Gozu – Nailing That Groove

Tuesday, 6th June 2023

Witnessing this Boston-based stoner/doom rock and metal unit live opening for Crowbar a few years back in Providence, RI, Gozu have been a steady airplay favorite ever since. The deeper grooves, thick riff mechanics, soulful melodies all connect in this musical stew that intoxicates the listener – sweeping them into another aural universe. Now arriving at their fifth album for Remedy, the quartet stride comfortably to the next level of their sound – new drummer Seth Botos providing that youthful punch to mix up the proceedings to the greater good. We reached out to vocalist/guitarist Marc Gaffney who was very enthusiastic to let us into the making of Remedy, how last-minute lyrics work best for the songwriting, the teamwork necessary to put the best foot forward for the group, insights into what success means for the group, plus future plans.

Dead Rhetoric: Remedy is the latest album for Gozu. You mention in the background information that you are all better players in the five-year interim between records. Where do you think you’ve improved individually as players and collectively as a band that shapes this record differently than where you were at for Equilibrium?

Marc Gaffney: I know myself; I took a few lessons because I was going out of my mind (laughs). I was sitting in my house; a good friend of mine is Chris Broderick’s girlfriend. Just out of the blue, I asked her if she thought Chris would want to do a lesson with me? She said hold on a second, literally a couple of seconds later, he said sure. I did it over Zoom, and he said let’s do one more. Just to think differently about the guitar and such. We were tuning in B, all sorts of different things. Just in regards for myself, I’m a much better guitar player now. I’m much better at 50 than I was at 20, you know? Understanding more and what my role is, what I want to do. Doug and Joe just played and played. With this album, I had written everything pretty early, and when we had things mapped out, I was at this desk – I wrote five tunes word-wise in ten minutes. And then the other ones came to me too – there’s more of a confidence. We didn’t try to overanalyze everything we do; we can be brutally critical.

Having Seth join the band, set everything up. From the first snare hit that kid did, I was so happy. He really made us step up our game. He came in and played a tune off each of our albums, destroyed it. I wrote a lot of stuff; Doug wrote a lot of stuff. We went through and picked through. Seth brought a lot of switches, and has that new blood, he’s much younger than all of us too. He really pushed us to be better players. He teaches, he does some studio stuff, every weekend he has stuff going on. He totally made us step up our game.

The way we wrote and thought about it, we wanted something with a different groove than before. The way we set up the songs, we let him do his thing. It went in a really good pattern. It came back to why we started the band, which was really refreshing. Having been in the band since 2009, it was nice to go here is the sound that I had in my head the past five years. It all clicked. Definitely the playing on the album showed. The way we went at it, there’s stuff that Doug and I are doing that we’ve never done before. Especially in terms of riffs, chords, things like that. It’s a step up from any other album that we’ve ever done.

Dead Rhetoric: Is it more of a challenge for you as a guitar player and a vocalist to handle both duties?

Gaffney: A great question. Singing, I don’t even think about to be 100% honest with you. Guitar – I’m doing all that stuff and singing. Once you get it, some stuff though is in odd times, I spend a lot more time just playing, practicing. Just to get things where I want them to be. Unfortunately, if I mess up, everyone knows. There is zero room for a wrong note. I take much more pride in my guitar playing. I always thought I was okay, I’m not a virtuoso. Playing with Doug and some different players has helped me a ton. I don’t know anything about the guitar – fifth fret, okay? That’s where I am coming from, where the other guys are much more schooled. I embrace things in that manner, I am always looking at what they are doing.

There are a lot of different things we are doing on this album. Playing and singing those songs, it’s been a workout, but in a great way.

Dead Rhetoric: What does your latest drummer Seth Botos bring to the lineup in terms of his playing and outlook that differs from Mike Hubbard?

Gaffney: Mike was great also. Seth, he has an impeccable groove. He’s open to anything. Just to try things, he would just go with it. I would give him suggestions, and in two takes, he would be done. Before, we would have guys who wouldn’t do it. He is excited to be in there recording. We got there, the drums were tuned, and he did ten songs in a day and a half. We started tracking the guitars on a Saturday. He knew exactly what he wanted to do and nailed it. Most of those songs are first or second take on drums. It was insane. I was just laughing, it was great. That led us to try other things, getting out of our own heads. He’s fun to play with. He shows up, he digs it, he sings background vocals when we play live. What you see is what you get. He’s a super nice guy, he is a tenth-degree black belt. Very unassuming, but he could hurt you. He brought in a distinct air of positivity that was great for all of us.

Dead Rhetoric: What took place for you to rewrite a lot of the lyrics on the spot at the last minute prior to going into the studio to record these songs? Is it a tough process for you to capture your thoughts in the best way possible?

Gaffney: I never really set out – the same thing happened with Equilibrium. We were going over the songs, and I would say to myself I don’t know if I really like that. And then, something will hit me – I keep a pad of paper with me and a pen or pencil, and then literally just write. I’m never comfortable until I feel like this is it. I’m not someone who sits down and can write every day. I just got out of a meeting, it was driving me insane, I had all these thoughts. As soon as it was done, I wrote. Until we go into the studio, everything for me I need to make sure that what I can bring in lyrically is the best stuff I can do. And also, I don’t want it to be too wordy. It has to be something I can sing about. I come at it from an honest perspective – stuff that’s happened to me, happened to friends of mine, or witnessed. If I’m going to do it, it needs to be the best I can bring to the table. You have to sing those songs all the time. If I’m not feeling it, it’s not good. I keep an open mind regarding stuff like that. I’ll be in the car and tap something into my phone. It really hits me at the weirdest times. When it comes, I have to put it down on paper.

Dead Rhetoric: You recorded the album at Wild Arctic Studios with producer/engineer Dean Baltulonis in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. What does he bring to the table to make things comfortable for the band, getting the best work out of you during these sessions?

Gaffney: Sure. This is our third album with him – and his ears are amazing. There are times I listen to stuff, he’ll be like, ‘hold on – rewind’. How did you hear that? Literally playing in front of the drums for over twenty years, some stuff I can pick up, some stuff I can’t. There is a comfortable ability between the four of us and him, it doesn’t come across though as he wants to punch us in the face. It comes across as he genuinely wants it to sound strong. We sent him the pre-production, and he told us where he wanted to use this amp on this, drums he wanted to do this, bass this. We explained what we are going for – this tone, to be a wall of sound, let’s try this, this, and this. He’s quick, the guy knows. He’s our age too, so he’s done thousands of sessions. He is a huge fan of Motown, Stevie Wonder-ish material. He wanted some big choruses, Sly and the Family Stone sounding stuff. I would go in and try shit – then he would want the harmony done up a third. In a way that he gets the best out of you, being so unassuming.

He never comes at a place where he berates us. He will tell us it was cool, but he thinks we can get some better (takes). He’ll let us know if it’s the right tone for the guitars, and let’s try this. He does it in a way that you are not angered – because here and there, it’s tense. He does it in a way that I’ve never wanted to head butt him or tackle him. He’s a big son of a bitch anyways (laughs). He has a way about him, if he says something, you pay attention. He’s always listening. He wants it to be the best we can possibly do too. I’d send him things – and he would pick out certain mics for the main vocals, background vocals. Everything was when we got there, it was ready. He’s so calm, it mellows everyone else out. He has an air about him that it’s going to sound good – because it’s the third album (with him), he knows. His interaction with the four guys is so different and that’s important.

Dead Rhetoric: How did you arrive at the cover art for Remedy? Are you a fan of thought-provoking cover art over the years that makes people intrigued to press play on a record?

Gaffney: Chris Smith, he’s a talented guy. The first time we worked with him, he came back with something in three hours. I thought he was spying on us, having a hidden camera in my house. For this one, this is where we were going – he crushed it. He is such a huge music fan – and if you tell him what you want, he listens. He won’t come back with something that’s not right. He understands what we are looking for, but we also give him the room to have his own flair. None of us are artists and having that trust to know what we want. He takes the ideas and comes back with them quickly.

As we progress and get older, I enjoy the more out there and thought-provoking artwork. The color schemes, whoever buys this can get their own thoughts as to what this is and what this isn’t. I do enjoy the thought-provoking aspect of art in general, be it a painting or whatever. We are lucky, we work with people that get us, it does pay to be nice and have a conversation with someone. Being able to have conversations about this stuff, and not be bummed out if it doesn’t work. That’s his forte, so we trust him. Over time, we understand what we are really good at and what we need other people to do to hit the pinnacle. He’s done our tour stuff, t-shirts, and his turnaround is a day or two, if that. He did some of our banners in a couple of hours. He’s such a talented guy.

Dead Rhetoric: What do you believe you’ve learned the most over the years with Gozu when it comes to the business affairs that has made you smarter, wiser, and more efficient in terms of getting things into motion today as artists?

Gaffney: There was a time where I just wanted to play. I didn’t care where it is. That was back when you could make $400-$500 a show selling CD’s. Now it’s like, if you want to play the part, you have to dress the part. It’s really understanding what can you do and what can’t you do. What to ask for, what not to ask for. It’s an amazing outlet, but you do have to think like a businessman now. Everything is about cash. You are going to do this tour – how are you going to pay for gas? Even like sell this for this, this for that. You have to be on top of that. People ask – can I have this? No – and you aren’t trying to be a dick, but shit is so expensive right now. We do give some stuff away – but we are paying for all of this. We’ve become much more business-wise. We have a manager that’s amazing. All of us understand what we can do and what we can’t do – and we stand up for ourselves.

You have to have self-worth. It’s going to cost money to get places. That part is not fun. You do have to think about things, the business and financial aspect of it. Way more than when I was first playing music. If not, you’ll get steamrolled, and people will take advantage of you. You have to stick up for what you are worth. Unfortunately, sometimes you have to say no. We do hear other people get better offers. We are always going to find out what’s going on. Don’t offer (one band) $1500 and us something different. Just because you messed up doesn’t mean I have to pay the price. That sucks, I’d love to play every show we can, but unfortunately, we can’t. We have mortgages, kids, payments. We need to know our guarantees. Our booking agent takes care of that.

Dead Rhetoric: What does success mean to you at this point? How has your definition or outlook changed in that regard from when you first picked up an instrument and started to play to where things look currently?

Gaffney: It’s funny, I was having this discussion earlier. If you had asked me when I was a kid if you thought I would be on Metal Blade, touring Europe, doing interviews, albums – I would have thought you were crazy. I played sports back then, and music was an afterthought. I destroyed my shoulder, and I didn’t know what I would do next. Guitar was the next best thing, the sports side of me took that on with playing guitar. In regard to success – right now doing interviews is crazy. Being able to put out an album that people really like, for me that’s spectacular. Playing the Desert Festival, all those shows. When I started doing this, I played in a soul band. It’s so much different music. Enjoying myself, enjoying the guys I play with, to play music. When you are playing and you hear guys in the front row singing along with your words, or people tell us they were going through a terrible divorce and our album, they listened to it every day. It’s pretty heavy stuff. Hopefully people are okay with it, but when people tell you that your album got them through a tough time in their lives, it’s pretty amazing.

Doing more shows, being on bigger shows. Making more money. In terms of success, that’s key – but really enjoying playing music with these guys, that alone is immeasurable. If we hated each other, there’s no way I could do this. When you are in a van for sixty days straight together, I couldn’t handle it. We are four fruitcakes doing the things we do. Hopefully people will dig Remedy, I think it’s our best album to date. Maybe we will tour more, hop on with bigger bands. We will tour on our own too.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you see the next twelve months shaping up for activities related to Gozu – touring, festival appearances, more videos, etc.?

Gaffney: We just had a video that came out. We will tour from May to June. Hopefully we will play a ton in the next year. That’s what everyone wants to do, I know the label wants us to do that too. We want to hit as far as we can possibly can. I’d like to play a ton, if that could be measured. This is the time for us to hit it. We have played four or five of the new songs on tour in Europe, and they went over amazingly. People have been digging the singles. Hopefully we will play as much as we can. Festivals, playing those is spectacular. We played Roadburn. I can’t remember them all. I’m always out listening to music and chatting with people. I like seeing what’s going on – it’s not like I’m going to be in Amsterdam every day, you know? (laughs). Or Berlin. I think that’s the best thing for us – playing the tunes every night. On this tour, the set will be different most nights. We have to hammer those new songs out.

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