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Interview: Doug Sherman of GOZU talks new LP ‘Equilibrium’, pro wrestling, and joining the Metal Blade family
It’s a quiet weekday in the early afternoon at Sligo Pub in Somerville. The area’s favorite dive bar has the televisions tuned to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifying before Congress about data privacy, confounding the out-of-touch senators — the majority of which stopped following technological developments when the toaster oven was invented. “You see this?” asks bartender Doug Sherman. “They have no idea. He’s destroying these clowns.”
Sherman knows a thing or two about destruction; he’s the lead guitarist for GOZU, the Boston band that’s been tearing shit up since hitting the metal scene in 2010. Along with guitarist/singer Marc Gaffney, bassist Joe Grotto and drummer Mike Hubbard, the group have relentlessly toured coast to coast and ventured across the pond multiple times in an effort to spread the heaviness. The hard work has paid off, as today (April 13) sees their latest full length, Equilibrium, drop on Blacklight Media, founded by celebrity chef Chris Santos and launched in partnership with Metal Blade Records founder Brian Slagel.
Touching down on a major label, and to have the legendary Metal Blade turbine powering things, isn’t something GOZU took lightly. Equilibrium, which can be streamed below, is a tightly wrapped eight-song collection of thick riffs that sound like they’ve risen out the La Brea Tar Pits to stomp on the eardrums of unsuspecting listeners. And unlike their previous releases, the band challenged themselves as songwriters, often putting choruses at the forefront in what makes for their strongest album to date by far. Look no further than the pulverizing lead single “Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat” or atmospheric thump of “The People vs. Mr. T.”
Next Saturday (April 21), GOZU host a record release show at O’Brien’s Pub in Allston along the North Shore’s Sundrifter, labelmates Eyes of the Sun out of New York, and Massachusetts outfit Birnam Wood.
The after-work crowd starts to fill in at Sligo, the jukebox volume goes up as the lights go down and Sherman ends his shift. He grabs a pint and sits down to talk with Vanyaland about landing on a major, the story behind those odd song titles in the GOZU catalog, and whether the band has been able to reap the rewards of Santos’ cooking.
Michael Christopher: What was is like when you first found out you were going to be a part of the Metal Blade family?
Doug Sherman: It’s kinda weird because we did a show in Brooklyn a couple years ago [at] Lucky 13 and when we got off, Chris Santos was there and he approached me and said, “Hey, I have this subsidiary label with Brian Slagel from Metal Blade — I’d like to sign you guys.” And this is right after I got offstage and he’s approached me. At that point, you hear that shit all the time and you kinda don’t believe it, but he was the real deal. I saw the texts he was sending and the dude is so passionate about what he does and he seemed legit. The next day he emailed me, I emailed him back and within days we were in touch with Brian. It was kind of overwhelming because that’s a label we all grew up with and we respect everybody that’s on that label and everybody that’s part of that label — it’s surreal that we’re even a part of this. We’re psyched, we’re overwhelmed and hopefully this takes us to another level.
Going in to record the new record, what was the difference in your approach; was it a bigger sort of thing in your mindset and what was the pressure like?
It was crazy because when we signed on, we were still pushing our last album, so it was like, “Oh shit, we have to go back to the drawing board and crank out another album.” We definitely overthought a lot of things and just took our time in terms of planning how the song structure was gonna be… I definitely had a lot of riffs and a lot of songs stored up in my head. I bought a home studio and started charting everything out and sending it back and forth with the band. Just trying to make sure what we were writing was catchy and to the quality of what all the other bands on the label were doing. It was a situation where we didn’t want to mail anything in, we didn’t want any fillers; if the riff sucked then it sucked — we didn’t use it.
We wanted to make sure everything on the album was ear candy, was catchy, and was heavy. We looked back at our other albums so we didn’t repeat ourselves but also to see what was missing. During the process of the writing Mark’s dad died; so it definitely shifted in terms of the emotional part of the actual album. Everything kind of changed where he was coming from and what he was writing. The album is a lot about him dealing with the grief of his dad dying and it was very cathartic for him to get all these emotions and ideas out as fast as possible.
What did you get as a sense of expectations as far as what the label wanted from you?
We knew Brian liked the band. We knew Chris loved the band. That’s kind of all we really needed, because when you get that stamp of approval, it’s pretty powerful. They’re behind us 110 percent and have been super awesome. Jumping into this kind of major label situation is definitely a different animal in terms of how to navigate the waters in getting there, but once you’re there, everyone at that label is just super passionate about what they do. We’re super happy with them.
In terms of your guitar sound, what did you want to do differently, even from something as recent as 2016’s Revival?
I wanted to focus a lot on my own tone. As a guitar player you’re always trying to figure out, “What is gonna be your tone?” and you kind of search these tones and it’s just like a painful process [laughs] because you think you have it dialed in and then you don’t. To other people they may say, “Oh, it sounds awesome” but to yourself you’re like, “My tone sucks” and whatnot. Sculpting my tone I wanted to make sure it was consistent, that everything was laid out beforehand and I made sure I was prepared personally with song structure. I wanted my solos to be long, loud, heavy and stand out as much as possible.
A lot of your songs reference pro wrestlers. The lead single from Equilibruim is “Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat,” you did “Nature Boy” — even Mr. T did some wrestling, and you’ve got the latest track, “The People vs. Mr. T.”
The song titles are funny. All of our songs are as serious as we can make them and the actual topics that we talk about are pretty emotional and ethereal, but we didn’t want the actual titles of the songs to represent the actual songs. That’s why the majority of the titles of our songs are either some kind of pop culture references or some funny stuff; “They Probably Know Karate,” we have “Snake Plissken,” “Traci Lords.” We did it for a bunch of reasons. At first, we wanted to troll reviewers and actually make them say the names of these crazy songs in reviews. We’re reading them and they say, “These songs are amazing and this song ‘Traci Lords,’ blah, blah, blah,” or whatever. We were just having fun with it, then we just kept the tradition of doing it.
Who would be the one pro wrestler that you’d want to have a song titled after?
For wrestlers… Gaff and I had a band before this and we had a song called Jose Luis Rivera who was kinda like the scrub wrestler, and I’d love to bring that back. The scrub wrestlers, especially with WWF growing up, went through the process of trying to build a career and became these guys who just lost all the time. Jose Luis Rivera is one that I’d definitely want to bring back for sure.
The scene in Boston, for metal at least, is really, really fertile. And it’s not like there aren’t other types of music popular here, but the metal scene is so strong. What do you attribute that to?
I don’t know if it’s anything specific. I mean, the fucking weather here sucks.
It’s mid-April and it’s freezing.
Boston just has a tradition of amazing bands in general, and metal has definitely been one of them. From Converge to Killswitch Engage — you name it — Doomriders… there’s a plethora of metal bands even today that continue the tradition of grinding it out here. I think Boston has so many people, so many college kids and so many transient kids who come from different places who are just… it’s just a creative place. I don’t know if it’s a territorial thing or just because there’s such a deep tradition of that type of music that people just gravitate towards it.
Beyond Boston, what do you hope to accomplish with this record with the Metal Blade engine behind you?
The fact that we got this album out is an accomplishment. We haven’t even thought past tomorrow too much. Writing good tunes. We definitely would like to continue and do another album with Metal Blade and Blacklight Media, that’s definitely one of the goals, and make the band sustainable on the road, working Europe, which we’ve toured three or four times, and be sustainable on its own. It’s hard, but that’s one of the goals we want, for sure. We have the team in place, so just [ready] to make it happen.
Finally, Chris is one of the founders of Blacklight. Has he made you a meal yet?
Yeah man. We went out to L.A. for a tour and he took us to Beauty & Essex out there and treated us to an amazing dinner. He and his chefs cooked up this — I can’t even put it into words — just food all night and beer and it was our bass player’s birthday so they brought out a cake for him. I can’t say enough about that guy; he’s just super nice, super passionate and then we went out to New York and he took us to his other restaurant, The Stanton Social, and again, just treated us to an amazing dinner. The guy can cook… and he has a good ear for music.
GOZU + SUNDRIFTER + EYES OF THE SUN + BIRNAM WOOD :: April 21 at O’Brien’s Pub, 3 Harvard Ave. in Allston, MA :: 8 p.m., 21-plus, $10 :: Advance tickets :: Facebook event page :: Featured photo by Jay Fortin