THE GHOST OF A THOUSAND [Download update]
Andy Blyth and Memby Jago on new album New Hopes, New Demonstrations, working with Pelle Gunnerfeldt, Epitaph and more - plus our post-Download chat
"There's a lot of exciting British music coming out right now and I think people need to champion it. It breaks my heart when you see these American bands coming over and they're treated like royalty" declares The Ghost of a Thousand guitarist Andy Blyth. Lounging back on a worn brown leather sofa in a temporary dressing room at Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes in central London, Blyth is speaking to RM along with drummer Memby Jago on the day the band's hotly-anticipated second album New Hopes, New Demonstrations [Reviewed HERE] hits stores nationwide. Recorded in Sweden with legendary producer Pelle Gunnerfeldt (Refused, The (International) Noise Conspiracy and The Hives), it's an album that absolutely blows their contemporaries straight out of the water with its hard-hitting blend of crunching hardcore riffs and new found sense of melody. Simply put; expect it to clean up when the end of year awards get handed out. After penning a deal with Brett Gurewitz's seminal label Epitaph Records, big things are expected of TGOAT this year. So how are they feeling about the infamous pressure that surrounds the release of the all important album number two?
Andy "It's a weird feeling really because it's awesome to get another record out, it's been two years since the last album came out, but at the same time the second album process has been so long. We started writing this album at the end of 2007 and we finished recording it six months ago so for us it has been a long wait. But we're really pleased that it's finally coming out and that people can hear it as we're really proud of it."
How have the new songs been going down live with the kids?
Andy "Pretty good. We put the first single 'Bright Lights' up for download a month and a half ago or something and we put 'Running on Empty' up on our MySpace so people already seem to know the words which is an amazing and awesome feeling. People seem to be enjoying it, even with the ones they haven't heard before there's people who are still dancing."
Memby "I'd like to see it in a couple of months time when they really know the album."
Are you happy with the reviews the album's received so far?
Andy "Yeah, so far it's positive as far as I can see. It's just a question of waiting and seeing. I mean a review is a nice affirmation of what you think is something special, but at the same time it's not the be all and end all. The big test for us is whether our fans like it."
How would you say it compares to your debut? I've heard Tom describe the album as heavier and sadder...
Memby "I think lyrically it's a lot darker. We've been going through a lot of personal turmoil with family members getting ill and relationships breaking down. I think it's a lot more eclectic. The aggressive stuff is as aggressive, if not more so, and there's a lot of songs where we've taken it down a bit. Every song has its own vibe."
Andy "There are definitely sombre tracks, musically as well as lyrically, but there's some good old party tunes in there as well."
How do you feel about you debut This Is Where The Fight Begins when you listen back to it now?
Andy "We're still really proud of it as a record. A lot of people in bands talk to us about where we recorded it. We're really proud about how it sounds for such a cheap recording we had to do it to a budget within twelve days. Listening back to it now sure you can pick faults, but it was a great document to where we were at as a band and I think the second album is an even better document to where we were when we recorded it."
Tracks like 'Split the Atom' have a more melodic and introspective edge and feature no screaming whatsoever, what brought this change on?
Andy "We definitely didn't want to make the first record again and we're always looking to push ourselves forward creatively. We don't want to be complacent musicians churning out the same kind of stuff over and over again. That song in particular just started as a riff I had and we worked on it in the studio. We tried screamed vocals over it, but the melodic thing just works a lot better for that particular song. I think its got a lot of Washington DC influence; the chords are very Fugazi-esque, very post-punk."
Memby "We wanted to make sure we had a record that would be quite dynamic."
Do you agree that you've taken more risks this time around?
Andy "Yeah we're definitely not playing it safe. We were never going to make a sing-along catchy well there are catchy moments but we were never going to compromise us creatively for the sake of choruses and melody. I mean there's a lot more melody on the album but that's purely through a sort of passion for music. It wasn't because we all sat down and thought "let's make a commercial rock record". I mean most of what we listen to doesn't come from that genre."
Memby "It just kind of came about naturally."
Andy "Subconsciously it's sort of a product of our lives at the time really."
Do you feel first single 'Bright Lights' bridges the two albums well?
Memby "Yeah, we were pretty sure 'Bright Lights' was the best introduction to the new record given the fact that it's fast and has a lot more dynamics."
Andy "On the first album it was all done on click tracks and all done individually and this time we all recorded together and we're a lot more locked in, a lot more groove based and that track especially has a lot going on, the middle 8, the dancy drum bit and the dynamic climax."
You just touched on the recording process; the album was recorded in Stockholm with producer Pelle Gunnerfeldt. How was that experience? What's it like working with Pelle?
Andy "Pelle's awesome, well, Pelle's interesting. He's a great producer, definitely a world class producer but sometimes you've got a vision of what should happen and then he's got a vision. I mean that's what you're paying them for, their input, but I think we struck the perfect balance between his input and our input. We weren't going to back down over issues that we felt passionately about. We chose him because we want to make a really classic sounding album, not necessary a vintage sounding album, but a timeless sounding album. We didn't want it to sound really current but then you listen to it in five years and it'll sound dated."
There's a couple of major changes in the camp from touring the first album, with Gaz Spencer replacing Gez Walton on bass. The departure was described as "musical differences" at the time but what happened there exactly?
Memby "Well actually Gaz was the first bass player we ever had and we wrote the first album with him, he actually did the recording as well. At the time he had other commitments and just couldn't tour really."
Andy "I think he was at a point in his life, he's a little bit older than us, where he wanted a career and the safety of a routine and now I think the crisis is over and he just wants to enjoy life again! [all laugh]. So after we recorded with him we played a few shows and he was really, really buzzing."
Memby "In terms of Gez, it was nothing personal. The four of us, Jag, Tom, myself and Andy spent a lot of time locking ourselves in and putting a lot of energy into it, but we just weren't getting the same kind of feeling from Gez. So it just didn't work out really."
Andy "We're still really good friends with the guy. I mean in our album sleeve it says "A special thanks to Gez for his commitment and his friendship". It was never a question of commitment, as Memby says, when we went to write the four of us are very much on the same page and we felt he wasn't necessarily. He comes from a different musical background as well, he's more of a metal kid and we're sort of punk kids. We all sort of like the same kind of music and when it came to his input it just didn't match up with our input and I just think when Gaz came back the music came a lot quicker and we've never written without him so it felt natural."
Memby "We definitely grew as musicians when Gaz came back."
On a happier note you've signed with Epitaph Records. When I interviewed you last at the Barfly over a year ago you alluded to it. Was it hard keeping it a secret for so long?
Andy "I think people in London knew. Negotiations had been going on for 18 months. There was a point when we thought, "Is it ever going to happen?" [both laugh]. We kept being told, next month, next month and that went on for like a year probably. When we were making the album we were struggling to write. I think we needed that sort of affirmation that you're working towards something for a label, I mean at the time we were writing songs, but thinking, "We're writing songs for who?". We needed that goal this is going to be an Epitaph album. I think once we had that secured it definitely gave us a bit more determination."
You must be pretty proud to be one of the first British bands to put out a record on such an esteemed label?
Andy "We're absolutely stoked man."
Memby "It's unbelievable, we feel truly blessed."
Did you speak with any other labels?
Andy "Yeah, we spoke to a few labels and they're all good labels, but we all feel so passionately about Epitaph as a label and what they've done for punk rock through the years that we wanted to make it work. I mean we could have gone with other people who are equally established but it's a special thing for us."
You must have so many, but what would you say has been the highlight The Ghost of a Thousand's career so far?
Andy "When we did a headline tour last December and we played the [London] Borderline show. That was like a really busy show and we played really well."
Memby "We'd been away a long time writing the new record too."
Andy "Yeah that's the thing. We played like eight shows and it felt really humbling to play a show after so long. We were so grateful for that. If it wasn't for people coming to shows then we wouldn't be doing this. I think live music is becoming a bigger and bigger part of the music industry and the people coming to shows are really integral to its future."
Are you excited about the current UK rock scene, who's exciting you these days?
Memby "I'm looking forward to the new Blood Red Shoes album... the new Maccabees album."
Andy "Both of those bands are our good friends from Brighton. There's a great band from Newcastle called Lavotchkin, they're really good dudes and an awesome band."
Memby "Sharks and The Computers, we're taking them out on tour with us. Architects are doing well."
Andy "There's a lot of exciting British music coming out right now and I think people need to champion it. It breaks my heart when you see these American bands coming over and they're treated like royalty. Well hang on we've got bands of equal quality if not more special in our own country."
So what are you plans for the rest of 2009?
Andy "Europe is the main focus. We didn't tour Europe with the first album. I mean we've only played two shows outside the UK so it's all very new for us and it's awesome. I love playing shows when no-one has heard of us. I mean people in Europe have heard of us, but we played in Belgium the other day at Groezrock and it was an amazing response. There's been people who've been waiting for us to come to Europe for so long."
Have you any aims or goals you'd like to achieve with this album? Do you think Epitaph will help take you to the next level?
Memby "Well I guess the budget we've got is definitely a step up from the first album."
Andy "I think there's more to a song than just a song. Part of being a musician is having the creative vision to produce a little bit, what sounds do you want and where? Really playing with the arrangements of the songs. The biggest luxury we were afforded was that we had five and a half weeks to record the album so we really had time to experiment and we got a lot out of it."
Memby "We're happy that Epitaph can help take the music further."
Andy "The first album did really well but we didn't really have a press agent for ages and yet we were still getting press. I think what we got off that album was all because of hard work. Now if we combine our hard work ethic with a bit more attention that can be afforded to us now I think that we're onto something good."
Update: 17th June
Sadly The Ghost Of A Thousand were forced to cancel last weekend's Download Festival slot. Ruth Midget caught up with Andy Blyth for a quick chat...
So we turned up at the Red Bull tent on Saturday night, expecting to see you headlining, and you weren't there. What happened?"There was a family emergency that happened a couple of days before, which meant we had to cancel the Borderline show with Alexisonfire, the show in Brussels with Gallows, and unfortunately had to cancel Download as well. So big apology to everyone, but it was unavoidable really."
Just to confirm, you boys in yourselves are all ok?"Yeah, we're all ok."
You must have been gutted. Was this your first Download?"We did Download in 2007, so this would have been our second one, but obviously we didn't want to cancel. We'd never pull a show for any reason that wasn't really, really serious. So it was unfortunate but it was necessary."
Was there anyone you were planning on catching? Did you have anything special planned?"Jag [Jago] and Gaz [Spencer] went to the festival, I think they both went to see Faith No More. I haven't really looked at the lineup, I'm not a big metal fan, so I'm not sure there are that many bands I would have went to have seen but there was quite a lot of cheesy eighties metal, which would have gone down quite well also."
Does this affect your planned tour in July, or your Guilfest slot at all?"At the moment, no. We're all ready to go. We're really looking forward to those fifteen dates. Obviously we're playing later on this year with Alexisonfire in October, as part of the Eastpak Antidote tour, so hopefully people who wanted to see us with Alexis will be able to catch us there. And that was like a secret Alexis show anyway, so hopefully there'll be a lot more people to come to those shows. Download, I'm not sure if we're going to try and do a catchup show. Did This City headline? They're good friends of ours." [In the end The Blackout headlined in place of The Ghost Of A Thousand]
It's been a few weeks since 'New Hopes, New Demonstrations' came out - what's the reaction been like?"There's a lot of positive stuff coming back. I think it's divided quite a few people. Some people just wanted us to make a really heavy, sort of catchy hardcore record, like the first album, and we weren't really interested in making that album again. So what we've done with 'New Hopes, New Demonstrations' is push things forward a little bit musically. Our sound has definitely matured and developed and some people are embracing that and some people aren't, but we're really happy with how it's come out."
At Download festival, the most popular cover was 'Poker Face' by Lady Gaga. Would you gents be tempted to do the same?"We've never actually played a cover at any time in our career, ever. But I think if we did do a cover, it definitely wouldn't be a Lady Gaga tune, it would probably be a Rocket From The Crypt song or a Descendants song or a Good Riddance song, or something like that. But we're not ones for the 'let's make a pop song into a rock song'. It's not really us. We'll leave that to You Me At Six."
Any final words?"Just that we are very sorry that we cancelled shows and we'll be back very soon. And come and check us out on the July tour! It's a sole UK lineup, which is really important to us, championing UK music. Sharks and The Computers are two great bands, so it should be a great tour."
The Ghost of a Thousand's new album New Hopes, New Demonstrations is out now through Epitaph Records.
For all the band's latest tourdates, check out www.myspace.com/ghostofathousand