Mysterious Swedish Band Goat Talks ‘Commune’ and Kanye’s Mask Game
The masked members of GOAT claim to be "an ongoing multi-generational collective of musicians from the isolated Swedish locality of Korpilombolo." They insist that the material on their debut album World Music was actually just the latest iteration of a centuries-old tradition of music that has been passed down from generation to generation there (just like the masks), and this supposed folk canon most recently absorbed influences from genres like funk, krautrock, Afro-beat, and desert psych. The result on their recorded output is mystical rock music that sounds untethered from the space-time continuum, which certainly seems to give the origin story more credence.
In the few interviews the band has done since emerging in 2012, they tout an overall idea of music's universality, its ability to allow the spirit to achieve some sort of synchronicity with the world — themes which, again, are consistent with their timeless, placeless sound. Adding to the mystery, and helped by the mask thing, is the fact that the only names associated with the members are Christian Johansson, Goatgirl, and Fluffan. Not since The White Stripes, perhaps, has a band so effectively obfuscated the truth while producing music that is good enough to bury the "gimmick" argument.
So when we were granted a rare interview with GOAT, we jumped at the chance to shed some light on the myths, the masks, the membership, and the backstory for sophomore album Commune (out September 23 on Sub Pop). After corresponding over email with a member of the group who was identified as Snoop Goaty Goat (yup), we can't say that we got any closer to figuring out what is real and what isn't in the world of GOAT — but the cagey answers only made us more excited to follow them into whatever musical wormhole they traverse next.
Check out the Q&A below.
How did GOAT get discovered by "the industry" after existing for so long in seclusion?
A friend's brother's wife's cousin made some videos for two songs we recorded while we tried out our studio and put them on YouTube. Then Rocket found them and wanted to release them. We said okay. And then it just started moving. I think a lot of recordings flourish around on tapes. Just rehearsals, jams. Or up takes from drumcircles.
How secretive is this project? Do friends/family know that you're all in this band?
Yes. It is only officially that we wear [the masks]. Or when we wanna make it easier to connect with the spiritual world. But we also try and keep a low profile about it wherever we go when we meet other people.
You've said your masks were passed down for generations and "buried" with former GOAT members before being dug up. How old are the masks, then?
Some are homemade and some are hundreds of years old. Some we don't bring on tour, they are too valuable for us.
How did each member decide on his/her individual mask?
We spin a bottle.
Are you familiar with Kanye West and his recent masked performances?
I haven't seen it so I don't know. I didn't know he wore a mask.
He recently said, "Fuck whatever my face is supposed to mean and fuck whatever the name Kanye is supposed to mean." Any thoughts on a superstar using a mask to retreat from fame?
I understand him. That is all I can say about it really.
Explain the significance the goat has for your band.
It is the traditional animal used for sacrifice. For us it means sacrifice your individual cravings for the good of the collective.
Do the songs with "goat" in the title have a special standing in the catalog?
They are pieces of a puzzle not yet to be revealed.
Your two singers rarely harmonize so it gives off a mystical chant vibe. Is that what you were going for?
It sounds they way we want it to sound. It definitely sounds a bit like chanting which is something we spend a lot of time doing.
How does Commune differ from World Music? Does it mark a new phase for the band?
I don't know, I guess that is up to the listener to decide. For me it is no big difference except that we can handle our studio a little better. But a new phase, probably not. Or maybe it is easier to look back and see those kinds of patterns. All I can say is that everything feels good.
You guys said you don't "write" songs in the traditional sense, so how did the songs come together for album two?
We make songs in many ways. The songs write themselves while we are together mostly. But sometimes they can start with a sentence.
Did you explore sounds on this record that were absent on the first one?
Yes, we used a saz for example and more rhythmic stuff. Also some more flutes and horns.
Sweden is known for forward-thinking pop. Do you think Swedish pop would ever fit into your pastiche?
Do you think we avoid that? Not intentionally. We have nothing against Swedish pop I think. Even though we might be more interested in other stuff.
With today's internet, do you find yourselves exploring even more types of music?
In a way, yes. But it is not the amount of music you can explore that is important. It is how you listen to the music that finds your ears.
What would you say to someone unfamiliar with GOAT, to explain what they are about to experience?
A hard one. Hmm... A bus full of guitars crashing into a circus.