Mosh in the Mountains

The Gray Goo, an ensemble of local, classically trained noise-rock afficionados, riffs on everything from funk to punk to psychedelic rock as they create a dark and doom-y soundscape that’s resonating with audiences of all stripes in northwest Montana

By Anusha Mathur
Zach Ronish of The Gray Goo plays drums in the band’s practice space in Columbia Falls. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Drawing from deep within their collective memory, the three bandmates responsible for the musical mayhem that is The Gray Goo wind back the clock nearly three years to describe the Mosh in the Mountains – the local group’s inaugural live performance in a rural and remote pocket of northwest Montana. They piece together the unforgettable highlights with small tidbits to paint a vivid, overstimulating picture of this concert in Libby. They laugh and smile as they rave about the “awesome lights and sound system,” remember the “massive stage” and bond all over again about the “amazing sound guy” who helped them set up.

It was spring 2021 and, coming off a long, hard quarantine, the band was excited to finally perform for a live audience and show the world what they had been working on during the pandemic. The crowd fully reciprocated their energy, screaming and letting loose with cult-like cavorting as fans mobbed the mosh pit.

“I just felt like a rock star,” guitarist Max Gargasz said. 

Nearly three years later, Gargasz and his bandmates – drummer Zach Ronish and bassist Matt Carper – still confidently dive into their favorite songs on stage. During fan-favorites like “Alligator Bundee” and “Bicycle Day,” they radiate passion to create deeply emotional yet spontaneous and effortless performances. 

“It really feels like I’m tapping into a deeper collective unconscious of so many people who have been performers and artists in the past,” Carper said. “There’s an almost uncanny, indescribable desire to put music out there and to create.”

Bassist Matt Carper. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Being an open-minded, music-bending group has been a journey for the trio, to say the least. Northwest Montana is most famous for its country and bluegrass artists, so The Gray Goo’s dark, funky, proggy style seems, at face-value, a bit incongruent with the Flathead Valley’s traditional tastes. However, the band’s success reflects the valley’s growing interest in experimental rock and metal, especially among younger audiences. 

“Montana is a hidden gem for live music,” Gargasz said. “We’ve been selling out bars left and right. It’s been a great feeling. I’ve never done that before in my life.”

The trio has also found loyal fans in unlikely pockets.

“My mom is a teacher here in town and she brings all of her teacher friends,” Ronish said. “So sometimes at shows it’s just a bunch of teachers in the audience. I’m playing metal music and screaming into the microphone and all my past teachers are watching me. Awkward.”

The infamous, raging Gray Goo mosh pit is now as inevitable as some consider the very apocalypse that the band named itself after – The Gray Goo is a famous science fiction scenario in which AI runs rampant and becomes a digital cancer, eventually consuming all matter in the universe. It’s a vision that avid sci-fi enthusiasts like Gargasz would say is intriguing to fans, and which is becoming less and less abstract by the day as the artificial intelligence arms race escalates.

The band’s name grounds the artists in the futuristic, apocalyptic, creepy vibe that has come to define their fusion music, regardless of how appropriate (or not) the venue may be. 

“We played a wedding earlier this summer for our friends Sam and Sarah and we were all nervous about it because it was our first wedding gig,” Carper said. “But everyone had an absolute ball, from the little toddlers to 70-year-old men.”

Back in the studio – a converted garage – the bandmates rely on one another and let their guards down to experiment with style and form. The garage is a practice space that most artists would sell a limb to be creative in. Every inch of the walls is covered with eclectic posters, mismatched photos, and upside-down flags. The (very few) open spaces are graffitied with incoherent phrases in sharpie, transforming the walls into ever-evolving entropy.

Sound equipment in The Gray Goo’s at their practice space in Columbia Falls. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The racks and cupboards are chock-full of eclectic music equipment, a whiteboard beckons lyricists’ minds to wander, and an elevated stage boasts ample performance space. The Gray Goo members practice on the stage facing one another, passing glances and affirming nods as they play new songs, experiment, and mess up along the way. 

“Matt and I are like the meat and potatoes, and Zach is like the herbs and spices,” Gargasz analogized.

Gargasz explained what this means: he and Carper bounce ideas back and forth as lyricists while Ronish’s talent is filling in the little transitions to make songs flow together smoothly. But since all three bandmates work in the food industry by day, Gargasz’s Thanksgiving-dinner inspired simile is an apt way to capture the essence of this creative process.

“’Intrepid Traveler’ is a newer song and it’s different from the first album especially,” Carper said. “It’s just another step in our evolution and a direction we might be heading in. It’s something I’m really passionate about and a song that I’ve written most of the lyrics on. It’s very emotion-evoking.”

Guitarist Max Gargasz. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Even the most die-hard Gray Goo fans won’t recognize the name of this single – because it’s unreleased. The song is far more soulful than most of The Gray Goo’s past music; when the trio plays it, they look downwards, as if searching for inspiration within their instruments as they project the music onto one another.

“We just want to make music that sounds good to us,” Ronish said. “And maybe that’s where people cling on to it, because it’s authentic and we’re not trying to follow any rules.”

As they move through the song, they return to their self-assured selves. Ronish sways from side to side, looking to the left and right of his drum set while Gargasz’s small, stiff neck movements begin to relax. Carper gets close to the mic to vocalize; eventually his and Gargasz’s nods become synchronized.

This studio chemistry is something the bandmates know not to take for granted. Ronish and Carper jokingly declare Gargasz the “band dad,” making them the “band kids.” Despite only being a few months older than his partners, 29-year-old Gargasz accepts the title – because loving banter is a staple of the trio’s friendship.

All three artists have been part of various music-related endeavors in the past. With careful word-choice not to overly slander former bandmates, Ronish confidently declares The Gray Goo the most collaborative and fun band he’s been part of.

“Nothing is more uncomfortable than trying to make music with a really egotistical musician,” Ronish said. “I’ve worked with other musicians that are trying too hard to form their identity and then make the other band members be a part of that and conform to one genre or one format of making the song. We don’t believe that there’s a format; we just want to make fun music that sounds good to us in that moment.”

However, after performing 40 shows in the past six months, the trio agrees that it’s time to refocus on creating new music. They’re working on several split records and multiple 15-minute songs – evidence of how far they’ve come from being a misfit garage-band three short years ago. 

Matt Carper of The Gray Goo. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

“We have a lot of music right now that’s just really heavy and kind of dark at times, dissonant; so, I want to balance it out a little bit,” Ronish said. “But also, I don’t want to try to predict the future and try to make rules for ourselves because that just kind of limits our creativity. So, it’s kind of fun to just see what happens.”

On the other hand, for artists who love their community, it’s hard to say no to performing when fans want to hear you so badly (a few gigs here and there never hurt anybody, right?) With several concerts coming up in the next few months in Missoula and locally, perhaps a more accurate statement is – the band’s priority is reconnecting, but fans can still catch them out and about. 

“We just really enjoy what we do, so I think that translates to other people,” Gargasz said. “If you’re having fun on stage, other people will have fun with you. That’s where the important community aspect comes in – we’ve been super lucky to be really well received and we’ve met so many new friends.”

Over the past three years, despite touring up and down the West Coast, the band remains fiercely loyal to the Flathead Valley. They pledge to never abandon their first fans and swear the Great Northern Bar, a Whitefish institution, will forever be their favorite place to play.

When recounting the tale of their first time playing at the Great Northern, the trio couldn’t help but finish each other’s sentences.

“The first time we played there, we entered from backstage, and it was the first time in my life that I’ve ever had this experience that the whole venue was packed and people were going crazy,” Gargasz said.

Drummer Zach Ronish. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

“The crowd just goes nuts,” Ronish added. “There was an explosion of cheer as soon as we got on stage, so it was like, oh, pressure’s on now.”

“It made us appreciate how much support and love we have at home,” Carper concluded.

Scott Larkin, manager at the Great Northern, said that every time The Gray Goo performs, he expects a full house.

“They draw a huge crowd and it’s always just packed,” Larkin said. “They’ve got a younger following, so it’s a young, rowdy vibe.”

Further evidence of The Gray Goo’s promise of loyalty to the Flathead Valley lies in the aforementioned walls of their practice garage. While the organic, chaotic posters certainly reflect the band’s oozy musical atmosphere, Carper prefers to think of the space as a living, breathing art project that forms a “collection of everybody’s influences.” The bandmates say that most of the decor wasn’t tacked up by the three of them – rather, friends and family members are welcome to plaster new things to the walls whenever they feel like it.

“My parents are super supportive,” Gargasz said. “Obviously they let us destroy their garage. I don’t think we’d be a band if it wasn’t for my parents. They go to almost every show.” 

The space has also become a home for many locals as Gargasz welcomes other musically inclined friends to take advantage of the garage as they embark on passion projects. One such endeavor is Ronish and Carper’s new jazz band – the J-Hole. The duo’s desire to bend into this genre, harkening back to their roots as classically trained jazz musicians, is further evidence of The Gray Goo’s refusal to be confined to a single genre as well as its interest in exploring new directions. 

“I’ve always been kind of a weird person,” Carper said. “What this band has become, I think my younger self would be proud of that. Even though it’s so mysterious and different than anything I maybe could have imagined.”

Another thing that The Gray Goo’s members can do that many musicians struggle with is putting their passion into words. Their music is loud, unmistakable and unapologetic. In lifting music from the page, into the instrument, and onto the stage in just three short years, these artists have transcended the boundary of metaphor and proven what is possible if the right group of people come together. 

The band posits a bullish, yet loving, assertion. They claim that they’ve achieved what many artists aspire to feel – “the pocket” – an elusive, semi-indescribable sensation of performing and existing in perfect sync.

“When I was 14, I would sit and daydream about playing live music,” Gargasz said. “It’s a spiritual thing for me. I don’t know where music comes from, but it’s cool that it comes.”