That’s what music always has been for me – an escape, entertainment, a way to focus on something other than your life. But then, if you can also draw other things, deeper meanings, and it can help you in any way, then that’s awesome too.
Born from a blueprint of synthpop and the combined evils of heavy metal and video nasties, GosT has been one of the most recognisable visions of the darksynth movement for the past decade, a grinning skull whose abrasive beats helped create a genre that has rapidly become diluted and oversaturated. Just as his contemporaries have moved more firmly into their own niches, so too has GosT, pushing black and death metal further to the fore and stepping away from club banger hedonism. The latest foray into this realm, Valediction, is probably his most fully-realised album to date, merging darkly seductive melody and blasts of blackened misanthropy to create a deliriously effective brew. To celebrate this new development, David Bowes spoke to GosT main man Baalberith, a.k.a. James Lollar, to discuss synthpop, heavy metal and video nasties. What else is there to talk about?
E&D: Cheers for your time, and for the new album. It definitely feels like the most full-on thing you’ve ever done.
GosT: Thanks a lot, man.
E&D: With the last album, there were themes from The Satanic Bible, and before that there was Paradise Lost. It feels like there’s a theme of rebellion there. Does that carry over to the new album?
GosT: Yeah, but it’s more personal. It’s about personal battles I’ve had in the past and that I deal with currently, lyrically anyways. It’s still like that but a lot less religious.
E&D: You’d described your music in the past as being mainly entertainment, so does this feel like a move into something else?
GosT: Sort of; I still think first and foremost that should be what people draw out of the project, that’s what music always has been for me – an escape, entertainment, a way to focus on something other than your life. But then, if you can also draw other things, deeper meanings, and it can help you in any way, then that’s awesome too.
E&D: How did the writing for Valediction go? Do you still take a similar approach now?
GosT: No, instead of going into a track with a plan, a certain way I wanted it to sound, I just let it flow naturally. I think that’s why the songs have so many different styles, and that’s because I let things move freely. So yeah, totally different. Normally I’d go into a track with a concrete idea but not this time.
E&D: I heard you weren’t using any presets for this album, just totally new VSTs?
GosT: Yeah, totally. I started from scratch with, like, square wave on the bass synth and the same with the leads. I downloaded a package of free VSTs, like 200 or some bullshit, and none of them had any presets. It was kind of a bitch but I think it yielded some new ideas and new sounds.
E&D: Sounds like a hell of a learning experience, going back to basics like that.
GosT: Definitely – I just thought it was a really easy way for me to force myself to come up with some new sounds.
E&D: It feels like Valediction has a sense of taking what you had started experimenting with on Possessor and then pushing that to its logical end. Do you think that this is as close as you’ve come to how you ideally envision GosT will sound?
GosT: I think it’s getting there, yeah. I’m not sure I’ll ever be totally set on one certain style or boxing myself in like that because for me, it’s got to be cathartic or otherwise it feels cheap. If I do the same thing twice, it just feels pointless to me. In the end, it’s obviously for personal reasons – the same reason anyone does anything. If I’m not feeling some kind of forward movement then I probably just won’t do it.
E&D: In terms of the black metal influences on this record, was it more a necessary tool for the tone of the material you were writing or was it an element that you’d always wanted to bring in?
GosT: A little bit of both, dude. I wanted to make this record heavier in some aspects than anything I’d done before so any easy way to do that is to tap into the most extreme types of metal influences that there are but really, there was a little bit of both of those influences. It definitely happened naturally over the course of the project. I didn’t think I’d ever be doing blastbeats but it worked out.
E&D: How was it programming the blastbeats?
GosT: Oh, it was a pain in the ass, dude. It’s like the hardest electronic beat to program. You think you can just put them all on the one and go but in order to make it sound like a blastbeat, you have to fuck with the velocity of all the notes individually so it takes forever. I think I’d honestly just prefer to record it in the future with a real drummer but yeah, it sucks.
E&D: Do you see yourself working with live musicians more in the future, especially in the studio as opposed to just live?
GosT: I don’t know how much I’ll get into that. Maybe… With this record, I recorded with Jaime Gomez and he had some ideas that weren’t anything to do with the song structure or composition but re-amping ideas – like, to run the amps through synthesisers and shit like that, so it was fun to have someone else to bounce ideas off of but I’m pretty selfish when it comes to writing. I don’t know if I’d ever really collaborate with someone on that level.
E&D: You didn’t bring in any guests on this album at all. Do you see yourself collaborating on any sense any more or has this record spoiled you?
GosT: I don’t know. I’m not going to rule it out as there’re a lot of people I’d love to work with and so many people that I think are way more talented than I am that I would love to fuck with. I’m probably still going to do remixes here and there because sometimes that’s fun but I won’t rule it out.
E&D: I really love the gothier aspects of the record. It feels like you tapped into the more morose and morbid aspects of the 80’s synth scene, stuff like Erasure and Depeche Mode. Was that something that you had grown up with?
GosT: Yeah, dude, I came up on all the British synthpop shit. My brother used to listen to it religiously. Depeche Mode have been one of my favourite bands forever so I wanted to have that sort of musical influence in the project for a while but it’s hard getting to a place where I could combine everything without it sounding forced. It’s been slow progress.
E&D: Did you grow up with that side-by-side with metal or did one come before the other?
GosT: No, it was side-by-side. It was all my older brother. Back when people still had CDs, he went off to college and left around 300, 400 CDs. It was everything – rap, pop, metal, a bit of everything. I think I got my first taste of everything from around that time period, when I was around 13.
E&D: You moved onto Century Media with this record – how did that come about?
GosT: After my contract was up with Blood Music, there were a few labels we were in talks with, but my ex-manager knew some people at Century Media. They seemed the most excited of everybody, with starting fresh with the project and they came in the hardest. I gave Blood Music a chance but he said he couldn’t fuck with it so there you go.
E&D: Before Valediction, Century Media re-released that first mini-album. Was that contractual or did you make a point of going back to the beginning before moving forwards?
GosT: It was definitely contractual. They got the whole back catalogue and everyone wanted that release on vinyl, or at least the ones that do want it asked me so I thought it was a good idea to get all that shit out on physical. We’re going to combine maybe four of the EPs with a huge book of art, if I’m not mistaken.
E&D: Has your approach to live performance changed much? The only time I caught you was when you toured with Perturbator, so a lot has happened since then.
GosT: It’s quite a bit different. We’ve put a lot more money and effort into the production, we have lights and shit now, but we’ve also got a bass player who plays with me live and we’re trying to add a live drummer in 2020. I think it adds to the experience to have more people on stage with you. I’ve definitely enjoyed it more, and it’s certainly changed, and changing.
E&D: Have you completely abandoned Baalberith as an alter-ego, and the skull mask, or are they still around?
GosT: It’s still the same guy, just less focused on that now. People get hung up on the religious shit. I like it, I have fun but I hate for people to judge things right off the bat because of some stupid-ass superstition they have.
E&D: Have you really had experience of that?!
GosT: Ehhh, I haven’t gotten much. I’ve had a few hateful emails here and there but no-one’s protesting my shows or anything.
E&D: Now that I think about it, you’d have grown up around the ‘Satanic Panic’, right?
GosT: Uh-huh. Anytime I drew a skull or something, my mom would think I was a Satanist. She’d totally freak out! She believed all that shit. Like, if I skateboarded too much then I worshipped the devil. The 80’s in America, man!
E&D: Do you still get much of that, especially in Texas?
GosT: Yeah, people here are still extremely into their beliefs and to a fault. They won’t allow themselves to look at things in any other scope than their own. The newest Satanic Panic thing is sex trafficking. Everyone here things that kids are being abducted and put into sex slavery, which is not happening – at all. Just like Satanic Panic. I’ve researched it and there have been no cases of abductions in my town in the past 5 years.
E&D: It’s totally like the old myth about poisoned candy at Halloween.
GosT: Yeah, that comes up every year! It’s part of our culture forever.
E&D: Keeping on that kind of trail, I’ll take a stab in the dark and say that you enjoy horror. What was the first horror movie you watched that really stuck with you?
GosT: The first one I saw that ever really affected me was The Birds, the scene where birds rip apart a woman. I can’t quite remember exactly but I guess really, it would be Nightmare On Elm Street.
GosT: When I was about five years old, I saw that and was like, “What the fuck is this?!” I couldn’t sleep for about two weeks.
E&D: What about soundtrack-wide? Are you an aficionado?
GosT: I enjoy those soundtracks but I don’t know who makes half of that shit. Like, I love the Halloween soundtrack and I know John Carpenter did that but of the new stuff, I dunno. I loved the first Insidious soundtrack, with all those crazy strings. That was fucking gnarly.
E&D: What was the most recent horror you saw that you dug?
GosT: Midsommar was pretty tight. That director’s fucking wild – like, he did Hereditary and that was fucking siiiick. The last ten minutes of that movie, I was like, “Yep, this is everything I needed.”
E&D: There has been more of an impression for the 80’s in pretty much all respects, so how do you feel about that as someone who was shaped by it?
GosT: I don’t know, it’s cool. You get some good modern adaptations, like It Follows, but I think a little nostalgia is cool, just don’t get too fuckin’ buried in the past.
E&D: Do you think that’s what happened with the synthwave scene? It feels like you moved away from what it was, and so have a lot of the big players like Perturbator and Carpenter Brut.
GosT: We had really lame conversations a couple of years ago about how a genre definition can just ruin you. Take nu-metal – being associated with that just became the worst thing in the world for a while so I didn’t want to get pigeonholed, and so did a few others. I think there got to be too much focus on just being retro all-round, wearing letter jackets and neon shoes everywhere… that’s cool but it’s good to have some progress in your music too. That said, I think it’s cool that some younger people are discovering all that shit too because modern horror movies suck. There are a few good ones, like Hereditary, that sneak through but there was a different horror movie out every month back in the 80’s that was pretty decent.
E&D: Apart from movies, what do you get up to? When you’re on the road, what is it that keeps you sane?
GosT: When we’re on tour, we just keep a strict schedule. We like to stay focused because it’s easy to spiral out, start drinking too much and lose focus. That shit drags you down. When I start drinking too much, I start getting negative on things and not enjoying what I’m doing, which is stupid. So we just try to stay on top of time schedules, but that’s not exactly fun. That, and sightseeing. We try to do that where we can because that’s a rare thing, actually. But when I’m home, I try to watch as many movies as I can. I have a friend who does a local DJ thing where it’s a themed DJ event every month, like a 90’s hip-hop night – just do dumb shit like that, and hang out with my kids.
E&D: In terms of writing new material, do you keep time set aside or is it a case of “When it comes, it comes?”
GosT: It’s kind of the latter. I’ll put it in my mind that it’s time to start a new record and then it’s whenever I feel like picking up the computer, that’s when I do it.
E&D: How long did Valediction take to come together?
GosT: Fully, about a year and a half.
E&D: Yeesh! Is that the longest you’ve spent on a record?
GosT: Probably, yeah. With everything all round, and the studio and everything, it was probably a bit more difficult than the rest but that’s why it came out sounding fresh and not like I just did another GosT record or something. It’s not like it’s getting more difficult to come up with newer ideas, it’s just that I’m more ambitious so it’s taking a little longer to pull these ideas off.
E&D: How have you found doing so much in the way of vocals yourself?
GosT: I really got into doing the vocals for myself because I got tired of waiting on other people. I put out a couple songs on Possessor that were pretty vocal and I got good feedback, so it gave me a little bit of confidence to try and do something more with it.
E&D: So how do you feel about writing lyrics as opposed to musical composition? Does one seem more freeing than the other to you?
GosT: I think writing lyrics is more freeing. I can explore actual subjects instead of just a song title and some music. I can really flesh out things that I’m dealing with internally, shit I think about in the world whatever. I like it, actually. I used to hate writing lyrics when I was in metal bands but this comes more naturally to me for some reason.
E&D: How much time did you spend in metal bands and do you still do any of that on the side?
GosT: I probably played in metal bands for 20 years, almost, but no, I don’t really fuck with that any more. I might do it if I had time, maybe start a Mötley Crüe cover band or something.