Synthwave atmospheres guide one through hallowed depths on this week's top release.
Words by Luis (@luis.hoa):
With time comes and change and throughout the course of several full-lengths, Gost has inevitably morphed into a multifaceted being. Whether it be the vibrant hell of Non Paradisi (2016) or the eeriness of goth dance soundtrack Skull (2013), Gost mastermind James Lollar is sure to get you moving in more ways than one through a kaleidoscope of sound. Though his hymns remain infectious, they harnessed Lollar's metal background at the midpoint and progressively became darker, heavier, and more recently, explosive.
Gost's synthwave grandiosity has hit a high point with this week's arrival of Rites Of Love And Reverence, which comes courtesy of Century Media on August 13th. Like the Nona Limmen cover photograph it sports, you can't help but stare in awe at the compositional variety that transpires within. It's at times sinister and at times groovy, offering much in the realm of an experimentation that achieves the high musical standard one has come to expect from the frontman. It's a seamless listen with twists and turns on each passing track, keeping on edge for what limitless potential lies within the confines of Gost's synthwave. For as exquisite as Non Paradisi (2016) proved to be, Lollar has outdone himself once more and has delivered a well-layered jukebox of hellish qualities.
We talk to Lollar in celebration of this week's arrival of Rites Of Love And Reverence, discussing the mesmerizing photograph at the forefront, his sonic trajectory, and more:
Prior to fans even engaging with the material, they’re met by a haunting photograph that comes courtesy of the talented Nona Limmen, an extension of the album’s themes. What drew you to her work and really that ‘Possession’ photograph in specific when scouting for the cover?
Lollar: I liked it. She uses digital editing in a way that doesn’t seem digital. Her photographs look genuinely vintage. It’s just really striking the way she gets all of these crazy images, like bats flying over castles and things like that. I just saw that ‘Possession’ image and it worked perfectly for the themes behind the record and really the whole vibe. It was kind of lucky. I’ve followed her for a couple of years now. I think I was just scrolling through Instagram and came across it, immediately thinking ‘that’s it right there’.
As mentioned, it’s quite fitting. Beyond that, you have a very intentional and conscious approach to visuals. You enlisted Førtifem for ‘Non Paradisi’, which is truly astounding. What do you look for when approaching that aspect of the release?
Lollar: It’s different every time. It’s always kind of an afterthought, I’m much more into getting the songs to sound how I want them to sound. I’ve just gotten lucky with working with certain artists. When Førtifem sent me everything back for ‘Non Paradisi’, I thought ‘oh god’. They went way above and beyond what I had thought. Even like on ‘Possessor’, that was my idea. You know, I grew up in the 90’s, which is where I was discovering my own music. Back then, album artwork could make you buy a record. This approach stems from my past. Art is just another part of the record. It’s the precursor to what you’re going to hear.
Absolutely, and for those who invest in that element, it pays dividends. Even talking about ‘Possessor’, it’s quite minimal compared to the others, but it’s effective in conveying the tone. Touching further on ‘Rites’, it’s inspired by your fascination with witchcraft and more than it being another cliché ‘witchcraft-inspired’ record, it truly embodies a very mystical tone and feels organic rather than forced. How does it come together so seamlessly with you already straddling the lines between synthwave and black metal? It doesn’t feel forced, it feels organic.
Lollar: It’s based on witchcraft lyrically, yeah. I was writing this during the height of the pandemic, so it was inspired by all of the social discourse and people crucifying each other online over small things. It’s more so a social commentary on how we haven’t really changed much since we were hanging witches in Salem for just being different. I really think we need to get back to a place where we can have open discussions about why we disagree. The way we’re headed right now, no side is going to win. There’s no peaceful way out of it if we keep vilifying each other the way we are. It’s more inspired by witchcraft as you hit from the historical point and really based on how things are socially on the internet right now.
Unfortunately, that’s likely a phenomenon that’s going to continue.
Lollar: Yeah, I don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.
All you have to do is open Twitter for a few seconds. In terms of synthwave, it’s quite prominent at the moment. Perturbator just released ‘Lustful Sacraments’ and Carpenter Brut, who you’ve toured with, is constantly delivering. You three lead the charge for this metal laden take on the genre. To what do you attribute that? Where do you see it going forward with synthwave attracting audiences from across the board?
Lollar: I don’t really know why it’s contemporarily successful, per say. It’s kind of nostalgic sounding, some of the sounds we use are inspired by the movies we grew up loving. You mention Perturbator and Carpenter Brut. Those guys, like me, work really hard. We’ve been releasing a lot of music over the last five or so years. It’s just that honestly. We’re always on the road. It’s just going to naturally pick up some sort of buzz because we’re making sure that people are hearing us and seeing us. We work hard to do something a little different by fusing lots of the things that we enjoy.
Do you feel as though that was inevitable, especially with your childhood and music history subconsciously making its way onto your composition?
Lollar: It’s definitely natural. It’s hard to really put into words why people took notice and why metal people took notice because early on, there wasn’t much black metal going on in what I was doing. I wish I had a better answer for you, but it’s a mystery. If anybody knew why anybody liked anything, then we’d all be rich.
Absolutely, and I agree. I don’t think there was any particular moment in history that sparked the new wave rather than your own creative ambitions. You do whatever the hell you want to do, and it’s at the heart of it all. Instead of hitting a comfort level where you become afraid of alienating a fan base, do you feel as though it’s more significant to please yourself as an artist through your artistic endeavors?
Lollar: Definitely. Without sounding too pretentious, I think that’s what real art is: expressing yourself for yourself mainly. I don’t want to alienate anyone who likes my music, but I just think that art should be progressive and should change. That’s the way I’ve always been. I change all the time, which includes the clothes I wear or the music I listen to from week to week. It’s important and it’s going to happen naturally for me. I don’t know how much more I’m going to change from here on out. I always say that I’m kind of comfortable, but then I go and do some off the wall shit. I just think it’s important to let artists express themselves. If you don’t like what they’re doing, then just don’t like it. You don’t have to punish them on the YouTube comments or whatever.
Yeah, and it’s incredibly important for both the creative benefit of the artist and for the progression of a genre. In regards to your own musical trajectory, metal entered your formula at the midpoint and your music became darker and heavier. Looking back in retrospect, where do you see yourself now in comparison to where you were around the period of ‘Radio Macabre’ (2013)?
Lollar: I’ve perfected my craft much more than in the beginning. The synthwave community really loved a lot of the earlier stuff, but they’re starting to kind of not like what I’m doing now. When you look at the releases as a whole, there’s a lot more going into what I’m doing now. I’m extremely proud to have gotten to this point where I can produce my vocals the way I can and put guitar back in my music because you know, I grew up playing metal. I like the old stuff, it’s important and it’s what got me here, but every release for me is where I’m at currently. I feel like I’m always improving, at least personally.
It shows. The new record has such a varied sound palette and honestly, it has something for both audiences to love. It’ll surely translate well to the shows, which are of course returning slowly but surely. When looking at the tone and the atmosphere that ‘Rites’ conveys throughout, how do you hope to capture that same power via the live setting or perhaps expand upon it?
Lollar: The stage show on a headlining run will be based around the album artwork, so there will be candelabras and things like that. The artwork itself will be the backdrop. I want to keep that same vibe, because I’ll be playing a lot of the new music obviously. I’m going to have a new bass player and if things work out well enough money wise, I want to add a drummer so that it feels more like a band. The stage will look like the album sounds, at least the way I hear it.
Are there any dates already planned?
Lollar: We’re working on it right now. We will hopefully be on the road this winter, maybe November or December.
Sounds like something to look forward to!
Lollar: As long as everything doesn’t start to get shut down again, we’ll be there.
Let’s hope! Things aren’t looking too bright for that, but either way, I’m sure it’ll be an experience many will truly enjoy once it eventually happens. Touching further on the significance of creative expression and using witchcraft as a commentary of contemporary society, what role do you feel that artists play in conveying a message that is expressive of the times but also representative of your artistry?
Lollar: It’s interesting because as you said earlier, music is interpreted differently by whoever is listening. If you’re not vocal about the things you care about, then as a musician, then maybe you can’t affect much change or perception in the world . Movies and Hollywood, those people have quite a bit of power on how our youth grows. Art can be very powerful and can help change people’s minds and hearts. God, there are so many musicians now though that I don’t know if people even care about my message, but I would love to change people’s minds for the positive, to be more accepting and whatnot. There’s only so much one can do. I’ve publicly stated some of my political stances and it wasn’t pretty. People got extremely upset and started calling me an Antifa member and a libtard and all this other crap.
It’s a double edged sword, for sure, and it definitely has an effect on the genuineness of an artist and the music they put out. If we’ve noticed anything from listener engagement, it’s that the quarantine has allowed for them to immerse themselves in ways they perhaps haven’t had time to due to the otherwise fast paced lifestyles that one becomes accustomed to. People had the time to sit down, gaze at the cover, read the liner notes, and so forth. Do you feel as though that physical experience is significant, especially during the fluidity of the times?
Lollar: Yeah, I haven’t actually thought about people having time to do that during lockdown. It’s important, though. When I was younger, the internet existed, but not like it does today. When you got a new record, you spent I don’t know how many hours looking at liner notes. That’s the only connection you had with the band other than what you were listening to. I think it can be extremely important, which is why I’ve always tried to make sure that my album artwork was moving in some way, so that you have something to go along with whatever you’re feeling while you’re listening to the music. Humans are visual. We need to see things. I know I was in the middle of writing albums amidst the pandemic, but if I hadn’t, I would’ve sat through a record from start to finish three times. It’s been forever since I’ve done that.
Now that the record arrives this Friday, let’s hope you have time to do so. ‘Rites of Love’ itself is really a testament to your growth as a musician. Creatively speaking, is the intention always to push beyond the confines and inspire those with a curiosity for what more synthwave can do?
Lollar: Absolutely. Every band that I heard growing up that sounded new to me, it would make me really get into where they were coming from, what influenced them, and how they got to that sound. That’s one of the main reasons I do what I do, to make something new or take something like synthwave and make it not just synthwave. Taking as many influences as possible and putting them into one record is really how you get an original sound. With what me and a few of the other guys are doing, there will be some young people coming out in the next few years that will probably make us look silly with what they’ll do. I’ll gladly pass the torch and fade into obscurity.