INTERVIEW: Goliathan

Credit: Ashley Joncas

Through their punishing and dreamy instrumentals, Goliathan tells stories as vast as geologic time itself. Tales of epic beginnings and inevitable ends, of the epochal crawl of continents, apocalyptic future landscapes and, perhaps most impactfully, of nature finally—and violently—reclaiming its rightful dominion over man.

Lifelong friends, guitarists Shawn Doster and Kevin Cogill have been playing together since they formed teenage crust-punk band Under Rage back in their native Philadelphia. As they grew up and began seeking more mature sounds, the music evolved into something moodier and more brooding. By 2006, with Under Rage fading and Doster and Cogill relocated to L.A., Doster began more deeply exploring this emerging sonic path—a post-rock sound along the lines of MONO or Godspeed You! Black Emperor, only heavier—and Goliathan was born.

The L.A-based instrumental doom / post-rock outfit already had two releases under its belt—their 2017 debut, Awakens, and 2018 follow-up, Albion. And now they’ve unearthed some raw, primal, early recordings that date all the way back to ’06, documenting the band’s first and most primitive incarnation. An epic, three-song, 37-minute set—Artifact features “The Beast Has Awakened,” “If It Could Cry, We Would Surely Drown in Its Tears” and an early alternate version of “In the Path of the Giant, Technology Is Laid to Waste, which also appears on the band’s debut EP, Awakens.In preparation for their release, the songs on Artifact were remixed by Toshi Kasai (Melvins, Red Sparowes, Helmet), and mastered by Gene Grimaldi (Failure, Fantômas). The set will be released digitally, and on limited-edition 10-inch vinyl Oct. 30., the vinyl featuring the first two tracks, with “Laid To Waste” available as a digital exclusive.

Vents recently had time to discuss the new archival release with Goliathan guitarist Kevin Cogill.  

Hi, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

KEVIN: Hi there, thanks for the invitation! We’ve been getting by, despite the fall of Rome. I’ve been working from home as a software engineer in the genetics industry, so bills are getting paid while we wait out this storm, and Shawn and his wife April just had a baby boy named Grey Wolf on Oct. 11th. So they’re tired. But we’re pretty happy, all things considered.

The single comes off your new album Artifact—what’s the story behind the title?

KEVIN: At the risk of sounding like a pretentious artist, the idea behind this release was not so much an album titled “Artifact,” but simply an artifact, a relic, a remnant of a distant era. I know as we promote and sell it, it will be called an album, or an EP, but to me, personally, it’s an artifact. This weird, rare thing.

Tell me about the writing and recording process.

KEVIN: So this first lineup of the band was Shawn and April, April’s brother Bob, and myself. We all grew up together in and around Philadelphia, and played together for years as a crust punk band called Under Rage, where Shawn and April did dual vocals. That band, in and of itself, had a long evolution—from spastic, thrashy shit in the ’90s when we were all still in high school, through to the stuff we were playing on our last tours in 2005 and 2006, which was more mature and structured. Somewhere along the way, we discovered dynamics—the heavy part suddenly gets way heavier if you throw a breakdown in before it, you know? Shawn, who has always written the bulk of the music, wrote this cinematic, instrumental piece that we’d started playing as an intro to our set, and as an outro at the end. It didn’t seem like a radical idea to us at the time—we watch a lot of movies, so it was no big stretch of the imagination to have that experience where there’s an analog for opening credits and end titles in what we’re doing. But it kind of blew the crust kids’ minds, because that was a new idea to them. And of course it just ratcheted up the energy of the whole set. It wasn’t just a band playing some songs anymore, it was a narrative, with this framing.

So all of the ingredients for what would be Goliathan were coming together in 2006. We had tapped into something really interesting with this intro / outro piece. We were all living together, which meant watching a lot of movies and playing a lot of video games together. Shawn and I were completely obsessed with Shadow Of The Colossus on PS2 at that time, and the experiences that Fumito Ueda created with that game and with Ico before it. And we’d both discovered the Japanese post-rock band MONO, and were really into what they were doing as well. We were seeing this concept of dynamics taken to extremes. Naturally, all of the music we were playing constantly reached for that kind of scale and distance that we were so enchanted by. We wanted to take the listener to a time and place that nothing else could. It could be the distant future, or the distant past. It feels like here, but the continents have shifted, or perhaps not shifted yet. Human vocals seemed too limiting in telling stories that could exist beyond humanity.

By the end of 2006, we had these three long songs, and had given a name to this new band. But we were still pretty new to L.A., and didn’t really have a lot of options for recording. There was a cheap rehearsal space a few blocks away, though, which we’d rent by the hour, and we figured we could record there, as long as we could sneak our own gear in past the owner—who charged extra if you were recording—and get it all done within a few hours. We boxed everything up and jaywalked it across Venice Boulevard, through traffic. It was a ridiculous adventure, though exactly the sort of stunt you would expect from four Philly kids in L.A. We managed to track these three songs there, and fortunately, the Pro Tools sessions survived.

Can you tell us about “The Beast Has Awakened?”

KEVIN: This was the first song we ever wrote, and the first song we played live. Our debut happened at a DIY event in Gardena, Calif., a birthday party for our friend Yasu that was dubbed YasuFest. Under Rage played for what would turn out to be the last time, and then after a short break, April picked up a bass and I picked up a guitar, and Shawn introduced Goliathan. He said out loud, “The beast has awakened,” and we went into the song, this eight-minute instrumental adventure in a scene where grindcore bands played eight-minute sets. But it had all the elements that would come to define Goliathan. It starts with a brooding build, riffs introduced early return later in the song with additional layers, and rather than having a vocal chorus, there’s a rhythmic motive woven throughout an asymmetrical journey of ups and downs.

Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?

KEVIN: No, no singular event. It was really just a matter of all of these inspirations that had cross-pollinated finally bearing fruit.

Any plans to release any sort of video for the track

KEVIN: Unfortunately, no, not for this track. We just released a video for our song “Albion” over the summer, we have some live videos of the songs from our second album that we hope to release soon. And we look forward to making some more proper music videos once our third album is recorded, hopefully sometime next year.

What was it like to work with Toshi Kasai and how did that relationship develop? In what ways did he influence the sound of the album?

KEVIN: Toshi is cool as shit. I got his contact info from a mutual friend, we vibed, and it all came together really quickly. These are carefully written songs, and they were recorded surprisingly decently, given that we were amateurs rushing a clock. The performance was imperfect, though, and of course in 2020 there is plenty of technology available for “fixing” that. So the question presented itself early on: Is this a preservation, or a reconstruction? We could have done some plastic surgery to smooth out all of the wrinkles and kinks. We could have re-recorded parts if we wanted to. But I came to believe that the imperfections are precisely what makes Artifact interesting. It’s a snapshot from the birth of the band, while we were illegally winging it. There’s some magic in these recordings, an energy that I didn’t want to compromise by fixing all of the little flaws that, after all, are probably only really noticeable to us and other musicians.
What I was after with Toshi was someone who could bring out the best qualities of a recording in a natural and organic manner, without over-tinkering or stylizing things too much. I wanted an Alfonso Cuarón or a Herzog, more than a JJ Abrams or a Villeneuve. There are producers and mixers that I love for sonic qualities they’ve perfected and become known for, like Sean Beavan who we often work with, or Steve Albini, Kurt Ballou, etc. I first discovered Toshi through the Melvins record A Senile Animal. I love the way that album sounds. But then I discovered that he also mixed the Anywhere record that Christian Beaulieu did with Latin Danzig, and the last Red Sparowes record. Those are two records whose productions I absolutely obsessed over before I even knew who did them, and what blows me away is that none of the three sound anything like each other. So from the beginning, I had Toshi in mind as someone who could bring out the best of these recordings without warping them into something they weren’t designed to be.

I unearthed the recordings on Artifact sometime around the end of July this year, but vinyl production has been challenging for the entire industry lately, and marketing campaigns take time to set up, so I was far from confident I’d be able to get everything together to get the album out before the holidays, let alone the election and the mayhem everyone is expecting in the season finale of 2020. I pulled out a calendar and did the math, and I realized the only way it was going to happen is if I could get final mixes in hand before Sept. 1. I’ve come to take it for granted that if a musician or producer tells you something will take two weeks, you can assume it will take six. But Toshi rocked it. I approved his final mix on 8/29, and so Artifact now exists.

What aspect of the apocalypse did you get to explore on Artifact

KEVIN: What we’ve all learned about the apocalypse in 2020 is that it’s not a singular event but rather a gradual descent into something that’s just a tiny bit more dystopian than last week. You don’t get a barren wasteland overnight. You can still get Starbucks. Modern human consumerism persists, albeit in some kind of irradiated form. Some bands have refused to die by hosting livestreams from their bedrooms or backyards. We opted instead to dig up these lost recordings to keep that candle burning in the window. Our records have always been about the apocalypse, though I have to admit we made it sound way cooler than this one that Artifact comes out of.

What role does being based in L.A. play in your music?

KEVIN: On a good day, being in L.A. opens a lot of doors. I fell in love with how a random Melvins record sounded, made a couple calls, and within minutes I found the guy who made it sound that way, living in the town where I live. And I never take that ridiculous convenience for granted. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Unfortunately, that hyper-connectedness is a liability in 2020. If Shawn and I lived somewhere more isolated, we’d probably be able to make a lot more progress on music. But being in such a populated area, with the newborn around now, we have to keep our distance, because we could get the thing on the way home from the testing site for all we know. We don’t make music over email, so everything is pretty much on hold indefinitely.

What’s happening next in Goliathan’s world?

KEVIN: I’m trying to put together a special extra-limited edition of Artifact that would have one-of-a-kind, hand-painted covers by Jack Elizabeth, who did the texture piece we photographed for the printed album cover. We’ll see if we can pull that off. Like I said, we have some live videos I want to release, from a show we did in support of Albion. Shawn and I have a third record mostly written. Hopefully sometime next year, we’ll be able to get together in a room with a full band, work out the details and record it. At this rate, it’ll probably be at least twice as long as anything we’ve released so far. Hopefully someday, we’ll get to play shows again. I miss that more than anything.

Goliathan social-media handles:

Insta, Twitter – @goliathansound

Facebook – @thebeastgoliathan

Goliathan – Artifact vinyl & digital order:

https://goliathan.bandcamp.com/album/artifact

Goliathan “The Beast Has Awakened”:

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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