely considered the best Funeral Doom Metal band to have ever existed in America. A Clarion Call, Works Will Come Undone, and the Graves At Sea & Corrupted Splits are the imprint left behind on Heavy Music by Asunder.
John Gossard is one of the single most important figures in American Extreme Heavy Metal.
Here is my interview with him:
When did Dispirit form & who were the early contributors involved before the band started playing live shows?
The seed of the band was planted in early 2000 when I began playing with Peter Blair on drums, who shared the space The Gault rehearsed in. At the time, we mostly just experimented with improvising some sort of black metal/doom music that was heavily influenced by my desire to continue doing something black metal after Weakling’s disbanding, but infused with all the washed out delay/reverb wanderings of what I was doing in The Gault. The only song we worked out early on was the skeleton of All Paths End the Same which I had originally intended for Weakling. For about a year around 2004/2005 we tried the first stab at realizing a full lineup, but only got as far as adding a second guitarist, Matt Luque, who had previously played with Artificium Sanguis/Hadan. By then, we had worked out half of “The Drinker,” and which also used some old material intended for Weakling, but this song also had a few riffs Matt came up with that were developed and layered in typical Dispirit fashion. After Matt quit, it wasn’t until around 2008 that we played with anyone else. The first bassist, Jody Hunt, played with us for about 7 months or so. By then, we had written “Bitumen Amnii” and most of “Ixtab’s lure” already, but Jody did contribute a killer bassline in “Bitumen…” and a few good thoughts in the composition of “Ixtab…” Jody moved out of town and Todd Meister replaced him soon afterwards, with Nikhil Sarma joining less than a year later, perhaps 6 months before we started playing live. Todd developed the bass lines in more depth and both shared thoughts on composition. Nikhil’s biggest musical contribution was the amazingly mournful guitar solo on “All Paths End the Same.” All this was over the span of 10 years, so details are a bit fuzzy. First live lineup was the same as Rehearsal at Oboroten, with myself, Blair, Meister and Sarma. Most of the the material has always stemmed from my guitar playing, but I always steer my playing to develop around the strengths of the other players, so Peter’s drumming style had a big influence on they type of material I was coming up with.
I saw Dispirit perform on my birthday on 5/15/2010 alongside the Australian band Portal. A lot of people were there to see Dispirit perform that evening, including Jef Whitehead/Leviathan and many other notable contributors in American Black Metal. The place was packed and it was the second show the band played.
Dispirit hit the ground running when they established a lineup. You got to share a stage with Morbid Angel within the first year of playing shows. How did Sciøn go about contacting you to perform at this show & did they treat you well?
Adam Shøre was the guy in charge of booking the lineup for that festival. He was a fan of my previous bands and I think had discovered the first Dispirit release on a blog or perhaps purchased one from us. He was extremely supportive and asked us to play despite only having one obscure cassette available. My immediate response was “no,” simply because I am not a big fan of corporate sponsored things, and was also wary that they might somehow end up using our songs for car ads in 20 years when black metal is the kind of music you hear in Walmart. Eventually, they offered to cover all our expenses, pay us, rent us just about exactly the gear we wanted, and we were able to alter the contract into something that we thought protects us from them using our music for anything like that in the future. We also knew we were not likely to ever be much of a touring band, and thought it would be good to try the experience of playing something like this using different amps and rented gear to see if we could pull it off and still sound the way we intend. Getting to see Morbid Angel and Immolation, among others, was an added bonus. Other than having a lot of difficulty getting them to change our contract to our liking, they treated us great. Best sound crew I had worked with up to that point, rented us a van, the right gear, gave us a hotel room for a few nights and the hotel let us drink all night in the lobby, blasting Mercyful Fate on a boombox. I can’t complain….yet.
And though I dislike the corporate element of the whole thing, I am not one of these people who think these kind of events will have any effect of destroying underground music. If any of what they support becomes mainstream, it will just push those who hate it into further uncharted depths of foul, inaccessible art. In the end, though I have no hope for either the mainstream or the underground, it is all just fickle human shit that will eventually die and be forgotten.
I saw the interview Dispirit did with them, where you said one of the realest things I have heard in regards to your art and music: “I don’t care if people can tell what is going on, it is supposed to be confusing, sort of psychedelic and possibly threatening, possibly calming,” and, “I grew up when everyone had demos, I love them, I think they sound better. I don’t actually think our tape sounds that lofi, although it sounds raw and live. I have tapes that are 20 years old that sound a lot better than they sounded when I recorded them because the tape is decaying or something harmonically is happening to it, so I just kinda dig tapes. I can’t stand modern recording production, I hate clarity, sound people don’t know what I am going for, almost nobody wants completely unintelligible vocals, I’m working on putting more focus on the lyrical direction than Weakling, but less than Asunder.”
What concepts do you like to focus on in regards to your lyrical content? Do you write the music and then add vocals or do you physically pen lyrics?
The music is always the starting point. Occasionally, I have vocal ideas planned for some section, or a theme or song title that steers the way the song is composed, but the main vocal parts come last and usually make us rearrange some sections of music to fit the overall sound.
Lyrically/thematically, there seems to be a constant reflection of my own rather negative view of the nature of mankind and the world we have created. Much of it has do to with the failures of human desire – lust for power that never fills it’s hole, lust for war, the unachievable thirst for universal knowledge/”god”/spiritualism, fear and longing for death, mental decay, and general emotions of despair, hatred, sadness, longing, disgust, and the blurry line between real world horror and fantastical horrific dread dreams… nothing particularly profound in my opinion, just the types of things I think about that also fit with the music that emanates.
I notice that you prefer to drown your vocals, so they are more like an extra instrument, enhancing the music. What do the vocals sound like in your head when you play and listen to your music & have you thought about getting a front person for Dispirit?
Yes, I prefer the vocals to be a layer slightly subdued by the rest of the sound. I prefer if the listener has to focus on them deeply to make any sense out them at all. Much of them are either meant to add a droning hypnotic background element to the feeling, or a chaotic frenzy. Originally, we had wanted to get a vocalist for the band, because the job of doing vocals while playing guitar is quite distracting. We tried out Nathan Misterek from Graves at Sea at one point, but it never really came together, and so the others urged me to do it. Once I did, it was pretty clear that I knew the right approach for our material and was just going to have to accept doing both jobs. Both in my head and on recording I think my vocals sound terrible, but it is the right sound.
During 2011, Dispirit was invited to perform at the Rites of Darkness festival in Texas. Despite the festival lineup being plagued with cancellations, Dispirit still made it out to perform.
Yes, despite the festival being one of the worst managed things I have been involved with, the fest still went on, and was a complete blast. In the end, a lot of the bands had to help each other out with borrowed gear, sharing hotel rooms, not getting paid and shit, but everyone had a blast, amazing lineup and met a lot of great folks. I think they entire last day of the fest everyone borrowed Anhedonist’s gear. We donated our fog machine to the bands who wanted it, until eventually the club owner got pissed off and threatened to stop the show if it kept running. It is very rare that you’ll see a festival in the US with bands like Zemial, Demigod, Inquisition, Anhedonist. Adorior, Ares Kingdom, Impetuous Ritual, Antaeus, Grave Upheaval, Drawn and Quartered, Wodensthrone, Black Witchery, Anatomia, Cruciamentum, Aldebaran, Ritual Necromancy and all the others that actually got to play, so despite about half the bands not being able to make it, it was still a killer time. It would be great if someone could pull off something like this again without fucking it up so bad.
So far there have only been two official recordings released to the public containing just a handful of songs on Rehearsal at Oboroten & 111112, but throughout the years I have seen the band perform several others. I saw some footage captured at Rites of Darkness featuring a “New Song.” What is the title of this track & How much material are you sitting on?
That song has been called “Funeral Frost” for some time, but until it is officially released don’t hold me to that. We have done a few excerpts from songs we were working on live here and there, as well as some cover songs, and then the whole White Phosphorus material, which is a mix of both unrealized Dispirit material played in a more experimental form, and some non-Dispirit material. We have just about finished recording at Oboroten for another new release with the song mentioned above and new song, “Odylic Void.” We have played the intro 6 minute section of the “Odylic Void” live recently, but only just finished composing the rest of it recently. Besides those songs, there are hours and hours of pieces of songs, and more hours of improvisations I did back in the early days with Peter. Hard to say what comes of all that stuff, composition has been very slow the last few years with several lineup changes and distractions teaching people the old material. I am always writing new material as well, so there is a conflict whether I want to focus on new things or old things and how to fuse the two seamlessly while battling various mood swings.
I am really curious about your musical influences. What bands led you down the road of darkness that you travel on?
In elementary school I started listening to the hard rock radio station KOME and loved the DJ Dennis Erectus who played some heavier stuff and also listened to a new wave station that played some stuff like Gary Numan, Tears for Fears, DEVO and stuff that I liked and somehow discovered The Residents, and my sister had some LP’s of Black Sabbath, Rush, AC/DC that I made tapes of and listened to on endless repeat. Then in junior high, I had a friend who made me some tapes of Venom, Iron Maiden and some punk rock mixes. I was always interested in darker heavier stuff back then, but didn’t really know people who knew much about that music. In my first year of high school, I got a record player and saved my lunch money to buy records on the weekend. A neighbor of mine played in Laaz Rockit and told me to buy Kill ’em ‘All, which blew my mind, then a few months later I got Mercyful Fate’s Melissa, and then finally I went to my first nightclub show when I was 14 to see Laaz Rockit and the opener was Slayer on their first Bay Area gig. After that gig, I was pretty much a brainwashed metalhead for life. I was always looking out for heavier and darker bands at the time and going to as many gigs as possible when the thrash scene here was huge. Towards the end of high school, my friend Dan, who was a big jazz freak, took me to a bunch of shows he would win tickets to. I was never hugely into that music, but was really impressed by it’s musical depth, improvisation, lack of vocals and insane musicianship. One day I played Dan some Slayer and he turned around and made me listen to Stravinky’s “’Le Sacre du Printemps,” which completely fucked my head up. That piece has remained one of my favorite classical pieces.
After high school I left town for a few years and lost touch with the local scene. Most of what I heard happening in the Bay Area was too happy for my taste, and I ignored a lot of it. At that time I met new people who turned me on to stuff like Bauhaus, Joy Division, Diamanda Galas, Mighty Sphincter, Melvins, Voivod, Swans, Black Flag, Saint Vitus, Throbbing Gristle, Massacre (the one with Fred Frith), re-disovered the Residents, some rap stuff like Public Enemy, Eric B and Rakim, NWA… and I was also experimenting with a lot of psychedelics. At this time, I also studied music composition, electronic music and recording at the university. I became really obsessed during this time with ugly, dark, negative music, and my lifelong problems with depression were increasing. At some point, I got turned on to what was happening with death metal – Autopsy, Morbid Angel, Entombed, Bolt Thrower and what not. I started buying a lot more metal again, particularly death metal. In the early 90’s, I discovered the internet, usenet and IRC, and started finding people around the world with similar tastes. I did a lot of tape trading, finding out about bands like Burzum, Mayhem, Ved Buens Ende, Thergothon, Unholy, Master’s Hammer, Demilich, Necromantia, Bethlehem, Dark Throne and random demos of bands I never heard of but was curious to check out. None of that stuff was popular around here, and I wanted to play music more like this, but couldn’t find the right people to do it with. So for about 6 or 7 years I just hibernated, listening to black/death/doom/crust/deathrock/psychedelic/noise/drone music and playing a lot of guitar by myself.
I also traveled in Europe in 93 and 94 to check out the music scene, managed to catch an Immortal/Marduk gig in Zaandam, NL which was pretty impressive at the time. All these years, I have never really grown out of any of the music I used to like, I just grew into new things on top of the past stuff. I am constantly looking for new music that is dark and strange, but I still spend a lot of time listening to old classics, or just typical classical music on the radio.
On 5/14/13, Dispirit played a set that was unlike any other set the band ever played. Can you elaborate on this performance and about the significant importance of the songs that you choose to cover this evening?
Prior to Nikhil joining Dispirit, Todd, Peter and I were playing a number of cover songs just for fun. Stuff like Mercyful Fate, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Slayer. After he quit, there were about 7 months before Ryan joined, so we went back to doing more covers. Then when Ryan joined, I thought it would be great to do some of those songs as warm ups now that we had two guitars and could play them more traditionally. Let it be known that I like playing covers more than originals! At this particular show, we were doing the second night of two local shows with Vassafor and Knelt Rote. I had talked with VK about how doing the same set each night of these shows would be boring, and we might do a cover or two for the fuck of it. He liked the idea, and they ended up playing some awesome covers of Mystifier, Mercyful Fate and Zemial (with me on vocals) as well. The reason for the specific songs was not anything more special than these songs are all part of our blood and I think of them as doing traditional folk songs. Only thing I regret is that we didn’t have time to get Satan’s Fall down to perform. Several months after this gig, we actually played out as a cover band, Oboroten, and did this stuff plus tracks by Zemial, Thin Lizzy, Might Sphincter, Iron Maiden, Autopsy, Metal Church, Slayer …
How do you feel having influenced a generation of people through your music? If not from your own recorded collections of sound, but also from the bands that pay homage to your legacy. How do you perceive bands with Mainstream coverage emulating the sound and atmospheres that you have created?
I’ve never been completely satisfied with my own music, so it is a bit weird to see other people who embrace it and have been influenced by it. I tend to listen to a lot of music that sounds different than what I play, so I rarely am listening to bands who might be emulating one of the bands I played in, but I guess it is satisfying that it has affected a few people that much. These days, generally, most music in the metal realm that is getting a lot of press is going to be something I don’t like very much. I like weird music, and most weird music does not get too popular. I do love Weird Al though.
In 2012, the drummer from Dispirit walked away from music. Losing a good drummer can be devastating to forward momentum in a band, but they are replaceable. Jason Bursese from Cyanic/Black Fucking Cancer is a phenomenal drummer that was a great fit for the band, however, Trevor DeSchryver, current Lycus and former Deafheaven drummer was an even better fit. When he joined, the band began really moving forward, and for the first time there is talks about full length recordings and extensive touring.
Trevor DeSchryver is one of the best drummers in the Bay Area. His monumental contribution to Deafheaven really helped propel that band to the public’s eye. Trevor got to tour all over the world with that band, but eventually quit when he had to choose between Lycus playing a show with Mournful Congregation in Oakland, or going on a grueling month and a half tour with post rock bands.
Here is footage from the first Oakland show with Trevor on Drums for Dispirit!
Around the millennium, there was a was a Nu-Metal band playing in Fresno called Asunder. They got hit with a Cease and desist, then broke up. Know anything about that?
I don’t have any recollection of this, but it may have happened through someone in Asunder. I joined Asunder in mid 2000, a couple years after they were founded by Geoff and Dino, and didn’t have much to do with anything more than jamming with them for the first year or two. If they were playing Nu-metal, they should have suffered a worse fate than a cease and desist, though. There was also a Texas band named Asunder much later in the 2000’s who I remember using the name, and we considered sending them such a note, but they broke up before we bothered. They actually emailed us after their demise to ask if we wanted their leftover shirts, haha. I don’t know how well established Asunder (Oakland) was at the time, but if a band is knowingly using the name of an established band they ought to, and probably will eventually, get a cease and desist. Fuck’em. How fucking hard is it to come up with something original?
When it comes to your musical legacy, I’ve seen bootleg Demo tapes selling for hundreds of dollars on the internet, and your records also fetch a pretty penny. How do you feel about collectors making so much money off selling your music?
Record collectors are scum. Collecting is a disease. That said, do what thou wilt, but stay off my lawn.
During shows, Dispirit is engulfed in fog with little to no light. The music of Dispirit is incredibly intricate, I imagine that you have to practice nailing the time signatures and social cues quite a bit. Can you tell me about any experiences where you practiced in fog? Has anyone od’ed or passed out due to fog inhalation at any of the shows you have played?
In Asunder, we used to practice in very low light and we were used to not seeing much of each other at rehearsal. We started using a lot of fog in that band, and we were so used to it that it was never really an issue (except the fog machine being semi-broken and not spewing continuous fog all the times we wanted it to). In Dispirit, the material can be a bit harder to play, but we usually rehearse in low light and do one fogged-out rehearsal before a gig to prepare. Early on, the other guys were less used to it than me and it may have caused a few problems performance-wise, but now it doesn’t seem to be a problem. Ryan has been doing noise shows for years with so dense fog you can’t see your hand in front of your face. I have had a few friends with asthma problems tell me they won’t come see us, and one friend who has those problems but still comes and watches as much as she can handle before going outside. That is the worst I have heard from the audience. Occasionally it fucks with my throat doing harsh vocals for an hour in that stuff, but I’d rather suffer that annoyance and keep the surreal, claustrophobic atmosphere.
Will people have the opportunity to catch a performance internationally at some point in the future? Or is Dispirit an America-only band?
We would love to go abroad in the future. We have had a few offers that didn’t pan out either due to our schedules, or not being able to cover costs, but I think once we release some stuff on a less obscure format we will have better opportunities. Still, we are never going to be a major touring band.
What is your take on file sharing and p2p networking that happens with Underground Metal? Have you had any interesting experiences dealing with your own music?
Mixed feelings about it. I know tons of people only download music and never buy a thing. Those people claim to like a band but are killing the band’s ability to function. Still though, I download things myself often. A lot of what I am after is more obscure, out of print demos or high-priced limited press LP’s that I can’t afford, but I do grab some albums I like that I never get around to buying. Part of that is that there is too much stuff coming out these days to afford to buy it all. I’ve also found that with bands using streaming sites like bandcamp and soundcloud I am less interested in downloading things, since I can check them out easily. I also have much less faith in digital albums being real, as I have lost tons of stuff due to hard drive failures and being too lazy to back stuff up. Mainly, I just hope people who are downloading are at least supporting their favorite artists. I also know when blogs were big several years ago there was MUCH more word about the band globally and a lot more people contacting us to buy shirts and tapes. For a band like us, at this point file sharing has only helped us, but I know record labels who sell a lot more volume that have said it has caused sales to fall.
If you could jam with anyone dead/alive, who would it be and what would it sound like?
Piggy from Voivod, Carl-Michael from Ved Buens Ende/Virus, Doug Clark from Mighty Sphincter, and Fred Frith all in a room with me trading off improvised riffs/solos. Only thing is, I would probably just shut up and listen.
Here’s is a HEAVY HOUR of footage featuring 2 new tracks from Dispirit performing in Oakland(((California)))
Dispirit is going to be playing at the Saint Vitus Bar in New York for two days this March. On 3/20/15, they will be playing alongside Vorde, a Psychedelic Black Metal band featuring the inhuman drum machine Micheal Rekevics, who also crushes drums in Fell Voices and Ruin Lust. On 3/22/15, they will be playing a different set alongside some killer bands including Occultation and a Doom Metal band featuring members of Negative Plane.