It’s been two long years since THKD featured any interviews; perhaps due to laziness on my own part, or perhaps because I hadn’t heard any new bands that intrigued me enough to seek them out for an interrogation. But from the moment I heard Ashes Shall Be Made of Them, the second album from Canadian death-dealers Ye Goat-Herd Gods, I knew that I wanted to dig deeper. Having struck up a correspondence with guitarist/songwriter Jeanie Keebler over the course of reviewing the album, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to pick her brain. She graciously agreed and in the process revealed to me a story that’s as much about staring death in the face and overcoming adversity as it about simply loving heavy metal. Read on as the mastermind behind Ye Goat opens up about the making of the album and beyond.
THKD: For readers that might not be familiar, can you tell us a little about how Ye Goat-Herd Gods was formed and what your motivations were for starting the band?
Jeanie Keebler: Sure! I have played in several metal bands since I was in my teens, but YGHG started differently. This time, I just wanted to sit down and write some songs for myself; I had no other goal in mind. When I ended up writing an entire album’s worth of original material though, I thought why not see if anyone else wants to play it? I enlisted Gord on vocals, (former band-mate in Despirited… and now, husband) and recorded a demo to look for other members in the Calgary scene. It took a few tries to find other musicians who were reliable, fun to be with, and sane enough! Both Matts responded to the tunes when I put them out there, and the line-up hasn’t changed since they joined.
THKD: It’s my understanding that the name Ye Goat-Herd Gods is derived from a poem by Sir Philip Sidney. What was it about this literary work that you found inspiring? How does it continue to inspire you today?
JK: That’s right; I just liked the grandiose language and epic imagery. I still find inspiration in the contemplation of nature and its savage beauty.
THKD: You recently released your second album, Ashes Shall Be Made of Them. What were you looking to accomplish with this new recording? Are you satisfied with the final result?
JK: No-one has asked me this, but there is a definite answer, dark as it may be. I have been battling health problems since before the first album, but pain never stopped me from doing what I wanted. My health took a severe down-turn the night of Ye Goat’s first show, however, after I was treated for a suspected infection. It took a herculean effort to play every live show, through physical pain and danger that I couldn’t understand I was in.
I have since been diagnosed with something called “FQAD;” a serious life-threatening adverse reaction to antibiotics. My deterioration can be traced to the times I had been given these drugs. I was in a wheelchair for a long time, and using a cane at gigs except when playing. (I have extensive nerve damage so I’m lucky I haven’t fallen over!) I am damaged right down to the cellular level in a way similar to a chemotherapy overdose or radiation poisoning, making me dangerously fragile at exuberant metal shows where people are stage-diving and having a great time. I never told anyone because this is what playing live is all about, but it has been risky for me. I realized that the next thing I write could be my swan song, so this album is the product of me facing my own mortality.
I am very satisfied that I was able to complete the album, through brain injury, broken connective tissue and the rest of it. I had intended the album to be a purely angry one, for obvious reasons, but it turned out to have glimmers of gratitude and hope in with the rage and despair. It’s a very honest album.
THKD: What can you tell us about the writing and recording process? How did things differ for this album in comparison to your debut, 2012’s Becoming Flesh?
JK: Writing-wise, the first album was written as if there would only be one guitarist. There is a lot of harmony on the album, but most of it can be achieved on one guitar. I did get Gord to add a few harmonies and solos onto Becoming Flesh, but it is pretty bare-bones. After he joined the band, I wrote with two guitars in mind, though I did carry over the minimalist approach that seems to be part of the Ye Goat sound. The first album was played in standard E tuning, but we began playing a whole step lower after Gord began singing in a lower register live. That adds to the over-all darker vibe on Ashes.
I tried to make each song distinct from one-another on this album, adding more parts to help increase over-all dynamics, and employing more interesting musical devices like pick scrapes, harmonized dive-bombs, and reverse-bend harmonics. We worked really hard in the studio to get a good sound. That actually took months of trial and error! Gord was recording us, and he is self-taught. You can really hear how far he has come since the first album, when we were happy just to get the songs on record. It is very difficult to get a good clean mix without ending up with that slick, over-produced sound, but I didn’t just want to take the easy way out and pretend that I wanted a weak tone either. I was disappointed that a lot of the music on Becoming Flesh was lost in the mix, but I’m happy that isn’t the case this time. I want people to be able to hear what we are actually playing, and to crank it up!
THKD: Ashes Shall Be Made of Them takes cues from a lot of different metal subgenres, from death and black metal to thrash and traditional metal. Were there any specific influences you sought to incorporate into the fabric of the album?
JK: No, that would feel like working backwards to me. You can definitely hear those influences because I am a life-long metal-head, loving everything from Black Sabbath to black metal, but whatever wants to come out, comes out, with no thought to what genre it should resemble.
THKD: Do you have a favorite song or moment on the new album that you’d like listeners to pay special attention to?
JK: I love the middle-eighth in Ribspreader; each instrument, starting with a long scream, adds to a slow build leading up to the solo. Speaking of solos, Gord played every solo on this album, and each one is a little masterpiece. A lot of what I’m proud of on the album is very subtle. I am pleased with the way the lyrics fit the music, the prosody. I love how there is a canon section in The Dreaming City, it spaces me out whenever I listen to the song. I really can’t name a favorite, each one is just what I wanted to hear at the time.
THKD: What are the album’s main lyrical themes? Are there any overarching concepts that tie the songs together, or does each song self-contained lyrically?
JK: Each song is self-contained, but they probably all reflect my state of mind at a certain point in time. Maybe they are a journey through the stages of grief; denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. If they are, it’s all subconscious. I know I wanted the last song to be a peaceful one.
JK: I can’t tell you much about the artist, S. Blackwolf, but I was immediately struck by his painting when I came across it. I felt it was the perfect complement to these songs; dark in a most unpretentious way. His work manages to be stripped down, and seething with complexity at once.
THKD: The band hails from Calgary, Alberta Canada. What is the metal scene like there? are there any other up-and-coming bands from the region that THKD readers should be seeking out?
JK: The scene here has always been very eclectic. A few up-and-comers who released some pretty solid material recently are Haiduk, W.M.D., and Dethgod. There are many excellent bands from here, though.
THKD: With the end of the year rapidly approaching, I feel I have to ask, what are some of your favorite metal releases of 2018? Any recommendations for THKD’s readers?
JK: A few of my favorites from this year were Unleashed – The Hunt For White Christ, Necrophobic – The Mark of the Necrogram, and Pestilence – Hadeon,
THKD: Are there any final thoughts you’d like to add?
JK: I’d just like to say thanks to THKD for the kind words and continued support!