Ben Falgoust has been screaming unholy hymns with Goatwhore since 1997, and shows no signs of easing up any time soon. Started in the wake of guitarist Sammy Duets’ former band Acid Bath, the New Orleans beast merges mid-80s Celtic Frost worship with blackened discharge speed into one of the most potent blends in metal. Over the years the band has toured relentlessly, gaining a loyal and devout following while staying close to their musical roots. Goatwhore is best experienced live and in your face, surrounded by sweat and alcohol. We caught up with Ben on their most recent outing to talk about life on the road.
Matt Schmahl: How is the tour going so far?
Ben Falgoust: It’s going great, man, really well. All the bands are putting on a hell of a show, and it’s going really well so far. When we put this tour together, we were looking for bands that weren’t the same sound as us, but still had that intensity, you know? Not like some tours now where they just seem to be mixing up a lot of stuff. We wanted it more varied, and since each band has their own kind of crowd, it seems to be bringing in more different types of people.
Matt: What makes a good show for you guys?
Ben: Whiskey. (Laughter). It all depends. Sometimes it’s like the weirdest moments. I like playing small shows, even smaller than this, you know? We played in San Diego once at a place called the Soda Bar and the stage was about 3 feet off the ground. The crowd is pushed up against you, and the whole thing just gets chaotic. I love moments like that man. I’m a little bit agoraphobic too, so when I’m playing in a big open space it just doesn’t feel right sometimes. I like people in the front doing their thing, I don’t even mind if people are on stage or whatever, as long as they aren’t bumping into Sammy’s mic or anything. It just seems like it’s more right, when you have people going crazy right up front with you. And that night in San Diego, the other bands even were like “Man tonight destroyed!” They loved that type of show too. Sold out, maybe 200 people at the most, and I think they oversold it by like 40 tickets too, so it was tight in there. I wish we could do more like that, I have no problem with it at all.
Matt: What makes a bad show for you guys?
Ben: When there’s no whiskey. (More laughter). No, I used to think about people standing there at shows not moving, with their arms folded and what not, and wonder if they were digging us. But I have a theory about that now, I think it’s more that they’re just taking in what you’re doing because maybe they haven’t seen you before, you know? I mean, it’s not like they’re walking out of the room or anything, they’re not chatting friends up at the bar or on social media, they’re standing there watching. For me, I just learned to ignore what people are doing and just go after it, just go hard. You never know how you’re going to change the two or two thousand people in front of you, so you just have to get out and do it. And I mean that’s what we’re here for in the first place, is to play for anybody, so why not just do it?
Matt: So when you tour with someone like Samhain, what is the experience with the larger crowds?
Ben: It was definitely different. We did that Metal Alliance tour with Behemoth too, that had some big ass crowds man. Samhain fans don’t seem to be into extreme metal as much, they’re more into the goth stuff, so playing in front of some of those people was funny, they would be like “What the fuck?” But we turned on some people to us and it was a good time. I kind of wish, and of course it would be up to Danzig, but it would be great if he did a Samhain tour like that but over longer time periods in each town. You could do a residency of three sold out shows in San Francisco or wherever, in a smaller venue so it’s more intimate. I think people would love that, man. I would love to see someone like Slayer do that too, just selling out small venues in each town for a few nights then moving on. I saw Judas Priest on their Epitaph tour, at the House of Blues down by where we live. It’s a small venue man, especially for them obviously, but Halford was like 10 feet away from me, and he was pumped, telling the crowd that this was the smallest show they’d played in forever, but they were still having a fucking great time. It was intense, I love seeing bands in places like that. Plus, it’s not like it used to be, there’s not these huge arena tours going on anymore everywhere, and I don’t think that’s ever gonna happen again. So why not do what people like the Melvins do? They do residencies in different cities, and they do well because they don’t try to sell out these huge places, they keep it at their level. A lot of those huge bands, when they peak, they forget where they came from and where they got that fire to begin with, and it just goes downhill from there. We grew up going to VFW halls and shit like that for shows, so shows like that remind me of those days. I saw Slayer at the New Orleans House of Blues, which is the smallest one in the country, like a thousand capacity, and it ripped, man.
Goatwhore opening for Samhain Nov. 2014
Matt: How is New Orleans music recovering from Katrina?
Ben: New Orleans is a small city compared to San Fran and other places, and it’s really tight knit. I mean you have Eyehategod playing in Down playing in Crowbar, and it’s a really small scene with people playing in different bands. So with the storm, you had a lot of people coming back after that who were working really hard to get things back to ‘normal’. Guys started new bands, switched out members from old bands, and just started putting new stuff out. I have to give credit to Eyehategod, because they did the first shows before there was even any power back in some areas. There’s a burrito place there, that they cleared out and put a generator in, and they did a show. And it was basically like, “The city is in shambles, everything is ruined, let’s play.” People needed to get it off their minds, you know? They needed to know that the scene was still there. So I give those guys 150 percent credit for keeping it going after that. And ever since then, it’s been getting better and better. I mean, a place like Siberia opened up, and they have all different kinds of shows there, and they’re doing great. It was a couple guys in the scene who worked together to come up with the place, and it’s fucking awesome.
Matt: What newer acts are coming up out of New Orleans?
Ben: There’s all kinds of stuff, we have Abysmal Lord, a band called Fat Stupid Ugly People which is like a grind band… Our friend sings for them, he’s crazy man. John Joseph from the Cro Mags once was telling him about his vegan book, and our friend was like “Yeah man, that’s great, that ain’t me but you look good.” I mean, who goes to New Orleans and preaches vegan-ism? (Laughter). It’s a hard town sometimes….
Matt: What is a day in the life of Goatwhore on the road?
Ben: We drive, we set up gear, we set up merch, we hang out for a looooong time, we drink a little, play the show and drink some more, hang out maybe unless the venue wants us out, and then start driving to the next town. It’s still like the early days, just move move move. We sleep in the van a lot, we don’t like to waste money on hotels and shit like that unless we have to. We have little tricks, we’ll pull into a truck stop, and park between the trucks so when the sun comes up it isn’t turning the van into an oven, you know? You learn shit over the years, like obvious shit that you can’t believe you didn’t think of before.
Matt: What’s the worst part of being on the road for you?
Ben: Now that I’m a little older, I’m 42, I think it would be the beds, or lack of. Just certain elements of home. I have to say though, I enjoy the road a lot. I hate it when I’m sick, like probably everybody does, because being sick in this kind of environment and trying to get rest is a pain in the ass. But I genuinely love being out on the road, playing shows and all of that, so there’s not really that much that bothers me. I know I’ll be paying for it when I’m older though. You can only sleep on a bench seat of a van for so long before your body decides it has had enough. I’ve always thought we had a huge punk type ethic for a metal band. I mean, we’ve played punk shows and stuff, and do things more in a punk way than they do most of the time, as far as doing everything yourself, and having that strong work ethic, you know?
Matt: What album changed your life?
Ben: I’m gonna name a few. Reign in Blood for sure. I think I was in 7th grade or something, and the tape just had one side because it was only like 36 minutes or whatever. And here we are sitting in the bleachers with this Walkman checking this out, and a teacher comes in telling us we’re all going to get zeroes if we don’t get to class. We were like “Well, zeroes for us then, cause we’re gonna stay here and listen to this tape that’s destroying everything right now…” So we all got a zero for listening to Reign in Blood. Of course Master of Puppets, Kill Em All, Ride the Lightning. To me, those albums all represented what a metal guitar tone should sound like. Newer stuff that gets recorded sounds like it buries everything in the mix, the guitars and drums and whatnot, but those old records showed how mighty the tone should be, and in your face. Exodus was like that too with the guitar tone, it was just crushing. For vocals, Rob Halford and Freddie Mercury changed my life, even though I’ll never be able to sing like those dudes, ever. They influenced me by the way they placed lyrics in songs, and structured their parts. Even guys like Lee from Napalm Death, I loved the attack he had and the guttural tone in his voice. Over the years different records have all had a different impact on me. I bought a Celtic Frost tape at a record store when I was a kid and I didn’t even know what I was buying, I just thought the cover was sick. That’s the way we had to find stuff back then, if something jumped out at you as being cool, you bought it. That’s how I’ve found my favorite music. Sometimes you’d have ten bucks for the month to spend on a record, and it would suck when you got it home, but that’s also how I found Morbid Tales by Celtic Frost. I mean, that album changed everything, it still does. It still is a huge part of all types of metal, from everything to Paradise Lost to black metal. Talk to any of those people and they’ll tell you how much of an influence that album was on their lives and music. It was like finding a gem in a pile of trash, just fucking amazing.
Matt: What do you think of the direction Tom G. Warrior is going with Triptykon?
Ben: I love it man, we just played with them at Temples Fest in the UK. He brought out some Celtic Frost stuff too, though they played it a bit slower, it was really really good, man. We did the tour with Celtic Frost for Monotheist too, and meeting Tom and guys like Cronos from Venom in person really solidified my love for those bands. You always have this thing in your head when you meet someone you admire that they might tear down your expectations of them, but those guys are the real deal. Tom is really open about talking about his stuff, he’s a very emotional person at heart, and Cronos is just a good guy as well.
Matt: What do you do job wise to support your music?
Ben: I’m a picture framer, we make frames for commercial stuff, like hotels will need thousands of pictures and mirrors framed for the rooms and stuff. My boss is extremely understanding of what we do, so it all works out really well. Luckily, when I was a kid my Dad was an accountant, so I learned how to be pretty good with money, so that helps out a lot, especially on the road. People don’t think about paying for gas and food and other obvious things, so when you can plan it all out in advance it makes life easier. I always plan the tour out ahead of time with work, so I know how much I have to work to support myself while I’m on the road. It’s always good with money to plan a little bit ahead. Two things I learned from my Dad that still help are that and reading maps. Back in the day, before smart phones, I would be the one in the van who got to navigate because my Dad taught me how to read maps. We would take two week long road trips, he had a custom tricked out van with a bed in it and all that, and we would go from New Orleans to Vancouver or wherever, and I learned to read maps really well. Honestly, to this day the most accurate thing I’ve ever read about being on the road was Get In the Van by Henry Rollins. Touring, especially in an old VW van or whatever, can tear a band apart like nothing else. You just have to have the right type of personality for it, because it will come out if you don’t. It’s awesome that Rollins did that diary, because a lot of people still think it’s all fun and games on the road, and that book showed the brutal reality of it. That book is the guide for touring bands in extreme music.
Matt: We want to thank Ben for taking the time to speak with us. It was a blast!
(Written by Matt Schmahl | Photos by Alyssa Herrman)