Interview: Thirteen Goats
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
I don’t know how I would survive without music, honestly. Music—and specifically, music on the darker end of the spectrum—has helped me get through so much.
My Dad had a really great album collection when I was growing up, and he was always playing stuff I never heard anywhere else. He introduced me to stuff like Talking Heads and LCD Soundsystem, but also bands like Nine Inch Nails and Monster Magnet, who were my gateway into heavier things. Maybe that’s why I grew up playing extreme metal but also trying to inject everything I wrote with compelling storytelling and strong pop sensibilities. I still believe that metal can be brutal as fuck without sacrificing hooks, melody, and real emotion.
I’ve always kind of felt like a pop songwriter in a metalhead’s body—I used to walk around malls as a kid and sing these improvised jingles about the brands I saw in different stores. It was super weird, and most of it was probably gibberish—I bet that’s part of what got me bullied so much when I was little. But I’ve always been creative, even when the stuff I was creating wasn’t any good, and I’m grateful for that, even at those times when it feels like more of a compulsion than a gift.
As for what I’d be doing if I hadn’t gotten into music, probably a lot of the same things I’m doing on the side now: acting, writing, and working in digital media. I can’t imagine being me and not finding ways to make things.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
Like I said, I’m an actor—that’s actually what I did both my degrees in. I have a BFA in Theatre from UVic and an MFA in Acting from the New School for Drama in NYC, which used to be The Actors Studio. I actually just wrapped a small role in a national TV series, but unfortunately I can’t tell you which one until it airs.
I also do a lot of writing. I’m one of the managing editors for a digital media group that focuses on content about motorcycles and sports cars, so I handle a team of journalists, and sometimes brands send me free riding gear to test out and review. Besides that, I work freelance as the content specialist for a marketing agency based in Alberta and teach voice and movement to voice actors at a studio in downtown Vancouver. The only thing I don’t do much of these days is sleep.
How long has your band been around?
Thirteen Goats has been around for three years, but we were originally called Commandra. That’s the name of a flower that grows here in British Columbia and causes a type of tree fungus, which we thought was pretty metal and a nice nod to our roots (pun intended). We also liked the irony of being a metal band named after a delicate plant. But nobody got it, so we’ve been Thirteen Goats for the last year or so.
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
We’re in Vancouver, BC—but all the members of the band have strong roots in Eastern Europe. I’m a third-generation Ukrainian, Rob Fitz-Gerald (guitar, vocals) is half Armenian, our bass player Cody Lewichew is part Russian, and our drummer Leonid Verman is actually from St. Petersburg. Sometimes I joke that we’re like the Canadian version of System of a Down, although we don’t have a lot of Slavic folk music influences in our songs or anything. But it could still happen!
We do have a couple of songs that talk about the darker aspects of Eastern European history—and the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine. I think having two Russians and a Ukrainian in the same band and all of us being adamantly against what Putin is doing shows that most working-class people, no matter where they come from, are united against this pointless war for profit and power that benefits no one but a small handful of spineless, soulless oligarchs.
How did you come up with the name of your band and what does it mean to you?
The Thirteen Goats name started as a joke—we just slapped an evil-sounding number next to an evil-sounding animal. We could just as easily have been called “666 Wolves” (which, come to think of it, actually also sounds pretty cool). But then we built a concept around it—we developed this mascot, Shepherd, who’s like the Antichrist in a goat-skull mask and has 12 demon goats as his disciples. They’re on a bunch of our artwork, and in the animated music video for our first single, “Return to Ruin”.
Tell me about your most memorable shows.
Our very first gig was a blast. We opened for Tribunal, Kayas, Maule, and Blackwater Burial at a bar in downtown Vancouver called Pub 340—which, sadly, folded during the pandemic. I was worried that people would hate us, but we actually set the place on fire. People reacted really well to the band and the music. I think that was kind of the big “green light” moment, when we knew we had something worth taking seriously and investing in.
What is your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
Pub 340 (RIP) will always have a special place in our hearts—the same way I think first venues always do for bands. But the future’s wide open, and we’re looking forward to playing anywhere that will have us, large or small.
One place in particular I’d really like to do a show is St. Vitus Bar in Brooklyn, where I used to work as a karaoke DJ when I lived on the East Coast. I saw Anthrax on that stage and hung out with those guys in the basement of the bar after their set—so if we ever make it there, I’ll know we managed to stand among giants.
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
I’ve always thought it would be really funny to get a bunch of metal bands with animal-themed names together for a festival or tour called “Barnburner” or something. We could have Lamb of God, Pig Destroyer, Cattle Decapitation, and Thirteen Goats. I think our sound would fit really nicely into that lineup as well, so… guys, if any of you are reading this, give us a listen?
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into playing in a band and some advice that you would give to your younger self?
Wow, that’s tough. For new bands, I’d say work hard but don’t take yourselves too seriously. You have to be committed to writing, practicing, and performing—but flexible with each other and kind to the people you work with. It takes a lot of cooperation and patience to get a band off the ground, and if you can’t face the inevitable challenges with compassion and a sense of humor, the wheels will come off while you’re still on the runway. That almost happened to us.
As for advice I’d give my younger self, I don’t know. I’m not convinced I know a lot more now than I did ten years ago—I’m just more exhausted, which a lot of people mistake for maturity or being grounded or something. But maybe I would want to be kinder to myself, because I used to blame myself for not being further along in my career, even though I’ve spent pretty much my whole life giving 110% to art-making. It’s scary to realize you’re not responsible for everything that happens to you, because if you’re like me, you want as much control as possible over your own life—but you also can’t be angry with yourself for opportunities other people aren’t giving you. It’s been hard for me to learn that, professionally and personally.
If you could go back in time and give yourselves advice, what would it be?
I think I kind of just answered that one: be kinder to yourself, and always be kind to others. Life is hard, and most people aren’t trying to hurt each other—they’re just doing their best to be happy. When we compete with others for happiness like it’s some non-renewable resource that exists in limited quantities, we just end up creating more pain. We have to actively participate in each other’s happiness if we want to live in a world with less suffering.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
Constant Torment. It’s about mental health and suicide awareness. It’s also the most personal song on the record. I’m not going to say much more about it than that.
One thing I will say, though, is that I think this type of music can sometimes attract people who are struggling to survive in spite of being really damaged—and without support, those people can implode. Self-destruction can manifest as suicide, or addiction, or high-risk lifestyles, and all you need to do to see the proof of that is look at some of the people we’ve lost from the metal world in the last couple of years—Trevor Strnad, Alexei Laiho, Riley Gale, and the list goes on.
Constant Torment is about an experience from my life, but in my heart it’s a song for all those guys—and for anyone else who finds themselves struggling with the weight of being alive. We need to talk more about that if we want to stop losing people we love.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
We have a few songs that are really over-the-top, musically and lyrically. Those are the ones fans always seem to go crazy for. One of those songs is “Through the Meat Grinder… The Recipe”, which is about a man who invites his rival over for dinner and then cooks him. When the rest of their town comes looking for the missing guy, the song’s protagonist invites them in for dinner, serves the first guy’s head up to them on a plate, then murders everyone at the table and turns them into different entrees. It’s deeply ridiculous, and super fun to play.
We also have one called “Vacuum-Induced Head Explosion”, which is about putting someone in a vacuum-sealed chamber and turning up the pressure until their head “pops like a grape”. Scientifically accurate? Fuck no. But it is an absolute banger.
What is the creative process for the band, and what inspires you to write your music?
Rob and I are the two primary songwriters for the band. He tends to focus more on music and I tend to focus more on lyrics, although we also switch it up pretty often. The first record also features some songwriting contributions from our friend and original bass player, Mike Redston of Snakeblade.
As for how we write and what we’re inspired by, it’s kind of the same answer—we trust our instincts and only follow through on ideas we’re really excited about. I think some bands like to write a bunch of material and then edit it down, but we cut as we go. If we don’t think something is really cool or compelling, it never gets finished.
I think it’s a good sign that we already have an entire second (and maybe third) album’s worth of material waiting in the wings—it shows we’re still finding musical ideas and subjects to write about that get our blood pumping. Maybe part of the reason for that is that nothing is off-limits for us. We’ll explore any topic and any style before we decide that it’s not worth pursuing. I wish more metal bands would do that, because I think groups that pigeonhole themselves in terms of style or lyrical themes can sometimes advance this idea that metal is only about certain things, and I really disagree with that. Like any other type of music, it’s capable of exploring the human condition in all its complexity, and for me that’s what being an artist is all about.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
It depends on the song. As I’ve said above, some of our songs are really serious and personal, while others are political, and a few are just campy and fun.
If there is a common thread, I’d say a lot of our songs are about rebirth through destruction—of systems and institutions, relationships, or the self. Sometimes we explore that in a serious context, and sometimes it’s a lot sillier, but that’s a fairly recurring theme. That’s also kind of what Shepherd, our mascot, and his 12 demon goats are about—embracing the dark to find a way forward, even though it can be terrifying. Like we say in the song “Servant of the Outer Dark”: “there’s such delicious madness waiting on the other side”.
Do you ever have disagreements in your band, and how do you get past them?
We used to bicker a lot in our original lineup, which resulted in things moving very slowly. But with the new guys, our process is a lot smoother—I think partially because the current rhythm section really trusts Rob and me to lead the band. Finding people who believe in your vision (or at least see it and agree that it’s valid) is vital for any group creative effort. If you can manage to do that, you won’t have to worry about resolving a lot of disputes because you’ll be able to avoid them completely.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
We’re out for blood this year. We want to play every show, festival, and tour that will have us on board. We’d also love to find a label, either to handle a vinyl release for this record or to take us on for album number two.
Also, be on the lookout for our first live-action music video, which will drop a few weeks after the album comes out on July 1st. It’s for the song “Servant of the Outer Dark”, and it was directed by award-winning filmmakers Nessa Aref & Alysson Hall (who are actually old friends from my theatre-school days). It combines shots of the band playing with this really creepy narrative short film Rob and I both acted in, and has tons of easter eggs for fans who are horror nerds, film geeks, or both. I think we referenced everyone from Akira Kurosawa to Ari Aster—and Stephen King, obviously, whose Dark Tower series (and one villain in particular) inspired the lyrics.
Finally, please listen to the record when it comes out. This is our love letter to the music that has always been there for us, and if metal has a special place in your heart, we believe what we’ve made will have something for you as well.
Music Video- Return To Ruin -