Hello Goatby Kallak Jonesic / 13.11.2012
Goat is a new band from Sweden, they released their first album just last month. After hearing the band for the first time during an intermission at the Bohemian in Joburg, I made sure that the DJ who played their music sent me the album the very next day. I was fascinated that a Swedish band is doing the sort of thing that should be quite endemic to South Africa: an afrobeat canvas colored by the many hues of 70s psychedelic rock and the heathen screeches of a female voodoo singer.
Sadly, no local band (at least none that I’ve heard so far) has ever attempted, and I guess, even contemplated creating the sound that Goat seems to produce so easily. It could be that our white musicians (I’m of course generalizing here) rarely look toward West Africa for inspiration, and far too often dip their creative wicks in the whitetrashdom of America’s Southern States, and it seems like the new generation of black musicians peer more towards Cuba and Salsa than Haiti and Rara.
So I contacted Christian Johansson, one of Goat’s three core members, to find out why the Swedes are more aware of certain ‘important’ African art movements more than we are. And although I did not get exactly what I wanted, I did find out a lot about a band that may just be the next big thing as far as experimental/psychedelic music is concerned.
Someone once warned me that most people know what they want to hear, so ramming music down their throats is a bad idea. For the rest of you, here is something you might find fascinating, just as I did on that morning after the Bo…
Mahala: It’s quite important that you know that in South Africa we have a major problem: most of the bands here attempting to make Afro-beat or Afro-jazz music miss the mark by sounding touristy. So at the end it’s the sandal and straw-hat wearing visitors that end up listening and dispersing the wrong kind of music. What’s so special about Sweden that it can master any genre, even if it isn’t form there?
Christian Johansson: I don´t know. In Goat we just play, without trying to sound like anything else. Of course we are influenced by a lot of music and it comes out in the music we make, but we just don’t make an effort hiding it or trying to copy anything. But I also don’t think that we have mastered anything either.
You come from Korpilombolo, which is a small village in northern Sweden. What influence did that setting have on your creativity? Did your art have a lot to do with being bored?
The village, it´s history and the religious situation that exists there have had a massive influence on us. But not like we were bored or anything like that. It´s just that our heritage includes an openness to a lot of music and also a way of approaching life with open eyes and a certain calmness in our souls.
And the town’s connection to voodoo? What’s that about and how much of that story it based on fact?
It is not the same version of voodoo being practiced in Haiti. More a mixture of older nature religions, voodoo and other religions. Our version includes having great respect and connection with our ancestors. We try to get in contact with them thru meditation and by reaching transcendental states of mind. Mostly by making music.
Do you find connections between the spirituality of the North and that of Africa? What do you know about African spirituality, and which part of Africa do you most look for inspiration? Or is your interest in the Caribbean?
I guess in a way spirituality is the same all over the world. Different ways of approaching it maybe, but it is all about connecting with the universe somehow, other dimensions of our souls. Sometimes by praying, by meditation, music or whatever. We don´t look for inspiration anywhere, it comes to us sooner or later. We just pick it up from where we are.
Voodoo is quite often perceived as evil and fetid. What are the misconceptions of voodoo?
Just that – it is the Hollywood version. Mysticism is just a name for our lack of knowledge and our ignorance. Voodoo is mainly about connecting with spirits and reaching other levels of consciousness. Much of it is Catholisism nowadays.
Can we call European paganism ‘voodoo’?
It depends on what the ingredients are; there are so many sorts of paganism. But yes, some of it has similarities.
In South Africa we have this thing called Muti. What’s Swedish Muti?
Well, lots of traditional flowers and herbs have been used for healing in Sweden…
In another interview, you said that Goat is an intergenerational project. Explain this in more detail.
Goat was formed by our ancestors a long time ago and has been reincarnated through the generations. It is mainly about drumming but influences have been brought in and have shifted with the times. Some of our fathers and their fathers had been playing in previous incarnations of Goat. It is also about having openness in life and in music. Do what you want to do, like what you like, everything is more or less the same. Greatness can be found in so many things.
There are a few Afro-beat (world music) projects like Kokolo Afrobeat Orchestra and Budos Band who are very good at what they do, but Goat does it in a far more authentic and artistic way. For one, it seems like you don’t strive to just make your audience dance, but rather sweat in the temples, as well. Am I right in saying that Goat is more ‘head music’ than ‘body music’, or is it both?
It can be what you want it to be. We don’t care if people shake their feet or their heads as long as it is natural for them.
What’s your philosophy on live performances?
In a live performance you can experience music in a transcendental way. This is very hard to do when listening to a record. There you want to hear songs. But a live performance can make you feel that you are levitating almost. For us it is complex, we just played our first three shows and we enjoyed it very much. But we don’t enjoy the aspect of being recognized, so we play in masks. And the gets quite hot.
How do you go about creating a song and how important is repetition and embodying a specific emotion in a single composition?
We just make a beat and a foundation and build the song up by making overdubs. Most of the time we don’t know how it will turn out before we are done. Ideas comes along on the way while listening to it. Repetition and emotions are just built in the way we work.
If I played your music to a 50-60 year old (which I have), I may run the risk of being given the statement: “I don’t remember that band, who is this again?” not because World Music music is phony, but because its production style can give one the illusion that it is in fact recorded in the 70s. How do you attain the effect of sounding like you come from a bygone era, or is it largely a victim to Gonzo? As in, it’s all done live and on tape?
Ha ha! Cool! Well, it is recorded on tape and mixed directly from the tape. 16 track tape-machine. We like working this way. And we like the primitive sound it gives the music. But it is not always recorded live. However, we never edit the recordings by cutting stuff ‘nicely’ afterwards.
There may be quite a few musicians reading this. Please tell us how you create the right mood for the studio so the music and its dynamics come through as authentically as possible.
Our studio is down at the harbor in an old parking garage. It is quite nice with lots of stuff everywhere. When we record, we sometimes record in candlelight, partly because of the mood, and partly for getting rid of badly grounded light sounds in the electronics. You would never see that it is a studio from the outside, but I guess you can hear it.
What does World Music (the genre first and then Goat’s album) mean to you?
We think we should get rid of all genres. It’s boring and it feels old-fashioned to put music into these old ‘groups’. It is just music and everything is more or less floating together with everything nowadays. All music is of course World Music. Not only non-western popular music if you understand what I mean. If you don’t play world music what do you play then? The album means a lot to us of course. It is a way for us to preserve our history, to pass it on to our children.
How has World Music been received so far?
Overwhelming. We never expected anything. We are so grateful that people have taken our music into their hearts and that people are digging this. A big surprise and a pleasant one at that.
If Goat could collaborate with any artist, who would it be and why?
Hard question. Captain Beefheart is dead, so maybe I can’t say him, but I do it anyway. For obvious reasons.
How has psychedelia changed today and is it still important to spur on the calloused parts of the mind to become creative again?
Yes, it is always interesting and important to try and find other parts of your mind and of life in general. Not only for creativity but to develop as a human being. Music is a way to do that in many ways. Not only the spiritual aspects but the materialistic ones too, like traveling, meeting new people, seeing new things, practicing and so on. I don’t know how the psychedelic scene has changed as I am not interested in dividing music in genres or scenes. But for sure, there is a constant flow of music in all forms nowadays and lots of psyche stuff that should be experienced.
It seems like Goat runs the risk of becoming quite big and soon acquiring a wide cult following. How big do you want this thing to get?
We are not making any efforts in this direction. But for us it is off course positive that people enjoy our music, and the more the better. I don’t think we’ll ever be a touring band since we like to stay close to our families. We will preserve our anonymity since we are not interested in individual confirmation. We dislike that there is so much focus on individuality in our time.
For the sake of spreading the knowledge, which other Swedish bands or artists would you recommend to us here in Africa?
I can mention a few bands from Gothenburg that we enjoy, both musically and as people. Slowgold, Graveyard, The Movements, Hills, Rite, Den Stora Vilan, Uran, Madamm, Bombus, Spiders, and several others I can’t remember right now. Gothenburg has lots of great music and bands.
Well, Gothenburg is there, South Africa is here. Will we ever see you live in South Africa?
Ha ha! That’s not up to us. It is up to you.