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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

SASQUATCH: The Heavy Planet Interview

Noted monster rockers Sasquatch, having just released their monstrous fourth album, "IV", have also taken the time to answer a couple of questions we posed to them about the album, their standing in the rock world, the overall state of rock from their viewpoint, their likes, their dislikes, what motivates them, and what they see the future holding for themselves and the band. With their responses this rock trio reveal a huge passion for what they do as well as a conspicuous ability and bearing in how they apply themselves to their chosen passion. Take some time, if you will, and get to know Keith, Cas, and Rick just a little bit and see what you might take away from having gotten to know just a piece of who these consummate rockers truly are. I open the questions with a reference to the song "Money", about an acquaintance who borrows a few bucks in an ongoing one sided relationship in which there is only one giver and one taker, a serious situation to be sure, but I had hoped to make light of it somewhat as an opening salvo, if you will. I was curious how they might respond to this question, and just as with their music, just as with the responses to the entire interview, they didn't only not disappoint, they tended to go the extra mile, because they can and, I suspect, they choose to. It speaks a lot to who they are. Ladies and Gentlemen . . . Keith Gibbs, Rick Ferrante, Jason Casanova . . . the incomparable Sasquatch:

HP: Okay, I want to get the easy one out of the way first . . . can I borrow some money? Hah!

Keith: Sure, how much do you need?

Cas: Here at the First Bank of Sasquatch, we provide hassle-free short-term loans to all of our customers. No paperwork, no red-tape. You tell us what you need, and you’ll have cash in hand within minutes. Interest runs at about 20% per week and there’s no need to worry about receiving bills or sending in payments. We will have some nice men stop by your residence, remind you when payment is due, and they can even collect while on site. Think of all of the money you’ll save on stamps!

HP: Do you have any feedback yet on how well “IV” is selling out there in the world?

Rick: So far, pretty good. Small Stone would have more info though on how sales are doing. Getting a lot of thumbs-up so far. This is more of a direct approach. A “meat & potatoes” record if you will. People seem to like it; some miss the acoustic stuff and/or the intro-outro things we would do on some of the other records.

Cas: Rick misses the intro-outro things we do on some of our other records.

HP: How is the touring schedule for "IV" shaping up? Is it a difficult process to get one together?

Keith: We are talking to some European booking agents at the moment and hopefully we'll be touring sometime in April/May 2014. Touring the US is another animal. We would love to do it but getting guarantees is difficult since we usually book it ourselves.

Cas: Yeah, the US is tough. Demand and supply isn’t quite tipping in our favor. Can you make some calls and fix that for us? Great, thanks.

HP: Have you progressed enough in developing the tour to know who might tour with you, if anyone? Is there any chance of touring with a more well-known band? There is no one out there that plays better rock than you, but there are plenty of bands that are more widely recognized. Opening for some of those bands might garner a wider zone of interest from those folks who love meaningful rock. That's just me blabbering. Do you have an opinion on that sort of thing?

Keith: There are a few names being thrown around for Europe: UEMG (Ed Mundell’s solo project, Ultra Electric Mega Galactic, reviewed on Heavy Planet here: http://www.heavyplanet.net/2013/04/nuclear-dogs-atomic-split-ultra.html) and House Of Broken Promises, but nothing set in stone at the moment. We would love to go out on bigger tours as well but no takers as of yet. You would think it would be easier after four albums.

Cas: It’s a whole different ball game in terms of touring in the big leagues. From what I’ve seen and heard, it’s becoming more common practice that bands or their labels are buying on to these larger tour packages. Once again, “pay-to-play” rears its ugly head in a different fashion. Sorry, Debbie Downer moment.

HP: You guys have been together a decade now, and have released 4 very important albums (even if most of the world doesn’t realize it yet). How different was the process for writing the music on the first album from that on the last?

Keith: Very different. I had been a bit of a control freak on the first two, but now with the addition of Cas, I've let go of that. Rick and Cas both have great ideas, whether it be riffs or arrangements, so it's much easier to let go of total control. And I think that is very apparent if you listen to the progression of the songwriting on the last two albums especially.

Cas: I don’t really do anything. It must be the beard. Or Rick’s aftershave.

HP: Keith, can you describe to us a little bit of that process for creating songs? Do you start with the music, the lyrics, some combination of both?

Keith: It always starts with just a collection of riffs that I have in my head, then I bring it to the fellas and we arrange it together for the most part. As far as the lyrics, I've had a lot of ups and downs in the past five or so years and I draw everything from that. It's been a rough ride. My daughter, Riley, is a huge source of inspiration and she's also the greatest.

Cas: The writing part of it seems to be second nature for Keith. I just bring beer and watch the magic happen.

HP: Has it become more of a struggle over the years to write new songs, or do you feel like there is a pretty deep well there?

Keith: The well is very deep when it comes to riffs, thankfully; I have been lucky in that respect. There have been spaces of writer's block but that is usually because of drama in my own personal life.

HP: You mentioned Cas and Rick are now very involved in the writing process. As talented as they are as musicians I can only imagine they have a lot of deep understanding of song structure. Can you elaborate on what they bring to the table just a bit?

Keith: Rick and Cas are great when it comes to that. They each have different backgrounds in musical tastes so that really helps a lot. Rick loves old school Rock & Blues as well as Jazz, Psych, & Prog, but he is rooted there. Cas comes from more of an indie standpoint, which helps us to stay away from writing music to make money (as opposed to keeping our integrity). He also loves the old school stuff. I’m somewhere in the middle. Cas and I both love 80's thrash metal!

Cas: Keith brings the riffs. Rick then likes to get into the nuts and bolts of the songs as they come together; any and all aspects involved with the structuring, gear, and/or recording approach. The two of them get the songs to a point where it’s practically complete by the time I come in and add my parts. 

HP: Keith mentioned some inspirational sources, how about for Rick and Cas, where do you typically find your inspiration? Is writing a song something in which you have to flex a lot of mental muscle, or do the songs come somewhat easily? Or is it perhaps something in between?

Rick: Usually from a personal event or experience for the most part. Current & past world events maybe a bit as well.

HP: “IV” contains some incredibly well written music, both lyrically and melodically. I'm thinking specifically of "Eye of the Storm", "Corner", and "Drawing Flies". The thing that is inspiring to a fan like me is how fresh your music sounds, especially considering you've been cranking songs out for at least a decade. Is it a conscious effort on your part to create a specific sound or a certain feel for any of an album's songs? Do you struggle at all with trying to find a freshness in what you write?

Keith: We just write what comes out. I have kinda taken that AC/DC approach where I don't care what is going on around me musically, we just stick to our guns.

Cas: Yeah, there’s no real magic secret or concerted effort in the writing approach. It’s quite basic and to-the-point. It ends up typically being, “Oh, that’s a cool riff. Let’s make a song of that with that other cool riff.” Boom. Song done.

HP: Tell me a little about your playing, each of you. Has anything changed for you physically in the way you approach playing these days, whether it be for the studio or for a show. As you've aged a bit, has it had an effect on your ability to manipulate your instruments, whether positively or negatively? Do you guys find you have to warm up a little more these days before taking the stage or is the opposite effect where you've become so proficient at playing it's now second nature?

Cas: I can probably speak for all of us in that we have to warm up the fingers, stretch a bit, and get the pee break in right before set time. I think it’s important to go through the pre-show motions at any age, but it’s especially important now that we’re old fucks. My knees don’t function quite as well as they once did. The tinnitus also seems to be getting worse as I age, so I am trying to learn how to play on stage with earplugs. I tend to rip them out frequently because I want to hear everything at full volume. Yeah, I’m a dumbass.

HP: Similarly, Keith, how have the years treated your vocal chords and your ability to sing in the all out full throated way you do for Sasquatch? John Garcia recently stated that age has not diminished his ability to sing like it seems to do for most frontmen, so I was wondering what your experience has been in that regard.

Keith: It's pretty much second nature, at least for me. We've never had a grueling touring schedule so things like tendinitis or vocal issues have never been a problem. I’m happy and sad about that because we would love to tour 6 months of the year, but I think it helps keep our longevity.

HP: What does the future hold for Sasquatch? Do you see yourselves making music for another decade or more (I hope)?

Keith: Sasquatch will keep putting our albums as long as we are able to do so. I'm pretty sure I can speak for the guys when I say that our number one passion in life is music.

HP: Your music is usually placed within the genre of 'stoner' rock, for better or worse. What are your thoughts on that aspect of the underground rock world? What are your thoughts on the state of rock and roll right now where thousands of extremely gifted bands and musicians remain deeply obscure, labeled as stoner, doom, high desert, fuzz rockers, but get little to no airtime or notoriety? How do you feel about the more popular rock artists currently garnering air time, bands like Foo Fighters, Black Keys, Godsmack, Nickelback, Disturbed, or whoever is out there these days? Any of them making music that is worth the time to listen to?

Keith: I would have to defer to the guys for that question. I really don't listen to anything current, it's just a personal choice. Bands like old Traffic, Blind Faith, Zeppelin, Floyd, any seventies bands are what I draw from. Cas keeps up with what is going on, you should see his CD collection, it's fucking massive! As far as the Stoner rock tag…it doesn't really apply. I think of us currently as a rock band with some elements of stoner rock. We are strictly alcohol driven these days. Ha!

Cas: Tough questions. No clear answers quite yet. There have always been those bands, genres, scenes that haven’t gotten the notoriety they deserve, and I don’t think that has really changed since I’ve been a wee lad. I do think that the playing field has leveled out a bit more with the digital age and what some consider to be the fall of the “majors”. The opportunities are still in flux though. Many of the bands (us included) are trying to figure out how to really embrace and take advantage of the technology and Internet-driven advancements. On one hand, our music is freely available to anyone that wants to steal it. On the other hand, if it weren’t for the youtubes, facebooks, and even myspaces of ten years ago, Sasquatch wouldn’t have the kind of global exposure that we do now. Hell, a majority of our online store traffic comes from Europe, but we’ve even been getting some decent response from places deep in South America, Australia, as well as South Africa. Kind of wild when you think about it. To answer your question about popular rock… yeah, there is mainstream stuff I like just as much as the next guy. Soundgarden falls on the top of that list. I also have a lot of respect for what Grohl and Homme have done to make a career of it. Same goes with the Black Keys. That other stuff you mentioned is a bunch of rubbish though.

HP: When you're alone, each of you, what tunes are you spinning in your car, your office, etc.? How about when you're together, either touring or in the studio perhaps, what do you listen to as a gaggle of musicians. Is it a gaggle? A horde? A pride? I'm not sure.

Rick: Gaggle! My iPod will have anything from Frank Zappa, Budgie, Mahogany Rush, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Funkadelic, Monster Magnet, Killing Joke, The Cult, The Guess Who, pre American label Loudness, Rory Gallagher, Steve Earle, Eric Johnson, Tony Williams Lifetime, Robin Trower…pretty diverse. We also dig our fellow Small Stone bands as well. We will take turns & throw on whatever: Cas? Keith?

Cas: When the three of us are touring in the van, there tends to be a lot of Stern and random comedy shows on Sirius. Otherwise, it’s driver’s choice. In the office, I tend to listen to mellower stuff. Exotica, jazz, classical. Something that doesn’t distract. Ya know, like a Red Red Meat or Martin Denny record hits the spot. On the commute, it’s rock time, and there are a variety of bands I started listening to in the early 90s that still stay in rotation on my mp3 player. I can spin a Barkmarket, Quicksand, or Shiner record, for instance, and it still sounds as fresh to me as the day it came out. We’re also lucky in that one doesn’t have to look much further from the label for good stuff to pass the time. Try cranking Mellow Bravo’s “Ridin” while you’re on the freeway next time. I had it on yesterday morning. It’s great for bobbing and weaving in and out of traffic going 80.

HP: What was the last album that stopped you in your tracks and made you take notice?

Rick: I like the new Killing Joke record MMXI as well as the new Clutch.

Cas: Re-Voltaire.

HP: Each of you have had experiences playing in other projects or for other artists, just as you've had guest artists on your own albums, notably Small Stone Head Honcho Scott Hamilton of Luder and Gozu's Marc Gaffney on "IV". Are there any other projects or supergroups coming up, such as when Rick played drums for The Ultra Electric Mega Galactic and on which Keith had a guest spot? As fans of all three of you guys, as a group and as individual musicians, I'm sure I'm not alone in wanting to hear whatever you produce, either as the monster group Sasquatch, as guest musicians for other bands, or perhaps as members of the trend of super groups that pop up from time to time.

Keith: Sasquatch is my baby and I really don't have that much interest in doing anything else right now except just guest spots. Hope that doesn't make me sound like a dick, it's just the truth. Cas is playing with our friends in Behold! The Monolith and I think he really enjoys it since they are much different than what Sasquatch does.

Cas: Yeah, I’m now splitting my time with Behold! The Monolith here in LA. We’ve known those guys for awhile (I think Keith and Chase have been bros for about 10 years), and I’ve been a fan of the band since Sasquatch had first played with them a couple of years back in Reno. This past Spring they lost Kevin (their frontman, bass player, and all around good dude) in a fatal car accident one week before they were set to leave on their first US tour. It’s been really tough on the guys, but after speaking with Kevin’s girlfriend and family, they decided to continue on. Anyway, I started jamming with them maybe in August just as they were getting back into it. It’s sort of a hybrid between sludgier doom, and fast-paced metal, something that I haven’t done since my early college days. It’s quite different musically than Sasquatch, so there’s a good balance between the two bands.
So, there you have it, a little insight into three mammoth rockers, masters of the riff, who live for their music, are clever, gifted, and insightful, and conduct themselves with humor and wit. They are well matched as a threesome, each bringing a wealth of ability and heart to the music they make, and we, as their fans, are better off for it, even if, for them, it's a not insignificant struggle. Passion trumps strife, strife inspires art, we reap the rewards with the incomparable "IV".

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