Confessions of a Rock â'nâ' Roll SurvivorFourteen years after his first appearance in 'Metro Pulse', Rance Gossett tells it like it was

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by Mike Gibson

"You have to meet my sponsor's husband,â” our editress Leslie Wylie suggested as we sat, still sleepy-eyed and sluggish on a Wednesday morning, splayed around the regal conference-room table at the Metro Pulse office on Gay Street. â“He's been in all kinds of local bands,â” she assured me, â“and he's got some stories to tell.â”

Leslie is an equestrian, a trainer/competitor in a weirdly ritualistic horsey-set endeavor known as three-day eventing. Just like a NASCAR driver, she has a sponsor, a lovely young woman named Robin, a horse enthusiast and competitor herself who has the wherewithal to manage a full-fledged eventing team. Then Leslie told the husband's nameâ"Rance Gossettâ"and my mind flashed back 14 years, to my second assignment for Metro Pulse as a freelance reporter. Working on a survey story about the state of area heavy metal bands, I chanced to see a four-piece unit named Malice in Wonderland at a club (now long departed) on Cumberland Avenue. Malice's bassist was a 17-year-old kid named Rance Gossett; his older sister, Karman, was the outfit's drummer. The group was tight, explosive, and heavier than God's pickup truck, and three songs into their set, they were already my new favorite local band.

I saw Malice in Wonderland play several times over the next two or three years, even kept up with the band members for a while. Then they seemingly disappeared, only to re-emerge with a new lineup, before finally breaking up for good. We lost touch.

But bassist Gossett stayed busy. Already a veteran of two local metal bandsâ"Mirror Mirror and White Boy Noiseâ"when he joined Malice in Wonderland at the tender age of 16, Gossett played around townâ"hell, he played all over the countryâ"with a host of other heavy rock outfits, the most notable of which was Galaxie (1996-2003), an alt-metal power trio that also featured singer-guitarist Scott Oxendine and drummer Todd Bryant.

With Galaxie, Gossett and co. lived out their own depraved conception of the American rock'n'roll dream. Or much of it, at any rate. They won a national battle of the bands contest out of Rolling Stone magazine, and toured the country on the dime of contest sponsors Jim Beam; they earned a deal to record an album for Atlantic Records with a Nashville management and production company; and they played all over the southeast and points west opening for some of today's rock radio favorites. Leslie was right; Rance Gossett has some stories.

We arranged to meet at the home he shares with Robin in the heart of Strawberry Plains, an Old-World wooden farmhouse the couple have remodeled with a fetching array of retro-elegant fixtures and decorations: a 150-year-old brass bathtub; lion's-head doorknockers; a medieval suit of knight's armor; horseshoes and handsaws and cattle skulls and Civil War daggers hanging from the walls.

And then there's the music room, where Gossett, now firmly entrenched in the Gossett family construction business, still records musicâ"just for the hell of itâ"surrounded by rock memorabilia and personal artifacts and various signature model guitars, including a signed Dimebag Darrell 24-fret Washburn electric that's never been played.

Now 31, tall and rangy and weathered by the sun, Gossett's memories are a little fuzzy sometimes: â“Thinking about those Galaxie years, especially, really hurts my brain.â” But he's salty and good-humored and infinitely forthcoming. The following is a more-or-less unvarnished transcript of his diatribe when I recently sat down to catch up with a founding member of what still ranks as my favorite band in the history of Knoxville Heavy Metal.

We started Malice in Wonderland during my sophomore year in high school. There was a big hair-metal scene in Knoxville then, bands like Hard Knox, the Innocent Ones, EKG, Jolly Roger, Trash Alley. But I wanted out of the hair-band and spandex stuff, so I joined Malice. We were really heavy, and really good.

We got a show with Hypertribe [a band that included future Grammy-winning record producer Nick Raskulinecz] at the Mercury Theatre on Market Square [now the site of Preservation Pub]. And that kicked us off. From then on, we hammered. Our mom was our manager, and she kept us booked, 150 shows a year around the southeastern circuit. Every weekend, we were gone, playing the Cannery or 328 in Nashville, playing in Crossville and Cookeville, Rumor's and Uncle Sam's and the Mercury Theatre in Knoxville, and on into Georgia, at the Nine Lives and the Black Horse.

We would do these Sweatfests, shows that were put on by a guy named Mark Willis from Atlanta. They would be big two-day shows with 25 bands or more. That's how I met Scott Oxendine, who was playing in a band called The Voice. The Sweatfests were sort of like a little Warped Tour. We played with regional bands like Stiff Kitty, whose drummer, Morgan Rose is now playing in Sevendust. There was also a band called Steel Rain; they were all Cherokee Indians, and they were a great, great band, about like Malice, heavy groove rock with a little bit of Alice in Chains feel before Alice really even came around. Their guitar player, Clint Lowery, became the guitar player for Sevendust.

Malice was together from '93 to '96. The reason for the breakup was because I wanted to do my own thing away from my family. It wasn't anything against my family. It's just that the whole time I was in Malice I was under the control of everyone else because I was the youngest, the kid. I wanted to explore my own music. I wanted to write songs, which I never really had the chance to do in Malice.

That's when Galaxie began, in 1996. We were heavy metal with a little bit of rap, a little bit of Rage Against the Machine, Metallica, Pantera, Primus, Monster Magnet. We tried to dabble into everything we could.

When we first came out we took Knoxville by storm. Nobody had heard anything like it. Nobody had seen anything like the energy we had. We were a trio, me, Scott and Todd. We thought we were the '90s version of Mötley Crüe. There was a plaza on Kingston Pike in Bearden where a lot of local rock bands rented practice space, and we had the big room in back. We were the party central, us and a band called Skeyebone and another called Shape Cell; we practically owned the place. You walked down that little hallway to our space at your own risk, because anything was liable to happen in that place. If we handed you a bottle of whiskey and you didn't take a swig, we'd hold you down until you did. That plaza was the Mecca of modern rock in Knoxville, and it was a hellhole: a trashed-out, nasty party headquarters.

In 1999, I found an article in Rolling Stone for a national battle of the bands contest sponsored by Jim Beam. I sent them a CD, and the next thing I know I'm on my way to the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame to do a show. We had two self-released records under our belts at the time, Hell's Half-Acre and Scenic Route to the Crazy House . We went out there and won this thing, then they flew us around the country to play shows for Jim Beam. Which was the worst thing you could do to a band like us, 'cause we were a bunch of drug-fueled whiskey-drinking hell-raising hillbillies. One guy from Maynardville, one guy from Tazewell and one guy from Straw Plains. We wanted to be rock stars, and we weren't afraid to say so.

In Phoenix, we played two dates for Jim Beam and had to fly back to Cleveland. Me and Scott were high on whiskeyâ"of courseâ"and it's 6:30 in the morning at the airport and we couldn't find Todd. The plane is late, and I'm looking at my watch thinking we should already be moving. I looked out the window and Todd is on the runway with one of our road cases giving the guys who were loading the plane CDs. We finally got him back on the plane. Then the stewardess comes around and asks if she can get us something to drink. Three Jim Beams.

That's the way we lived all those years, with the hammer down. There was alcohol abuse, cocaine abuse, myself included. But when it came to showtime, there were no falters. We were down to business and nothing got in our way.

Then we earned a deal with a company called Gold Mountain Management, and a production company called Blue Water Music. The deal was they would fly us out to Nashville, record an album and sell it to Atlantic Records. We recorded in a studio in Nashville across from the Curb Records building, right next door to where the Dixie Chicks were recording, and we made a great album. But we fucked it up.

The guy from Blue Water producing the record, his name was Chip Vourhies. And he kept trying to change things, cut here and cut there. You shouldn't say this and you shouldn't say that. We weren't going for that. Scott being the crazy dude he is, finally told the guy â“If you want to produce something, then produce us some cocaine.â” That scared him to death, 'cause he was fixing to sink a lot of money into us with this record, and he saw that we were wilder than hell, and it spooked him. He was a Nashville cat, and those Nashville cats are scared of everything. If we had been in L.A., it would've been, â“Hell yeah! Let's do this record.â”

I'm not going to apologize, but we did go about it the wrong way. We were young and crazy and thought we were invincible. We were living the rock'n'roll lifestyle. It was like, that didn't work out, so fuck it, let's go get another one. So we kept playing the southern circuit. We did sets with Kid Rock, Godsmack, Three Doors Down, Powerman 5000. We'd do a two or three gig stint, then jump off to another tour. That's how it worked.

We got in a fight with Nickelback once. It was in Knoxville, and we got in a fight over who was going to headline. It was at [now-defunct Old City nightclub] Banana Joe's, a melee out back. We told them we'd fight them for it. But they wouldn't come out of their bus. So we're chucking empty Jim Beam bottles at the bus, beating the shit out of this half-million dollar bus. Those guys were bitches, and I'll tell them that to their face.

The day [now-defunct] Moose's Music Hall opened on Cumberland Avenue, Galaxie played there with Kid Rock. We got in a fight with Rock's tour manager that night, but it all worked out OK. They had beer backstage, and Rock told us to drink all we wanted. So while they were playing onstage, we drank all the beer. They got offstage and there wasn't any liquor or beer, and we got in a fight with the management crew. But then everything calmed down, and we ended up getting signed on for more shows with them. We had a ball with those guys, a fun tour. Rock was the wildest guy we met on the road. Rock, and then Spider, the lead singer from Powerman 5000. He was crazier than hell.

We met Three Doors Down in Biloxi, Mississippi, and we tore them a new asshole onstage. Then they came up here and played, and then we played a show with them in Atlanta. After every show, they would come to us and want us to teach them something, 'cause they couldn't play a lick. I have no idea how they got signed. Their music isn't modern rock to me; it's rehashed bullshit. They need to be on Great American Country.

Galaxie finally broke up in 2003. What did us in was drug abuse, of course, and a lot of time on the road, and lots of drug- and alcohol-induced fights. It wasn't nothing for us to go into a fistfight. Just imagine a crazy wife and a crazy husband breaking up with nobody around to stop them from doing anything. Finally I got sick of it, said â‘Fuck this, I'm done.' I was the first one to leave.

After Galaxie, I had a few studio gigs, filled in with local bands here and there. I'd get the songs and write the changes all the way up both arms so I could play. Basically, every Saturday I'd be playing with somebody.

For a while I had a little farm down the road in Straw Plains, 10 acres with a studio set up in a trailer. I built it into a studio with a bedroom and a little bitty kitchen. And for a while I had another little band with Scott called Big 10-Four. But then substance abuse ruined that, too.

I was getting older, starting to have more responsibilities. Then I met my wife, Robin, and I started to realize I couldn't live the life I had become accustomed to anymore. We met in March and got married in May of 2005. When we got married, I quit doing drugs, got back seriously into the family business, Gossett Construction Company. 'Cause I've been running heavy equipment for as long as I've been playing guitar.

Now we're in the horse business, with a good construction company going on. We train horses for three-day eventing. We have a hundred acres, and I've built an entire Olympic-level training facility back in these hills, rings all over. We win at everything we do. We have a big 40-foot trailer for when we go out to competitions. It's kind of like a professional racing team. I'm the driver, the cook and the drinker. Whenever they all come back to the trailer, I've got some big smorgasbord going, and I've been drinking beer all day. Everyone we meet on the road is always like, â‘Where's that crazy-ass cook?'

My wife didn't do drugs, and I knew there was no way I was going to keep this woman, the first person in my life I actually connected with, if I kept living the way I'd been living. I still drink, and I still like to have my friends over to pick, but my main thing now is the business. I've grown up a lot.

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