Nearly as rare as in-focus footage of their namesake are rock bands of Sasquatch‘s quality in Hollywood. The trio’s third album for Small Stone Records, III, is perhaps their most potent yet, meshing Grand Funk and Soundgarden and Sabbath in an environment where it’s less about how you play than who you are and what cellphone commercial your song has been in. As much as they don’t fit their surroundings, though, they’re just as necessary where they are: a voice of reason in a land where reason has no place. A rallying cry for the bullshit-free.
Guitarist/vocalist Keith Gibbs, bassist Jason Casanova (ex-Tummler) and drummer Rick Ferrante took part in this year’s SXSW festival and are among the bigger names at the upcoming Doom in June fest, but when I chatted with Gibbs (who is — you read it here first — a good dude) via telephonular apparatus, that had yet to be announced. A good portion of our conversation wound up being off the record, but Gibbs nonetheless spoke openly (and often hilariously) about the band’s excising of former bassist Clayton Charles, about making III and life in the post-apocalyptic hellscape they call home.
From their 2004 self-titled debut onward, I have always regarded Sasquatch as the great American hope for genuine stoner rock, and though, as Gibbs informs, they’ve moved somewhat beyond that classification, I am no less solid in my position today than I was six years ago. One still gets the feeling their best is yet to come.
My Q&A with Keith Gibbs is after the jump. Please enjoy.
Last time we talked, everyone in L.A. was doing the retro AC/DC Wolfmother thing. What’s the climate like now?
I’ll tell you what the new thing is. It’s to grow a beard, wear a flannel shirt, and put on girls’ jeans and be in a semi-heavy band. I don’t know. These are things I don’t think I should be saying.
Oh, come on.
My opinion is they’re all fucking idiots, basically. These guys are play pussy music and they’re all bearded and all tatted up, and they’re basically a bunch of girls out there. But there are some good bands, they’re just few and far between. I can’t think of 10 great bands in this town. But there’s probably five. 400 Blows. There are some bands out here that are doing it, but it’s Hollywood, everyone’s a fuckin’ phony around here.
Are you gonna put all that in there? I told the band I’d be diplomatic (laughs). Because I am very opinionated. I apologize for that, but being out here so long, you see the trends swing dramatically within a week and it’s like, “Oh my god. You were in the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club last week. Now you’re in The Sword?” Same guy does the same thing. Before that, he was in — who was that band who was cool for a minute? — The Datsuns. Something like that. When everybody was doing the Detroit/Stooges thing.
Sure. Everyone was gonna be the next MC5.
At least rock and roll came back for a moment, got rid of all those fuckin’ rap bands. Anyway… (laughs)
Tough town, dude.
It gets to you after a while. I used to live on the East Coast, and I gotta say, everyone’s a jerk and you know it. They’re up front about it (laughs). Much better.
What happened with Clayton?
Especially living out here, there’s a lot of things that can occupy your time that aren’t good for your health.
That was pretty diplomatic.
(Laughs) Well, I’ve been asked that question a lot of time, I’ve had a lot of time to think about that one. Better than just going, “Well, he did a lot of coke.” But, you know, he’s got a family now, he’s got kids. He got caught up in living out here and he’s much better now, but we just couldn’t do that. We all like to dabble here and there, but we want to play rock and roll and we don’t like to get on stage all fucked up. We’re serious about it.
How was the process of bringing Jason in on bass. I know this was a while ago now.
We’ve known [Jason] for a while. He played in Tummler, who are also on Small Stone. And then he joined a band called Volume, who I played with the drummer, Tom, when I first moved out here with Sasquatch, and we just knew each other from being friends. He’s a great dude, he loved the music and he’s a great player. It just fit naturally. And we’ve always been good friends too, so it was an easy transition.
Was writing this album any different with the different lineup? You replace a member in a five-piece band, and it’s whatever, but you do it in a trio and it can make a big difference.
I guess in the beginning it was kind of odd. You’ve got a new guy in the band, I don’t want to become a Nazi and be like, “It’s my stuff.” I wanted him to feel as much a part of the band as possible. It took longer because I think I was a little apprehensive bringing things to the table because I didn’t want to be so pushy about it. I wanted the band to develop a little bit. Then I was told we had to put a record out, I started bringing riffs, and then it was real easy, because I’d just bring riffs these guys would write their part or make suggestions. Hey, it turned out great as far as I’m concerned. It seems like it just, with the new record, it’s just another dimension to Sasquatch now. A little bit more dynamics, because he understands how to play bass underneath a guitar player more. It’s more independent of what I’m doing. It just creates more dynamics for us. Clay wasn’t really a bass player. He was a guitar player playing bass for us. He learned, but he was still a guitar player at heart.
Were there any goals coming off of II going into this one? Anything you wanted to change in the sound or anything like that?
Well, we’re going more the rock way instead of — I know we’re stoner rock — but we’re more based in the rock sensibility fan. I’m a huge AC/DC kind of guy, big into Zeppelin. It’s less psychedelic for me. You can tell, we stepped a little bit away from it. That’s it. We just want to write good songs, man. I just want to write songs. I want people to buy a record and most important is when they buy a record that they like everything on it. It’s not like, “Let’s write a couple songs then we can just fluff the rest.” I want to have 10 songs that are really — like the way it used to be, when you’d buy a record and listen to the whole thing. Not like you’ve got your iPod and you’ve got just one song and do the shuffle thing. I just really wanted to make it that way. Albums. And that’s pretty much the way it is. We’re leaning towards more rock. Rock’s easier, especially in a three-piece. All that psychedelia, kicking all those pedals sometimes while singing and playing guitar, it just becomes kind of complicated (laughs).
Sure. Next thing you know, you’ve twisted an ankle.
(Laughs) I’ll tell you what. My pedal board has gotten so big I actually have to step over pedals. You have a drink or two, man… I’m not a ballerina (laughs) I’ve done a half-trip on the stage more than once (laughs). But, you know, we still didn’t miss the chords when that happened. Still right on. That’s the good thing.
More than fortunate. Complete luck.
Other than the lineup change, was there a reason for the stretch since the last album?
There was a lot of personal things going on in my life. It was the transition of having a new bass player, writing. There was a point where I didn’t even know if I wanted to do it anymore. I was just soured a bit. It’s been tough going for us to get on major tours or anything, it just started getting disheartening. It didn’t seem like it was going anywhere. Then you get reinspired, and the album should have been out a year ago, but it’s my fault, I took a lot of time recording it. We wrote a lot of the vocals while in the studio. We just had songs, and I just went in there and sat at the board and made myself come up with things. That turned out better than before. It just flowed more because I had a lot of time. Instead of just playing it and coming up with things, I could listen to the music and come up with lyrics. A lot of times while I write, I sing while I’m playing, and that’s not a good idea, because I’m following what I’m doing with the guitar a lot of times. This time I just sat with the songs… And I’m lazy (laughs). On top of all that. In addition, I’m very lazy (laughs).
Where was it recorded? Where did you go that you could take the time to do that?
The good thing about Small Stone is they let us go to Boston, to Mad Oak Studio. I went back three times to Boston. We went one week, I couldn’t finish it, then I went back a month later, did half of it, then I went back about three months later and finished it. I had some time in between, when I would go home with some of the songs. But for the most part, the rest was written right in the studio. And the guys helped more. It’s the first time the guys helped with the lyrics and singing too. That helped too.
Do you think that’s something that’ll continue?
Yeah, I mean, if the ideas are good, I’m all for it. We’re all for one, one for all. We’re a band. Everybody’s got equal interest in this, and if somebody’s got a good idea, what’s good for them is good for the band. We’re all close friends, so it’s not like somebody’s ego’s fighting somebody’s ego. We all realize we have some talent and have good ideas, and we respect each other and are willing to listen. There’s times I’m completely adamant about something and Rick’ll be like, “No, we need to do this,” and we went to the studio and I went, “Hey, you were fuckin’ right. I’m sorry I even doubted you.” An example is the song “Pull Me Under.” I was dead set on using a phaser. I was being really stubborn because that’s the way I heard it in my head, and nobody was gonna change my mind, and Rick said, “Hey man, use the Uni-Vibe and give it some of that old Robin Trower feel,” and I was like, “Ah, old man. This is an old-man band!” I was being kind of a cock. Then we put on the album and I go, “That’s the fucking greatest tone on the record” (Laughs). So there’s things that sometimes you’ve just got to try it and put your ego aside and do what’s good for the band. Like I said, I’m tickled to death with the sound of that song.
It’s good that you have that kind of relationship where you can say that kind of thing. A lot of bands, I think people get nervous saying that stuff to each other, then you end up with the wrong part in the song.
The friendship. When we’re not in the band, we get together. There’s a real friendship going. Everybody really cares about the other person. As much as they’re in the band and as a person in their own lives. We were just talking about this the other day coming back from playing in the desert. A lot of times, guys just join bands and they don’t even know each other. Then they get famous and they realize after they’ve been on the road for three months they can’t fucking stand each other. And next thing you know, some great band is ruined because somebody can’t put their ego at the door.
Where’d you play out in the desert?
We played out in Palm Desert with House of Broken Promises. They’re formerly Unida and they’re also Small Stone. They’re such a great band. They tore it up that night. We had such a good time. They were just so tight. They’re so on fire right now, so tight and everything’s working right now.
It’s funny. I was reading the last interview I did with you, and you were talking about how House of Broken Promises was always trying to drag you guys out to the desert to play, and you’re like, “Oh, we haven’t gone yet, but maybe sometime we’ll go.” I was actually going to bring it up.
(Laughs) Back then I remember they were going through this transition period. They had a singer, and they weren’t really on fire. Back then it was a work in progress. We’re all friends. Arthur, Eddie and Mike. We’re all good friends, and it’s just a matter of now that they’re on the label, it makes sense for us all to play. We’re just trying to make that happen more, because at least there’s two bands that can play out here. And we weren’t playing live a lot for a while. I just told the band there was no more L.A. shows. I don’t want to play for people with their arms crossed. It doesn’t make sense. What’d you go out for? Stay home. You can be miserable at home (laughs).
Yeah, but then they’re not being seen being miserable.
That’s the thing. It’s a fashion show. So we played out in the desert the other night, and it was good, because it was good, normal people, and they all were having a great time, going nuts, rocking out, spilling beer on one another. It was a kegger out in the desert, and it was great, because people wanted to come see rock. They all work during the week, they wanted to get the fuck out. That’s nice. We’re looking forward to getting out of town, start playing for the people who actually like rock and roll.
What are you guys working on next?
We’re trying desperately to get our asses to Europe. We’ve tried five times now and it’s all fallen apart last minute. We’re hoping with the strength of three albums — I think increasingly better albums — we should be at the point where we should be able to get over there and start gigging over there. Maybe bigger tours. We’ve got some things in the works in the US maybe, possibly. I don’t want to say anything yet, it’s not even to that point yet, but there’s rumors. Let’s put it that way. Every time I say something, it falls flat. It’s almost guaranteed. The one good thing about Hollywood is some of my friends four years ago were just during small things in town are doing huge things now because they’re so good at what they do. It is a scratch-your-back kind of town, so if your friends can help you in any way, they do. That’s one thing we do have on our side, friends and places that can help us out.California, Los Angeles, Sasquatch, Small Stone