I first came across Godstopper pretty much by accident. In fact, I suppose all credit is due to Ryan from Anthems For the Undesirable. We did a trade on some records and he threw in a split 7” featuring the bands Tendril and Godstopper. There was really no information about either band and I kind of sat on it for awhile to be honest. But when I finally decided to give it a spin I was quite impressed really. I mean, there wasn’t that much to go on, but I found something really interesting about Godstopper. They had a way of being very heavy, very sludgy, but there was a hook underneath.
Not long after Ryan sent me another record by them, this time their debut full length “What Matters”. Again, there was not much to go on. In fact, by the simple photo of a field and the exceptionally crusty metal-looking logo (and the band’s name) one could assume that this was some dirtbag sludgy crust punk. But once again, it wasn’t quite all that. Sure, Godstopper was real aggressive. They had some of the best heavy-dirty guitar tones going on. The vocals often had a screamy feel to them, but there were also a lot of parts that were sung, like in a professionally good sort of way, like erring towards the clean vocals of Cave-In or Torche. I sort of let the record linger for awhile and then sort of put it aside. However, the hooks of the music seeped into my brain and kind of took up residence somewhere in the recesses of my mind.
Some time had passed. And then, out of nowhere, I saw their name pop up again. They had self-released a new EP, just online as far as I knew, and I thought, ‘oh yeah, this band!’ I checked it out and found that their style had developed exponentially, focusing mostly on clean vocals, but heavier sounds with more hooks and a better recording. The “Children Are Our Future” EP really started to sell me on Godstopper. But as much as I looked around I didn’t really see anything indicating that they were active in any regard. Was it just a project? A studio-only group? Or was I just not in Canada enough to see them play around? I attempted to keep a close eye on things.
And then came “Lie Down”. Again, the band self-released this, and basically just on a digital platform. This full length fully realized the band’s sound. The riffs were so heavy and so incredibly catchy, the soaring vocals so on point, everything about this record was damn near perfect. It was a crime against music that this was not out there more. I pretty much decided I didn’t really care if they were known or not, I felt I had to do something for this music and get it out into the world.
I’m not sure how I came across finding Mike Simpson. Someone likely told me he was the guy to talk to regarding all things Godstopper. I tracked him down. I let him know that I wanted to release something for Godstopper. He got back to me and was incredibly casual about it all. Some might say he was incredibly Canadian about it all. Just a very polite and easy going guy.
What I learned was that Godstopper is basically the music of Mike Simpson. He writes everything, he records all the instruments himself, and does all the vocals. There is also the band Godstopper, who play out live, and have pretty much been a consistent set of individuals for the majority of the band’s existence. However, they do not play out very much. So once we got to talking I kind of had to go on faith that they would do some stuff here and there to promote whatever I would end up doing for them.
That resulted in the re-release, on CD, of “Lie Down”. Since it had already been online for awhile I didn’t feel comfortable going all in on a big vinyl pressing, but I thought it was important for there to be a physical release of this album which I thought was so great. As a bonus, the “Children Are Our Future” EP was included on there too. I also released a 12” EP of brand new material called “Who Tries Anymore”. This piece is going to focus on “Lie Down”, but I talked to Mike about both records and split it into two sections. I also jumped ahead, as “Lie Down”/” Children Are Our Future” CD is HXR038, while the newer “Who Tries Anymore” is HXR037. But seeing as I’m working from the beginning of the band to the present it makes sense to do these two releases backwards. So next week look for part two of this, which is the previous release. Does that make sense?
Here’s what my man in Toronto had to say.
Take me back a bit about your musical history. Were you in other bands prior to Godstopper?
Sure. The first band I played in after high school, that I can recall anyway, was a band called Bulb. If you’ve ever heard of the band Periphery?
They’re that really tech-y metal band right?
Yeah. It might be a bit outside of what you’re into, and it’s a bit outside of what I’m into. Anyway, the guitar player and sort of mastermind behind that group was going to school at University Of Toronto at the time with me and we played some shows together with a few other people that we knew from school. That’s kind of the first ting that I really played in.
After that I started a band called The Womb. There’s probably a MySpace page out there for that. That was with a couple of buddies of mine that I sometimes still play music with. The band started out with me trying to sound 100% like Phil Anselmo. Pantera is still my favorite band out there, but where a lot of bands might have 10 influences there was like one for this band. At least for me anyway. I was the singer.
Gradually things started to evolve and we ended up putting out two CDs, as well as a few demos, and that was around 2007 or 2008. We didn’t tour extensively, but we did some opening shows, like opening for Keelhaul and Yakuza.
Concurrent with that I played in a band called The Great Collapse with my friends Brent and Luke. That band was a 5-piece, female-fronted technical death metal band somewhere in the vein of Martyr or Gorguts, but with a lot more melodic vocals. There’s a lot of overlap between the two bands I was in, especially with members. I played bass in The Great Collapse and I played bass and sang in The Womb. Eventually over time The Womb moved towards a Crowbar sort of sound while The Great Collapse was technical death metal but with melodic vocals. So both those bands kind of ceased to be by 2010 or 2011.
I also had a weird funk, kind of Mr. Bungle, sort of band called Pure Finesse that I played in with like 8 people for a few years. I wrote all the tunes in that and sang.
I started doing the first Godstopper demos around 2009 and I recorded them in a way where I finally felt comfortable releasing them around 2010.
So how did Godstopper start? Was it always your personal project rounded out by other players, or did it start with more input from the other members? What’s the working dynamic of the group?
It started with me and then I brought people in and for the most part the songs were always my compositions. I would write them out, demo them, and then rehearse them for shows. So from start to finish it’s been where I’ve come forward with the ideas and the other people would play them live.
It seems like there has been a pretty consistent group, for the most part, that have been the band since the get-go. Have any of them ever come in with song ideas, or do they just leave it all up to you?
For the most part it’s just that. It’s me presenting the ideas and different parts. There was one song on “What Matters” that Tobin, who played guitar for several years, co-wrote with me. And there was one song off of the split we did with The Great Sabatini that had a collaborative song. For the most part, though, instead of people coming into the jam room with ideas it was me presenting all the stuff and then working it out.
Have you always been multi-instrumental? I remember you telling me you filled in on drums for a band before?
To varying degrees I am. It definitely progressed over time. I actually started playing drums in Godstopper when we would play live. That was my introduction to playing drums, by playing them in my own band. I didn’t want to have to go around trying to find a drummer because I found that to be near impossible. Thankfully I haven’t had to do that in awhile. But it’s so difficult to find a reliable and predictable drummer, so I just made the style and execution of the music in such a way that someone who is still figuring out drums could do it. So yeah, I went to music school and there was a lot of that stuff going on there, with people who could play everything. I had a friend there who was a mastermind sort of person who was very influential in terms of bringing everything in-house, in a sense, and presenting things that way. Some of these people, like the friends I was in bands with and the guy from Periphery, were the types who would demo an entire project by themselves and play everything. They weren’t opposed to having other people having ideas, but they would just come in with the whole thing. All that, as well as looking up to guys like Prince, that’s where the whole way of approaching things went.
It made it so I could diversify what I was able to play. I figured out drums to any acceptable level so I could demo them. Also, when I made that first Godstopper demo was in an era where stuff like Xasthur and Leviathan were getting more popular, and they were these one-man black metal projects and those were pretty influential for me as well. It’s not because I really like black metal at all, it’s more because it was just these dudes making this music and playing all the instruments, and it was lo-fi, and that was OK. So realizing that I could do that myself made it easier to do.
And just to be clear, even with a name like Godstopper, you sound nothing like lo-fi one-man black metal.
No, definitely not! Overall, what interests me is how much control can I have over my music because I want to see it through. When you have more people there’s the potential for more friction, that’s my experience.
So when you learned drums to do Godstopper that means you were also the live drummer? And doing vocals?
Yup, total Phil Collins style.
So Godstopper is a pretty metal name if I ever heard one and people unfamiliar with the music might have some preconceived notions of what you all sound like based on that name. Has that ever been an issue?
Yeah, the band has nothing to do with religion at all. It was originally an idea that me and my buddy Greg who runs a studio had, and he does all these side projects. So I said to him we ought to do a crossover thrash band and call it Godstopper. It was a cool name. He didn’t have interest in it though so I just kept the name and put it in a different context. I liked the idea it wasn’t metal because so much metal stuff is obsessed with critiquing religion. I sort of went another way with that.
But yeah, the name caused some confusion. When I went on tour with this band Column Of Heaven in 2013 we toured down the West Coast I brought some Godstopper records with me and a lot of people thought it was the band Godstomper.
I guess that was probably the scene you were playing to because Column Of Heaven was a powerviolence sort of band right?
Yeah, and Godstomper was in that world too. So that’s the story of the name.
I think the name and some of the artwork you have used on various records might lead people to draw those conclusions but I like to think of Godstopper as a sort of pop band that happens to just be really heavy.
There’s a significant shift in terms of really emphasizing hooks and clean singing from “What Matters”, a little bit more on “Children…” and full-on with “Lie Down”. Was that more a case of actively working towards that, or feeling comfortable enough with getting away from overtly heavy music?
Singing is always my favorite thing to do. So it was a conscious choice to do things one way in the beginning and then change it over time. My influences and overall motivations haven’t changed from the beginning, so I was more into, as a template, some of the bands that played locally in Toronto at the time. I was into some of the post-hardcore, or weirder heavy bands of the time too, like Botch, Converge, and especially Today Is the Day. I always wanted some melody, but screaming felt like something that was more current, or belonged in the music. I liked the template of Steve Austin from Today Is the Day and Alan Dubin from Khanate doing this kind of pathetic, crazed person vocals. I was initially going for stuff like that. I thought both of those were cool, alternative options to doing by-the-book metal screaming. So I wanted to avoid the typical screaming and do more of this unhinged, damaged vocal thing.
But after doing that I gradually wanted to dial it back. It’s funny you mention it because on “Lie Down” it was a conscious decision that I made to have zero non-melodic vocals on that record. I think it was partly because my outlook changed. I wasn’t as into this misanthropic music anymore. I wasn’t as into heavy music anymore. A combination of those things and it’s a bit uncreative on other bands parts to just have some standard screaming going on. It seems people really default on that style of vocals. It’s like an afterthought for a lot of these people. It’s a bit lazy. You have this whole instrument and you’re just going to make it difficult for anyone to understand what you’re saying? You want to anonymous? It’s just plain and angry? It’s sort of paint-by-numbers to me.
So I gradually shifted it a bit and made the music more vocal-centric.
Did you have to train your voice in another way?
No, not really at all. I just dialed up the Ronnie James Dio and Andrew Lloyd Weber musical side of things that I always liked. It was always sort of there, I just didn’t have a place to use it.
I think the vocals work in a unique sort of way. You said you wanted things to be more vocal-centric with the music, but I feel like it’s 50/50 with this ‘here’s this very heavy background music that has a lot of catchy parts in disguise’, and the vocals. That was the appeal for me when hearing Godstopper. It’s got all these hooks buried under heaviness, sort of hiding in plain sight. I love stuff like that.
Godstopper live video of "Young Queen" off of the the "Children..." EP
For sure. I like hiding hooks in heavy music. You want it to be memorable but you don’t want anyone to think that I did it on purpose (laughs)!
I mean, Torche, first and foremost, influenced me in that regard. I used to do a radio show for around five years and I would interview bands on it. I interviewed the bass player from Torche, and in doing some research on them for the interview I looked into some of their influences and was like, ‘who the fuck are these bands?’ They were into stuff like Cherubs and referencing stuff like My Bloody Valentine. That’s the first time I’d heard those bands and definitely never thought of those bands as influences for a heavy band. I came up from growing up in the suburbs listening to Hot Topic metal. I didn’t have a hardcore background. I didn’t have that cool DIY thing that influenced a lot of these guys. I was kind of a Judas Priest-shirt wearing metal dude. I liked things polished.
So I wasn’t up on stuff like Sunny Day real Estate, or whatever. The idea that these influences can be filtered through in another way to heavy music was unknown to me. I mean, prior to that, it was probably something like Soilwork that I would think of using a shouted vocals-sung chorus, which felt pretentious and silly and I don’t think really worked.
So when people ask about what the influences were for Godstopper I would definitely say Torche in how they combined influences of their own. People often say we sound like The Melvins, but I was never really a Melvins listener, so I can’t say they’re a direct influence.
So, to my understanding, you did very limited runs of both “Children…” and “Lie Down” on your own, but I take it they may have only been available at shows, of which that doesn’t occur all that often?
For “Lie Down” we actually only released that online prior to you doing a run of CDs. But for the “Children Are Our Future” EP we did a small run of CDs. I don’t think I’d do that again because I’m not too into CDs.
Original art from the "Children Are Our Future" EP
Are you not a fan of physical media?
I like the legitimizing aspect of vinyl. I don’t listen to vinyl much, I listen to stuff digitally mostly. But I also believe that one should have physical copies of music both for collectors who are interested, but also to solidify the permanency of what you created. I think that we’re in this weird generation that is like the 50’s in that you’re just supposed to churn out a continuous stream of singles. It’s been sort of like that for my current project Jack Moves. People keep saying to just put out singles like every month. But what I found is that every song sounds different and none of them is a direct representation of what I sound like. But even if I end up shooting myself in the foot, the next thing I release is going to be a full length because I feel like you have to see forest for the trees, ya know? You have to hear the whole thing. So I think having vinyl is sort of the physical embodiment of that. It’s too ephemeral to have just a track, or tracks, on a streaming service.
I wanted to ask a bit about the art for “Lie Down”, which is just a yard with a kiddie pool, and it’s really simple. It doesn’t tell you too much.
We ended up going with something simple, to be honest. It’s a picture of Miranda (Armstrong, bassist) and Adam’s (McGillivray, drums) backyard. The mask, which is the same one that’s on the cover of “What Matters” is floating in the kiddie pool, and there’s not much beyond that, to be honest. There’s not to much to say other than that it’s hinting at there is something off. The mask I made is floating in the pool, but it’s in this every day kind of scenario with a lawnmower. That’s kind of the aim. But insofar as how we selected it I wanted to get some artwork done by someone for a different kind of concept, but that fell through. So we just went with the photo.
And I like the idea of the mask thing getting re-used because that’s a running thing through three of our records.
OK, so these two Godstopper releases are not on the Hex Records bandcamp because the band self-released them first so they get dibs. If you want to check the digital tracks the links are embedded within this article. If you, however, are the type of person who enjoys having physical media conveniently in one spot Hex Records released both "Lie Down" and "Children Are Our Future" on one disc and for the next week you can grab it for just $4 through the site HERE. That's a nice deal for two albums of material.