A little while back, Rocks Off's editor hauled Gothtopia into his office and demanded that we lay out the 7 Ages of Goth, which we did to universal criticism. Some of that criticism had to do with the murky way we entered the modern era, in which we basically stated that goth as a musical movement had become the victim of entropy.
True, all along the genre lines, be they synth, deathrock, industrial, or whatever, there are many bands practicing an amazing craft. However, few seem interested in creating the giant shifts that spawn new sub-categories like the Sisters of Mercy or NIN did. Take a band like the Birthday Massacre, for instance. Love them? We do. Think they're doing something groundbreaking? Not at all.
That's why at the end of our journey through the seven ages, we mentioned the stealthy growth of the Southern Gothic sound, sometimes called Gothic Americana. Granted, mixing a folkish tone with goth's dark elegance isn't anything new. Nick Cave, Rasputina, and some of the neo-folk acts have been doing it for many years, and there's not a real goth out there who doesn't love Johnny Cash. However, these tend to be isolated practitioners rather than the front a full-on movement shift.
Enter O'Death, and the steadily growing number of bands like them. O'Death hails from upstate New York, and we've already brought them to you in the form of their video for "Bugs." We placed it second on the list of videos we've reviewed that creeped us the hell out. Granted, it was a pretty distant second behind Grinderman's "Heathen Child", but still pretty impressive.
We've been digging as much of O'Death as we can find in the hallowed halls of YouTube, and their mixture of hillbilly instrumentation, slightly eldritch twang, and pagan and death-obsessed imagery is, in our opinion, the kind of thing that will define the goth of the next several years. It's time to dial it back a bit, and it's definitely time to stop the self-parody and get back to the things that birthed the movement in the first place.
That's where O'Death steps up to the plate. Their songs are as bleak as a blighted landscape. Even from a crappy laptop speaker they seem to echo around you, tugging and the empty places in your soul. It's like Wicker Man: the Musical, and its very sparseness says more than any overblown, overproduced spectacle has in years.
In the end, it all comes back to what is shocking, and black leather and eyeliner just isn't shocking anymore. It doesn't unnerve. However, children of the corn singing you a few tunes definitely does. We might be crazy - after all, we keep pegging Taylor Swift as a new goth sensation - but for us, the best new spooky bands we've discovered in the last five years have all had a distinctive country flavor to their sound. We see a few more every year, and O'Death is just one of the bands that we feel will eventually place the subgenre on the same-size pedestal that other iconic goth sounds inhabit.
Rocks Off sat down with guitarist/vocalist Greg Jamie via email to talk to him before they hit town. Check out Page 2 for the interview.
Rocks Off: The Southern gothic movement appears to be steadily gaining momentum. What do you think is so compelling about what is essential morbid folk music?
Greg Jamie: I don't know if this is actually a genre, or if there is seriously any momentum behind it. Sixteen Horsepower is an obvious touchstone for what we're talking about here, and I think their influence probably isn't any stronger now than it has been in the past, but I'm not sure. I don't really know of a lot of young bands doing this kind of thing.
At least in New York, it kind of feels like there definitely isn't an interest in what we'd consider morbid folk music right now. I think, possibly its less fashionable now than it was, like five years ago, but it's really hard to say.
RO: Would you say you sing about your personal beliefs, or that your songs shape what you believe?
GJ: It really varies from song to song. I think we play these songs and write these songs with conviction, and I don't feel that much is really a put-on, though there are some more story-songs like "Alamar," which is essentially fiction. At some point, it felt like because we are O'Death we are supposed to write songs about death, but I think we're trying to get away from that, though we do love writing about characters that are preoccupied with their own mortality.
RO: A lot of your music has a stripped-down production style. Are you consciously fighting against the increasingly overproduced mainstream production values in modern pop, or is this just what it sounds like in your head and is therefore how you want it to sound on an album?
GJ: We definitely write the music that is in our heads. Outside is our most "produced" album in the sense that it's not just a bunch of guys playing single takes in a room together, like it was in the past. And I think our notions of what pop music is, or pop music that we like, does make an impression on this album.
I don't think there's any way to for us to make a mainstream album. I think we just don't have those sensibilities. And personally I'm not well versed in modern pop and am pretty puzzled, for the most part, by what is seen as popular.
RO: Would you say that the content of your songs define your own personalities?
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GJ: Would it be bad to say I don't really think about our song content much after laboring over and writing the songs? It's at the stage now where the songs have taken on their own lives and I step into the role when performing them. My personality right now is not like these songs, I don't think. But I trust the subconscious to prove me wrong.