Cat On The Wall’s Jo Whitby caught up for a quick chat with Harry Hall from her new favourite band These Ghosts…
Cat On The Wall: I’ve been told that These Ghosts is not your first incarnation as a band. How did you all meet and what transitions took place to become These Ghosts?
Harry Hall: I met Calum (Duncan) on a football course in Palgrave, Norfolk when we were eleven. We played against each other in the final and Calum’s team won. I was pretty upset, but we ended up at secondary school together and formed a band with a close friend called Hector who we still spend a lot of time with. We for some reason named ourselves ‘Monkey Nut’ and played really dodgy Alkaline Trio covers. We played a gig at the school band night and Hector took his t-shirt off. It was excellent.
At thirteen, our friend Rory took over on bass duties, we understood and appreciated the fact that we were pretty bad at playing covers, found sense, and started to write our own songs under a new name: ‘Vanilla Kick’. Rory was with us until the start of 2007. By mid 2007, we had begun to establish ourselves locally, and with two ep’s under our belt, Nick (Yager) joined; taking over from Rory. Calum knew Nick through family and the rugby club. We arranged a rehearsal where Nick turned up and already knew how to play most of our songs. We recorded three ep’s played live regularly and recently decided to step up our game. We realised that the name ‘Vanilla Kick’ represented the style of our music badly, and sounded far too much like an alco-pop. We’re not really sure why it’s taken us 5 years to change it, but here we are; as ‘These Ghosts’.
COTW: The tracks on your Myspace page have a very high recording quality (and the songs themselves are great!). Did you record in a studio or is it more of a D.I.Y affair, if so, what do you use to record?
HH: Thank you! We’ve worked very closely with our producer Jonny Cole from the start, who owns The Mill Studio in Winfarthing. He comes to rehearsals a lot and is very much on board from the beginning with any ideas we have. He gets the best out of us in the studio by making us play around with arrangements and the way parts are played. Because we’ve worked with Jonny from a young age, we’ve established a really good relationship with him and he understands how we like to write and work. He introduced us to ‘Super Monkey Ball’ a while back and continues to make sure that regular Tea/Cake/Gamecube breaks are scheduled into our timetable. He’s always encouraging us to think outside of the box and explore new ideas. He’s also got a disco ball that hangs from the top of the live room.
COTW: What is your creative process as a band? How do you compose your songs?
HH: Calum usually comes to us with the initial ideas and foundations for a song, which we then build upon as a trio. It can be quite a sustained process, but I think that’s because we each take time to elaborate on our particular parts. We’ll often advance on an idea and realise we like the progression more than the previous part so will work backwards. We’re always really up for trying out new stuff, and I think it shows in our recent recordings. There is definitely growth upon the original ‘classic’ guitar, bass and drums set up with the addition of drum machines, and other instruments such as glockenspiel and upright bass. We all listen to quite different music, which helps us to bring wide-ranging ideas to the table and ensures we always produce fresh material. We never want to repeat ourselves. We hire a local village hall twice a week when we can, to thrash out old material and accumulate ideas for new songs. It’s incredibly isolated and Nick’s bass amp has begun picking up radio stations which is frightening.
COTW: Who or what inspires you artistically?
HH: We’ve realised that as individuals, we all listen to quite diverse stuff. It’s nice to have an expansive range of influences on the mind when we’re writing songs; but at the same time, a liking of similar artists that overlap, helps us to aim at a similar target and achieve an exclusive and cohesive overall sound. There are bands that each of us listen to more than others such as Radiohead and M83, but we try to mix up what we’re inspired by, effectively deterring us from becoming a tribute band. We like to think we’ve developed our own unique brand of music that has formed from a wide assortment of inspiration. As for what our songs are about, well, that’s a surprise.
COTW: Can we expect a tour at some point? What do you most enjoy about performing live? What is your live setup?
HH: For a band of three people, we require a lot of leads. Calum’s section of the stage is filled by his guitars, his pedal board, a very old keyboard, a synth, a glockenspiel and two microphones. Nick provides Bass, an assisting pedal board, backing vocals, additional keyboards and occasionally upright bass. I have to count each of my drums and cymbals to compete with the others’ extensive inventory, but I also trigger loops from the laptop and play six notes on a synth. In one song…
We’ll be touring our debut album in the summer. We’re looking to fill about 2 weeks worth of dates around the UK. We’ll hopefully appear at some festivals as well. We played a couple of ‘far-away’ shows just before Christmas. Two of the dates included Brighton and Bristol where we were re-united with friends who had fled sixth form for university. It was ace to catch up with them and they kindly pulled decent crowds for us. In Brighton we ran along the beach and in Bristol we were shown some excellent fountains by our friend Theo. My shoes got soaked and consequently slipped off my bass drum pedal lots. Every aspect of touring excites us. It’s a great excuse to invent ridiculous games en-route, eat as much fast food as possible and exhibit our work to a wider audience.
We’re obviously not a band that you’d see live and leave covered in sweat sourced by dancing and/or moshing, but ideally, we’d like our music to have an impact on people, whether it’s through offering them the chance to think about the song and relate to it, or provoking emotion. It’s also nice to play people new songs which we’re proud of and have worked hard to produce. We’re also very easily satisfied when people pick up on hidden noises or intricate/irrelevant touches to our live performance.
COTW: What are you listening to right now?
HH: Again, it’s pretty varied. I listen to a lot of embarrassing chart music – it winds the others up a treat, but recently I’ve listened to ‘Conditions’ by The Temper Trap frequently and Wave Machines debut, who’s album was probably my favourite of 2009. Calum’s a big Martin Grech fan and realised he hates every song on the Mr. Hudson album except ‘There will be tears’ which is definitely a stand out track. We both went to see ‘The Invisible’ in October and share a lot of love for their work. Nick turns up to rehearsals regularly listening to ‘The Blueprint 3’ by Jay-Z which we love. He also got us into John Mayer and showed me the drum part for ‘Waiting on the world to change’. Collectively, we listen to lots of Radiohead and Mew’s album,
‘No more stories…’ definitely can’t be faulted; mainly because any album that showcases a song played backwards to make another song is incredible. Oh, and it has a really long title.
COTW: Finally, what are your plans for the near future?
HH: We’ve got a lot of exciting stuff coming up. We’re in the studio at the moment working hard with Jonny to record our debut album which will be released at the beginning of July. A single will be released from the album in June along with a video that we’re currently planning to shoot in March. We’ve obviously acquired a lot of material since Nick joining 4 years ago, so the album is our chance to demonstrate a spectrum of our favourite songs. We’ll be re-working a couple of old crowd pleasers, but the vast majority of the record will be made up of brand new stuff, most of it unheard. We’re really looking forward to getting it out and hearing what people have to think. Dates are also being booked for the tour in July so that’s obviously something we’re very excited about. The album will be available via HMV, itunes and the usual outlets. Once all of the serious stuff is done, we’ll probably spend a bit of time beating our high score on Super Monkey Ball and playing swing-ball.
Interview by Jo Whitby