COVER STORY | Geese Aren’t Here to Save Rock ‘N’ Roll

Vocalist Cameron Winter and guitarist Gus Green talk 3D Country, rock magazines manufacturing music scenes and how the band made a satirical album in the wake of ecological and social collapse

Music Features Geese
COVER STORY | Geese Aren’t Here to Save Rock ‘N’ Roll

Just a few days before I hop on a call with some members of Geese, the Brooklyn rock quintet played a set at Maker Park Radio’s six-year anniversary festival on Staten Island. After their raucous performance, prolific singer/songwriter Kevin Devine took to the stage with his acoustic guitar to deliver solo renditions of songs from a career-spanning setlist. That sort of sonic whiplash makes for a puzzling booking decision, though Devine was quick to liken the back-to-back, far-ranging spectrum of volumes to Jimi Hendrix and Leonard Cohen sharing a lineup card at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970. “It’s an interesting comparison, because we’re so much better than Jimi Hendrix and he’s so much better than Leonard Cohen,” vocalist Cameron Winter quips from a choppy Zoom screen, as he walks around New York. “Apples and oranges.” With the momentum that Geese has gained over the last few years—especially with their brand new, sophomore album 3D Country—it’s hard to argue with the generations-spanning parallels of brazen, ambitious and chaotic rock ‘n’ roll. They’re not quite Hendrix yet, but they are the most exciting young band in America.

Geese are a five-piece who met while they were attending Brooklyn Friends School and Little Red School House in NYC back in the late-2010s. In those days, the band would convene in drummer Max Bassin’s basement to practice and demo. Once senior year ended, the quintet had planned to call it a day and head off to college. Guitarist Gus Green was set to go to Oberlin College in Ohio, while other members had received admission to the Berklee College of Music in Boston. But, when Partisan Records entered the fold and signed them to their roster, everything changed. Joining a label that’s been responsible for great albums by acts like IDLES, Fontaines D.C. and PJ Harvey was no small feat, and it greatly changed the trajectory for Winter, Dominic DiGesu, Bassin, Green and Foster Hudson.

Teaming up with Partisan signaled a great shift in Geese’s destiny, but it happened at a time when COVID was at an apex and unraveling in America. All five members graduated high school into a remote world, and it wasn’t easy to balance both changes while barely in adulthood. “I was totally freaked out by this unprecedented thing that was happening, and then there was this other unprecedented thing in my life that was happening, which was [the record deal]. It was really wacky,” Green says. Pre-pandemic, graduates who opted to skip college and avoid going into debt were looked down on, as if bypassing that chapter of your life was some taboo, irredeemable choice. Green takes classes part-time, but their main focus is on Geese. And, now that the band are two albums in and firmly in the groove, I ask them and Winter if passing on college was the right choice.

“Yeah, I would actually say so,” Green says. “Pretty confidently. There was one year—the first year of the pandemic—where we were still finishing up [Projector] and planning shows, nothing was really happening, public-facing-wise. It felt a little bit weird, at that point. But we have since gotten very busy.” “Definitely,” Winter chimes in. “I was really scared. A lot of what was holding me back from making a decision not to go to school is how few people make that decision at this point. It’s a real game of chicken. I think, a lot of the time, whether you’re gonna go to school or not—even if you don’t really care or see a point in it—it’s supposed to be the place where you find yourself. But I’ve been finding myself pretty well, not going to school—so it’s working for me. It wouldn’t work for everyone, but we’re very lucky.”

Geese 3D Country

[Credit: Kyle Berger]

Geese’s first album, Projector, was self-produced and then mixed by Dan Carey—an English engineer who’s helmed records by everyone from Wet Leg to Fontaines D.C. to Squid to black midi. The project arrived with a lot of hype, as Geese were quickly touted as rock saviors when many of the members were still teenagers. Like the bands Carey has worked with over the last 10 years, the Brooklynites brought a sporadic, experimental and bold palette of work to the table and got to embellish it. Known for shape-shifting between sub-genres, Projector put Geese in a wheelhouse they could thrive in. Their first-ever single, “Disco,” was a seven-minute odyssey that presented the band as risk-takers who weren’t afraid to throw caution to the wind and drop a track of such an epic length fresh out of the gate. But, Winter quickly reveals that they’d initially wanted to put out “Low Era” first. “We opened it with a more-expansive track to hook the people who like that in and then tighten up for the second go-around,” Green says. “Which is, I guess, the opposite of what we did this time around.”

They’re right. This time around, Geese kick-started the hype for 3D Country with “Cowboy Nudes,” a sub-three-minute, dazzling track that has the milieu of some great, cosmic, honky-tonk paradise. “I wish that the end coulda come a little sooner,” Winter croons. “We’ve been looking for a chance to be alone.” Later, “3D Country” arrives at five-odd minutes and finds Winter coiling his vocals around a blues riff that obliterates cowboy chord expectations. When those first two singles arrived earlier this year, you could, immediately, sense an uptick in production for the band. Going from the DIY fixtures of Bassin’s basement to a studio was bound to change the alchemy of what Geese would become. “We definitely did a lot more pre-production for [3D Country], there wasn’t really much of that at all for Projector,” Green says. “We had more resources and it was like kids in a candy store. We wanted to use all of the cool studio gizmos and make something that we’ve always wanted to but haven’t necessarily had the means to—until now.”

Longtime Arctic Monkeys producer James Ford helmed the boards on 3D Country, as Geese’s album is now sandwiched in-between his production credits on Depeche Mode’s Memento Mori and Blur’s The Ballad of Darren. Despite having a (mostly) maximal pop background, Ford has been known to make a foray into the weird stuff here and there, making him an optimal surveyor to have on the project. 3D Country was, as Green puts it, “very well-contextualized in [Ford’s] hands” and the English engineer was able to help Geese bring the disparate demos to a cohesive, filled-out shape by encouraging extra takes and pushing the band towards weird margins they might not have flirted with on their own. “I think we needed an adult presence in the room with us, just a grounding, British sort of ‘I know what I’m doing’ presence,” Winter adds.

3D Country sounds great, and Geese glossed a million-dollar attitude across the album’s unpredictable tracklist. As indebted to the various architectures of rock ‘n’ roll as their sophomore effort is, it’s also, in many ways, an antithesis to what’s working in indie spheres and the mainstream. It’s unlikely that one of their tracks blows up on TikTok anytime soon, but they don’t give a fuck about that. “A lot of what we’re trying to do, I think, with [3D Country], is to be contradictory to everything that is succeeding in rock right now, for better or for worse,” Winter says. “There’s a lot of seriousness in a lot of rock music. It’s almost, like, dance-y. It’s almost like rap, the talking, singing and the very straightforward rhythms. There’s a lot of post-punk stuff out right now. And we just desperately wanted to oppose that—not because it’s terrible or anything. It’s fine. We wanted to be unique little snowflakes.”

Geese 3D Country

[Credit: Kyle Berger]

Geese look to bands that break away from traditional setups and expectations. Green opens their streaming library and calls out acts like caroline and Home Is Where as immediate, recent reference points, while Winter takes an opportunity to vent about the state of rock ‘n’ roll, the genre’s inclinations to retread worn-out roads and how journalism attempts to rekindle the flames of bygone scenes. “It almost makes us uncomfortable, sometimes, with how, occasionally, a rock publication will bring us up [in conversations about] ‘Who will save New York rock ‘n’ roll?’ New York rock ‘n’ roll, it doesn’t exist anymore. Rock as an expression of New York, or even as youth, is so dwindling. It’s taking form in ways that aren’t actually rock music.”

“I was just gonna say that some of the shit on the new 100 gecs record is really rock-coded,” Green says, jumping back in. “In the same way that a lot of newer trap music and rage music is like modern punk music being made at the highest scale possible. It’s an attitude thing, I think, more than anything. If I can find something that has the spirit of what I like and my favorite albums growing up, then that feels like rock music to me.”

Since hitting the ground running with Projector in 2021, Geese have been positioned as torch-bearers for whatever the next Meet Me in the Bathroom-era will be in NYC. But, the band is comprised of Zoomers who were raised on the internet and virality and digital content creation. It’s much harder now to cultivate a scene beyond our laptops than it was 20 years ago, when the Strokes, Dirty Projectors and Yeah Yeah Yeahs were tilting the modern rock gaze back onto the Big Apple—much like how, 20 years prior to that, Television, Talking Heads and Blondie achieved the same appeal. Or, at least that’s what Rolling Stone and Billboard told us was going on. “Everyone’s the next coming of fucking something else at this point, because rock music is out of ideas that don’t involve diffusing into other genres,” Winter says. “I saw a comment on Reddit the other day of someone being like, ‘Can we classify the post-punk revival as a scientific phenomenon, because it’s happened twice now and 20 years apart each time?’” Green adds.

As DIY spaces attempt to survive in a post-quarantine world, the cyclical marketing tactic that has tried swallowing Geese up is at the mercy of journalism and labels. I think about the writers in the UK who manufactured the shoegaze scene in the early-1990s, or the record execs later that decade who exhausted every resource trying to sign the next Nirvana after Nirvana blew up. When the industry gets into a lull—much like it did at the hands of disco and soft-rock in the 1970s, or nu-metal and proto-butt-rock in the late-1990s—someone’s gotta stir up a pot of hype. Sometimes I’ll read scene reports or “bands to watch” roundups, and it’s rare that I ever get through one of those articles without seeing a mention of Meet Me in the Bathroom as an enrichment toy. It’s almost a Pavlovian call-and-response at this point for NYC artists. The East Coast bands of that era were not even as close as the media made them out to be.

“I feel like a lot of it is the work of fucking magazines. It’s a post-punk revival because they say it is, and it’s happening in New York because, I don’t know, one band has members who are well-off enough to sustain themselves or have parents who support them,” Winter explains. “Tom Verlaine ran away from home and lived on the street with Richard Hell, because that was what you could do in New York in the ‘70s. But now, if you’re making art-rock in New York, you’re fucking screwed. You’re gonna die, you won’t be able to eat. We’re lucky enough to do this thing. It’s probably not going to start anything related to New York. It might inspire people far away from us, in the same way that black midi inspired us from a long way away. A bunch of bands aren’t going to start cropping up. It was already starting 20 years ago, the economic exclusivity thing that was killing music. Now, it’s just even worse.”

Geese 3D Country

[Credit: Kyle Berger]

So where does that leave Geese, an antithetical rendering of modern rock ambition in a modern rock world that is so desperately trying to get back to 1970? 3D Country is not a milquetoast carbon copy of something exhausted 50 years ago; it’s a modernist formula perfected by sonic uniqueness, poetic curiosity and industry apathy. Though the band is not interested in being the saviors that music might want them to be, they’re still thinking about how their work will remain timeless across generations. “All of those bands [from the Meet Me in the Bathroom era] were being compared to the people before them, but those are the bands that I grew up on,” Green says. “And that got me excited about music, so I wouldn’t be surprised if that keeps happening—if a kid could listen to our record and have a similar reaction and then go off and make their own music. There is an argument that can be made for how the cyclical nature of making the same thing over and over again is tiring and not that interesting, but I think it will keep happening. And if there are people that keep doing that, then there will be a couple of bands who will make something that is an interesting reinterpretation of that.”

Ruminating on how some new wave albums with drum machine presets or the off-kilter production choices on new age projects that haven’t aged well (or, in Winter’s words, “sound like garbage”), Geese are more interested in building a catalog of artistic merit rather than selling out to the moment. “I was actually thinking about that a lot, what makes music hold up,” Winter adds. “It’s not jumping on a wave because you want to jump on the wave. Actually, it’s because either the wave of whatever is cool at that moment is what you, artistically, find interesting, or it’s just coincidence.” Coming of age in a landscape where music magazines are folding or news staffs are getting canned weekly, a writer might feel alienated by Geese’s refusal to play into whatever manufactured destiny might better serve journalism and rock ‘n’ roll in the long run. But too many artists shine it on for the sake of exposure, saying things are great when the industry is an unfixable catastrophe just waiting to replace with them with the next best, new, shiny thing.

Geese’s approach to all of the zeitgeist luster is refreshing, as they’re never going to pose as whatever figureheads someone else wants them to be. 3D Country succeeds as an anti-homage record because it pulls from rock reference points with a wink and a “fuck you, watch this.” Sure, Winter’s spoken-word vocals sound like Nick Cave’s here, or the band’s instrumentals are chaotic like a Beggar’s Banquet-era Stones track there. Those are points that fill out reviews (I should know, I used those exact ones in my own gauge of 3D Country last month), but they’re selling points that few people pay attention to. Bands like Greta Van Fleet are mainstream fodder attempting to make Led Zeppelin a marketable TikTok trend. Substance in rock music is long gone, as farewell tours now last three years, ticket prices are astronomical, charts are rid of riffs and institutions like the Grammys are nominating crummier and crummier albums every single year. To see Geese come out and give a middle finger to the system’s tendency to force vibrant, gnarly and charismatic acts into selling-out for the sake of survival is a needed mainstream kamikaze—and we ought to hold onto that originality.

3D Country is one of the first American rock records made by Zoomers in a way that feels aptly focused on the social and climate wars that our peers are tasked with shouldering. Our parents’ generations fucked us over and heaped all of this burning and recession onto our backs. One cannot avoid cynicism—us late-1990s and early-2000s babies are positioned to repeat the cycle, as humanity is a circle. Yet there is hope that we will also change the world in more unique ways than Millennials and Gen-Xers ever have. “I can’t help but laugh at the impending doom that I grew up with,” Green says. “I like to laugh at things, because it’s better than getting really sad and depressed about it. I grew up with all the statistics being thrown in my face. ‘By 2030, the Earth will reach this temperature. By 2050, there’ll be mass-migration due to that.’ I did grow up with a sense of finality, because it was being presented to me that way.”

Geese 3D Country

[Credit: Kyle Berger]

The apocalyptic spaghetti western of 3D Country feels like a fair indictment of the ongoing societal turmoil that gets swept under the rug of cowboy culture, tarot and the fractured skeleton of hope. Geese toy with the idea of folklore and mythology all across their sophomore album. Opening track “2122” especially aims at Kali Yuga, Baby Yaga, Osiris and Jӧrmungandr, these prophetic creatures and figures who were harbingers of darkness, misery and spectral forces. “I’m losing all faith in my life,” Winter sings. “And I’m looking for a way to the bright light.” The record weaves in and out of imagery of cannibalizing loved ones on doomsday, becoming an airbag crashing through the window of love, making a home in the jaws of a monster and the places the devil hides. There’s no great reckoning or symbolic coda at the end of the album, only an assured, intimate proclamation: “In the fire, we’ll get together, locking eyes like lonely dancers. In the fire, when war is over, make believe I know the answer.”

Like Geese, I, too, grew up watching the BP Oil Spill on television in junior high and not fully understanding the ramifications of destructive hurricanes on coastal cities every other year. Everything was a setback presented to us, like Green notes, as a statistic without any means of conclusion. These cyclical vestiges of destruction and disobedience and violence populate 3D Country in unique, absurd and vivid ways—and every bit of it is intentional. “There are multiple options presented for how things could go, and the worst one always ends up getting picked. The fact of living in that timeline, I think we’re poking fun at it. It is very serious and concerning, but I can’t help but find comedy in the fact that we’re just fucking up over and over and over again. I’m like, ‘Oh, there’s an A and B here, and we chose the shittiest option possible as a species.’”

With DiGesu, Bassin, Green and Hudson forging a rich, unrelenting soundscape of brash, melodic and anodyne arrangements, Winter is able to stand at the center, delivering the band’s gospel. From his soulful falsetto on “I See Myself” to a torn, deep-throated, guttural bellow on “Mysterious Love” and “2112,” he has the range of a machine-gun and the bravado of a theater maven—but that wasn’t always the case. “I was a shy singer for a lot of my youth,” Winter says. “I was very meek and not confident, and I think Projector was the first time, I would say, where I really was trying to be a little bit weirder. I was experimenting with slight affectations, and I remember people reacting to that record and being like, ‘Wow, his vocal affectations are kind of weird.’ But, at that point, they had grown so much more extreme that I coudn’t even hear them as affectations anymore. When I was listening to Projector, I was just like, ‘Oh, that’s my normal singing voice.’ At this point, it’s just so fucked. I don’t even know what I’m doing.”

Winter gravitates toward weird singers, claiming that he has a “really high tolerance” for them. His immediate influences are Tim Buckley, Robbie Basho and Linda Sharrock. “You’re reaching vocal affectation singularity,” Green says to their bandmate. “That’s right,” Winter replies. “I don’t even know who I am anymore.” One of Green’s friends compares Winter to fellow Brooklyn band That Handsome Devil’s vocalist Christian James Oppel, but only if the Geese singer was a theater kid. “I remember when [Winter was] penning the vocals for Projector a couple of years ago and I would listen to it and be like, ‘Whoa, Cameron is really out there and experimenting.’ And I’ve had the same exact progression of being like, ‘Oh, wait, no, this is actually pretty tame,’ because now what’s happening is, when I really go in and listen to [3D Country], it’s like, ‘Wow, there’s a different inflection every line. And I think that’s really cool, man.”

Despite Winter’s vocals being the centerpiece of every Geese song, the vocalist never talked his approach over with the band—despite much of the discourse and polarized reactions around their albums being because of Winter’s singing. But Green is quick to reassure their bandmate that that style is essential to the band’s DNA and direction. “It’s such a blatantly personal expression to sing, I think, for you personally and lyrically, and I really want to see you take things to their logical conclusion for your logical conclusion,” they tell Winter. You could see that essentialism when Geese played Paste’s SXSW showcase in 2022. Songs like “Tomorrow’s Crusades” and “Crusader,” in particular, find the singer tracing across numerous octaves, timbres and patterns. The former is one of the best and emotional rock tracks of 2023 so far, especially when Winter delivers this line of admittance: “Where would I ever be without you?” There’s grit, finesse and grandeur all co-existing in the same breath.

Geese 3D Country

[Credit: Kyle Berger]

While making 3D Country, Geese welcomed in background soul singers Audrey Martells and LaJuan Carter—who’ve worked with artists like Brandy, Stevie Wonder, Celine Dion and Mary J. Blige—to provide a proto-country choir to songs like the title track and “I See Myself.” Their contributions changed the alchemy of the record and turned the world of Geese into something more expansive, breathing and technicolor—ensconcing Winter’s vocals with a perfect fusion of warmth and flora. “They’re just fucking professionals,” he says. “I came in with these parts and they just did all of them in one day, first take. They were telling me these crazy stories about touring with Willie Nelson. They’ve just had these crazy careers where they just go on the road and record. They really brought a different flavor [to 3D Country].”

As he was writing his parts for the album, Winter was listening to a lot of Beach Boys records and finding inspiration in Brian Wilson’s string instrumentations. On top of articulating every single image through gonzo-style, stream-of-conscious prose, he wanted to find new ways to chronicle expression, something that would give a Geese record an X-factor. Winter put a newfound focus into revising and formatting every idea he drafted up. And, for much of the album, and especially on “I See Myself” with Martells and Carter, Winter wrote sheet music and demoed all of the vocal parts (choral harmonies and all) by himself on his laptop. You can see that dedication across every inch of the record, and you can see how Winter’s leadership and brilliance is really magnetic and infectious amongst his bandmates.

On the cover of 3D Country is a twisted-up cowboy eating shit while an atom bomb goes off in the distance. It’s a timely image—given the current buzz around Oppenheimer and the everlasting gloom and worry of World War III inclinations and inevitable planetary desolation—that taps into the overall energy of the album altogether. But Geese’s feelings towards cowboys and how they intertwine with popular culture and rock ‘n’ roll is not as romantic as you might expect. “If we put cowboys on the next album, shoot me in the head,” Winter deadpans from the back of an Uber. The outlaw, 10-gallon-hat imagery in Geese’s universe is, as Green calls it, a “purely reactionary” marker used to differentiate them from the British bands they love. But, it does go deeper than that.

The cowboy bit is tongue-in-cheek and takes the piss out of macho patriotism in the country the band lives and makes music in. When all of the metaphors and syntax pour out like arsenic from Winter’s braggadocious genius, Geese become waxing poets of a generation born two steps behind. “It also represents this conservative, hyper-masculine, traditionalist thing that is associated with the harmonies and melodies we were pulling from. We just wanted to smash that into something more youthful and weird,” Winter adds. Coupled with religious motifs and romantic aspirations caked in brevity, the satire is precise and affectionate. “In the daylight, I become weightless, I get more faithful every first I made,” Winter sings on “Crusades.” “Men die, but the devil is ageless. The Lord, He lifts me every breath I take.” The best musicians can take the environment that pays their rent and turn it into a fluid spectacle of equal parts jadedness and devotion. Geese are laughing at us and Geese are laughing with us.

In another universe, the band doesn’t make it to this Zoom call. Geese break up after high school and go study at colleges across the East Coast and Midwest, only to—maybe—regroup again with diplomas in-hand four or five years later. But, in this world, they opted to stick it out together and make two great records back to back. 3D Country is not just a definitive summer rock record; it’s the best rock record made by Zoomers ever. The quintet are completely different people than they were when they made Projector two years ago. As Green proclaims, they’re only 21 and the music they make reflects the band’s ongoing development as humans and as bandmates. The next project will likely mark another transformation of some kind, when the time comes.

To come out of the gate with a record like Projector and have your destiny washed aglow with rising hype and expectations can break a band not built to last. On 3D Country, however, Winter, Green and company obliterate any such worry with a towering and perfect performance of swirling guitars, mountainous riffs and cacophonous howls—and, at the center of it all is a talismanic, octave-defying vocal delivering the band’s gospel. But, even if Geese had come out and fallen into a sophomore slump, I’m sure they wouldn’t have given much of a fuck about it anyway.

Matt Mitchell is Paste‘s assistant music editor. He lives in Columbus, Ohio, but you can find him online @yogurttowne. Watch Geese’s Paste Studio on the Road performance from 2022 here.

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