Goat’s Guide to Growing Up in a Small (Cursed) Town
When Swedish experimental / krautrock / psychedelic / Afrobeat collective Goat first hit the scene with their World Music debut back in 2012, questions immediately arose about their background and history. Despite now calling Gothenburg home, the band — or at least the trio of core members — claimed they originally hailed from a tiny village near the Finnish border called Korpilombolo. This, in and of itself, isn’t bizarre or unheard of; it’s not like everyone who’s ever played music is a city slicker. However, it was the improbable backstory the band attached to Korpilombolo that stirred curiosity.
According to legend, back in the 1500s, a traveling witch doctor introduced local residents to voodoo and all the rituals and music associated with his brand of the ancient religion. Years later, Christian crusaders apparently made their way to the village and eradicated everything not having to do with Christianity, burning the place to the ground and placing a curse on the area. In the rubble of this situation, a community developed around the music and culture passed down from the witch doctor, and this served as solace for the survivors. Supposedly, the music that was used as a rallying point way back when has progressed into what Goat have displayed over the course of three albums: the aforementioned World Music, 2014’s Commune and Requiem, which was released earlier this month.
Hey, given that there are still surprising numbers of nitwits who believe word-for-word in the tall tales and teachings of the Bible, who’s to say that something fantastical didn’t happen in Korpilombolo 400+ years ago? Perhaps the details of the story have been mangled due to a lack of physical documentation and the most hilarious game of “telephone” since, well, the Bible! The improbability of this tale and the belief that Goat’s story might not entirely be on the up-and-up is further supported by the fact that nowhere is there any mention of this legend — or anything approximating it — in the brief recorded history of Korpilombolo, official or otherwise. In fact, the highlights of the village’s history include its exporting of a couple thousand barrels of tar in 1820 and a destructive fire in 1825. Adding to the lack of credibility here is the fact that Goat originally misspelled the town’s name on their website. Sure, it’s a tricky one, even for those of us obsessed by all things Swedish (cinema, hockey, death metal), but you’d think a resident would know better.
Either way, a good ruse is a good ruse (heck, on most days I still believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, that Elvis is alive, the moon landings were faked, that GWAR are from the Antarctic and that Graf Orlock is actually comprised of disgraced film students), and ruse or not, it’s entirely possible the band’s members grew up in rural, northern Sweden. At last count, records indicate that Korpilombolo’s population in 2010 was 529 people, though it has been shrinking steadily since 1970 when it was practically a metropolis with 861 residents, its highest recorded population. Maybe they were part of the exodus that appears to be continuing to this day? Maybe they actually did live in an area commune? Or maybe they’ve visited Korpilombolo exactly as many times as we have? Who knows?
Still, we figured that, instead of continuing to pester them about the improbable, we’d ask about something probable. So, we got in touch with one of the collective’s members — a gentleman going by the handle "Big Daddy Goat" — for a brief back-and-forth email exchange. We were warned that English isn’t Big Daddy’s strong suit, but we were still able to ask about life in the big city versus life in a small village.
Tell us about your hometown and upbringing. What were your childhood / teen years like? What does one do for entertainment, schooling and employment in Korpilombolo?
It was cool. Not much to say. We played a lot of punk. We entertained ourselves playing soccer and stuff. Riding reindeers. School was cool. Worked with reindeers afterwards.
Was the voodoo that was associated with Korpilombolo a different sort — like Swedish voodoo vs. Haitian voodoo? In what ways was it different, and were you exposed to it in any way or as part of traditions while growing up?
Yeah, traditions. Spiritual rituals. Playing a lot of drums. The spiritual ideas of our commune are influenced by many religions and philosophies. Our commune is based on traveling and curiosity.
As you got older, were you seen as the local freaks / outcasts? How did you deal with this branding?
No, we were the normal people.
Is religion as big a focal social and gathering point in small-town Sweden as it is in small-town America?
I don't know. Maybe in some towns.
TV and movies will often depict small towns as having their own type of dark underbelly (i.e., Twin Peaks, Peyton Place, Banshee, countless horror movies). Aside from voodoo, what nefarious activities exist in the shadowy corners of Korpilombolo?
It doesn't exist there. The commune is a happy and free place.
What sorts of peculiarities and weirdness have you seen in your small, northern hometown that you haven’t seen manifested anywhere else? Do you think certain issues are unique to small towns like Korpilombolo? What about the impact of elements like living near the Arctic Circle, perpetual seasonal sunshine / darkness, etc.?
It doesn't affect you when you are used to it. What we do up there isn't weird to us, and it's not so different from anything else. The commune is different from other towns, but it is similar to other parts of the world.
In parts of Canada, there are small towns that are so thinly populated that the narrow genetic bloodline has led to higher occurrences of birth defects and the like. The government has come into these places and relocated people to other towns in order to prevent generations of inbreeding. Most people end up finding their way back home because it’s the only life they know and are comfortable with. Is this something that you’ve ever heard of happening in that part of Sweden?
No, people from our commune travel. It was founded by travelers. We are comfortable anywhere.
We’re assuming there’s a strong tradition of music in Korpilombolo. We’re also presuming that, with fewer than 600 residents, the population isn’t big enough to sustain a record store.
There is no record store, but music is part of the human soul, and therefore it plays a big part of our lives. To connect with the spirit world and to simply enjoy life. Music is man's greatest invention.
When did you make the move to Gothenburg?
We [needed] to move, to travel, experience something else. Gothenburg felt right at the time. And still does.
How would you describe life in the big city compared to life in Korpilombolo?
There’s more people. But we live as we want to here as well.
Which do you prefer: life in a small town or big city? And which lifestyle do you see yourself living in the foreseeable future?
It doesn't matter where I live as long as I can live the way I want to at the moment. And I don't do lifestyles.
What do the people of Korpilombolo think of your playing music, releasing albums and touring the world?
They love it.
Requiem is out now on Sub Pop.