The studio on Ryan Koch’s Southside property looks like a horse barn on the outside, because that’s what it used to be.
Over several years Koch, a local musician and producer, has painstakingly poured his earnings into building up the facility. Fellow Southsiders Goliathon, a rock and roll quintet with a penchant for massive hooks and kaleidoscopic flourishes, recorded their demo here a few years ago. Following the release of their full-length debut, Without Further Ado, in 2010, they’re back at Koch’s studio — known as the Arkbarn — hard at work on the follow-up. Titled Pretend It’s Not Happening, Goliathon will have a record release show for it Aug. 31 at Radio Radio. Before then they’re playing this Saturday as part of the Independent Music + Art Festival at the Harrison Center.
Over servings of Negra Modelo and Sun King Wee Mac one recent evening in the studio’s lounge, band members discussed what brought them back to the Arkbarn. They admit to having shopped around before deciding to return here. Aside from the studio’s continual upgrades, it helped that Koch was so insistent on bringing Goliathon back.
“It’s nicer recording with a friend versus someone with a big studio who doesn’t give a shit about you,” said drummer Matthew Fields. “The people we’ve been choosing genuinely want to work with us.”
Up to now all the instruments have been recorded. Chris Probasco’s vocals have been delayed because he’s had strep throat. Today he’s taking shots of apple cider vinegar as a remedy.
“It’s as bad as whiskey, but it fixes you,” said Probasco.
Without Further Ado earned Goliathon comparisons to acts like Led Zeppelin, as well as a place in the local metal community. While getting an opening slot for The Sword is appreciated, the band wants to be acknowledged as more than just a bludgeoning force. Words like “melodic,” “mature” and “dynamic” are used to describe the new material.
“We’re starting to cut back and craft more,” Probasco said. “We still have six- and seven-minute songs, but they’re more accessible. Doesn’t matter to me what genre we get lumped into now. I just want you to like it.”
“It all fits together, but I feel like they change enough to keep you interested,” added bassist Colby Holmes.
If there’s one aspect to Goliathon that makes them stand out from their hard-hitting peers, it’s their use of varied instrumentation. Amidst all the crushing riffs, Probasco isn’t afraid to break out a saxophone solo, something he’s been playing since he joined the school band in fifth grade. Holmes adds organ accents when the mood calls for it.
“Nothing’s off-limits,” said guitarist Derek Kendall. “We’re all allowed to come up with whatever off-the-wall ideas we can.”
That philosophy is working. Koch cues up some of Goliathon’s new tracks in his wood-paneled control room. One starts with funhouse keys, circular guitars and a stalking rhythm section, only to slow and sound voodoo-y before losing its collective mind. Another, set to open the album, has myriad movements. Prickly guitars explode into a cacophony of rebellious rock before adding organ swells and a shuffling rhythm. Yet another is prevailing, dramatic rock that leaves room for bluesy and acoustic touches. There’s even a country-inspired stomp with slide guitar that inspires guitarist Christian Wren to clap his hands.
“One of the things we value is writing songs we like,” he said. “If other people like them too, that’s a bonus.”
The members of Goliathon have eclectic enough tastes that it could easily impede songwriting. So far that hasn’t really been the case. They attribute that to the fact they’ve all known each other since elementary school. Holmes and Wren met the first day of second grade. Kendall and Probasco grew up in the same neighborhood. Most of them were in a band together during high school. After that fizzled, some of them continued to hang out and jam. Others gradually joined the fold that would become Goliathon.
Probasco said they’ve all been in bands where they had to search for specific musicians to complete the lineup.
“With this, we all kind of came together, but it was never really planned to become what it has,” he said. “It’s evolved into what it is now. I think that sets us apart from a lot of bands. We weren’t auditioning. We were just jamming and it worked.”
Holmes said another key to their progress is writing together.
“Every other band I’ve played in there was always one guy writing the songs and everyone else added their parts,” he said. “In this band someone comes up with a riff then jams with a few others and it kind of starts to change.”
Goliathon have taken some lumps though. A self-booked East Coast tour served more as a rite of passage than a money-making venture. Shows were pretty hit and miss. The Philadelphia date was canceled because the other scheduled band didn’t show up. Goliathon made up for that by visiting the Rocky Balboa statue and having a race up the steps. All told, over 11 nights on the road they had a place to stay for four of them.
“When you have five members and a shit-ton of gear, you need hospitality,” Probasco said.
Adds Wren, “We learned how to sleep in the most awkward positions.”
No new tours are currently planned, but in the short term, Goliathon intends on playing locally once a month and hitting the road on weekends. Holmes believes the pieces are there for them to make a living at this.
“The biggest challenge is getting the chance,” he said.
The band hopes Pretend It’s Not Happening gives them just that.
“I put them in the genre that’s coming out now,” said Koch, comparing Goliathon to acts like Cage the Elephant, Queens of the Stone Age and Them Crooked Vultures.
Categorization, though, isn’t the goal.
“I don’t care where we fall as long as we keep progressing,” Probasco said.