Photos by: Patrik Thomas / Adrienne Jeanne Brown
Buck Gooter are the hardest working weirdos currently grinding the freak circuit & you cannot convince me otherwise.
For well over a decade, this dynamic duo have spent their weekends & basically all free time traveling to basements & DIY venues all over America & beyond, spreading their strange brand of catchy mindfuckery meets live nervous breakdown performance art.
Their sound is a seething mix of elements from nearly every fringe genre, all mixed together, fried up & fired back at listeners as absurdist audio warfare, with just enough quirk balanced against the abrasion, so as not to completely scare off anyone with an open mind or an ear for challenging music.
I won’t make a bunch of comparisons to other acts, because they have no true contemporaries, but they call it “primal industrial blues” & I can’t argue with that.
The day after their most recent basement show in Johnson City TN (where they played the entirety of their incredible new album “Finer Thorns” from front to back) we decided to get up & go to a nature/wildlife preserve just down the road in Kingsport.
I took them there once in 2009 & Terry in particular has wanted to go back ever since to see the wolves again, plus I figured it would be a good excuse to take some photos of them off the stage, out in nature in full daylight & after a night of very little sleep.
So we headed up to Bays Mountain Park for a chilly stroll through the woods while I talked to them about music, art & life in general.
Also the usual, occasional chatter about the impending end times & Blue Öyster Cult.
(Full disclosure: the Gooter boys are some of my best friends,over the years they’ve taken me out with them on small traveling runs all over the east coast & south & I have a side project called Bovine Hustler with Billy as well.)
this first set of questions were answered primarily by Billy (BB), a section with Terry (TT) follows after, interview conducted by Patrik (PT)
PT: I know you guys keep a running tally of activity over the years, so right off the bat, can you break us off the stats on how long you’ve been together, how many albums you’ve released in that time & a ballpark figure of where you’re at on total shows played thus far?
BB: Alright we’ve been together 13 years and 9 months, played 688 shows, and we have 18 full length albums recorded and released in some form.
Our last six albums were all released on LP and their titles all end with the letter “S”, a spell we are going to break with the next one…
PT: The sound of BG is indescribable, yet familiar in many ways, which makes you hard to define but easy for people to throw comparisons at, are there any particular descriptive terms you guys prefer for your music?
BB: I came up with “primal industrial blues” a long time ago and that pretty much covers it.
When people compare us to Suicide that seems to be pretty close approximation of vibe and sound.
PT: Any you absolutely detest?
BB: Whatever people think is fine, at least they’re listening but we’ve both never really understood the “Ween” comparison…
PT: Any that you’ve heard that are just pure head scratchers but that you maybe low key kind of embrace?
BB: Death Grips. Someone online somewhere said we sounded like them a while back and I remember we had an uptick in online activity for a minute until people realized that was off base.
PT: Your performances have always been wild, but in recent years, they’ve gotten even more savage & off the damn chain!
was this an orchestrated decision or just natural evolution of the live process?
BB: I think it’s just further delving into the pretty deeply seated belief that we don’t care about maintaining some kind of squeaky clean stage presence. If you’re frightened/annoyed – GOOD. PLEASE leave. We’re not trying to win anyone over, just trying to express ourselves and at this point that involves raging on stage. So be it. Right now I am personally uninterested in playing instruments on stage. All I want to do is scream at people and throw stuff. I go through phases with this sort of thing.
PT: You guys have a new album out, “Finer Thorns”, so I want to ask just a few questions in relation to that…
Buck Gooter are known to crank out albums at twice the pace of most acts, but this one took a little longer than usual, was there a deliberate choice to fine tune the material or just how shit goes?
BB: What is an album? Ideally, an album is a brand new set of songs for a band to play live. Our pace for the most part has been one album, or one new set, every year. Some earlier years had heightened activity and multiple albums/sets. Between the release of “100 Bells” and “Finer Thorns” we played over 100 shows. We actually had “Finer Thorns” recorded and set to possibly release in 2018 but we missed a couple deadlines and our label, Ramp Local, felt like the best idea would be to wait until 2019 to release it. We also recorded “Finer Thorns” a week before leaving to tour Europe with A Place To Bury Strangers for a month. So we were super busy working between the last two records and we’re still busy with live work and general life insanity right now but the nascent elements of a record are beginning to form, I’m proud to say. Maybe we’ll have another slab out in 2020… It was honestly kind of nice to have a break the last year on the album creation front. I think we charged some batteries during that time.
PT: What is that sample from on “Land of the Dead”?
I think it’s really effective, provides a nice sinister contrast to the music.
(also if you want to fill us in on what that song is about, feel free)
BB: “Land of the dead” is a song about our hometown of Harrisonburg, VA. The title describes the way I feel about the scene here for the most part or maybe on bad days. It’s fine, though. Most of the lyrics were written while laying in bed listening to weird people screaming as they walked down the street in front of my house on crazy summer nights, thoughts and diversions from that central moment. Rotting and describing the rot. The sample is from Princess Mononoke. I interpret it almost as a joke, like the supplicating voice is this sweet little town and the raging dying voice is this raging person that is disgusted about how things are. Maybe that’s pretentious as hell but it’s funny. I have a love/hate relationship with this place, it’s ultimately cool. Just describing one facet of home in a song. There’s other sides to the coin.
PT: The last minute or so of “Alien” is far out & one of my favorite parts of the album.
Real spooky sound, kinda ritualistic & unsettling, especially for you guys.
Can you talk a little about that track in general & how you ended up with a mini audio exorcism at the tail end?
BB: When we write songs I email Terry a folder of loops and audio pieces and he picks out what he likes and writes to that or already has a track in mind that a beat will fit to, etc. For “Alien”, he wanted me to play the wavedrum live for most of the song but he also wanted me to play that bizarre chanting sample the entire time, which is from a tape of an Ethiopian singer named Hirut Bekele, and it was in the beats folder I sent. I suggested we just tack it on to the end as breakdown and the rest is some kind of freakfest history. It’s almost like a warding off of the negative connotations associated with the idea of the “alien” human. We can beat these bigots by freaking them out. It’s sonic warfare after a reading of Terry’s manifesto.
PT: “Joshua Rising” has the first actual guest appearance on a BG album (travis from ONO), how did that come about?
(it fits perfectly btw, especially in the closing track of a powerhouse album like this)
BB: Thank you, glad you dig it!!!
This was another idea of Terry’s. We love travis’s voice and we’ve toured with ONO a few times so we know him well. “Joshua Rising” was a play on the “Joshua Fit The Battle of Jericho” hymn and Terry wanted to have the intro where travis sang the hymn but said “wall” instead of “walls” to take it out of the biblical context and place it into our American reality. travis is an absolute angel sweetheart of a human being and had the track recorded and emailed to us mere days after requesting it. travis’s calligraphy also graces the cover of “Finer Thorns” AND the he gave me the jacket I’m wearing on the cover. SO it’s a very travis album as far as I’m concerned.
PT: The whole album has a very apocalyptic vibe running through it, but not in a scary way, more of an anthemic embracing of the end.
am I way off base? maybe that’s just how I hear it, but feel free to discuss any relevant themes of the record…
BB: It’s definitely about embracing the apocalypse but also about the pain you don’t see coming and the pain that never ends. “Finer thorns you’ll never know” – you think you see all of the thorns on the stem of a rose but when you grab it you get stuck by something you didn’t anticipate. That’s life. People have to live that pain to know it. You can’t really learn about it. Life cycles of pain. “The Fig Wasp” hammers that point home. A look at a species that seems to have a pretty bleak existence and stuck in a cycle of one hellish existence after another. There’s also an important function being performed because of their crazy lives? It’s insane. Also the narrative portions from that song came from a picture book about the rain forest that I’ve had since I was 10 years old. I never read any of it and when we were putting music together for “Finer Thorns” I opened it to the back and read about the fig wasp and it blew my mind. Each singing verse is an emotional reinterpretation of the preceding narrative section, sung in the first person.
PT: Last one, you know i’m gonna make it wild…
I usually ask as a last question, where you would play in the Twin Peaks universe, BUT knowing that you’re well versed in all things Lynch, where would Buck Gooter like to play in the ENTIRE world of the David Lynch universe if you had your pick?
BB: We already played the desert shack in Lost Highway – that’s why it explodes.
(PT: For the record, that’s the best answer i’ve got to that one so far)
Terry Turtle interview:
PT: How is life treating you these days Terry?
TT: Two and a half years sober, better than before.
PT: I know you have a pretty great collection of masks, some of which you occasionally wear while performing, can you talk a little about your masks?
Any particular favorites or ones that mean the most to you?
TT: My masks go wonderful with chain mail, they are mesh so I have surround sight, a friend in New Orleans makes them.
I can look down on guitar and still looks like i’m looking ahead, I have six, my favorite is green eyes but the skull one I like a lot.
I also have a great picture of my outfit “EVIL SWORD” taken at the Johnny Brenda’s gig in Philly.
PT: Do you have a favorite BG track?
If so, tell us about it & why it’s your favorite!
TT: It’s a tie between “Science is a Rascal”, “Use to Rain”, “Finer Thorns” & “Alien”.
“Use to Rain” is a test because of the guitar lead/bell timing, it’s one of the most complex tunes, I added guitar and vocal bird sound loops too.
“Alien” because I completely wrote it in my mind after Billy created the drum track.
My favorite album to play from front to back is “Stainless Steel Mirrors” with “100 Bells” a close second.
PT: You have a few solo albums under your belt, do you have any new stuff in the works outside of BG?
TT: I need to get a 4 track tascam old school recorder like i did those little devils on…
working on new Buck Gooter stuff now but i have lots of ideas running amok in my mind.
PT: Your art is amazing, beautiful bursts of color & your own chaotic style that borders on the surreal.
Where do you find the most inspiration for your art?
TT: I love the arts, my ideas are like automatic writing, I have to clear my mind and things come.
The colors are a lot brighter with paint markers which are as expensive as hell.
So happy with my art book, “The Nun and Other Pieces”, it sold out of it’s first printing!
PT: I know you’re a big Blue Öyster Cult fan, can you preach the good word of BÖC to those folks that only know them for their radio hits?
TT: BOC are great, the first 2 albums were scary, the hits were better than any other tunes on radio…
“Heaven Forbid” is probably my favorite studio recording and “Harvest Moon” (from that album) is my favorite tune.
Also anything off “Agents of Fortune”, I love the live version of “Astronomy” from “Some Enchanted Evening” & “Stone of Love” off “Mirrors” too.
Buck Dharma has had a major influence on my guitar playing?
PT: Thanks for chatting with me Terry!