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Hello Black Hole - Interview

Interview with: Johan ‘Goatspeed’ Snell
Conducted by: Daniel Schweigler

With the power trio Hello Black Hole’s debut In No Good Hand, Finnish label Svart Records released a mini-LP of twisted post-punk/indie rock earlier this year. Even though the band is still new and more of a hidden underground treasure, its main protagonist is anything but a blank piece of paper. The guitarist, singer and composer for Hello Black Hole is none other than Johan ‘Goatspeed’ Snell, songwriting mastermind and guitarist of the cult band Beastmilk. The apocalyptic post-punks had a short but intense career high before their unexpected break-up not more than one year after releasing their widely praised landmark debut album - which was, in a sense of foreshadowing irony, entitled Climax. After a bitter funeral for Beastmilk, Snell concentrated on his other band, the electro punk/riot grrrl duo Rainbowlicker, who released their fantastic debut album I Saw The Light, But Turned It Off, also in early 2017. While the core of his ex-band members transformed into Grave Pleasures, Goatspeed picked up his guitar again and hit the distortion pedal right through the floor to give birth to Hello Black Hole. Snell sparks with his sui generis songwriting plus unique and inimitable way of playing guitar again, which can also be heard in his former projects, like the psychedelic black metal outfit Spiderpact or his surreal punk curtsey to Rudimentary Peni and Aleister Crowley’s Book of Lies called Seedsaw. Hello Black Hole, who acknowledge influences from both the Pixies and power electronics pioneers Whitehouse, resemble with their four-song release a less dark, but no less catchy version of Beastmilk, playing high-octane paeans as a tool to deal with increasing everyday anxiety and social tensions arising from inexplicable situations. Daniel Schweigler took the chance to chat with creative whizz-kid Goatspeed about his influences, old and current projects, songwriting and the transcendence of music.

D.S.: Hello Johan, first of all please tell us about your background. Where do you come from as a musician? What and who shaped you as an instrumentalist, vocalist and songwriter?
: Music has always played a big part in my life, as a way to experience and project thoughts and emotions that can’t be defined in any other way. I think that gravitas is why I’ve never felt music would be something I would want to bargain with. Music is a passion for me. It’s something that has always been there as a channel for expression. As a kid my parents listened to ABBA, The Beach Boys, Gypsy Kings etc. Obviously those left a mark. When I was six years old I insisted on getting a double cassette heavy metal compilation with bands like Iron Maiden, Joan Jett and WASP on it. I also found KissKillers cassette at a flea market which I listened to so much that the tape broke. I don’t have older siblings so I had to figure out that stuff by myself. In those days Guns n’ RosesUse Your Illusions were blowing up, and then Nirvana, and then a deep dive into black metal and then the whole England’s Hidden Reverse (Coil, Current 93, Nurse With Wound, Death In June etc.) and a lot of experimental stuff from all over the world like Aube, Masonna and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Lately I haven’t listened to music that much for some reason. I’m interested in contemporary music and everything that’s happening from hip hop to abstract pop, and experimental music etc. but not that many things have stuck lately. I’m sure something will come by at some point though. I’ve more concentrated on writing and playing my own music.
D.S.: With Hello Black Hole you just released a mini album, In No Good Hand, a couple of weeks ago. How would you describe the music of your new band?
Goatspeed: I was flattered to read it was described as "sounding a bit like David Lynch playing punk rock: It’s entertaining and slightly disturbing at the same time.” I’m more than fine with that, and frankly quite over the moon to have someone feel that way.
D.S.: How does the songwriting process work in Hello Black Hole? Under what circumstances was In No Good Hand written and what does it mean to you?
Goatspeed: The first version of a track is me sitting at home playing and recording instruments and writing lyrics. When the demo is ready we try it out at the rehearsal place and see if something isn’t working, and if something should be improved. I highly value the opinions of the other guys, otherwise we wouldn’t be playing together. I usually agree with their thoughts and if it’s something that doesn’t work then I try to figure it out, or we take a look at it together. In No Good Hand was written during the times Beastmilk split up. To be honest I don’t remember all that much of those times. It was quite traumatizing to see my band being hijacked and raped. I chose not to make a whole media circus about all that crap, and felt that the only thing I could do was to concentrate and continue on my own path. I actually found some songs a couple of days ago from those times that I didn’t even remember writing. The whole MLP means a lot to me. I’m very happy that I was able to gather myself and create something new. I’m also very thankful and happy to have my friends play on the record and obviously very happy to have Svart Records release it.
D.S.: Does Hello Black Hole follow a certain concept or is it more something which comes naturally?
Goatspeed: To me a band is more than just the music. It’s an audiovisual and conceptual entity. I’ve always approached my bands as a world of their own, with its own imagery, its own language, its own sound. Everything should support the core concept of what is happening. It’s like a movie, or a painting, or any work of art for that matter. Everything is there for a reason and everything has a function. For me it’s all natural. It’s the stuff bouncing in my head anyways. If anything, it’s a way to sculpt a shape to those thoughts, manifesting e.g. in a guitar sound, certain coloured sunglasses, or a certain colored stone behaving in a certain way.
D.S.: What is your modus operandi when writing songs?
Goatspeed: Sometimes a song comes all in one night. Usually those are the best ones. Those always store a certain magic and are usually a start for something new. That’s what happened with Beastmilk’s “The Wind Blows Through Their Skulls”. It also happened with “Five Hundred Rocks To Throw” which was the first track I wrote for Hello Black Hole when I understood what direction I was going. There are a couple of those now too, waiting to be recorded. If it’s a longer process a dialogue usually happens, a part of a song playing in my mind while out walking or stuff like that. The song sort of starts telling you what’s happening and where it should be going. But the process varies. Sometimes the structure comes instantly, sometimes it’s more convoluted and I might feel the need to rewrite the whole chorus even after rehearsing the song for months, which is what happened with the MLP's track “Tight Rope Tightens”. I guess a song is a little like a short-term friend you’re hanging out with and having a dialogue with. Different songs know about different things. I think it’s about getting to know what the song is about and what it wants to tell you. For me, when a song is completed and rehearsed with the band, then it’s sort of out of the system and one can concentrate on new things. So they are all the most important things until they are ready, and then it’s on to the next one and on to the next one. That being said, I think the first song of a new band is a defining and profound moment, it’s the first contours of something that hasn’t existed before in this world.

D.S.: Speaking of songs that store a certain magic, would you describe music as a magical or transcendental tool? What is your approach?
Goatspeed: Both absolutely. Of course those terms are up for definition, but if and when magic is about altering the 93rd current, shaping the flow of existence, or projecting the micro unto the macro the resonance is, per definition, always there. I have made experimental music back in the days, from ambient to noise, but at the moment I’m more interested in shaping sounds that resemble something familiar but on a closer look opens something more volatile and otherworldly.
D.S.: Your music and especially the guitars in it are often really multi-layered. Where do you start, when working on new music and its instrumentation?
Goatspeed: Quite often the best tracks for me seem to start from a drum beat, or a rhythm. After that it’s usually guitar, then the rest. Nowadays however I’m quite fascinated with just playing guitar and singing, and figuring the rest out from there. In Spiderpact, one of my earlier bands, I wrote the music for three guitars, synths, percussion, drums, bass etc., so it was quite a busy aural landscape. I think I am moving towards fewer and fewer elements as time goes by. It’s a different discourse - only leaving the very essence.
D.S.: Does this beat-drivenness correlate with your soft spot for hip hop?
Goatspeed: I suppose there’s a correlation, not sure what correlation though. It is not a conscious choice. It just sometimes seems that more interesting riffs happen when working on more interesting drum patterns. I don’t mean that they necessarily need to be complex, but you do know when you have something different and interesting. It feeds itself and you just need to ask the song what it wants. I have always wanted to write hip hop beats for someone else though, but that’s another story altogether!
D.S.: Do you experience writer’s block or creative lows and have any techniques for dealing with it?
Goatspeed: I sit down and get to work and work, and work, and work on it until I’m happy with it. Sitting around waiting for inspiration is something I don’t believe in. Also, if such thing as talent exists, I surely have not been blessed with it. However I have been blessed with the gift of stubbornness and determination, an indefinable urge to project and try to understand the stuff around us - at least from where I’m standing.
D.S.: Where do you see your biggest strength and greatest weakness as a musician?
Goatspeed: I don’t make my living from music, so I suppose that makes me more of a songwriter than a musician. This to me is ok though. It takes the pressure of trying to make something financially viable and makes the process more enjoyable since the driving force is internal, not external. On a more practical note tuning isn’t a huge priority for me. I think this is a strength and a weakness.
D.S.: What inspires you?
Goatspeed: Everything I see and hear influences in some way. I would say that’s how a human being works by definition. It’s a subconscious influence but it’s all surely stored in there somewhere. I’m inspired by everything - art in general, stuff made by people, stuff not made by people, tea, nature, rain, floating in water, alcohol, libido, humans, animals, objects, beauty, ugliness etc.
D.S.: No matter dead or alive, if you could choose with whom would you like to work with? Why?
Goatspeed: In that case I would like to have a band with Serge Gainsbourg, Nick Blinko and Phil Collins. We would all be in our later teen years. It would be a beautiful mess!
D.S.: Are you planning to release a full-length with Hello Black Hole in the future and are there plans to hit the road?
Goatspeed: There is a plan, yes. A bit too early to reveal a schedule though. New songs are taking shape quite nicely. With Hello Black Hole we are getting our live set ready and will soon be playing our first domestic show. We only have an MLP out so it’s not too much to tour on, but we do however include new unreleased tracks in the set, so it is a proper gig. No tour plans for the moment. If any organizers are itching to book us, let us know. With Rainbowlicker we have some domestic shows still left this summer, and perhaps some more in Russia later this year. Our shows with Rainbowlicker abroad have been in Russia and Estonia thus far.
D.S.: And a classic as the last one: Does art imitate life or does life imitate art?
Goatspeed: They feed of, and feed each other, don’t you think? There is an interaction between the two where life and art shape and form each other as they go along.

Hello Black Hole
links: Facebook, Bandcamp, Instagram, Svart Records website