Published on July 28th, 2015 | by The Beige Baron0
Spider Goat Canyon
It’s taken six years to see the light of day, but a new album called Always The Heavy from Melbourne’s veteran freeformers Spider Goat Canyon is ready for release—and we can confidently report that the wait has been worth it.
Despite parts of the recording dating back to the very early days of the band circa 2008 and even earlier, this is Spider Goat Canyon’s most mature, well-executed, and sophisticated work to date.
Traversing unrelenting industrial stoner-grooves through to densely layered shoegaze, ambient interludes, and dark, paranoid excursions into improvisational space rock, this record is difficult to categorize in a few words. Which, for a band that prides itself on individualism, is about the highest praise a listener could give beyond their obvious musicianship and originality.
So as the last notes of 17-minure epic Embryonic Gill Slits fade out, you just want to hit repeat and take the trip again—a pretty good standard to judge any album against, and in that, Always The Heavy is a clear success.
As outgoing guitarist Steve Brick’s last record with the band, Always The Heavy closes one chapter and starts another for Spider Goat Canyon as it leaves drummer Deryck Hunt Jr. and bassist Josh Beagley to return to their roots and continue pushing sonic boundaries as a two-piece. Yet it stands as testament to Steve’s contribution over the years, not least his production skills displayed on this record.
Never ones to stand still, Spider Goat Canyon is already plotting the release of a new full-length album called BUTTONDEMASU, but for now we’ll let Deryck and Steve take us through the creation of what is probably the perfect gateway drug to the SGC universe so far.
DERYCK: In the ’90s in New Zealand, my first band took six years to record its first “proper” studio album. When I left, I swore I would never take that long again to release an album.
When Spider Goat started I was seriously driven and we recorded, mixed, mastered, packaged and self-released our debut Shades Of Joy in just 13 months. That was followed by the Sub Monsta Attack split with Fire Witch, The Window Wizard, Cacophonic, and Jazzilla all released in our first four years.
Coming out of the mixing sessions for Cacophonic and Jazzilla, Steve asked that we have more time on the next studio album. So I said, “Next album, your baby.”
I can put Shades Of Joy on and not cringe 12 years later. I count that as an achievement.
The long and short of it is not really long or short. Steve was finishing his qualifications, got a six-day-a-week job, bought a house, got married, and had a child. On top of this, we already had six releases under our belt by 2008 with the release of Excursions Through Chaos, so my sense of urgency had settled.
Between April 2009 to now, we also did our second tour of Japan when we released our second split album with Hotel Wrecking City Traders, then in 2010 we released the 2CD Screaming Sisters which featured some freeform material from the session. We also were sitting on a second CD Computer Dying which was some favourite recordings of Josh and I that we captured when Steve was not in rehearsal.
So when Steve left, those two became one and the same. On top of all these things, we released two Daggers Mid Flight albums (Josh and I with Hotel Wrecking City Traders, improvised) and three Goat Witch (Fire Witch and Spider Goat Canyon, improvised) albums, plus a live Goat Witch album.
BNU: Always the Heavy is a really interesting listen, as the first third of the record seems to be more structured in a conventional sense, before it kind of leads you down the rabbit hole. Was this record written all at once or is it more of a document of a number of years of work? How much of it was improvised in the studio, and how much was worked on beforehand?
DERYCK: With time flying by and we’ve gotten older, this album has ended up being the bookend of our time as a three-piece. Steve took the reigns on the album and produced it conceptually. We had no idea he would stop playing with us before it came out.
Rat Tooth into Needle Drivers are the oldest tracks on the album, and when I say old, I mean like over 10 years old since their first sketch. We recorded a take in the 2009 album session that I was not personally happy with at all. The song had been a struggle to finish, which is the opposite of how things go for us. Normally we freeform something awesome, and then spend some time learning how to do it the way we first played it—something that I feel has resulted in our output being so relentless.
Steve wrangled it into it’s album shape in his home studio, did the Celtic vocal over it, and I am happy to say I don’t mind it now. Steve did those two opening tracks plus Choking The Masses, Held Breath, and The Drudge using some recorded material from the session, but also things he and Josh recorded after.
Personally I love the movement from The Drudge into Choking The Masses through to Secret Valley.
This album is unashamedly conceptual and is intended to be heard in order. I would love Steve to do a full re-mix Goat album; he is very good at editing/manipulating.
We were fortunate enough to have Harada Hidekazu from Osaka’s Ryokuchi do a vocal on it that gave me the shivers
Choking the Masses is quickly becoming one of my favourite tracks and all I did on it was play some beats. I love Steve’s minimal slightly industrial approach on that track. Crunk, Chadrick, and Vertigo very much display the cream of what Steve brought to Spider Goat as a three-piece, and I always felt that his desire for structure and occasional vocals and my wanting exactly the opposite, but us meeting in the middle, made for the interesting sound we developed over that first decade.
I can put Shades Of Joy on and not cringe 12 years later. I count that as an achievement. Embryonic Gill Slits, Secret Valley (the main riff into the change), Men, and parts of Vampyroteuthis Infernalis all come from the process I mentioned previously where we record every time we rehearse.
When we hear things we dig in improv we go back to them and work on recreating the original as true as we can—sometimes possible, sometimes a nightmare/impossible, but when we get it right, magic.
Embryonic arrived because Steve brought in four separate improv pieces he liked and we literally decided to play them in a row. He had been thrashing Dogs by Pink Floyd around the time so that definitely was inspirational to his input.
In the tail-end of Embryonic where I drop into the hip-hop sounding beat, early on I would run Chuck D rapping “I got a letter from the government the other day, opened it, read it, it said they were suckers!” through my mind while playing to get the pace right for what I was going for.
Men was a piece of improv that when we finished playing, Steve made the comment, “That sounded like Men”, and the song was born.
Secret Valley also was an improv piece we nurtured and we were fortunate enough to have Harada Hidekazu from Osaka’s Ryokuchi do a vocal on it that most definitely gave me shivers the first time I heard it. Nevermind the fact that his band is one of the most amazing bands we have ever had our ass kicked by. He also was integral to us ever being able to make noise in Japan, which now is my favourite country I have travelled to and we have made some great friends in the underground over there.
Their scene in Osaka as you know is insane. Peppered Through and Walking Round Rocks off our 2010 release Screaming Sisters are from the studio session that produced Always the Heavy. There is also another album’s worth of material that will be coming out in the future.
BNU: Where did you record? Did you try anything different? Did you mix and master at the time or did you master it recently? Are you happy with how the sound came out?
DERYCK: We recorded at Toyland Studio in Northcote, Melbourne, with Adam Calaitzis engineering. It has been a no-brainer for me regards getting the kind of drum sound I like, very live-room sound, and he has great mics. Adam is a drummer and a very experienced engineer that continually improves his studio. We recorded the majority of material for all of our albums there and he does not mess around.
STEVE: It’d be great to have the money to go to a studio for a few months and just noodle about, but obviously we don’t have the money to do that, so I tried to combine studio work with additional production at home to refine the tracks on a budget. I wanted to get away from the “find the sound, record all the tracks basically live with the same settings” which many bands on a budget stick to.
I wanted Always the Heavy to be a cohesive album, not just a collection of songs
I wanted Always the Heavy to be a cohesive album, not just a collection of songs. In the end it took far too long to achieve this (a matter of life getting in the way).
BNU: The overdubs of vocals and samples on some of the tracks really work well and give Spider Goat Canyon’s sound a whole new dimension I have never heard before. Did you always have in mind to add those or was it something that happened naturally after you’d tracked?
STEVE: The album is a combination of tracks basically performed live (Squid, Embryonic, Secret Valley [first half], Chadrick, Men), those with quite meticulously recorded doubled guitar tracks and other overdubs (Needle Drivers, Crunk, Vertigo), and the “ditties”—the little tracks that add atmosphere and cohesion (Rat Tooth, Heart Attack, The Drudge, Held Breath).
Choking the Masses is a little different. The drums and bass were mixed in the studio and all the keyboards, sound effects, and so on were added at home. There aren’t any guitars in this track. The influences were Ministry’s Crash and Burn and Propaganda’s Jewel (Analogue Variations mix), as well as the X-Files for the descending keyboard part.
The guitar overdubs were mostly done with Guitar Rig 4, although some were done with live amps and one was recorded using a phone for that authentic “crap” sound. All the vocals were recorded outside the studio. Some overdubs were recorded and/or produced with Jason, although some of those recordings didn’t end up on the album. The studio guitars were all recorded with a DI as well as through an amp so a different sound could be achieved later. For the most part, the overdubs were taken back into the studio for mixing.
A couple of tracks had some finishing touches done after the final studio mix. All the CTM overdubs were done at home after the final studio mix. Pretty much all the drums and bass on the album were unchanged from the studio tracks.
Needle Drivers was the most re-worked song—none of the guitars are the original amped studio tracks. The song was recorded without the vocals written as I really struggled to make them work. In the end, I realised that the path I was going down was going to make the songs worse, so I tossed out the vocals, re-cut the song from verse/chorus-oriented to a more linear progression, and did the vocals as a spoken word interpretation of the Song of Amergin.
I would not be offended if it was described as a concept album.
The intro Rat Tooth into Needle Drivers combo was a throwback to our first album with the intro Daybreak into SGC song openers. Needle Drivers and Rat Tooth are two tools used in surgery and the song was originally inspired by watching Aviva stitching up a hole in a horse.
There are recurring riffs throughout the album and some songs sampled and re-used on other songs, to help it sound like an “album”.
I would not be offended if it was described as a concept album. The theme is largely modern life in an industrialized society. The album finishes on what I would call a very uplifting track that takes an optimistic long-term view, despite the “heaviness” of the present.
This is my favourite track on the album and my favourite SGC track of all time, especially the end part with the vocals. I also love the drums at the start where there is enough space to hear all the subtleties of the playing (which doesn’t happen much with SGC!)
The Drudge is mostly Josh. The start is a sample of the end of the bass part of Men (manipulated to sound like breathing—I hope that is obvious). Then in comes Josh playing bass with a violin bow and in the background is a distorted bass track which has been EQed to take out the bass and the note frequencies and to just leave the noise. There is also a Japanese train sample and a building site in Docklands.
The end of Secret Valley was re-recorded as Josh and I had refined our parts a bit since the first studio recording. Josh also had the idea of quieter section that contains Josh playing his bass with a violin bow and samples provided by Harada.
The album title Always The Heavy is a quote from Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger. In brief, Franny is having a nervous breakdown and Zooey is trying to help her but does it in a heavy-handed way, which initially makes Franny feel worse. This is another related quote:
“It was very like the standard bloodlessness in the face of a small boy who loves animals to distraction, all animals, and who has just seen his favorite, bunny-loving sister’s expression as she opened the box containing his birthday present to her—a freshly caught young cobra, with a red ribbon tied in an awkward bow around its neck.”
BNU: There is an amazing variety in the sound on this album, it really runs the gamut. Are there any artists or groups specifically that have had a big impact on your sound or how your music comes out?
DERYCK: I have been really fortunate in the main bands I’ve played in, in that they have been combinations of players with differing tastes in music, eager to make something that is not an ode to it’s influence. To summarise Spider Goat’s influence as a three-piece would go something like a black metal/Pink Floyd/Ministry-loving guitarist playing with a Stooges/Melvins/Magic Dirt-loving bass player and a Cocteau Twins/Albini-stable/Fugazi-loving drummer.
We all have music that we scratch our heads as to why the other likes it, but that is the great thing, in the end it is about enjoying playing off each other. The two bands off the top of my head that are mutual influences would have to be Sonic Youth and The Melvins.
I love the sound of fireworks, storms, lightning, glass breaking and so on
BNU: So now that Steve has departed the band, you’re now working as a two-piece. I’m assuming you’ll be playing some shows after releasing this record, how do you plan to perform these without guitar?
Like most things in this existence, progression and change are constant. Before Steve joined Spider Goat, Josh and I had done a year playing together. In that time we both discovered that as well as the fact we both loved playing bass and drums, we had also found in each other a perfect synergy in rhythm-section monster-ness. I stopped playing bass when I met Josh, and he stopped playing drums. He plays bass how I wished I could play so I stopped trying and stuck to drums.
When Steve called to let me know he could not continue playing, for about an hour it was a shock. That quickly turned to the thought of how we started. That was Josh and I turning up to rehearsal and making noise obsessively because we have to.
Quick message to him online and within seconds we had decided to continue as a two-piece. Early on in Spider Goat I had the thought of a “no rules” ethic that logically doesn’t really ever work, as rules are always needed in some form within the human condition.
The concept moved more towards “No Agenda”, which I feel is our thing. The only reason that this band exists is because it has to. It is not performance. Not entertainment. It is a celebration of self-indulgence. There are most definitely no concrete plans, we just do. We won’t be playing any of the material off Always The Heavy as Steve is no longer in the band and is integral to those songs.
I am mildly envious of people who dig for music nowadays because I spend more time listening to my own
We have, however, in the time since Steve left, written a new album’s worth of material that remains true to that spirit, and we recorded it last week. It will be released quickly after Always The Heavy. It’s dirty, sub-heavy, and pretty psychedelic. It’s weird, a word we tend to commonly come out with to describe things around the time we feel they are “written”.
On top of this, we have played a number of freeform shows with some of our favourite players as guests and that has been awesome. There have been a couple of shows where we had Del Richards from Dr Invisiablo and Patto Millman from Fire Witch join us onstage for what ended up being epic shows. With “No Agenda” we can do what ever we want.
BNU: There is a definite tension or almost an edge of paranoia in some of the cuts here, and overall the mood is pretty dark and intense. Why do you think you music has that tone?
DERYCK: I can’t really answer for the guys, but I do have a theory on why I like dark, moody, and ethereal music. I have had a fortunate life with a lot of happiness, and I think that something about my personal condition makes me resonate with moods I haven’t experienced subjectively.
Bands like Cocteau Twins, Cure, Pixies and Fugazi when I was younger helped me feel I could have empathy for others who were not as content as I was at the time. Everyone’s different, and I think that is what makes expression through art interesting.
I love the sound of fireworks, storms, lightning, glass breaking and so on. I often think our freeform material sounds like a musical deluge. My ma once described Steve’s guitar in a piece I played her as sounding like a swarm of bumblebees.
If people enjoy our music, it’s like them understanding a language that we speak
For whatever reason, the greats of pop music have not resonated with me, and have a desire to make a unique sound. I don’t bury myself in mainstream media, but feel that there are some pretty intense things going on in the world, so sometimes that comes through in our music.
There is a track on our third release Cacophonic that I named Carpet Bomber O’Reilly as it sounded to me like how I ended up feeling when I saw Bill O’Reilly on FOX News. I had a strange curiosity as to what America was being fed via that kind of media back then, so used to watch it to amuse myself.
I personally would like to occupy our own space. In reviews that we have received over the years the term “genre-defying” has been used a few times, and I feel that that has been our music successfully communicating our intent.
BNU: You’ve been playing original and improvisational music for many years now, and have toured in Japan a lot as well. I’m wondering if you’ve seen any changes in the music scene in terms of people’s receptiveness to this kind of music over the years? Do you think people are more or less open to come into music with an open mind and take the trip, or do you think tastes have become more conservative?
If it’s been done before, it won’t fire us up or hold our attention.
There was an ad on TV in New Zealand when I was a kid in the late ’70s where there was Juicy Fruit chewing gum growing on trees. That’s how I see music now. It grows on trees. I am mildly envious of people who dig for music nowadays because I spend more time listening to my own and don’t seek out new music now.
In the last 15 years there has been very little music that has excited me. I remember hearing the Strokes on commercial radio in 2000 and being repulsed. Why was I listening to a band play music that sounded like it was 1977 in New York at the entry of a new millennia?
I think that with the rise of the internet, the labels went with safe bets a lot more and took less risks in what they released. Because of this you had the rise in Australia of bands like Jet and Wolfmother that quite frankly and seriously made me switch the TV and radio off.
We have been labeled “doom” a bit which never pleases me that much. When I hear doom bands, I hear the place 12-bar blues had to end up in this age. You know, Tony Iommi riffs slowed down with some dude screaming over the top in tormented pain cause his mum never loved him.
The world is your oyster as a listener nowadays. When I started playing music in 1990 in New Zealand, getting on a label was the goal. The label opened doors to radio and the ability to release your music. That whole model in my opinion is dead. I am sure radio is great for people who still dig it, but I don’t see any need for it now.
Everything available musically in the world is online. There’s a plethora of music, layers and layers of everything at once, together equaling extremely loud white noise. When I see that someone, somewhere in the world streamed an entire track of ours on our online stats, I now see that as an achievement. That person could have listened to any band in the world for free and they chose to listen to us. Selling one unit is a triumph. For Josh and I in regards to Spider Goat Canyon, we are our biggest fans, and that’s the self-indulgence.
If people enjoy our music, it’s like them understanding a language that we speak, and a bonus. It’s great when people like it but not at all surprising when they don’t.
We like noise, challenging structure and approach. If it’s been done before, it won’t fire us up or hold our attention. We like getting to the end of writing something and going, “That’s weird”. Weird is good.
BNU: What formats will you be releasing the record on, and when and how will it be available?
Always The Heavy is ready to launch as a digital download on bandcamp with the rest of our albums. It will quite likely be available before our physical album launch, which is happening up at Bar Open in Fitzroy here in Melbourne on Saturday 26th September.
We have an awesome line-up consisting of HARD RUBBISH, HOARSE, and TTTDC. As I said earlier, we won’t be playing anything off Always The Heavy, but Josh and I are stoked to have just recorded our latest album titled BUTTONDEMASU and we will be playing everything off that and are stoked with it.
The physical album is going to be a book that will be in a 7” square format with 16 pages of art and a card cover. All art relates to the release and our time together as a three-piece. Most of it done by Josh. We are considering a CDR being slipped into it, but it may just be a digital download code.
Up until around 2008/9 we were quite consistently selling CDs. Since then we have noticed a huge drop in demand. My 10-year-old niece a few months ago looked at me like I was speaking another language when I mentioned giving her a CD, so you know, times are changing and changing fast.
I would love to do this on vinyl, but don’t have a spare $4k-5k up my sleeve to make that happen.
Always The Heavy is out on or before September 26 via digital download on Bro Fidelity or via Spider Goat Canyon’s bandcamp page. The band plays with The Drooling Mystics and Ben Wrecker on Friday, August 21 at The Old Bar. See Facebook for details.