By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
Skulls For Symphony Insides Music
My first GhostBand sighting occurred at the Hexagon Bar in October of 2005. It was a CD-release show for Martin Dosh's Powderhorn EP and I must have been the first member of the audience to arrive. The bar was still relatively empty, and I remember that Dosh had to explain to the skeptical staff that he was a one-man band—and in fact, all three of the evening's performers were one-man bands, and that everything was going to be okay.
I still can't really comprehend why people fear one-man bands. But after a long conversation with Jon Davis, the man who opened that show, I'm a lot closer to understanding the tribulations of a totally free DIY solo performer.
GhostBand is Jon Davis. Live, he produces wild, nebulous landscapes of sound capable of shifting forms dramatically and in the blink of an eye. Improvising with samples and loops, Davis crouches over his orchestrations, twiddling at the teetering point of dissolution, fracture, and eruption.
Relaxed in the chair of his own studio apartment, Davis recalls the nervous tension of his earliest solo performances. "I'd take my bass and tuning fork and some screwdrivers, and make percussion music. It was like prepared bass music. I figured that the only way I could make my solo bass thing compelling was to make it not sound like a bass."
While Davis now plays and arranges many instruments during live performance, the same experimentalist desire to push instruments beyond their purposes remains.
"It's like you have a bass, but you don't have to play bass with a bass," he explains. "You don't have to use a drum machine to make some fucking booty beat. For a long time I was obsessed with the idea of trying to be able to make a bass sound like anything that I wanted it to sound like."
While much of GhostBand's music sounds like some dark form of experimental electronica, the sonic package is created through live self-sampling, looping, and effects manipulation. Trained most regimentally on bass, Davis also plays bass clarinet, glockenspiel, synth, drum machines, and even some mandolin. Elements of noise, ambient, IDM, drone, and free jazz are all present, but their live manipulation creates something entirely new. The skittering beats and breaks are all improvised. Nothing is programmed.
With heightened vulnerability from being a truly solo artist both on the creative and business side of his art, Davis seems entirely uncomfortable with the idea of packaging his music for commercial consumption. He's played and recorded with other bands including Haunted House, a couple of projects helmed by Martin Dosh—he's even on Andrew Bird's new album, Armchair Apocrypha. GhostBand, however, has only one official release, the self-recorded Skulls for Symphony, a collection of tracks released on local experimental label Insides Music.
"Things are confusing now. It's a weird time to want to put together a record," says Davis. Yet with a hermit-like discipline, he self-records on a nightly basis, and is sitting on a catalog of more than 400 recorded tracks.
"Maybe I'll keep recording forever and only put out one record," he theorizes, oddly coveting the idea of the unheard voice. Davis keeps searching for a new sound, a rhythmic nook, or a knob to twiddle with, too busy trolling and exploring to worry about anything else.