Een aantal maanden terug is de CD ‘Cycles’ uitgekomen. Reden genoeg om even bij te kletsen met de 2 heren van Ghost Circus. Dit prog-project bestaat uit Chris Brown (VS) en Ron Wahle (Nederland). Na het luisteren van hun Demo, en daarna hun album, is het mij wel duidelijk geworden dat een long-distance band zeer goed kan werken. Het is tevens duidelijk dat ze de aandacht nodig hebben, aangezien ze genoeg potentie hebben om uit te groeien tot een respectabele prog band.
Can you tell something about the history of the band and how you got in touch?
Ron and I met, by chance, on Neal Morse’s message board. I was just browsing through there one day and Ron had posted one of his tracks there for download. I listened to it and really connected with what he was doing, musically. I heard sections in the track where I immediately felt I could add a guitar part or a bass line. Not to mention that it was also an instrumental piece at the time, and I even had the thought of adding lyrics and vocals to it,(which, at that time, was not really my thing as I was doing purely instrumental music myself then). I just heard a great deal of potential in his music and felt it could both sound better and benefit from some additional parts.
So, I emailed him and told him, at first, that I’d be willing to do a basic mastering job on the track. Then, once he responded to that favourably, I asked if I could record a couple of guitar parts and add them to the track as well. Once we both heard the initial results of those first few additions, we really got the sense that we were on the same page creatively. I sent him a couple of Rock tracks I had been working on, and he liked those as much as I enjoyed his material. We decided to start working back-and-forth that way on each others’ material, and it just made sense to use the chemistry we had to its full potential. We both had enough music to do a full album, so we just kind of ran with it.
I guess a lot of people don’t know how such a long distance project really works, can you tell something about you’re way of working?
Ron:One of us starts writing and recording a song. In my case it includes drums, guitars and keys. Sometimes a bass line too. Then I hand it over to Chris as an mp3 and if he likes it he’ll continue adding his guitar parts, bass, vocals and lyrics. Sometimes some extra key parts too. After hearing the final version I sometimes change a few parts or choose different key or drum sounds because the overall texture of a song changes once everything is added.When Chris writes a song it’s the other way around and his version has keys, guitars, bass and a programmed drum track. In a lot of cases I only add my drums and some extra key parts to that.
As a guitarist I tend to be more of a Metal style player. So much of what I write is riff-based. Those kind of heavier songs tend to lend themselves more to a stripped-down arrangement, and they don’t leave much room for too many keyboard parts. For Ron, I think, the up-side of that is that he gets to do more wild drumming on those songs and really show his skills as a drummer. While he does the bulk of the keyboard parts on most of the songs, it needs to be said that he is one hell of a drummer! It’s good to exploit that from time to time. Ron:When we consider a track finished I pre-mix the drums, burn all my individual parts to CD-r as high quality wav.files and send them to Chris by regular mail. He then imports those parts into his PC and start mixing. What we’re learning now is to leave more space for the other guy. In my current song I don’t bother about bass parts because that’s Chris his job. So instead of filling that in I leave it open for him. Saves time and is more challenging for the other guy. Chris leaves out more key parts nowadays because that’s usually my job. It really took us 2 years to fully develop a method for this. We’ve learned what to do and not to do. I leave bass and vocals/lyrics up to Chris because he’s totally superior in that area. He doesn’t bother about drum mixing because it’s simply smarter to let me (the drummer) do those.
How do the Americans think about the CD ‘Cycles’?
I’ve been surprised at how positive the response has been from people here in the States, to be honest. So much of the Prog audience seems to be based in Europe, and it can be very difficult to find a fan base in the U.S. But our music really seems to catch on well with listeners here, as well as elsewhere in the world. Our record label,(ProgRock Records) is based in California, so I think that says a lot about both where and how we were originally expected to do well. Personally, I never would have guessed that we’d be able to build such a strong fan base here in America as we have.
Let’s talk about the album itself. Was it a matter of co-writing?
Ron:Yes it was. A part of that is explained in the first question. I ended up writing and recording a bit more music for the record then Chris but then HE had do write all the lyrics and do all the singing. And he’s the one that mixes and masters the album. So all together it’s 50/50.At least that’s what we guess. To be honest, it’s hard to tell sometimes. As in “who spend more time on it” or “who did the bulk” of track x. And frankly it doesn’t matter that much because we can only finish a Ghost Circus song with both of us involved. Both of us can deliver solid stuff but we always need the other to “kick the ball in and score” so to speak. Producing is something we both do. Eventually it’s Chris who puts it all together so I consider him the actual producer (so he deserves most of the credit for that) but every mix is being evaluated and we both decide what stays in or gets deleted. Often it’s more about levels and where certain parts stand in the mix. Just little details. But then, it’s the little details that make the difference.Shawn (Gordon) had an important say in this too for this album and gets credit for that. He has excellent ears and besides, it’s good to have some one “on the outside” to comment your mixes.
What are the lyrics about; do they have a special meaning or intention?
I like to write theme-based lyrics for a full album. Not necessarily concept-driven but with a general theme running throughout the course of all the songs. For the ‘Cycles’ album, I decided to write songs that addressed several different social issues that both Ron and I see as problems. In general, how such issues as the push towards total consumerism, commercialism, and the obsession with being able to outdo other people is ruining peoples’ lives and the ability to be simply civil with each other. Many of the songs are about that.
On “Mass Suggestion”, I take the spiritual aspect a step further and voice my opinion on how organized religion is affecting these things too. Here in America especially, religion has become as commercialized and spiritually devoid as much of what is supposed to be the secular world. More and more people are drawn into many religions either because they are conditioned to do so,(by the way they are raised) or by the fact that it seems to be in “vogue” to go to church at the time, and they have no idea what they’re really supposed to be there for. Many organized religions, and a few entrepreneurs who can tell where the potential to make money is, are exploiting this and drawing people in in order to simply make money. When the motivation of organizations such as these become purely financial or competitive, any spiritual growth or teaching becomes impossible.
Personally, I learned a very long time ago that there is much more to be done for ones spiritual self by simply living life as best as you can, and avoiding these institutions all together. And it seems that that point of view is spreading quite a bit. People are starved for spiritual growth and healing and they certainly aren’t finding any of that in churches. I see so many people claiming to be atheists or agnostics and the truth seems more likely that this stance is more out of rebellion against these religions that are devoid of any real interest in aiding people to become more in tune with the spiritual side of themselves. I wrote “Mass Suggestion” as an affirmation that, while you may not bring the system down by doing so on your own, it is still perfectly fine to seek spirituality outside of the “normal” boundaries that seem to exist.
Isn’t it hard to form a band with only 2 members? Wouldn’t it be a lot easier if the band would have one musician playing one instrument?
Ron:For others it might be. Not for us.We’ve both been in bands but it never worked out. I don’t know, I guess we’re not band material. We both know pretty much what we want and in most bands you have to compromise a lot. I for one have a hard time with that if it means the result is mediocrity. In Ghost Circus there is little to no compromising. At least not on the artistic side of it. And most bands have 1 or 2 members anyway who write the songs. The other “just” play the songs. The down side to a 2 piece project is also the up side. Because there are only 2 members we have to do everything ourselves. Not only writing and play all the instruments but also recording, mixing, mastering. The entire package. Usually this involves several musicians, engineers and technicians, a producer and a mastering technician. But…. as said we know what we want so it’s nice to be in control of all these jobs. And we’re fortunate we can. We can both play multiple instruments and know a thing or two about recording. Of course we wouldn’t mind some help in the future like recording in a pro recording facility but that needs an entirely different budget. Bottom line is Ghost Circus is a 2 guy project and will stay that way. Bringing in other people would probably ruin the vibe/magic. Trust me, 2 guys on 2 continent demand enough logistics as it is!
Here in Holland the CD has got positive reactions. Will that be a reason for making a following Ghost Circus album, or was it just a one-time project?
Ghost Circus is certainly a full-time duo and we will continue to make, hopefully, many more albums from this time on. We plan on being here a very long time. Ron and I both fully realize how unique our chemistry is, and we both have more music than we know what to do with right now. Besides, I’m just starting to get the hang of writing lyrics and singing. And as anyone who knows me will tell you, I always have plenty to say! (laughs)
What about side-projects, are you two active in bands besides Ghost Circus?
Ron:No, not really. Before Ghost Circus Chris had his solo career doing acoustic instrumental music. The two albums from that period are still available at www.chrisbrownguitar.com btw. But he stopped doing that and is totally committed to Ghost Circus. I did an instrumental solo album in 2003 that got some nice reviews and I did music for a promo for special effects studio WW-FX last year (details about all that on www.rwa-home.nl). I’m going to work with them again this year but that doesn’t take a lot of time. You’ve got to understand that both of us still have a regular day job so besides that and Ghost Circus there’s hardly any time left for side projects. But we’re cool with that. We’re totally committed to every aspect of Ghost Circus (including putting a lot of time in promotion at the moment) and we don’t have any desire to do side projects. Maybe later, when we’re rich and famous!
Can we expect a tour in the upcoming months? If so, have you already been looking for guest-musicians?
Our goal is certainly to turn Ghost Circus into a live, touring act. Unfortunately, right now, money is the greatest hurdle in making that a reality. It will take some time but we will put together a live band. We’re hoping to be able to do so by the next album but we’ll just have to see how things work out.
As far as other musicians, we have met some people who might be great to work with in Ghost Circus. However, it’ll have to be the right people we can get along with and who fit within the context of what we do. Once again, we have already decided that in the recording and creative process it’s just going to be me and Ron. It works that way and we see no reason to change it.
I would like to thank you for the interview, and I wish you the best of luck in the future.
Thank you! And thanks for the great review over at Aardschok.com.