Over the course of Phoenix's rich musical history there are certain bands that have cemented themselves as ambassadors for their craft. Gog is a band comfortably in this category. The creative entity of Mike Bjella, Gog is a presence in music that eludes classification to an almost frustrating extent. It's relevant to throw out signifiers like doom, drone, and noise, but realistically there is only one word that is relevant in this context: listen. We touched base with Bjella to discuss vision, process and execution. Gog's self-titled album will be released Sunday, June 29, at Crescent Ballroom. See also: 4 Locally Released Tapes of 2014 You Should Hear
Up on the Sun: The name Gog is that of one of two beings (Gog and Magog) rallied by Satan to make a last stand against the kingdom of God in the Book of Revelations. It also comes up elusively in other religious and historical texts, sometimes as a place, sometimes a giant, and so on. What influenced you to take this name up for your music?
All of the above. It's very mysterious. In all the religious and historical texts, it's always some sort of monster or precursor to the end of days. I like all of that.
In regard to your composition, the material seems to unravel in a way that leaves the listener curious as to what's coming next on each track, like a page-turner novel of sorts. Do you view your music as having some sort of element of surprise so to speak?
I try to create an experience that feels like your traveling, or you've been transported somewhere else. Surprise can be a great way of revealing something new. To sum it up visually, think of the sound like it's a rabid animal in the corner; you may be comfortable in knowing the chain is short enough to keep you safe, but then it jumps snapping just short of your throat. I want that tension to exist even in the more beautiful or calm parts of the sound. Tension is key.
You eschew the direct presence of vocals and lyrics in your work. Is there any specific reason for this?
Basqiuat would say that he would cross out words to make them more important and even more noticeable. I also like when the human voice is getting lost and mangled in the sound, it makes the sound more oppressive and powerful to me. Placing the human condition inside of the piece instead of more traditional music where it is front and center.
In terms of motives, it seems -- in more recent years, especially -- that a majority of musicians start out with a goal or desire in mind beyond their own judgment and leanings. Bands making music for specific groups of people to meet some sort of expectation. Gog in no way could be found guilty of this. That said, what imperative drives your music? Where are you coming from?
For the most part, I make it for myself and hope that people will understand it. I use my own judgment on when a piece is done or ready. Also, I think I make music for people who really understand how powerful and important music is in communicating ideas, thoughts, visuals, feelings all at once. I'm coming from the sound, the sound dictates where I'm going, I try and let that tell me what do to. Maybe if I follow that others will too, intuitively. If they get lost and can't come back for 30 to 40 minutes, then I've succeeded.
You do visual art as well. Is there a decisive process you go through in order to align what concept will take what a visual form as opposed to a musical one?
If you're talking about albums, every album I do the packaging for is a different approach, good design is found in the materials you choose, the size, the texture, all of that has to match the feeling and the concept somehow, its not just about the colors and looking cool. It needs to have some mystery and a story to tell as well. Sometimes it tells a separate story or idea and lives perfectly parallel to the music. Hard to explain, very similar to me when I think about making music.
Prior to the pending LP, your most recent record, Ironworks, was recorded in a 19th-century blacksmith forge that once employed members of your family. What brought about this concept? Was it a challenge to work outside the comfort of a studio?
My uncle owns the shop. I used to spend summers there as a kid. Somehow it came up in a conversation with him about my music (or maybe someone else in my family) and I decided that I should make an album using those sounds. We only recorded the shop sounds and machinery there, I didn't set up my amp or anything -- the logistics of that would have been impossible for me at the time. The shop is in North Dakota. It was perfect for me; it's a place I know and it's family. As I started to work with the sounds, they took me in a dark direction that later became the final concept and album. The sounds are all very harsh and mechanically cold, and it went very dark. I worked on the recordings for about six months then took it to Arcane Digital studios (Ryan Butler) for guitars and vocals. I got so enveloped in the negativity and dark sounds/ideas that I became physically sick after the last stage of recording. I actually hated the album; I let it rest for a few days and came back to it and fell in love with it. I could finally see what I created. I'm very proud of that album.
Gog's self-titled album will be released Sunday, June 29, at Crescent Ballroom. and will be available for mail order July 2 via King of The Monsters Records.
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