FeaturesGozu – Achieving Balance

Gozu – Achieving Balance

One of those examples of hard work eventually paying off, Gozu had been slowly working their way around in the metal underground for the last ten years (and three albums). But fortune finally struck for the band when Chris Santos’ rising label, Blacklight Media offered them a deal after seeing their live act. The result of said partnership is the soon-to-be released fourth album, Equilibrium. An album that features plenty of rolling grooves, fuzzy riffs, and catchy vocals, it’s clear that Gozu are seizing the moment and are primed to take this opportunity to the next level. We were able to grab guitarist Doug Sherman to talk about how the band’s progression, signing with Blacklight, the importance of hooks, and the band’s outside the box song titles.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s it like to have both Chris Santos and Brian Slagel in your corner?

Doug Sherman: It’s awesome. It’s a dream come true to have the Metal Blade machine behind us. Everybody there has been super-supportive. Chris Santos has been amazing. He’s super passionate about what he’s doing – he loves us. What they’ve been doing so far – we have never experienced anything like it. It’s been pretty overwhelming but very inspiring.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel that Equilibrium compares to your previous material?

Sherman: I think this album is definitely more focused. We sat down and looked at our past albums and tried to figure out what was missing, so that we could hopefully add something different. We focused a lot on this album with the choruses. Almost something like heavy, pop tunes. We wanted something catchy, with earworms. Mark [Gaffney], our singer, is really gifted. No matter what you throw at him, he can just create this magic every time. The whole band kind of gelled together with that. It was definitely done on purpose.

We challenged ourselves with writing songs instead of just riffs. We wanted to see how heavy we could make it, but we also wanted the earworms. We looked a lot at The Beatles, songwriters – Joni Mitchell, Jeff Buckley, that sort of stuff to just guide myself into ‘what’s this song going to be like?’ When you listen to the song, having people walk away at least humming something. We didn’t really get that with the past albums – they aren’t necessarily catchy; this one is definitely our catchiest.

Dead Rhetoric: Listening to the new material and then even just listening to Revival, I hate to use the term ‘poppy,’ but it’s definitely more hooky.

Sherman: Totally – that’s good. That’s what we wanted. We wanted something that was heavy and riff-driven, but also focused on how we could create choruses and bridges – working on ourselves as songwriters and musicians.

Dead Rhetoric: Writing material in that direction, what are some of the challenges that some people might take for granted?

Sherman: How hard it is. We shit riffs. I have over 1000 riffs in my bank that I could just pull out at any moment. We are always writing riffs, but creating songs is the biggest challenge in making songs that actually make sense. When you look at things on paper like Justin Timberlake, D’Angelo, or someone like James Brown – people who write songs. We wanted to see what we could pull from those artists, or something like Sigur Ros or Radiohead. We wanted to get all of these influences that we all have in the band and create this thing. The hardest part was carving and making actual songs. It was a lot more challenging than I thought. But the end product was definitely on purpose. We love it.

Dead Rhetoric: That’s the conflict within the metal realm. People look at it and say, “Oh, that’s easy.” People are geared to listening to something that’s more technical.

Sherman: I agree. We love both. We love the technical aspect of metal, from Cloudkicker to Dillinger Escape Plan to things like Justin Timberlake and D’Angelo. Singer/songwriters and artists make your head move all the time, singing those songs. We come from a background of stoner rock – Queens of the Stone Age is another one. Josh Homme’s stuff is extremely catchy, the stuff he is doing is pushing the envelope. The last album, many people hated it but I loved it. I think what they are doing – he’s a great songwriter and he has come a long way. It’s nice to see that people from that stoner rock background moving into a songwriter and being creative. We aren’t there – we don’t know what we are doing [laughs] – we are just putting it together and trying to figure out what’s going on. The easiest part is because Mark is so talented – he created these melodies that are pretty impressive.

Dead Rhetoric: The album was written with some recent tragedy within the band. How much do you feel it affected the outcome?

Sherman: Gaffney’s dad passed away in the middle of writing. He didn’t have lyrics until after that. So the way the songs were before definitely took a turn. I think it was cathartic for him to get everything out. The songs became a bit darker. Even though we have choruses and make it catchy, they aren’t very happy tunes. We didn’t know what was going to happen after his dad passed or how it would affect anything. But it affected it a lot.

Dead Rhetoric: We have touched on this a little already but could you talk about the impact/influence on different decades on the band’s sound.

Sherman: I was in a funk/R & B band for a while. So there’s influence from Aretha Franklin to James Brown, even Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, that kind of stuff. Gaff comes from a background of Grateful Dead and Joni Mitchell. Our drummer, Mike [Hubbard] he was in Warhorse, so he was in a metal band before this. Joe [Grotto], our bass player, was in Motherboar, another metal band.

When you take all of these influences – I don’t know if it’s eclectic but there’s a lot of stuff that you wouldn’t think a metal band would listen to – I love Justin Timberlake, Sigur Ros, and Radiohead. We also love a lot of ’60s stuff. My favorite guitar player was Alvin Lee – that’s who influenced me the most. We try to incorporate all these influences into a metal band, and it works. At least we hope it works. It’s not your every day, “hey, this is a metal band.” You put it on and it sounds a little bit different. Some people think it’s awesome, and some people don’t get it because they aren’t used to it.

Dead Rhetoric: Right – and if you are playing metal and just listening to metal, you end up missing out on a lot of potential ways that you can take material…in ways that other bands may not think of doing it.

Sherman: Exactly. Some of the stuff that Gaff and I were writing, like Sam Cooke – there’s some Sam Cooke riffs in there. There’s some bluesy, funky riffs that he is singing, and that’s what we want. I hope that people think it’s pretty cool. If not, we’ll try again.

Dead Rhetoric: This is the first album to feature Mike Hubbard on drums and Joseph Grotto on bass. What do they bring to Gozu?

Sherman: This is actually their second album – they were on Revival as well. I think we gel pretty well. This is definitely the band that’s going to last. I think on Revival, we were just getting to feel each other out. It’s riff-driven. On this album, we sat down and got to know each other a bit more. Joe and Mike are amazing musicians, and it’s an honor to have them in the band. I think this album kind of showcases that.

Dead Rhetoric: So you are more comfortable and you can take that next step.

Sherman: It’s a little more easy to talk as a band. You can say, “That shit you were playing on that last tune wasn’t very good. Could you try something else?” Whereas when you first do it, you don’t know how to approach people. It’s like any relationship, you get to know people and with the ebb and flow of being a band you can communicate not only with music but also vocally. You can say, “Hey, what you did there was awesome. But here can we maybe work on this?” When you have that first band, some people don’t know how to take that and get beaten down due to insecurities and whatnot. But we are pretty comfortable in how we communicate with each other. We are transparent, and I think that’s the key with all of us.

It’s tough – in a band you have a relationship with four people, and those people have relationships with four other people. It’s kind of a weird thing to explain, but in the end, communication all the time and being clear [helps]. I think that shows with this album. If we didn’t like something, we would say so. When we were writing this time, we could say, “That riff sucks,” and I could take that as they don’t like me or I need to work on something else. You figure out how to take things. You’d be surprised when you hear about when band’s break up. The majority of it is communication. You hear, “Oh, our band broke up because our bass player was a dick and he said my riffs sucked.” But you know what, maybe your riffs sucked? But it’s all about communication 100%.

Dead Rhetoric: You’ve talked about making things catchier and ensuring some sort of hook already. What do you feel that the most important element is in writing songs of your style?

Sherman: That’s a hard question right now, because we are just getting started in doing that, so we don’t even consider ourselves songwriters right now. Our benchmark is that when we feel that everyone is nodding their head. Is there groove to it? I mean, it has to groove. Groove gets kind of a weird stereotype and it gets kind of pushed away, like ‘metal can’t groove, it just needs to be heavy.’ But it does, if you listen to any of the extreme metal bands there is always a groove to it. There’s something to make people move their head. If that song doesn’t make you move your head, tap your foot, or come away singing, then it’s not working. It could be anything. It could be a guy sitting up there screaming or barking into a mic, but if it has a groove it works. That’s kind of how we look at it.

Dead Rhetoric: “Ballad of ODB” – were there differences in crafting an 11-minute song or was it more of just a natural process?

Sherman: That was a Gaff tune – I think he wanted it to be that long. Have an ethereal beginning, we added that drum section part at the beginning of the tune when we got into the studio. So we added an extra 3-4 minutes because we were looking for something with a Sigur Ros feeling to it. So when people listen to the whole album, there’s a flow to it, like a book. When it comes to the last chapter, you hope that somebody is listening – I don’t even know if people listen to whole albums anymore. But when you get to the last song, it’s like “Where’s this taking me right now?” And then at the end, you are like, “Yeah, I get it.” This is a float away kind of tune, and a crescendo for the whole album. But the length was intentional. We have had some longer songs before, so we are pretty comfortable with it.

Dead Rhetoric: You bring up a scary point – nowadays, everyone is moving from gear to gear, and there is that shift away from listening to the whole thing. I think you lose part of the experience if you don’t listen to it in the order that was intended.

Sherman: I agree. I think it’s a lost art. Sitting down with an album and playing it, looking at it, and seeing who is on the credits and digging into it – it’s a lost art. I hope people will do it with this. I think you take away a lot more when you take the whole experience in. You come away with more than just “That singer was good” or whatever.

Dead Rhetoric: You may not know this one, but where do the song titles come from?

Sherman: [Laughs] We come from a stoner rock kind of background, and we were brought into that. A lot of it had to do with our first album. Gaff and I didn’t really like songs like this before. We grew up with metal, but as an official band we didn’t know what to rely on. So we relied on bands like Queens of the Stone Age and Kyuss. Once we were pulled into that genre, we didn’t want the same type of song titles as those band had. We didn’t really feel comfortable having a song called “Battle of the Dragons” or “The Witch” – anything medieval wasn’t our thing. That’s what a lot of those bands are, and we love those bands, but we decided that we wanted to go the opposite way. We came up with songs with pop references to things we like. It has absolutely nothing to do with the songs whatsoever.

I think a lot of people have taken it the wrong way. The songs and riffs we do write are incredibly serious, and then the song titles aren’t. People can’t decipher that and they get put off. A lot of times we just did it so that if the album got reviewed, it would be awesome to see someone mention Traci Lords or “The Ballad of ODB.” People are like, “Does that mean Ol’ Dirty Bastard?” Yeah. The song has nothing to do with it, but I want to see a reviewer actually write it and have a laugh or something. It’s kind of a selfish thing. There wasn’t really a meaning behind it – once we write the songs, people just say funny things and it sticks, so we use it as a title. There’s no deep meaning behind it at all.

Dead Rhetoric: The band is almost 10 years in at this point. Do you ever look back and think about things that you could have done differently?

Sherman: I wish I took a music business class that was current. I went to Berkeley, and took business classes, but it didn’t prepare me for what I experienced last year. The mistakes that we did make in the past, in terms of contracts, I wish that I was smarter in how we approached it and understood it. The more you know, the more upperhand you have in dictating how your career can move. If you are just signing shit and you don’t give a fuck about your band, then that’s what you are going to get. Musicians need to know that – they need to know the business end. They need to know how to get paid, how to do an LLC for the band, how to do taxes, and how to do contracts so that you aren’t fucked when you move to another label and you can’t get your album back. I just wish we knew more about that stuff. We learned the hard way with a lot of that stuff, but we learned. So hopefully we don’t make those mistakes again.

Dead Rhetoric: With the new album, signing with Blacklight Media, are you looking at this as a fresh start for the band?

Sherman: Without a doubt. This is it. This is the beginning for us. It’s good, because we have been talking to a lot of people who had never heard of the band but they like it. I think this is the introduction to the band right now. If they dig the past stuff, that’s awesome. But for what Metal Blade and Blacklight Media have done for us, it’s a big shot of adrenaline into the band that we’ve never had before. We are committed to making the band sustainable and just keep writing.

Dead Rhetoric: You had the Blacklight Media showcase – what else does the band have planned outside of the album release?

Sherman: We are signed to an American booking agent called TKO Booking and a European booking agent called Vibra, so we are waiting for them to come up with something for us. We are in this hurry up and wait mode for now. It’s just a matter of when, because I’m sure it’s going to happen. We have nothing concrete at the moment though.

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