Voodoo Rams: An Interview With Goat

John Freeman chats to shadowy Swedish collective Goat, about how ancient voodoo rituals influenced their extraordinary debut album World Music

As back stories go, it’s an absolute corker. Goat are a mysterious band from the tiny village of Korpilombolo in northern Sweden. According to legend, Korpilombolo has a long history of voodoo worship, after a travelling witch doctor settled there several centuries ago. When Christian crusaders invaded and destroyed the village, the surviving townsfolk placed a curse on Korpilombolo as they fled. It’s said that the effect of the curse is still felt today, and informs the highly rhythmic and trance-like music played by generations of villagers, which, in turn, has shaped Goat’s extraordinary debut album, World Music.

It’s a lovely story, if possibly not entirely rooted in reality – a quick Google search for ‘Korpilombolo’ and ‘voodoo’ results in nothing but references to the Goat press release. There is, however, something rather mystical about World Music. Over nine pulsating tracks, Goat embark on a kaleidoscopic rollercoaster tour of Afrobeat, Latin disco, post punk, kraut drone and rampant acid rock. It’s as if Spacemen 3 ate Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain and a random Fela Kuti album – whole – before projectile vomiting a riot of rhythm and psychedelic noise.

When the Quietus tracks down Christian Johansson, one of Goat’s three ‘core’ members and once resident of Korpilombolo, it’s very late in the evening and he’s only just managed to settle his 18-month-old son. The constant daylight of Swedish summers must be a bugger when trying to convince small children that it’s night time. This small domestic insight feels atypical as, going into our interview, very little is known about Johansson and his band mates. As we chat it becomes apparent that, perhaps, Goat are as enigmatic as their back story suggests.

Tell me a little bit about the band – how did Goat form?

Christian Johansson: Well, some of us have played together since we were children in the place we originally came from. There are three people in Goat who are from the village of Korpilombolo and the others are from Gothenburg. The three of us from Korpilombolo are the original members and the core of the group. When we play live, we will be seven people. However, Goat as a musical tradition is older, and we are just a recent example of the project.

Goat as a ‘musical tradition’ – what do you mean by that?

CJ: It’s more of a tradition to play this way – there have been recordings of Goat for the last 30 or 40 years, but it is not us playing. We have actually been playing together since we were five or ten years old. We took the name Goat when we were older. There have been previous incarnations of Goat and the music has not been the same in all the years, but it comes from the same musical tradition, and it is why we play like we do.

So this tradition is part of the culture of Korpilombolo? How did the place shape your musical tastes?

CJ: Well, it’s in the northern part of Sweden, and as a child I would listen to the old people playing music in the village – the previous members of Goat. I would also listen to popular songs, and then I got into punk and metal and stuff.

What was the music played by the village elders like?

CJ: The elders were playing very rhythmic music with lots of drums and they would sing in an olden type of Swedish. It is also influenced, as we are, by many other types of music. For example, in the 70s, they were influenced by Swedish progressive rock.

I also read in your press release that Korpilombolo has a historical connection to voodoo after a witch doctor settled in the village many centuries ago. Is this true?

CJ: Yes, it is true. The tradition of voodoo in the village came from before Sweden was made a Christian country. They had some interest in voodoo culture, although I’m not sure of the detailed history. This religion has influenced the town through many generations and the music that is created. There were once voodoo priests in the village and the thinking has been used to create a state of mind where you connect with the spirits and become almost trance-like.

Does this explain the rhythmic music played by the village elders that you mentioned?

CJ: Yes, in part, but when we talk about Goat as a musical tradition from our village, part of the tradition is to be very open-minded to music from all parts of the world. People who have played music in our village have always brought in different forms of music into what they would play. So, the music sounded different all the time, and now we have what we do as Goat.

And hence the title World Music?

CJ: We’ve been taught since we were small to have an understanding of not only western bands, but of music from other parts of the world. The title World Music was chosen because we believe we play ‘world music’, and that’s what we think everyone plays. Also, the term ‘world music’ has some negative vibes – people say it with some form of contempt when they talk about it as a genre, but we think it would be strange for anyone to claim they didn’t play world music.

You mentioned that Goat haven’t released any records before now. You are also playing some shows in the UK. Why the sudden explosion of activity after all this time?

CJ: Well, I should say that we were very surprised that Rocket [Recordings] even contacted us at the beginning, and this is a new situation for us to answer questions about our music. We are very grateful to people for liking our album and being interested in what we do, but it is also strange for us. This is the first time anything has been released for us or other incarnations of Goat. We will play live shows in October and that will be the first time for us. Goat has played before but only for the commune and I’m not sure if they played shows before us in other parts of Sweden. We get offers to play from all over and we have only agreed to the shows that we are doing in October. We are not sure how much we want to play live. We want to try it out.

How will you convert World Music into a live setting?

CJ: It will sound much better. On the album it sounds quite chopped down. When we rehearse now the songs take other directions and it is more improvisational, like the way we play when we don’t record. But we will play the songs that are on the album because those are the only songs we have. We don’t really make songs, we just play.

If you don’t make songs, what was the songwriting process like for World Music?

CJ: The songwriting process is strange. Normally, when we play together we don’t play songs – we make music – and every time we play is a new time. When we had the possibility to record, we have made songs for the album. It started with the song ‘Goatman’, and that song was recorded just for us. Then Rocket [Recordings] asked us to write some more and we continued. Our songs are never really finished and we never know how they will end up when we start recording.

I believe you will wear masks when you play gigs. Why the secrecy?

CJ: We will play in masks. We think music sounds better without the connection to individuals and that we are connected to the listeners by the music. There are also reasons that are connected to the culture we grew up in. In northern Sweden – it is hard to explain in English – it is about not drawing attention to yourself. The important thing is what you do, not who does it. This is why we never have tried to make ourselves heard before now.

When I listen to World Music, I reminded of many albums, including Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain. I assume you know that album?

CJ: It is a great album, a fantastic album; perhaps Funkadelic’s best album. That’s a big compliment, as they are one of my very favourite bands, and that is one of their best albums.

What other music do you and other members of Goat like?

CJ: We are into everything. Genres are not so interesting to discuss, but we listen to Scandinavian black metal and to jazz and everything in between. Recently, I’ve been listening to Smiley Smile by The Beach Boys. It is a very insane album but very good.

And finally, what does the future hold for this incarnation of Goat?

CJ: Well, we won’t go on any longer tours – that is out of the question. We will record again, hopefully this year, but we don’t know if it will be album – it depends if Rocket or anyone else is interested. We will do it anyway, for our own sake. I don’t know what Goat will be or how it will develop; I only know we will still make music.

World Music is out now via Rocket Recordings

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