Hands of Goro – Step Into the Outerworld

Tuesday, 27th February 2024

Photo: Jehn w.a.

Seeking to establish a sound that may be the Third Wave of British Heavy Metal, California’s Hands of Goro as a three-headed monster injects everything from punk to classic rock into this traditional style. Experience abounds in the players – active in other units from Slough Feg and Pounder to Spirit Adrift and Nite among others. Their self-titled debut album launches the trio into a scene clamoring for more authentic artists, delivering the goods from their hearts and souls. We reached out to guitarist Tom Draper and bassist/vocalist Adrian Maestas to learn more about the group – including their start, timing challenges to get the record complete, artwork development, lyrical themes relating to the Earthrealm, brilliant ideas for the future health of the scene given unlimited resources, as well as discussion on what’s happening for the future with this (and other) acts.

Dead Rhetoric: Hands of Goro came together in 2016, even though both of you are in different locations. How did you two first meet and develop the concept/style for the band – where did you want to see this group develop that maybe differed from previous (or current) acts you work with?

Tom Draper: I met Adrian in San Francisco; I live in the Bay Area as well now. All three of us are based here. The way I met him – I was a fan of Slough Feg, I met him at one of their shows, I went to the merch table and Adrian was there, selling t-shirts. I talked to him, I had just moved here, and I didn’t know anyone but when I lived in England, I was in this band called Angel Witch. He was like ‘Angel Witch – no way!’. I gave him my details, didn’t hear from him in a year, at which point he got in touch with me – he got offered a show the next week, he needed to put together a new band, and he wanted me to do it with him. We would have to write new songs and do some covers. So that’s what we did, some of the songs are actually on our album, we wrote those songs in a week or two that we had to prepare randomly before the one-off show. We enjoyed it, we persevered, and seven or eight years later, a few different drummers, here we are, we have an album. That literally came out of a project that we didn’t literally know what it was when we started. Adrian pulled the name Hands of Goro out of thin air.

Although I listen to a wide range of music, the stuff I’m comfortable doing and best known for doing is kind of New Wave of British Heavy Metal era, classic heavy rock. A period where hard rock is becoming heavy metal is where my guitar playing lives. With Adrian’s experience playing in Slough Feg and his other bands – he’s a versatile musician, he plays jazz and surf music, all kind of things. We never talked about it, we just plugged in our amps and started playing. We had an immediate chemistry, and that kind of guided the direction of the band. It was going to always have clean vocals, but outside of that we haven’t given it a huge amount of thought. There aren’t any specific rules – if it feels good, we do it.

Dead Rhetoric: Your debut, self-titled album contains a mixture of traditional metal influences with decades of experience behind the skill sets. What were the songwriting and recording sessions like for this set of material – and were there any specific obstacles, surprises, or challenges to work through in this process?

Draper: Another good question. There weren’t any particularly big obstacles. The recording process was a little drawn out, the way it happened. We recorded an EP with our previous drummer years ago, which lurks in a dark corner of the Slough Feg merch store, nobody really knows it exists. We never really put it on any streaming platforms. About a year or so into jamming with Avinash we had a couple of new songs – so we thought about releasing another EP. We did that self-sufficiently – Adrian has a practice space in San Francisco, Avinash he could procure a room for a couple of evenings to record. He’s a very good recording engineer, producer, he has his own equipment. We all played live together, but isolated the drums so the mics would capture that. To get the guitars done, I recorded them all at home with my computer, reamped them through real amps in that same procured room, which came out fantastic. We got really nice tones. And then we finished the recording in Adrian’s practice space, where we did all the vocals, the synths, and the bass.

I’d say the only thing that was particularly challenging was how long it took. Every time we wanted to get a session together, it meant coordinating our calendars. The thing that Hands of Goro is worst at is figuring out when we can get together. We are all pretty busy guys, we all have other bands, significant others, jobs, you name it. When we get together, it’s amazing how much we are able to get done with how little actual time that we spent together.

Dead Rhetoric: How did you go about choosing the two studio settings to capture the sound for the record? Were there specific qualities about the rooms and atmosphere that made things ideal to achieve what you desired for the final product?

Draper: Um, no, not at all. It was literally we needed a space where we could make noise and set up gear. We tried to get everything as dead as possible so Avinash could add reverb and atmospherics in the mix. There is very little money that has gone into this project – we have spent money on PR and artwork to getting vinyl pressed. Everything else has been completely self-sufficient. If we could have chosen to go to a nice studio, I’m sure we would have, but it was money that we did not have to spare.

Dead Rhetoric: Speaking of the artwork, how did that come about? Did you work hand in hand with the artist to achieve the piece we see?

Draper: Adrian sorted all that out with Christie (Crapeticio). I believe he gave her a brief idea of seeing Goro on top of a hill looking down on villagers whose houses had been burned and heads on spikes. That’s what happened! We have fire in there, unhappy looking creatures, that fits the bill pretty nicely. She did a great job.

Dead Rhetoric: What do you enjoy most about the power trio format for the band? Are there specific advantages or disadvantages that come into play?

Draper: It’s the first time I’ve ever been in a power trio. I’ve been in bands since I was 14, normally I’m in a situation with two guitar players where we are able to do guitar harmonies, trading off solos. In a power trio format, there’s an awful lot of freedom. Because there is no other guitar player to share the glory with, you know? On the album, I went completely nuts. I multi-tracked as many guitars as I could. When we play live, it’s obviously not going to sound like it does on the record. Hands of Goro live is going to be a much more raw, punky kind of version of the band.

The other guys are totally happy with me orchestrating the hell out of the guitars on the album. I’ve got a feeling that it will sound good. We do live in an age where there is some guitar technology now where you can have digital processors building in some harmonies live, I’m not sure it really adds a lot. Playing an energetic and authentic version of the song with a power trio live will be a good, unique experience. One of the most important things with a power rock trio is making sure the bottom doesn’t fall out when the guitar player goes high up on the neck. Adrian won’t let that happen, Avinash knows what to do with his drums and cymbals. I don’t think we get that kind of lull when we jump to the leads – if we did, we would rearrange things.

Dead Rhetoric: When it comes to your guitar playing, what’s your philosophy when it comes to your technique? You have a lot of different aspects to your sound that come from a classic hard rock, NWOBHM foundation…

Draper: Over the early part of my career, I was interested in artists like Bon Jovi, Guns N’ Roses, Iron Maiden, and Metallica – super arena rock and stadium bands. My heroes were Slash, Richie Sambora, and Adrian Smith. I just wanted to write those singable guitar solos. Kirk Hammett as well. I’ve never really gotten into the school of John Petrucci and technical, fast, precise alternate picking. I’ve been a bit sloppier than that. I want there to be melody. There are a few instances on this new album where I purposely tried to make it sound like chaos. I have a very good melodic ear and more or less perfect pitch. My brain forces myself to play in key, in tune, and those harmonies I know instinctively where to put them. It comes to me in real time as I am playing.

Dead Rhetoric: How would you describe what people can expect from the band in a live setting versus what they hear on the record? What have been some of your favorite or more memorable shows so far to date with the group?

Draper: Live they can expect a good amount of hair flying around all over the place. Adrian and I like to move around a lot on stage. It’s a very energetic live show. Adrian is prone to go off on chaotic shouted soliloquies about Goro, the Earthrealm, it has to be heard to be believed. There is a narrative going on, the front man and his antics, it’s different every time. For the foreseeable future we will play the album as much as we can live and do some new songs. We do throw in the occasional cover sometimes. We did a show in December where we did “Strutter” by Kiss as it was the same night they were playing their final show over in New York City.

We did a funny show in December, where we played our drummer’s work Christmas party. There were 200 people in this giant, echoey brewery. We set up, it was a holiday party, we just ripped through our set. As we were playing, you could just see the people moving further and further away from us. Until eventually somebody quite important in the company came over and said, ‘that was your last song.’. (laughs). In terms of good shows, we played a cool show with Raven about eighteen months ago in San Francisco, that was at Eli’s Mile High Club. We are going to try to do an album release gig there. We are happy to be going back there.

Dead Rhetoric: Working in other bands like Spirit Adrift, Pounder, and Slough Feg among others, what sorts of learning lessons and tools of the trade have you been able to pull from those other situations and fellow musicians that apply well to the benefit of Hands of Goro?

Draper: So many things. There are things you learn the hard way – a lot of things you learn. You may have this great gig opportunity, you may have to take a couple of days off of work, but it will be a great exposure opportunity.

Adrian Maestas: That’s why we had to create a new band! (laughs). If I was super successful with all my other bands, well then, I wouldn’t be starting other bands. Yeah, there is good stuff that comes out of it, but we had to start this band because we have to do everything that those bands didn’t do. Like using other people’s speaker cabinets.

Draper: Yes, borrowing other people’s gear.

Maestas: And not letting the promoters book flights. Because when the promoters book the airfare, they book it at 7 o’clock in the morning, we play music at midnight, party until 2 or 3 in the morning, and then they want us to go to the airport. That’s not a good thing. We have to book the airfare ourselves, because the promoters are always going to take the cheap way out.

Dead Rhetoric: How would you assess your abilities as a musician and where do you think you’ve seen the greatest amount of change or growth from your initial development to your current skills?

Maestas: Now I can read music, somewhat reasonably. Not quickly, but better than I could. What else? I can allow the inspiration from the outside world to come through our plain so that we can export the chaos through our hands to the Earthrealm.

Draper: We are vessels.

Maestas: Yes, that’s what we’ve learned.

Dead Rhetoric: Now Adrian, where did you want to come across with the lyrical themes for the band?

Maestas: We are exploring the teachings of Shang Tsung, and how he has influenced Goro to inflict chaos and damage throughout the entire of the earthrealm and the outworld. We allow those teachings to help us conquer all of the heavy metal regions.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you balance your musical endeavors with regular work life, personal relationships, and family? Do you feel you’ve always had the proper support from others when it comes to what you do with music?

Maestas: No, there is no balance – only Goro. (laughs). We seek to use all of our support systems so that we can go out and play as much as possible. Yes, fortunately we have good support systems to allow us to do that when necessary.

Draper: Behind every lucky musician there is a very smart woman, human, man, or Goro. It could be anything.

Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the state of the metal (or heavy music) scene on a global level? If you had unlimited time, resources, and money to make things better for all parties involved, what sorts of aspects or changes would you implement?

Maestas: I think the scene is going great right now. The post-pandemic global heavy metal community has come together in a way that I haven’t seen in a long time. There are new festivals that are popping up, sold out shows, all the old festivals in Germany and Sweden, the Scandinavian countries and the UK, they are going even stronger and bigger now. I can’t wait until Goro can attack and fulfill the destiny at those festivals.

If we had unlimited resources? I would set up a mobile recording facility at all these festivals, and record everything to distribute to the world so that people could hear what’s going on and all the good music that’s coming out. I would implement better sound systems for all these festivals. I would go with the moniker I’ve seen at some festivals, in the backstage area when they are setting up the monitors and microphones, when the band finishes, they roll everything from one side out, and everything rolls in from the other side – boom, go. Excellence in transitions between bands I think is important. Instead of having video screens, there would be giant banners that people could take home when the bands finish. The fans would love that, more tactile souvenirs from seeing bands at the festivals.

Draper: If I had unlimited resources, I would like to make it so that bands could afford to go on tour. That is really, really hard right now. $200 a night on hotels, $100 a night with gas and food. You have to be rich to go on tour, or you have to be prepared to take a massive hit. It’s not cool.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you think that’s where a major difference occurs in festival support in Europe or other parts of the world versus the USA? Coming down to the sponsorships that offset the costs in general?

Maestas: Oh yeah. Because any other country besides the United States, they want to spend the money on the music to bring it to (the fans). They want to bring bands to their country, to their city, to their local night club. They want to see Raven on their local stage, and they will pay for it. The promoters will get the money, and they will make it happen. I think a lot of European countries have social and civil funds they can tap into to help with those types of events. We don’t have that in America. We don’t have a local government entity that will help us put on a heavy metal show so that the kids can go to the local youth center and see Blind Guardian. There are places in Scandinavia that hire Blind Guardian to play a youth center that holds 3,000 people. And everybody goes, and it’s great.

Dead Rhetoric: What sorts of hobbies, interests, and passions do you have outside of music that you like to engage in when you have the free time and energy to do so?

Maestas: Crystals will show the future. Look into the crystals, concentrate on them. It will help protect us from any of the things that we might encounter when delivering the chaos of the outer realm.

Draper: That’s about it, isn’t it? It’s all about the crystals. (laughs)

Maestas: Between that and lots of records. I’ve got the Cha-Cha-Cha records. I’ve had this record for as long as I can remember. My aunt put her own return address on the label of the record. She passed away many years ago. I collect old 8 mm films. I have 8 mm film nights with my friends, we watch old horror movies and other people’s vacation videos from the 50s and 60s. Whatever else I find on there, sometimes I find these for $1 or $2, take them home and see some amazing footage from when they went to Paris in 1955, walking around downtown Paris in that time, fantastic stuff.

Draper: Music mostly. I like being outdoors, walking around, hiking and cycling. Mostly buying records, playing guitar, watching bands. I’ve been out to watch bands four of the last six nights. That’s a bit much. It’s always been like an addiction for me.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you see the next twelve months shaping up for Hands of Goro activities as far as promotion, shows, touring, etc.? And are there other activities in the pipeline with your other bands you can shed some light on?

Maestas: Hopefully we will be able to get our asses out there as much as possible with Hands of Goro. For all three of us it’s a priority to make that happen, to get ourselves out there, to get the record into people’s hands and in boxes. As far as my other bands, Slough Feg is opening for Cirith Ungol on their final tour.

Draper: Spirit Adrift is releasing a live album on Bandcamp. They just dropped off a European tour, but I’m still going to be going on that tour with another band from Canada called Spell. Pounder will release their third album, which we finished recording a couple of years ago. It’s taken a really long time to get the artwork together. I think it’ll probably be the last thing the band will do as well. It should be released this year, more of the same thing we’ve done in the past about sex, the devil, and heavy metal. Playing in some cover bands, Avanish may tour with his other band. He’s always recording and producing other bands.

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