Thursday, May 24, 2018

Folks Behind The Music: Billy Goate of Doomed & Stoned

Let's start with your name and your site.  Let's have it.

Doomed & Stoned is really not meant to be edgy, though it has a nice ring to it.  It came to me as a simple way to sum up the genre of heavy music that’s the heart and soul of our writing: doom metal and stoner rock.  I consider those to be the classic, enduring styles of rock and metal, best encapsulated by Black Sabbath.  Sabbath played music that was slow, low, and somber, but they had up-tempo songs that captured the feel-good era of the ‘70s, as well.   It’s the quintessential doomed and stoned band.  

As soon as I got turned on to the doom-stoner vibe, I began to look into my own backyard to see what was happening here.  At the time, Oregon’s proudest exports were bands like Witch Mountain, Yob, Lord Dying, and a dozen others that were being signed left and right to Relapse, Profound Lore, and other labels.    I started documenting everything, including bands that were flying below the.  It started with me just showing up at shows and shooting live footage.  As I became more accepted by the community, filming led to interviews, album reviews, and the scene compilation series that many people know us best for. 

Then, I started meeting aspiring and experienced writers and photographers who caught the vision and wanted to document their scenes, as well.  It all happened very naturally and organically, fueled by a mutual love of fuzzy, downtuned riffs and a desire to bring more meaningful, in-depth coverage of the music for fans of the genre.

Start at the beginning, how did you get started with this crazy idea of promoting music?  How has it grown and changed over the years?

Doomed & Stoned originated out of a frustration I had in sharing discoveries like Windhand, Saint Vitus, Sleep, and Goatsnake with my metal friends.  Many wouldn’t give these bands a chance or listened for half-a-minute and gave up.  Surely, I thought to myself, there must be others out there who were just as in love with the doom-stoner genre as I am.  It wasn’t long until I met Melissa, my Executive Editor and first contributor, in a metal forum and together we burrowed in the heavy underground and discovered a whole community that welcomed us, as well as a number of other sites covering the doom-stoner scene around the world.  Most of them have been very friendly and we’ve even had the opportunity to collaborate with folks like The Sludgelord, Outlaws of the Sun, The Ripple Effect, and many more.  There are others that won’t acknowledge our existence to this day, I’m guessing because we were viewed as unwelcome competition in an already small market with tight friendships.  The thing is, we never really wanted to compete with anyone – we just wanted an outlet to share our love of music.  It’s hard not to be competitive sometimes, of course.  Competition can be positive in that it inspires you to push yourself, try new things, and grow.   But since none of the 20+ contributors to Doomed & Stoned are doing this full-time, we want to have fun, too, and you can’t have fun if you’re constantly trying to outdo this site or that.  We found our niche in digging into local scenes and telling the stories of the bands who may very well be the next Sleep or Windhand five or ten years from now.  

 Now that we’re closing in on the fifth year of our existence, I feel we’re becoming known as people who are willing to cover the scene in the depth it deserves.  That’s our motto, in fact: “Sharing the music and the stories of the heavy underground, with an emphasis on the Sabbath Sound and local scene coverage – by the underground, for the underground.”  Since we first began, the scene has absolutely exploded and we were lucky enough to time our entry, completely by coincidence, to ride that wave as it was cresting.  Right now, the scene is at least twice as big as it was five years ago and it’s becoming increasingly impossible to listen to all the new albums coming out, even if we limit our consideration to just record labels, which of course we don’t want to do.  Over the years, we’ve been lucky enough to discover bands like Holy Grove, Year of the Cobra, and dozens of others that have risen to prominence in our scene.  Just being a small part of boosting those bands and watching them get the recognition they deserve is extremely gratifying.   

We're all the product of our musical past.  What's your musical history?   First album you ever bought?   First musical epiphany moment?   First album that terrified the hell out of you?

I was raised by parents who came of age in the ‘50s and ‘60s, so I was exposed initially to a lot of late-‘60s rock, big band jazz, and later the ‘70s radio pop.  Mom was fond of playing three classical music albums with a mix of music by Mozart, Beethoven, and Rossini, and that left a very powerful impression on me early on.  She also was fond of Olivia Newton John, so I have “Jolene” permanently etched on my psyche and every so often vainly attempt singing it in the shower. 

My first vinyl was the Ghostbusters soundtrack, which dad bought for me, and it unleashed a curiosity for the popular music of the ‘80s.  Like a lot of my friends at school, I was nuts about Michael Jackson  and I remember asking dad if I could have one of those swank red jackets that he wore so famously in “Thriller” (I was denied, though I did get quite good at grade school moonwalking).  I distinctly remember the day my family got cable TV for the first time and with it MTV, which brought the music of Metallica, Boy George, Madonna, Aerosmith, and Run-DMC into our conservative Texas household. 

It didn’t last long, because somewhere in the mid-‘80s, my family got caught up in the whole “Satanic Panic” movement.  They started monitoring my listening habits vigilantly.  One day, for instance, my mom was horrified to find her ten-year-old boy singing along to “Nobody’s Fool” by Cinderella during Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 show.   From that point on, both rock and metal were banned from the house and my radio was confiscated.  It was too late, though, because I was hooked – particularly by metal.  Something about it has always moved me in a way that only classical music has matched. My first metal album, which I purchased in secret, was ‘Appetite for Destruction’ by Guns ‘n’ Roses – which at the time represented the pinnacle of late ‘80s heavy metal.  People need to understand how revolutionary it was to hear something that “hard” on mainstream radio and MTV.  I listened to it and ‘Lies’ incessantly on my Walkman and continued listening clandestinely to FM hard rock and heavy metal.   

Since I couldn’t listen to it openly, I started developing an interest in the darker side of classical music, the moodier pieces by Beethoven, Liszt, and Scriabin, and took up playing the piano around 13.   My family was supportive of that talent and I would spend hours and hours a day for years playing the piano in solitude.  That was my first introduction, in kernel form, to “doom” – especially late Beethoven, when he started growing deaf and began expressing his frustration and despair more poignantly through dark tones. Franz Liszt, later in life, experienced so much tragedy that he begin to write very bleak, obscure music and was one of the first to experiment with atonality. 

It wouldn’t be until my college days that I’d come face-to-face with doom at a Saint Vitus show in Portland.   From that moment forward, I knew I’d discovered my soul food.  Doom metal made an immediate connection, as it addressed the fucked up nature of life and society in a way that felt authentic to me.   It wasn’t just anger.  It was dark, slow despair and even a blithe kind of acceptance to it all.  It was refreshing to have those feelings mapped out in song like that.  That triggered a wave of discovery that led to Eyehategod, Usnea, Cough, Demon Lung, and others that are now staples of my musical diet.

What's the last album to grab you by the throat and insist you listen?

Definitely ‘Celestial Cemetery’ (2017) Purple Hill Witch.  I was only a nominal fan of their first album, but their second one was quite convincing, emotionally.   There’s an underlying sadness to the record that appeals to me as a person who has long battled depression.  

What do you see happening in the music scene today, good and bad?

More people are digging to the doom-stoner sound and the scene is growing exponentially.   The internet has democratized music in a way that has made it easier than ever for bands to form, record, and share their music.  It’s also made it much, much harder for a band to get discovered.  We’re simply oversaturated by it all.  We’re reaching peak information and a lot of listeners have just stopped exploring altogether.  I think there was a study done some years back that said by the late-20’s/early-30’s the average metal listener typically hardens in their musical tastes.  I don’t know how true that is still, but I know that I’ve been increasingly suffering from listening fatigue.  2014 was the last year I felt on top of it all.  2015 was explosive and every year since has found me woefully behind in my listening.  I’m still digging through the rubble and discovering incredible records that I share now and then in a series of short reviews I call, “Doomed Discoveries.”  

Among the trends I’ve seen in our scene in particular is the increase in female-fronted bands, which I tried to document in our compilation, ‘The Enchanter’s Ball’ (2015), and more experimentation with genre blending.  It’s becoming harder to find bands who traffic in traditional doom, but that’s fine because I think we all needed more diversity in our playlist to keep us from becoming jaded.   For a while, it seemed every other band was “witch” this and “black” that.  I’m the last person to judge a band by its name, but it was leading to a ton of criticism from fans – to the point I’d have a hard time getting doom-stoner listeners to take a chance with a newer band that had the word “wizard” in their name.  One thing that seems to be a theme of the doom-stoner scene is a continual drive for excellence and evolution.  On the negative side, we tend to expect more of our heroes, as a result – which is why bands like The Sword and Electric Wizard have been criticized for producing music that would have otherwise excited us if they were a brand new band. 

What's been your all-time greatest "Find"?  That band you "discovered" before anyone else and started the word spreading?

It’s hard to pinpoint one band, but I’ve been instrumental in boosting the music of Holy Grove, Disenchanter, and Year of the Cobra – all bands from out of the Pacific Northwest.  Initially through Doomed & Stoned and then through Psycho Las Vegas, which was very involved with in its inaugural year.  Over half of the bands that played the Vinyl stage in 2016 were my recommendations.  Though I was less involved in the following year, Psycho Las Vegas booked most of the bands that had appeared at own Doomed & Stoned Festival.  It was a huge confidence booster in Doomed & Stoned’s ability to be “taste testers.”  This is not to say my taste in bands has always been picked up by big festivals or record labels.  The scene is getting bigger and there are more and more “taste testers” now, just because there’s too much music for one outlet to cover now, so there are plenty of great recommendations coming from a number of amazing blogs and webzines. 

What's the hardest thing you encounter in promoting shows?

Convincing people that live music is worth leaving the comfort of our homes to experience, to say nothing of many benefits that come from connecting others in the underground music community.  These days, we tend to value how conveniently something can be brought to us – audio books have replaced the need to sit and read, our homes have become veritable theaters so no need to go out for movies anymore, and streaming high-definition music makes us feel like we’re in some sense getting the real deal.   Of course, those of us who go out to shows know there’s just no substitute for the excitement, energy, and sound of a well-produced live show – especially in a small venue.  With that said, even I struggle with convincing myself to go out.  It’s the introvert in me, I suppose.  However, I have a saying that I try to live by, “Feel the fear and do it anyway.”

If you could write a 1,000 word essay on one song, which one would it be, and why?  What makes that song so important?

Funny, I actually did write a 1,000+ word essay on Cough’s “Possession” – the only song I’ve been moved to write an entire piece about so far.  I think it’s because it spoke to me during a time in my life where I was feeling such raw, charged emotion and witnessing a personal transformation from being a happy-go-lucky, easy-going dude, to someone emptied of hope and weighted down by nihilistic thinking.   I’ve always valued music for its ability to commiserate with me in my circumstances.  During Basic Training it was ‘Superunknown’ and ‘Down on the Upside’ by Soundgarden.  In my college days, it was Alice in Chain’s last album before the death of Layne Staley.  And in 2016, Cough returned after a long absence, released Still They Pray, and headlined the first ever Doomed & Stoned Festival in Indianapolis.   It was a year of transition for me with a lot of upheaval in my personal life and “Possession” seem to capture my inner storm perfectly.

Give us three bands that we need to keep our eyes out for.

White Wail
The grooviest psychedelics this side of Berlin at the moment are nested right here in Yob country, my hometown of Eugene, Oregon.  White Wail are best described as part Graveyard, part Radio Moscow, with a special DIY electricity that has made them hands down one of the most entertaining live acts in the region.  Their upcoming second album is going to put them on the map for many people, I predict. 

Reptile Master
Norwegian doom-sludge clan with two guitars, two basses, a drum, and one unhinged vocalist.  You’ll find none fiercer.  “The Sorcerer’s Weed” (opening number off their first LP, In The Light of a Sinking Sun) is positively frightening.  I can feel its seething rage filling up my chest cavity like pneumonia every time I listen to it.  I believe they’re expecting a new album out in the first quarter of 2019, if not sooner.

Chrome Ghost
The ultimate contrast of light and dark come to us from a relatively unknown band in Roseville, California.  The secret sauce here involves incredible vocal harmonies pitted against massive, crunchy riffs, something that’s done very effectively in their recent EPs, ‘The Mirror’ (2018) and ‘Reflection Pool’ (2017).  Now, they just need to take this show on the road. 

Tell us about your personal music collection.  Vinyl?  CD?  What's your prized possession?

People think I have a huge vinyl collection, but mine is quite modest, really.  Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to have a bigger collection and show it off, but unfortunately, I haven’t a lot of money to put into it, really.  My most prized records come from bands I’ve supported from their earliest stages, like Holy Grove, Menin, or Vokonis.  CDs have come to dominate my collection, not so much by choice, but a lot of promos get sent to me that way.  Mostly, I have a vast digital collection that takes up almost six terabytes of data.  Since I’m doing a lot of podcasting, this allows me the easiest point of access to put together my mixes for The Doomed & Stoned Show.  

What is it about this particular type of heavy music that makes it mean so much to you?

To me, doom metal and stoner rock has incredible staying power.  It’s something I can listen to over and over again without growing weary of it.  Add to that the fact bands in this genre take so much care in crafting their live sound and you can go to any doom-stoner show knowing you’re going to have an incredible time, perhaps even walk away with a better experience than the record gave you.  I was constantly disappointed by the concert experiences I had while immersed in mainstream metal.  It just never sounded as good as the records did.  With doom-stoner music, my experience has largely been that concerts typically sound better than the records.  It’s just the ethic of our scene. 

What makes it all worthwhile for you?

My philosophy is that as long as we’re all still having fun, it’s worth it to keep doing Doomed & Stoned.  With that said, it can be very demanding and stressful, especially as we’re increasingly turned to by bands, labels, and PR firms to host track and album premieres.  The gratification of a piece well done – whether by me or by one of my team members – is ultimately what keeps me going day-to-day.  I find a lot of joy in developing talent and even helping writers and photographers hone their craft, gain greater name recognition, and develop the confidence to even branch out on their own as freelancers.  When Melissa first started, she wasn’t confident at all that she could do an interview.   Next thing you know, she’s interviewing Wino and organizing a music festival with international bands.  I’ve very proud of the team and everyone who has been a part of it, if only for a season. 

How would your life be different if you weren't spreading the word about music?

I suppose I’d be spending more time playing the piano, something I’ve neglected more than I’d like to admit since starting Doomed & Stoned.  Either way, I don’t think I can stay passively involved in music.  I have to be playing it or writing about it, preferably both.

Ever been threatened by a band or a ravenous fan?

No, but I’ve been doggedly pursued on Facebook by overly enthusiastic bands trying to get me to review their albums.  What they don’t realize is that I’ve got a very heavy editing backlog – it takes at least 2 hours and usually 4 hours – to prep a piece of the average size that Doomed & Stoned does for publication.   For me to review a record, I need even more time to let it soak in.  I have to find something in it that connects with me on an emotional or at least an intellectual level or I can’t write about it.  Because of that, I don’t write very many reviews a years.  Maybe a half-dozen traditional, track-by-track reviews, though I do try to write at least one short review a week. 

Part of the blessing and the curse of doing this as a hobby, as opposed to full-time, is I don’t have a lot of time to hear gossip, get into interpersonal dramas, that kind of thing.  I wish I could spend more time responding to every message I receive and developing deeper level friendships.  Perhaps in time I will.  I’m such a workaholic right now that it’s very hard for me to tear away and just relax and get to know people.  On the positive side, it does save me from a lot of inter-scene drama and allows me to be more of a neutral party when issues arise between bands, venues, promoters, forums, or fans. 

In the end, what would you like to have accomplished, or be remembered for?

I’m hoping we can be remembers for documenting this special era in heavy music history.  I want to get better at showcasing the bands in their scenes and telling their stories, just like the writers and photographers of the Seattle grunge era were able to capture the imagination of the world with the vibe of the early-to-mid ‘90s.  I also hope I’ll be remembered for writing interesting, engaging, and relatable music reviews that aren’t pretentious crap.  That’s still a work in progress!

Many people may not realize the hours you devote to what you do for little or no pay.  Is there a day job? If so, how do you find the balance?

This is most certainly not a day job.  I have a full time job that I work 40-50 hours a week and I do Doomed & Stoned in the evenings and weekends.  Right now, I’m not doing very good with the balance, to be honest.  I’m a workaholic, if I’m honest with myself.  That said, every other weekend, my mind and body revolt and refuse to allow me to do anything except sleep or just lay around watching movies or doing normal things like, you know, mowing the lawn.  If I could will it, I would not sleep more than four hours a night, hit every show that comes to town, review every new release, put out a podcast every week, edit every submission within a few days of submission – in other words, manage Doomed & Stoned as if it were a full-scale webzine.   I have to remind myself that I started this to build community and to have fun, so it’s okay to operate on a different model. 

What's next?  Any new projects?

This year, we’re on a roll with our compilations, thanks to some wonderful organizers who are embedded in their local scenes and are good at rounding up tracks from all the participating bands.  We’ve released Doomed & Stoned in Ireland, Doomed & Stoned in Philadelphia, and Doomed & Stoned in New Zealand.  Coming up, we’re doing Doomed & Stoned in South Africa, Doomed & Stoned in Sweden, Doomed & Stoned in Deutschland, and our fifth anniversary compilation, Doomed & Stoned in Portland III.  Other than that, we’re in the third year of our flagship festival, Doomed & Stoned Festival, which takes place in October.  Over the summer, we’ll have two new festivals: Chicago Doomed & Stoned Festival and Ohio Doomed & Stoned Fest.   We’ll likely be doing a festival in Portland later in the summer, too, perhaps doing an all-dayer in Eugene, too.  We’ll see. 

Finally, other than the music, what's your other burning passion?

I have cats that I love to death.  I’m a fanatical collector of B-movies, from the ‘60s and ‘70s especially – the more awful the movie is, production wise, the more I delight in it.  Probably that has a lot to do with growing up on Mystery Science Theater 3000.   When B-movies and cats collide with music, I’m in a very happy place (see the band Gurt!).

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