Track Premiere and Interview: Ghostbound Re-Imagine a Red House Painters Classic
Ghostbound is a unique presence in the field that is heavy and challenging music, especially that scene emanating from New York City in the last decade or so. Pulling from the same wellsprings as noted experimental/progressive acts as Kayo Dot, Stern, Bloodmist, and Extra Life, they seem to thrive in a space of unbound ambition and creative possibilities. Their music is gorgeous, enticing and yet disturbing, with a pulsating undercurrent of melancholy and violence flickering underneath an immaculate surface. Many of the brilliant songs on their debut full length, 2018's All is Phantom, reflect that duality, shimmering in what seems like complete weightlessness and flair while grounded by a hidden darkness. And yet, not unlike other elements of the ever-shifting NYC scene (one that is, it must be said, somewhat depleting in recent years as artists move elsewhere) seen in bands such as Krallice or Yellow Eyes, Ghostbound is very much interested in allowing those hidden anchors to rise to the surface, mixing beauty with sudden bursts of terror. Perhaps that's why they, out of that scene, remind me most of Charlie Looker's Psalm Zero, a band, as I see it, also invested in sustaining those two poles at one and the same time.
Both challenging and, dare I say, seductive the result is a unique artistic voice that either compels and repels, as is the case with anything truly unique. We, it's safe to say, have been compelled, which is why we're so honored to present this newest single from Ghostbound, a beautiful, fittingly dark cover of Red House Painters' "Grace Cathedral Park," taken from their 1993 (second) eponymous album. And here too, with this beautiful version, the majestic, twisting voice of Ghostbound frontman Alec A. Head injects a sense of larger-than-life artistry to the down-to-earth humbleness of RHP's original, all without detaching it from its human source and sense of voice. It doesn't hurt that the source material comes from an artist known to seamlessly weave the personal and the grandiose, Mark Kozelek.
The new single can be heard and played below, where you can also find an interview with Head about the new cover and, more generally, about Ghostbound's inspirations and aspirations. Just before our talk with Alec we would just like to say that if you wish to bask further in the splendor that is heavy music and hyperbole you can follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Spotify, and Patreon, check out to our podcast MATEKHET (YouTube, Spotify, Apple) and check out our new and amazing compilation album, MILIM KASHOT VOL. 2, that's filled with incredible underground metal from around the world. That's it, on to the wonderful song and our interview with Ghostbound.
Is there a moment you remember, perhaps as a younger person, with a song or album that really sticks out in your mind as a shocking moment of discovery? Something that changed your idea of music or what music can do?
I could, of course, go in depth as it pertains to my early musical obsessions in the form of Phil Collins and Phil Collins-era Genesis from when I was a toddler, but I daresay it would be more interesting to describe the feeling of discovering a piece of music that truly painted images in my mind and transported me to a place that was beyond the room I was sitting in or my father’s old Volvo. When I was 9, my parents gifted me the cassette tape of Depeche Mode’s Songs of Faith and Devotion for Christmas (I also received my first guitar, which I still own to this day). At that point, I necessarily lacked the vocabulary to describe anything with such adjectives as "dark" or "foreboding," but I knew that the images that were painted in my mind’s eye were definitely that. I was obsessed with the atmosphere of that record; I loved how no two songs on it were alike, but they were all strangely unified via odd, organic-sounding textures that seemingly came out of nowhere. This and virtually every post-Black Celebration Depeche Mode album up to and including Ultra never fail to take me somewhere outside of my current climate.
At that point, I realized that I wanted to convey moods and tonalities that painted a picture as opposed to merely “rocking out”, though there is definitely room for that, as well. I also recall another very specific moment of being 13 years old and playing Final Fantasy VII. Older JRPGs, of course, were not fully voiced, so I would often have CDs playing so as to create my own soundtrack. I had Faith No More’s Angel Dust blaring and, somewhere in the early Midgar portion of the game, I distinctly remember putting my controller down in a bona fide “holy shit” moment, as I had come to the sudden realization that this might very well be the best record I had ever heard in my life, and that it was creating the perfect score to the game without actually having any association with it. I can probably share hundreds of different records that have had a similar effect on me, for what it's worth.
As a kind of followup: As an older person and a more mature artist, can you identify perhaps what was it that may have gripped you about that album then and in what ways it or whatever mode it represents to you has found echoes in your current work?
I suppose that both of the aforementioned records would lead to my obsessive and on-going scouring of all things unusual as it pertains to music. I remain a fan of any band that is a round peg in a square hole, as it were. By the time I reached high school, I kept following that thread, and I continue to do so to this day. I daresay my resting place was with the more avantgarde and expansive of extreme metal. Ulver’s Bergtatt, Arcturus’ La Masquerade Infernale, and Agalloch’s Pale Folklore were hugely instrumental in that regard; these records truly transported me into their inner worlds. I had garnered an equal obsession with post-punk and goth rock for this very same reason, so Killing Joke, New Model Army’s Thunder and Consolation, The Cure’s Disintegration, the first three Rozz-era Christian Death records, and Fields of the Nephilim were in constant rotation throughout my teen years, as well. It was around this time that I discovered that I wanted to create the kind of music that I would love to be listening to on my own. I wanted to create actual worlds with music in the same way that Devin Townsend made me think of bustling, futuristic cities whenever I listened to Ocean Machine – Biomech. I was still in high school when I started composing music for the songs that would eventually comprise All is Phantom; the concept for that record never changed, but it would be some years before I would garner the talent or wherewithal to complete it. My goal was to create a holistic, expansive, otherworldly place filled with its own joys and dangers.
Ghostbound’s sound seems to always hover over the boundary of what many people would consider to be "metal," taking a lot of its vocal delivery, drumming style and almost melodramatic reach and ambition. I realize generic questions aren’t always interesting to artists, but what would you consider your own relationship with metal to be and what elements do you feel share a relationship with those sonic areas?
Funnily enough, while I do consider Ghostbound to be a metal band insofar as we employ blast beats and distorted guitars on occasion, I do not consider us to be a metal band exclusively. In point of fact, the best compliment I have ever received is that no one really knows how to describe us. My own relationship to metal is that of a fan and nothing more. I do not consider it a lifestyle and I tend to take a dim view of people who do. All of the music I listen to, regardless of genre, is about something beyond its genre trappings, so I try my best not to think in terms of genre so much when it comes to my own songwriting and the kind of image we want to present to the world. I think more in terms of the kind of picture I am trying to paint when it comes to the music and lyrics.
There has always been a space for forward-thinking, theatrical metal. That’s kind of my head space when I think of bands like Emperor and Type O Negative and more currently Malokarpatan or Eternal Champion. Yet a lot of energy is invested, both in terms of sound as well as look and design, in “darkness” or “dissonance.” Seeing that Ghostbound seems to fit more comfortably in the former group, at least to me, what are some of your thoughts about the slant toward dissonance and have you ever felt like Ghostbound’s more melodic nature was in some way holding it back? In terms of marketing, reach, and so on.
This is a very interesting question. It just so happens that current, brand new, yet-to-be-heard Ghostbound riffs are, in fact, taking on a much more angular and dissonant approach than anything on All is Phantom, but I daresay that this is more of a concerted effort on my part to express an increasingly cynical worldview in the midst of the USA’s current presidential administration. I happen to love dissonance in music and cannot wait to employ more of it in my own. One thing to note is that I wrote All is Phantom over a 12-year-period that encompassed the febrile nature of what it is to be a confused and awkward pseudo-goth teenager, several divergent career and artistic paths, failed relationships, meeting my wife, and a particularly hard year that culminated in the death of my father. It is safe to say that I had my entire life up to that point to create All is Phantom, and, in keeping with the original concept I had in mind, I can safely say that I was successful in capturing all of the spirits and emotions that went into its creation, at the very least. In my view, the only thing that held the record back was lazy marketing on behalf of our former label, not to mention a lack of publicity-know-how on behalf of yours truly.
All is Phantom is dedicated to your late father and the album’s closing song seems to be a very evocative, emotional, and riveting farewell. To what extent was the album as a whole conceived as an artistic work of mourning (perhaps the band as well) and could you speak a bit about whether or not the album’s completion had any effect on your experience with past pain? Not in terms, of course, of ending grief, but perhaps in the manner in which it has changed?
I do appreciate this question even though I was, at first, rather reluctant to answer it. To put it plainly, this record would not exist if it were not for my father’s passing in 2012. While I had continually written music from the age of 16 onward, I had no real, appreciable aims to finish or release it. My goal, at the time, was to pursue an acting career, having graduated from acting school in 2008. After my father died, I came to the sudden and simultaneous realization that I simply did not want to act anymore and that if I was going to fulfill my life-long dream of writing and recording an album that was to be, in essence, my ״ultimate artistic statement,״ I better get cracking. I ended up joining a couple bands as a guitarist, mainly to get a feel for what it was like to co-exist within a band. Specifically, I spent four years in Kosmodemonic, which remains one of the most fulfilling and rewarding experiences I have ever had on account of the fact that, apart from being comprised of a great group of humans, it was fronted by a true songwriter. It was through observing our frontman’s approach to songwriting that I started to understand how to string together all of these disparate parts I had written for Ghostbound into coherent songs that made sense (to me, anyway).
On an entirely different level, I was finally at a point where I felt like I had something to say. My father’s passing informed most of the lyrics on All is Phantom, even when they do not necessarily address it directly. Through it all, I knew that I would make the kind of record that he and I would have loved to listen to together. I feel as if he would be proud of me, and I carry him with me wherever I go.
This current Red House Painters cover seems to fall in line with the artists Ghostbound has covered in the past, including a brilliant cover of another personal favorite, The Replacements’ “Here Comes a Regular.” And, to my mind, The Replacements, especially that album, Tim, and Red House Painters are another example of artists straddling generic lines, drawing from folk, post-hardcore, and punk. So I guess there are two questions crouching here: The first is what led to choose this song by RHP, and the second is what do you feel is your connection to these artists? What do you find inspiring there?
Well, to be fair, The Replacements cover was more of a solo exercise in an effort to keep myself busy during quarantine, but I am quite proud of it all the same. The idea of covering “Grace Cathedral Park” actually came from our guitarist, Talha Alvie who also plays in Karachi-based progressive rock outfit The D/A Method and recently released a solo EP under the name of Skeletonflowers_. It is worth noting that he actually played every note of guitar on the cover in question. He and I share a mutual love for Mark Kozelek’s songwriting. I actually have a rather vivid memory of being 17 and driving to my local Borders bookstore and noticing the artwork for the RHP record in question. I was struck by the sepia-toned, nostalgic image of the rollercoaster on the cover, and I bought it on a whim without having heard a note of it previously. As soon as “Grace…” hit, I felt as if I was actually inside the cover art.
I actually got into The Replacements relatively late, but as soon as I first heard “I Will Dare” I considered it to be a perfect mission statement in the form of a song. So, like with most things in my life, I obsessively dove down into the proverbial rabbit hole until I discovered that I had a new inspiration.
Despite releasing the odd cover I assume there’s a limit to how busy you can be in a time like this. Were you planning to record and/or will be recording any new material any time soon?
At the risk of revealing too much, I can confidently say that we are about 90% finished with our upcoming, follow-up EP to All is Phantom. We hope to have it entirely mixed and mastered by autumn, but things rarely go as planned in this crazy world. A lot of the material on it is older and somewhat in keeping with the style on All is Phantom. Once it is released, I can finally close the book on these older songs and finally move on to something new and different.