Interview – Because of Ghosts
October 23, 2008 § Leave a comment
Published: The Vine, October 15, 2008.
Brotherly Melbourne trio Because of Ghosts have been trawling the evocative depths of post-rock and instrumentalism for a good half decade now, leaving a back-catalogue of upwards of 11 self-released EPs and CD-Rs in their wake.
While their recorded material – including 2006’s stunning full-length debut The Tomorrow We Were Promised Yesterday – has traditionally drawn on a scattering of sonic artefacts and field-recordings, the group’s beauteous second record This Culture of Background Noise sees them focusing their ideas in the studio. Recorded at Canada’s legendary Hotel2Tango with Howard Bilerman, the album adds a whole new dynamic and tone to the Because of Ghosts palette.
We spoke to guitarist and middle brother Reuben Stanton about working with the production luminary, the idea behind the record, and keeping it all in the family.
Tell me about how the whole Canadian experience came about…
We’ve got a few fans in Canada, one guy in particular who has a bit of contact with the music industry who had lived in Melbourne for a few years and seen us there, but had since gone back to Toronto. He’s been asking us to go over there for years and years. So we finally got our act together and we had a bunch of tracks for this album that we’d been planning to record, but didn’t really know what to do with it. So we thought we’d kind of combine the two things. This guy had a contact at Hotel2Tango and we just sent them an email and asked them if they’d be interested in recording a post-rock band from Australia, and they said yes, which was really exciting.
But in particular we really wanted to work with Howard Bilerman, who had a lot to do with the Silver Mt. Zion stuff and the early Godspeed stuff, but we were also big fans of the Arcade Fire record Funeral in particular – not necessarily the music on that, but the sound quality. A few weeks before we got there, he sent us an email saying that Efrim from Godspeed was interested in helping out with the recording as well, and would that be okay with us. So we were like ‘Yeah, that’ll be just fine!” (laughs).
So we went to Canada and played a whole bunch of shows over the east coast of Canada. It was the first time we’d done any real serious touring, like playing a show every night for two weeks in a different city every time. At the end of that we played a couple of shows in Montreal and did our recording.
What about the songs? How did it come together?
We had a bunch of songs that were kind of halfway through, which we kind of developed live as we were touring. So each night we’d play them kind of differently onstage until we got them to a point where they were ready to be recorded. And then some of the stuff that’s on the record we actually wrote in the studio as well, just through improvisation or just playing with equipment or something fortuitously happening while we were recording, which always happens when you record.
Booking a big name studio and producer and travelling all the way over there specifically to record seems like a real departure. You’ve recorded most of your stuff in home-studios over longer periods of time and collected all these artefacts and field-recordings that were very much from your domestic environment…
It was pretty different to what we usually do in that way. We hadn’t really collected anything beforehand. We recorded the whole five days and most of the tracking was done in the first three days, which is a pretty fast way of doing things.
In the past, with our EPs and so on, we’ve done a lot of collection beforehand – like field-recordings and recordings of rehearsals – but generally, whenever we’ve had studio time we’ve done things really quickly. Our first full-length album was actually a bit of an anomaly in that it took as about six months to record. We’ve done something like 11 EPs and most of them have been recorded in a day or two days. If it we were doing it at a home studio, we’d just sort of go in there and do some live takes and pick a good one.
That’s actually how we did this recording too. We’d been playing for a month before hand and knew what we wanted to sound like, so we just played as a band in the room. And I think that’s how it comes out in the recording too; it sounds quite a bit more live than some of our other stuff.
Paying all this money and travelling over the other side of the world, did you really have to crystallise your ideas before going in there?
We had to come in really quite prepared – we had to know what we wanted – because there’s no point in working with, as you say, high-profile people if you’re going in there without really thinking about what you want from them. So we knew what we wanted, but we were quite willing to take advice and let things happen fluidly as well.
Was doing a studio record like this sort of reactive to having made so many smaller records in a domestic setting?
Yeah, I think you have to be a bit reactive sometimes. I don’t know if we’d consciously thought of it, but that was what happened. Spending so much time crafting the last album, it was a really rewarding experience but it was also very exhausting at the same time. In the end, to us, that record felt like it lost some of the live energy and dynamic that we have when we play together.
Tell me about some of the themes behind the record. The title, This Culture of Background Noise, for example…
It was sort of a comment on the world being full of noise, and noise that people don’t pay attention to. Our earlier recordings were quite noisy I suppose, because we were trying to bring out the beauty in the background noise or the sound of the tape machine or whatever it is.
But there’s another whole aspect to it that relates to this throng of mass media that floods us all the time. There’s so much out there and so much information to process that it almost all just become noise and it is very difficult to pick out what you want from that and what you think is beautiful and how you feel.
You must have a fairly innate bond working together for so long as brothers. Have you ever worked with other musicians in really meaningful way?
No, not really. This is the only real band I’ve been in and the only other musician I’ve worked with in a really meaningful way is our sister (laughs), which is pretty much the same thing.
This Culture of Background Noise is out through Feral Media/Fuse
ALBUM LAUNCH TOUR
Melbourne – East Brunswick Club, Saturday, October 18
Hobart – The Venue, Saturday, October 25
Sydney – St Petersburg, Saturday, November 1
Perth – The Horror Shop, Saturday, November 22
Fremantle – Mojo’s, Sunday, November 23