GosT-ly Horror: Darksynth Master James Lollar Talks Metal, Movies, and More
I’m certainly not one who holds the view genre classifications are useless or some prohibitor of musical creativity. On the contrary, I think they help provide a map of the sonic territory we all wander upon, which not only helps define the well known but establishes the frontier that hasn’t yet been explored. All of which I’m stating upfront, because I feel it’s important to note the near decade long love affair metalheads have been holding with synthwave has in truth been more about said genre’s offshoot, darksynth. Others have made a strong case for it being a distinct enough genre where a sizeable amount of groups have gradually stepped away from the fun 1980s retro Miami Vice vibes and french electro house influences exhibited in synthwave founding acts like Kavinsky toward the darker electronic terrains of horror movie maestro composers John Carpenter and Goblin. Yet few in this genre of "darksynth" have rested upon their laurels but instead continually evolve with influences from musical scenes as desperate as industrial, ebm, metal and post-punk. One such individual that helped define the darkness of dark-synth while still refusing to ever hold still is Texas’s own James Lollar, who is synonymous to his project GosT.
Lollar, who previously played in numerous metal bands, started GosT (pronounced like "ghost") in the early-to-mid 2010s where the horror aspects of his dark-synth work shined boldly with thick satanic atmosphere, both musically and aesthetically, which enamored his work to a great deal of metalheads. I personally got to witness GosT live for the first time in early 2017 when he opened for other darksynth titan Perturbator, and neither disappointed in making many a metalhead in the crowd, myself and quite a few close friends included, dance and jump about in a way so very unexpected for us. The experience proved to not alone be a diverse Los Angeles scene fluke, but instead I saw further electronic body movement play out at the hands of GosT later that year at both Psycho Las Vegas and a quite sizeable crowd at Maryland Deathfest.
In the time since then, two albums have been released that added further elements to GosT’s music, leading them toward a truly unique musical path clearly diverged from their dark-synth contemporaries. The latest of those two albums is last year’s Valediction which I found to be such a constant earworm inducer I had to include it in my honorable mentions of 2019. From programmed blast beats to screamed and clean sung vocals, the music found within certainly drives closer to extreme metal than it ever has been before. Simultaneously, it's capable of morphing into gothic beauty at the drop of a beat or vocal change. “Relentless Passing” scorches out the door like Anaal Nathrakh, given only a small pause before leading into “Wrapped in Wax” with its warm synth bass lines that bathe the listener, accompanied by a goth croon intermixed with Dani Filth-esque shrieks that fits perfectly rather than interrupting the rhythmic flow.
The album continues constantly pulling between these poles of harsh extremity and dark comfort with Lollar at the forefront now with his versatile vocals, capable of emotional performances, particularly on tracks like “Bloody Roses” and “She Lives in Red Light - Devine."
Lollar hasn’t only made changes in the studio, but has revamped the band on the stage. His former calling card -- a skull mask -- has been replaced with ghoulish face paint which transfixes fans as he asserts himself as a vocalist. Along with this, his electronic setup is a far smaller construction, opening him up to grab the mic stand to not only get up close to the audience, but also interact with a live bassist. Further he’s refined his live visual aesthetic with the inclusion of a rear projection video screen casting ominous and forlorn images. A very different dynamic to anyone like myself who hadn’t seen GosT in a little under three years but a change that’s certainly paid off in creating an even more memorable and rewarding experience.
Before I got to witness the reborn GosT on stage at The Echo in Los Angeles, I had the opportunity to interview Lollar in person after an earlier attempt over the phone was scrapped due to the band experiencing treacherous conditions on the road. We covered a number of topics ranging from the continued evolution of GosT, his time recently opening for some black metal legends in Europe, and what horror movies excite him today almost as much as the classics.
-- Joseph Aprill
It’s been a few dates into the tour, so how has it gone so far?
It’s been really good so far. The response has been good with people wanting to buy merch. We’ve actually been hanging at the merch table more than we usually do. So for sure people seem to be excited to see us.
Any cities you’ve hit so far or got coming soon that you’re particularly looking forward to playing?
Definitely looking forward to Baltimore, Richmond... and definitely tonight should be a good one as well. We’re also playing Providence, which is weird but whatever, and Cleveland. So yeah, pretty excited for all of those.
Providence, wow. Never been myself but if I ever do I’d want to stop at like H.P. Lovecraft’s grave [laughs]. This isn’t your first time headlining your own tour but you have played quite a few opening slots on tours, so how does it compare your headlining shows to your opening spots?
I like them both for different reasons. Support shows are fun because it’s someone else’s crowd so every night is a challenge to win those people over. Then it’s the opposite when headlining as the people who come are really into what we do. It’s been a while since we headlined, so this has been fucking awesome and feels like a breath of fresh air even if this is now only the fourth show so far [laughs]. All we did last year was support runs, so it’s good to have a little more space.
Speaking of touring, back in the fall you opened for Mayhem and Gaahl’s Wyrd. How did it feel being on the road and opening for some of the most legendary figures in black metal?
It was pretty cool, actually. The dudes in Gaahl’s band were really inviting and warm to us. They invited me to sing with them on “Carving the Voices” a few times which is pretty wild. I was super nervous [laughs]. Attila of Mayhem was really awesome to us. He just recently went vegan and we’re vegan so we were all bro-ing down on vegan shit the whole time. But yeah, it was surreal. Every night I went on stage with Kristian [actual first name of Gaahl] was nerve-wracking as fuck. He takes his shit really seriously so you don’t want to mess up his art.
I met him before in Bergen, twice actually. He can be pretty intimidating as I remember the first occasion but he was extremely welcoming and hospitable at his art gallery in Bergen more recently.
Yeah, honestly I think he’s just a bit shy really. He’s reserved and certainly comes across that way.
Playing at those gigs how did you think the pretty black metal audiences received you?
We for sure won some people over. We did have hecklers here and there, though. I’d never spit loogies on people in my whole life until that tour. For the most part though, people were pretty receptive. We definitely had people approach us positively at most of the shows who had never heard of us before.
Possessor seemed to be a pretty big change for the direction of GosT with the inclusion of your clean singing, black metal screams, blast beats and even synthpop-type influences. Valediction seemed to take all of that and crank it all to a higher intensity. Was that a natural progression or something you consciously went into when composing the album?
It felt pretty natural. I find it’s increasingly harder to express myself just with synths, so for example adding vocals creates a new layer musically as well as a new catharsis to the whole thing. It feels natural, but it was definitely a conscious choice to move away from just doing synths.
One thing that’s been something I’ve noted throughout most of your discography was your use of sampling, often from movies. A few I haven’t quite recognized the sources, but there was certainly ”Christine” and “The Satanic Rites of Dracula” used along with on Possessora lot of samples of news reporting from the Satanic Panic of the 1980’s. As far as I can tell there’s no sampling used on Valediction, so what brought about that change when it seemed to be a feature of your sound?
Century Media is owned by Sony [laughs]. I mean seriously it’s that. Anything has to be cleared and it’s a bit ridiculous. Like they turned down a couple shirt designs we had as well. So yeah, that’s the main reason. I mean, it’s cool to use them, but they can also be a crutch instead of writing a proper bridge or something. Either way, early on with Century Media we knew we’d have to change. Earlier when we re-released the Skull ep with them it had “She Lives in Red Light” on it and there was a sample from The Craft. They were like, "That’s not going to work."
Even without samples present on Valediction,the influence from horror soundtracks and the work of John Carpenter and others are still apparent on your music. What’s some of your earliest or strongest memories of horror movies and the haunting music often found on them?
The first horror movie I remember seeing was the first “Nightmare on Elm Street”. I was like 5 years old then, so it freaked me the fuck out. The soundtrack for it was pretty decent as well, a simple synthesizer soundtrack and for the same reason I like the “Halloween” soundtrack. I think I read somewhere John Carpenter wrote that on his synthesizer out of necessity because he couldn’t afford to hire someone to do the score. So obviously for me those two… well, and “The Exorcist” was incredible too.
Are there any modern movies that impress you in striking the same moods or atmospheres of your favorites?
I like that guy Ari Aster who did "Midsommar" and "Hereditary." I thought they were both just classy as fuck with such a slow burn but the pay off in both of them was great. Like in "Hereditary," the last ten minutes of that movie I was like, “Yep! This is everything I need to happen in a movie! It’s a perfect fucking possession movie!” [laughs] So those and the opening strings in Insidious, I didn’t necessarily like the whole movie, but just that giant orchestral moment of the score sounded like a hundred violins scratching. So yeah, that was pretty gnarly. I also thought the remake of "Evil Dead" was pretty good. I was stoked with that one the whole way through.
Nice, yeah I was surprised at how much I enjoyed that one. I loved the ending where it turned into something like “Raining Blood” and I thought, “oh why didn’t they put Slayer in the soundtrack here!?” [laughs] But yeah, I’m usually critical of horror movie remakes but that was a good one.
Same. I don’t like most of them and I can’t think right now of another one, but that one was pretty decent.
I might be repeating myself a bit here but at Invisible Oranges I’ve got a column about cinema and the world of metal, like such and such movie is really “metal.” I’ve so far detailed “The Wickerman”, “Midsommar” and “Phantasm” for that so for sure a lot of horror movies. For yourself what do you think keeps that connection alive between horror movies, the scores of horror movies and metal music that continues to draw people often to all of them?
I don’t really know why people are drawn to it, but I totally understand why people who like one would like the other. Obviously both are dark… but I can’t even really tell you why I’m drawn to it. It’s just something about the sound of it and it just making me feel the way I want to feel. The same, I guess, with horror movies… though I wouldn’t say I’m necessarily fascinated with violence. It’s just cool, I mean that’s a bit lame, but it’s just cool [laughs].
Along with the continuing progression in the music moving away from copying the earlier sound, there have been other changes in GosT. Valediction was your first album not on Blood Music, but now with Century Media, what made you decide to go there for a label?
I had signed for three records with Blood Music, and when it was time to renew a contract I was getting offers from Century Media and a lot of different places. I gave him [Blood Music founder and owner simply known as “J”] the opportunity to outbid Century Media and he gave me a pass. Century Media was the most down with us, with them being like, “lets fucking do this!”
Have they been pretty supportive of you so far?
Dude, it's almost been too easy so far. They don’t bother me at all when it comes to creativity or anything. I’ve been having full reign on that.
On stage GosT is no longer just yourself as you have a bassist performing on stage with you. What’s his name either stagewise or real life?
His name is Carreau stage wise, but his real name is Chris. We’ve been friends for probably 30 years, so a long time.
What brought about that change in now sharing the stage with someone else?
It’s just an easy direct way to add something more entertaining to the stage. I also got tired of being stared at, because it was only me on stage, so that’s all that anyone is looking at which left no room for relaxation while on stage for me. Besides adding to the live show he was already helping me with tech work so it just made sense.
For a while and certainly the last time I saw you perform your appearance was always a skull mask under a hoodie and jacket. Now, though, you seem to be donning make-up not too unlike black metal corpse paint. I’m going to guess part of this change was the practicality of being able to do vocals on stage?
Definitely that. We tried to fuck with a few latex variants on the new look but it just sounded like I was singing under a mask with that muffled type sound. I think you can even hear that a bit with Tobias from Ghost when they play live. I’m just so hard on myself with shit like that so I was like, “fuck it, I’ll take the mask off.”
Are there any further live visual elements you plan to expand upon or have hopes to develop in the near future?
I’d like to travel with even more of a full band. It takes a lot of the strain off paying for lights and production for a live show. Any metal band can get on any stage and just go. With electronic music you need some stage production. So yeah, first and foremost I want to add even more people on stage, though I don’t know if it’s going to happen anytime soon.
Below are the remaining tour dates:
February 29 - Wroclaw, Poland - Pralnia
March 2 - Leipzig, Germany - Naumann's / Felsenkeller
March 3 - Munich, Germany - Backstage
March 5 - Copenhagen, Denmark - Beta
March 6 - Hamburg, Germany - Logo
March 7 - Strasbourg, France - La Laiterie
March 8 - Eindhoven, Netherlands - Stroomhuis
March 10 - Nancy, France - L'Autre Canal
March 11 - Paris, France - Petit Bain
March 12 - Nantes, France - Le Ferrailleur
March 14 - Liège, Belgium - Reflektor
March 15 - London, United Kingdom - Underworld