Misery Goats photo by Nance Spiewac

Goats without Horns

by Jeff Orr

Photos by Nance Spiewac

The Misery Goats. If the name sounds familiar, it's not surprising. For centuries in England, misery goat has been a common term for a person who's ill-natured or a sourpuss. Fans of the old television series Night Gallery may remember an episode in which a small Irish town was terrorized by creatures called "Misery Goats". And it's the name of a great song by the U.S. band Pere Ubu. But more importantly, it's also the name of one of Halifax's most exciting and versatile new bands. Well, they're not exactly new. Four of the five band members have been together since last July. Paul Caldwell (lead vocals, keyboards, piano, guitar), Dave Porter (lead guitar, second vocals), and Pat Cassidy (bass, second vocals),

got together over the summer to work on some ideas with a drum machine. Soon afterward, they met keyboard and piano player Anita Lipohar and formed the Misery Goats.

Then, less than two weeks after their first rehearsal, the Goats made an impressive debut at Club Jam '85, a benefit concert held at Cabbagetown Lounge. The Goats captured the crowd's attention even before the first song. As the rest of the band got organized and the audience waited in anticipation, Caldwell set up a small, old-fashioned turntable at the front of the stage and proceeded to play Wham's "Wake me up before you Go-Go." About halfway through the song, Caldwell picked up a huge axe, hoisted it high above his head, and, in one blow, completely demolished George Michael in mid-verse. At the same instant, the band thrashed into their first number, an original song entitled "No Heroes."

Throughout that initial show, there was little or no indication that the band had been together for such a short time. Caldwell's passionate vocals, Porter's electrifying guitar and a solid mixture of original and cover material kept the eyes of the enthusiastic audience riveted to the stage.

By their next gig, at the Dalhousie's Student Union Building in September, the Goats realized there was room for improvement. "By the time we got through the first song we had decided that we needed a real drummer," says Caldwell.

Luckily, there happened to be a "real" drummer in the audience that night, Clancy Dennehy, a graduate of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. "I walked in and liked them," explains Dennehy. "I sat there thinking, 'Hey, what a nice band. It's too bad they don't have a real drummer.'" The next day Dennehy contacted Caldwell and joined the Misery Goats.

What attracted me so much to the band was that every song had a different character and there was a different feel," says Dennehy. "You could never say about the Goats that every song sounds the same because there are differences in rhythm, melody and structure."

The addition of Dennehy made an immediate improvement in the band. A certain chemistry and sense of unity, somehow lacking before, quickly appeared. The result was a much tighter, crisper sound, with all of the passion and raw energy evident from the beginning. Of the five members, only Dennehy and Caldwell have played in bands before. Porter, however, has been playing guitar for a long time, teaching himself by ear. Cassidy has studied jazz at St. Francis Xavier University, while Lipohar has studied classical piano.

The members bring a wide range of inspirations to the band. For instance, Caldwell says his two strongest inspirations are Brian Eno and Bill Nelson. "None of our music sounds like what they do," he says, "but every time I hear their stuff, it's a driving force for me to be as creative as them."

Dennehy, Porter and Cassidy say they listen to a lot of jazz, but Dennehy says his favorite writers include Robert Wyatt, Tom Waits and Neil Young and when playing he likes to emulate the solid sounds of Charlie Watts of the Stones or Larry Mullen Jr. of U2. On the other hand, Lipohar says she has a fondness for various 60s artists.

Not surprisingly, the Misery Goats have a diverse repertoire of cover tunes, including a powerful adaptation of Leonard Cohen's "So Long, Mary Anne", an electrifying version of Husker Du's "Books About UFOs" and a truly wild version of the classic Trogg's song "Wild Thing". But unlike many local bands, the Goats concentrate more on original material than on covers. They've already collaborated on 15- originals, including "God Dogs", "Siren" and "Gilded Silence".

"I find our own stuff the most satisfying to play," says Dennehy. "That's why we want to get in the studio."

The Goats, in fact, will be going into the studio soon. They're one of eleven bands to contribute to the Metro Music Compilation, an album of local music that promoters Club Flamingo hope to have out by summer. The Misery Goats also have their own plans to get on tape.

"The main project is to go into the recording studio and lay down our three best tunes...at least," says Dennehy. "It's doubtful that it will be press-able, but the point is to make a tape of us playing in our best light." Caldwell says the demo tape would be for radio play and "for shopping around (at record labels)."

Once they have a good recording, Dennehy says the next intelligent step for the band is a video. "I'd rather have a rock video speak for us in Toronto than have to sit in a fucking van and sleep in a shitty hotel and wait for something to happen there."

Although most of the Goats have various responsibilities outside the band, they all describe music as their life's blood. "The Misery Goats for me are group therapy," Dennehy says. "And the more the rest of the group gets into it, then the more I get into it."

Caldwell takes a less psychological approach. "I very often look forward to a practice at the end of a day. I feel that I don't want logo through all this bullshit that I've gone through all week or all day... I want to do something that I like to do."

New Works, March, 1986