7 Questions

7 Questions with Zack Simmons of Goatwhore

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by Ryan Meehan

It’s been seventeen years since Goatwhore reared its menacing head from the swamplands of New Orleans, Louisiana – a city rife with urban tales of voodoo curses, witchcraft and hauntings by souls of the damned. Spawned by former Acid Bath/Crowbar guitarist Sammy Duet in 1997, their winding legacy follows a dramatic, at times traumatic, sequence of personnel changes, fatal injuries, paranormal activity, natural disasters, and a collection of other misadventures large and small. In 2005 seemingly plagued by bouts of disaster, “A Haunting Curse” found the revised Goatwhore lineup of Duet, Falgoust, drummer Zack Simmons (ex-Nachtmystium) and bassist Nathan Bergeron, fleeing the ravaging flood waters of Hurricane Katrina. Delayed but determined, Goatwhore‘s first Metal Blade production proved their most vicious yet. Relentless in speed, precision and brazen hostility, and fittingly crowned “down and dirty, heavy and blasphemous,” (Sputnik Music) the band’s rabid blackened death thrash hybrid fully embraced their long-avowed Hellhammer and Venom devotion without pirating it. By 2009, Goatwhore dropped the nefarious craftings of “Carving Out The Eyes Of God” upon unsuspecting ears. A behemoth offering in sound, mind and spirit, the record ranked among the year’s most worthy metal albums by fans and critics globally, debuting on the Billboard Hard Music chart at #33, the Billboard Top New Artist (Heatseekers) chart at #16, and the Billboard Top Independent Albums chart at #34. No small feat for a blatantly non-mainstream band. Decibel Magazine crowned “Carving Out The Eyes Of God”, “the band’s tightest, most guitar-driven offering to date. An unholy smorgasbord of rigid tempo shifts, gargantuan hooks, blasting black mass anthems, and Falgoust’s soot and venom snarl…,” Outburn likened it to, “a modern day, ‘roid-injected sword fight between Celtic Frost and Venom,” while MetalSucks proclaimed “Carving Out The Eyes Of God” “the catchiest album Goatwhore have ever released.” Closing out a near perfect run of riotous adventures, Goatwhore was named Best Hard Rock/Metal Artist of 2010 at The Big Easy Awards, a deserving honor based on performance throughout the year. Resting only long enough to conjure more audio chaos, the band unleashed the chart-topping “Blood For The Master” long player in 2012. Two years later we were graced with the diseased hymns of 2014′s “Constricting Rage Of The Merciless.” Captured at Mana Recording Studios in St. Petersburg, Florida with audio magus, Erik Rutan at the helm, “Constricting…” serves as the band’s first studio effort to be tracked to two-inch tape. A more challenging approach that demands performance over pro-tooled perfection and leaving little room for error, the ten-track, 37-minute offering marks Goatwhore‘s most well-executed, sonically devastating manifestation to date, its warm, organic production harnessing the thick, monolithic, war-ready tone and energy of their live performance in a way previous recordings have not. A multi-faceted record that traverses a broad range of moods and emotions both musically and thematically, “Constricting Rage Of The Merciless” reflects the duality of its creators, adopting a more punishingly urgent, ominous and reckless vibe than its predecessors. From the combatant onset of “Poisonous Existence In Reawakening,” and the tense, hammering momentum of “Unraveling Paradise,” to the punkish urgency of “FBS” and the fiendish cascades of “Schadenfreude” (literally meaning the pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others), Goatwhore spew their unadulterated, subterranean metal as channeled through the historic likes of Motörhead and Bathory, with the insatiable hunger of a pack of wild boars. Due at least in part to the sheer synergy that comes from living in a van together for weeks on end, “Constricting Rage Of The Merciless” is razor sharp in musicianship literally writhing beneath the weight of its own sonic enormity. When Falgoust howls, “WE ARE COMING TO SMASH YOUR IDOLS!” (in traditional metal rager “Baring Teeth For Revolt”), souls weaken, forests die, planets implode. That’s exactly the kind of carnage that leads me to say I’m proud to have drummer Zack Simmons as my guest today in 7 questions.

RM: What’s the most disappointing aspect of how saturated the metal landscape has become over the last ten years? What contributions do you feel that Goatwhore has made to crush some of these poser sub-genres and help return heavy metal to its glory days?

ZS: I really try not to focus on the negative or to pay too much attention to current trends although I’m aware of what’s going on. I think in general there has been more of a focus on technical ability and a lack of substance and songwriting in today’s metal world. It’s great because it’s pushing musicianship to new levels but at the same time there is something missing in terms of a cohesive song. I’d like to think Goatwhore have remained true to the traditions of the old school; memorable songs that stick with you and honest production. To each their own but that is how we operate.

RM: ‘Constricting Rage of the Merciless’ is a killer record…How have fans responded to the live performances of material from the disc so far; and what was the best part of the Summer Slaughter Tour?

ZS: The reactions have all been really positive and these new songs are a blast to play live. It takes a while after the record comes out for the songs to sink in people’s heads but I think the aggression comes across whether you’re familiar or not. It’s all fairly straight forward with us; bang your head and go nuts. Summer Slaughter was a great time and awesome first tour for this record. Every show was equally insane in terms of crowd reaction and rowdiness.

RM: From everything I’ve read about this album you guys seem to have gone after a more disturbing, frantic sound and really let it fly…As a drummer, did you feel like you had to alter your playing style in any way to match the rest of the band’s approach to creating an record whose atmosphere is one of pure psychosis?

ZS: It all comes pretty natural actually. I actually really tried to simplify my parts for a lot of the new record to give the songs a relentless, steamroller kind of feel. There are opportunities to go crazy and show off but I really tried to play for the song and not take away from the vibe with a bunch of fancy nonsense. I wanted to leave a really solid foundation.

RM: If you had to use three words to describe the work ethic of (producer) Erik Rutan what would they be? What’s the most important sonic benefit that a drummer can experience from recording on two-inch tape as opposed to ProTools?

ZS: Performance over perfection. That really sums up Erik’s mindset in the studio. He really pushes for the best out of you as a player and is more concerned with the big picture rather than really minor mistakes. He doesn’t let you off easy, let’s put it that way.

I’d say analog recording affects the drums the most out of anything else. It gives the drums a warmth that isn’t there with digital recording. The cymbals come across a lot smoother and less harsh as well. It really surprised me, hearing the difference after doing all of the previous records solely to ProTools.  Recording to tape is a bit more time consuming and more challenging for the drummer but the end result is well worth it.

RM: What is your current setup, cymbals included? How has that setup changed over the years, and are you pretty confident that this is what your drum set is going to look like for the rest of your life?

ZS: I’m pretty happy with my setup as of late. I’m using Pearl Reference and Pearl Masters BCX kits. I’ve been kind of jumping back and forth between the two. I’ve been using two rack toms and one floor tom but the Reference kit has bigger rack toms which really pack some thunder. I’ve been using two kick drums and a Reference steel snare which is a total beast and weighs about 25 pounds.

I use Sabian AA cymbals. Three 19″ crashes, two pairs of hi-hats, a 19″ china, and a 23″ megabell ride.

The biggest thing I’ve changed is dropping my third rack tom, mainly so I could get my ride cymbal in closer. I can’t say I’ll keep my setup like this for the rest of my life but it does the trick for me now.

RM: You guys are headed on a brutal string of European dates in November and December with Dying Fetus, Malevolence, and Fallujah…How do you keep a sane mind doing that many shows in a row; and what is your favorite bustime activity?

ZS: That’s definitely a long one! 43 shows in 43 days I think. I’d honestly rather have it that way because days off are usually really boring and you kind of lose your momentum in a way. I’d rather stick to the routine and be playing every night. After the first couple weeks of a tour the dates just seem to fly by. It goes really quick. To keep same on the road I try to sleep as much as I can and read books or watch movies. After the show we’ll have some drinks and then wake up and do it all again.

RM: Now that the band is a few months removed from the recording process, perhaps you can answer this question objectively…At the outset is it more important for the band members to have the same mindset regarding what they want the next album to sound like, or to start out having riffs and rough ideas in place that can in turn help shape the band’s mindset later on in the process?

ZS: We have never tried to premeditate how a record should sound. It’s really all about putting the ideas together and letting it come into its own. We are all on the same page and definitely know it’s going to sound like Goatwhore but I think we are less apprehensive these days of taking a few risks and trying different things. I like to let the process happen naturally and have each member put their stamp on the songs to mold them into their final state.

RM: What’s up next for you guys in the remainder of 2014 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?

ZS: We are heading out to do some dates with Samhain this fall. Fucking Samhain! We’ll be doing a string of headline dates around that time as well before heading to Europe with Dying Fetus and Fallujah to finish out the year. There’s also talk of some big things next year. Hope to see you all at a show sometime soon!

Official Website: http://www.goatwhore.net/

Zack on Twitter: https://twitter.com/Zackattack666

Goatwhore on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thegoat666

Goatwhore on Twitter: https://twitter.com/GoatwhoreNola

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