Hailing from one of the hotbeds for American metal, New Orleans-based Goatwhore stands apart from their Crescent City brethren with their signature blackened death sound. From their first LP, Serenades to the Tides of Blood, to their latest release, Vengeful Ascension, released in June 2017, Goatwhore continues to grow as a band that honors their influences, while blazing a trail that is uniquely their own. Rich in musical lineage, and in an unyielding pursuit of their craft, Goatwhore is a veritable juggernaut in today’s metal scene.
One would think that interviewing a premiere frontman in metal would light a fire under an interviewer’s ass to put their best foot forward. Instead, I rolled up to Come and Take it Live! in Austin with questions hastily scrawled on a brown paper towel from the restaurant I had eaten at an hour before the scheduled interview. Ben Falgoust must be as gracious a man as they come, as he was kind enough not only to take questions from an ill-prepared degenerate, but also to use his phone as a flashlight so I could read the questions AND compliment my hand writing. As if him screaming malevolent lyrics in your face wasn’t endearing enough…
VH: Let’s start with your new album, Vengeful Ascension. It’s been out now for a few months – how do you feel about the response so far?
BF: It’s been really good! Even before the record came out, I felt good about it. Some people have asked if I feel like it’s our best record… as a band, I don’t feel that we’ve yet hit our “best record”. I’m not trying to be negative about it, I just have this feeling on the way things are. I think we are still evolving as a band, and the way things are coming across, I think we are still growing as we go along. I don’t think we’ve hit that pinnacle of our best record yet.
But, I did have a really good feeling before Vengeful Ascension came out. The elements in it, and how everyone in the band has evolved is evident. To me, we’re coming more into ourselves. Our influences are finally fading back a little bit, and the element of what we do individually and together as an entire group is coming out.
VH: Was that the intention of this album? Did it start as an effort at an evolved sound?
BF: No, not really. When we go into an album we have ideas and everything, but I don’t think we have solid intentions, fully. While we’re working on it, everything kind of works out, or falls into place. Being an artist, you have all these different ways you see or perceive things. Especially when you go from a practice room to the studio, where you can hear everything more clearly and it’s under a huge magnifying glass. All of a sudden, you see more shit to it and it spawns more ideas. By the time you are in the studio though, it’s pretty last minute, so you are trying to do things or change things where you can.
After you do a record, you definitely look at aspects of what you can do differently on the next record. We did take a different step this time as far as recording. Nothing bad, we just had done the last four records with Erik Rutan, and this one we got our live sound engineer, Jarrett Pritchard involved. I want to say that Jarrett has a great past not just with live sound, but in the studio as well. Some people think we just pulled our live sound guy off the road and threw him in a studio, but no, there’s more to it. Jarrett knew what our tone was coming out of a PA, so he could then apply that to a recording. Where as, someone who isn’t really familiar with our live set every night doesn’t have that aspect to add to a record.
VH: I’ve heard you say that Vengeful Ascension does a good job of sounding like Goatwhore live…
BF: We will never duplicate how we sound live on a record. The live experience, with the people and crowd, each night, each city, can’t be duplicated. But, we are trying to duplicate our tone coming out of a PA and apply it to a record.
VH: I think Vengeful Ascension proves that Goatwhore still has legs. You guys have been doing this for two decades!
BF: Definitely! I think sometimes people try to say well, they are getting older, are they going to be able to keep up? Are they still going to write things this way, are they going to slack off, or this and that. Our intensity and our aggression just keeps growing, though. Even though we are maturing, I think we still maintain that young vibe. I think the fact that so many good, young bands keep coming out, keep us going too. You have to compete. There is a competitive force out there. Look at Havok – they pull off old thrash better than old thrash! You have these kids coming out, and it makes you say to yourself, “I have got to be on this level, or they are just going to dust me”.
VH: So, where does Goatwhore go from here? How do you keep evolving your sound and growing?
BF: I don’t really know. I think all of us are really big metal fans. Old metal, new metal, different things that keep us engaged. Also, there’s this whole full circle thing. When we grew up and heard Judas Priest’s Hellbent for Leather, hanging out, drinking beer, headbanging, acting silly, it was a great record. Now that we are older, and have become better musicians, you go back to some of those old records, or listen to new music and see it from a musician’s aspect. It influences you in a different way. You have your fun experience, and then more a serious, knowledgable experience hearing it in a different essence. So, full circle. I think that also helps when you’re writing and working on new stuff. It gives you a deep well to pull influence and experience from. That helps to keep the blood flowing.
VH: I think that’s why so many older albums and artists really stand the test of time. Being able to revisit them over and over and have a different experience with them as you grow and mature. That’s the music to strive for.
BF: Yeah, there’s so many old records that if they came out today would stand so fucking tough against new music. You’d be like holy shit, here is some severe aggression that is untouched and untapped! To me, the shows, working with the music, all of it, it’s just a moment in time. When Slayer put out Reign in Blood, I remember being in school sitting in a gym in 7th grade. Me and some friends had a little walkman, listening to the tape, and the teacher was yelling that if we didn’t participate we’d get zeroes. We didn’t care, all we could think and talk about was how fucking amazing this Slayer tape was! You fall into those moments of time. I hope we are doing that, falling into a moment. Maybe there’s a kid in high school somewhere that’s taking a zero because him and some friends are wrapped up in a Goatwhore record. I’m not saying don’t learn anything in school, but sometimes you hear shit and it just catches you.
VH: For sure. Those are formative moments in your life! You remember those bits that stick.
BF: Definitely. I was talking to the drummer in Cryptic Slaughter in California. I was a really big Cryptic Slaughter fan as a kid! He loved this story I was telling him about when I was a kid in high school. I was at a record store and saw their tape and bought it. The stadium for the high school wasn’t far from where I lived and I knew my friend was there, and he was into all the same shit I was in to. I literally came home from buying that tape, brought my fucking walkman and walked all the way to that stadium. It was a Friday night high school football game, I found my friend in the stands and told him he had to hear this tape. We listened to it and he was like “holy shit, this is amazing!”
Those moments are so good. Just like when I stumbled across Celtic Frost’s Morbid Tales – I think that was in Texas, too! I think I was on vacation with my parents. We were at a mall and I found an old record store. The cover intrigued me, so I bought it. That record totally moved the fuck out of me.
VH: So, I was chatting with Squiz from King Parrot last night while they were in town for their tour with Superjoint. Squiz said that when he thinks of American Metal, he thinks of Goatwhore. We had a conversation about how you guys are one of the hardest working bands around – you’ve been in the scene for two decades, you tour relentlessly, you put out music consistently. How do you guys maintain such a schedule and do you feel it pays off?
BF: I think we could be a little more consistent with putting out music [laughter]. I mean, if you look at our schedule and everything, I guess it is sort of consistent in that way. When we get on the road, we don’t focus on writing so a lot of touring means writing gets pushed back. Sometimes, I feel like we should put out more music.
When we’re on tour, we’re about the road. Enjoying it, hanging out, putting on the best show, all of that. Some bands write on the road, but that’s just not us. I’m not complaining at all, but sometimes being on the road wears you out. Just day after day driving, those long drives in a van. It can be relentless. Sometimes, when you have an off day, that day is spent driving to the next city and it can be 18 or 20 hours. We try to get ahead so that we can just get a bunch of rooms and let everyone spread out. There’s six of us in the band, so we’ll get three rooms to let everyone lay in an actual bed, decompress, whatever.
You’re just uncomfortable on the road sometimes. Even today, you know, we were just in Phoenix and it was hot, we were in El Paso and it was hot, we were in Dallas and that venue was outside and we were hot, and now we’re here in Austin and it’s hot… I just want to stand out here in my fucking underwear just so I can be not hot, you know? [laughter]
VH: The road can be rough! It’s the little things that can start to compound and wear on you. You’ve done months at a time on the road – what’s the longest run you’ve done?
BF: The longest tour I’ve done personally is 3 months. When I get home from tour, even when I get home from his tour, it takes me a week to really settle. I don’t go anywhere. I mean, I’ll work and do little thinks like go the grocery, but other than that I just stay home, maybe listen to some music or watch something, just decompress at home. Then, two weeks later, I’m itching to go on the road again. I still have a passion to be on the road and that’s important. I don’t want to come to a point where I feel like this is a real job and I’m not happy. If it gets there, that’s a problem. We’re all excited to play every night. When we get to the venue, we’re ready. An hour or so before we play, I just zoom in and intensify. We play, we love it, and then it’s done and we hang out for a bit. That 45 minutes or hour set is what it’s about. I could be at home working some 40 hour a week gig, but no, I want to be here, doing this.
VH: I know you get a lot of questions about New Orleans and the music scene. Here’s one more! What do you think it is about New Orleans that makes it an epicenter for so much landmark metal? Goatwhore seems like a bit of an outlier from “typical” Nola metal?
BF: Yeah, we are a bit of a black sheep in terms of the music. We get along great with all of them, but musically we’re doing something a little different. Sammy played in Acid Bath and then Crowbar with Kirk. I played in Soilent. Tommy plays drums in Crowbar. I always felt like Goatwhore was doing something different. We were into Venom, Celtic Frost – not that the other guys weren’t, but musically they didn’t take that path.
The New Orleans scene is very family oriented. We all grew up together. Everybody has played with everyone. It’s so intermingled. Philip plays into it, too. When he went to Dallas and all that, it brought a lot of attention to the New Orleans scene. You have to give him some credit for shining some light to people who might not have otherwise known about Crowbar, Exhorder, all that.
[Interviewer’s sidenote: One more Acid Bath link, because, well, I fucking love Acid Bath.]
VH: What’s next for Goatwhore? Do you have any more tours coming up in 2017?
BF: We’re playing Knotfest in November. 1349 is playing Ozzfest, so we’re going to do some dates with them leading up to that. We play a festival in Colombia later in October as well. We’ve never played South America, so that’s going to be awesome. I’m hoping that opens the doors to play more in South America, that would be cool. We do so much in the US and Canada. We really need to play internationally more. It’s costly, the industry is weird and unique, things don’t always work out. I try not to ponder too much, you just get frustrated that way. I just try to let things flow and tumble, and if it works out right, that’s great.
VH: The industry has absolutely changed! Leading up to your first trip to South America, do you get heavily involved in the analytics of the business? For example, knowing how your tracks are selling in the area you are going to, or targeting ads to audiences you’ll be touring near soon?
BF: We could ask and get that info, but that’s the part I don’t really care for. I mean, we play Austin a lot. No matter how many times I play here, or anywhere, there is a caliber I am going to stay at or above, every time I play. When you look at numbers, it’s something else other than the music. I would rather just play, and have people talk and push for us.
I deal with a lot with the business of the band, but there are aspects I don’t want to touch. That analytics part falls in what I don’t want to touch. It’s like going to see a movie. Nowadays, when you see a trailer, you feel like you’ve seen the whole movie just from the trailer! So, if there’s a movie I’m interested in, I don’t watch the fucking trailer. I won’t do it. I’m just going to go the movie and let every scene be fresh. That’s how I feel about the music and shows. I want it to be a fresh experience.
VH: Looking back on the last twenty years with Goatwhore, what are you most proud of?
BF: There’s a lot of different things. Being able to see the world, in a sense. A lot of places we’ve been, I want to go back to when I have time to enjoy them. Really though, being able to witness the growth of something I have been involved in is awesome. Looking at the first record, all the way to this one and looking at how all of us have grown as musicians and as writers. I’ve been with Sammy since the beginning. Seeing him evolve as a guitarist and the way he writes and his perception of things. And then, we’ve been through different members, so to look back at the first record and still really appreciate it and see it as a building block is cool. There are elements in it that are still very unique and key to who and where we are now.
VH: Last question! I’m always curious what the album, artist, concert, moment, etc. was that sold you on music and made you want to pursue a career as a musician?
BF: Holy shit, let me see. I think Queen is one of the biggest things. Freddie Mercury as a performer tripped me out. His voice was astonishing. Even today, I don’t think there is a vocalist that can top what he could do. His ability, his eclectic style was amazing. When you watch footage or clips he was so enigmatic and overwhelming. The way he presented himself, just pure confidence bleeding out of him to no end. I felt that way with David Lee Roth in Van Halen too. I saw him and was just like, “this fucking dude, holy shit!”. It’s funny, because you might meet David Lee Roth and think he’s just the worst, but it’s not that, it’s just that element of what he’s doing with his craft at the time. Going back to Queen, all those dudes brought something unique. Their music was so eclectic! From Fat Bottomed Girls to Crazy Little Thing Called Love, there was just so much variation. They could switch on a dime and do another style. Flash, Killer Queen, Another One Bites the Dust with the pure funk – it’s all amazing. I’m still astonished to this day by what they did.