Ghostmouth | 331 Club | Saturday, March 14
On their latest album, Gyarados, Ghostmouth transitioned from punk rock to atmospheric instrumentals. It's drastic, and it's exactly what band leader Sean Chaucer Levine has always strived for in his band. It's an album to get lost in, a meditative reminder that simple isn't scary.
A little older, a little more mature than the last time he spoke to Gimme Noise, Levine shares his thoughts on Howler, the 4onthefloor, Kanye West, and why the band named the new album after a Pokemon character.[jump]
Band Members: Sean Michael Chaucer Levine, Jesse Blueclaw River, Randon Nelson, James Patrick Horigan
What has the band been up to since we last caught up?
Mostly just hanging out. A lot of music-making and recording, but mostly hanging out. Sometimes we'll go to Stanley's. I like it because it reminds me of an Applebee's.
You got a lot of shit for some of the things you said during the last interview. In hindsight, tell me your thoughts on what you said. Do you still feel that way about those bands? Do you feel you portrayed yourself honestly in that article?
Ha! I think the readers are probably going to need a refresher on that whole situation. Basically, back in early 2012 one of the only things that local bloggers in the Twin Cities were interested in writing about was this mock feud that they were trying to blow out of proportion between the bands Howler and the 4onthefloor. They were trying to make it into this whole Blur-Oasis level feud. It was a real indicator of the beginning of click bait articles taking their hold in Minnesota, and represented what I feel like has been a dramatic decline in the state of music journalism. I get it, I really do, and I'm sure NME benefited greatly from that whole Blur vs. Oasis thing, but I just found the whole thing ridiculous. I'm friends with enough journalists in this town to know that we can be better than that here in the cities.
Around this time, when I was just 20 or so, Ghostmouth had a big show coming up, and so after sending a few ignored emails, I sent one out that said something along the lines of, "Hey, we're Ghostmouth. We have a new album coming out, but if that's not big enough news for you I hate all of these bands and would be willing to bet that my dad would beat up their dads in a fight."
I was met with an email responding with something along the lines of "I like your style. I'll set up an interview with someone." Lo and behold, when I was emailed the interview questions, the big central question of the interview was regarding that statement. I felt that I had two options: to be sincere and call out the media for what I considered an affront to the artistry of being in a band, or to put on my East Coast-born sarcasm and make a gigantic joke of the whole situation. I chose the latter, and the people who comment on internet articles didn't respond particularly affectionately. It honestly never really occurred to me that people would take what I said seriously; I thought I was being a pretty blatant troll throughout the entire interview. I definitely learned something about how people can misinterpret the intention of the written word, and how animalistic conversation on the internet generally is.
It's really a shame -- that this marriage of music journalism and the internet hasn't yielded better results. It showed so much potential early on with MySpace, and Drowned In Sound and Pitchfork's heyday. Unfortunately, it has mostly degraded to click-bait lists, supermarket tabloid articles on would-be celebrities, musicians writing essays criticizing other musicians' career choices, videos of Kanye West doing ridiculous things, and the occasional mention of new music from an artist.
Kanye is a great homing beacon for this situation. Here's a guy who's clearly immensely talented at making music, and all people are interested in is what he's doing at the Grammys or the VMAs. The latest headline I read about him was seriously "Kanye West Cries During Interview." It's offensive to the art he creates. Many musicians make music partially because they're not good at talking to people, and yet now there are thousands of websites and blogs willing to jump to criticism based on what a social pariah blurted out when a microphone was pointed in his or her direction. The internet is like the first caveman discovering that the cave wall is a canvas, and then his friend drew a penis on it. But really, I don't care. It's happening to everyone these days -- Kanye, Jack White, Mark Kozelek, Wayne Coyne, Ariel Pink. People are just treating them like martyrs and run-of-the-mill celebrities instead of as artists.
As far as those bands I spoke out against in the article, I pretty much just chose the two bands already involved in the would-be feud, and threw in two or three of the Twin Cities' other biggest buzz bands. It was certainly nothing personal, and I don't have anything against any of them or wish anything but success on their careers as artists. Music isn't a competition, and it certainly isn't an end piece at the supermarket's cash registers. I'd really like it if it weren't treated in that way. But if bands in the Twin Cities are really having so much trouble getting along, they should just eat more weed brownies and hang out. Weed brownies are essential. I still think my dad could beat up their dads, though. He's strong like a mountain goat.
Your last album was five years in the making, and you had mentioned the last time we were in contact that you were working on new material. Why did it take a while for you to release this album?
That quote was actually taken out of context. What I had said was that those songs were written when I was 16 years old, not that it took us five years to make the EP. It actually took us one day to record it. We had been playing those songs live to fill out space occasionally in our sets, and some people really responded well to those songs. I was always against recording them though. It was our bass player at the time who pushed that idea on me. All traces of that poor little EP are gone now. I don't really believe much in regretting past releases, but that one wasn't my idea. I never would have wanted to release it under the name Ghostmouth, anyways.
This album was also recorded very quickly. We had practice the day after Edgar Froese of Tangerine Dream died. I'm not usually too sensitive of "celebrity deaths," which is more of a reflection on my opinions on the topic of death than my opinions about celebrity worship, but this one struck me. The music of Tangerine Dream meant a lot to me growing up, and continues to influence me to this day, perhaps to an even greater extent now than it used to. Edgar Froese is arguably the number-one pioneer responsible for the emergence of both electronic music and ambient music, and yet he gets no recognition for it.
Saying that this album was made in tribute to him was meaningless to most people, because they don't even know who he is. To most, Tangerine Dream is that kraut band with a cool name, or something they see in a cheap record store bin, or those guys who made all those soundtracks in the 1980s. They were so much more than that to so many people, and I really wanted to pay tribute to him somehow. Thus we recorded two improvisations that are somewhat in the vein of Tangerine Dream's style of performance. It's popularly referred to as the "Berlin School of Electronic Music."
Some of the bands and composers that fall into this category made the most beautiful music I've ever heard. They were synonymous with the earliest usage of analog and modular synthesis. We use a lot of the same kind of gear. They didn't receive much recognition back in the day because people of the 1960s and '70s were a bit reluctant about the synthesizer as an instrument. "Synthetic" is a word I've heard many people from that era use to describe synthesizer music, but that was such a narrow view of art. Of course nowadays people are all about synthesizers, but very few ever think to look as far back as the 1970s for greatness in the genre, and even when they do, I think people are still overly dismissive, and pigeonhole artists like Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream as being "pretentious" or "boring." They try to listen to them like they listen to an Aphex Twin or Flying Lotus track and are naturally met with disappointment.
As for why we've been taking so long, we've actually recorded about four albums since 2012. Gyarados was the fourth. The first two of those three were scrapped. The third isn't entirely finished yet. I don't like to rush. I like to chill.
Your new stuff is clearly different than your old music. Are all of the tracks mainly instrumental? Why do just merely instrumental music?
Not entirely sure what you mean by "merely," but yes, the album doesn't have the human voice on it. To be honest, the Ghostmouth that existed prior to this record is very much disbanded. I'm still great friends with mostly everyone who was involved in it, and actually continue to make music with one of the former members in a different project, but we just weren't making the music that I wanted to make.
I suppose you can kind of look at this current version as an entirely new band, I just kept the name. Makes it easier to keep in people's field of vision when you already have an established name, and also I really just hate coming up with band names. The holier-than-thou mentality that is so commonly associated with the artist makes it nearly impossible for us to summarize the ethos of our musical works in one catchy, marketable phrase. I feel like I didn't do too bad of a job of that when I came up with the name Ghostmouth.
I actually had a bit of an epiphany just recently. I think I want to just be really bad at making music for a while. I guess I don't mean that literally, what I mean is I want to make music for the sake of making music. Expression for no one's sake but my own. I feel like I've always done that to some extent, but never like this. Also, I don't mean that everything we release from now on is going to be ambient electronic music. In fact, the next album we have planned is something that I could very easily see being some sort of strange mainstream crossover for us. I still intend to write catchy songs with words and the sort, but just on my own terms. I make music entirely on my terms and the terms of the people I make music with, not anyone else's. I've never been all that interested in money. I know I supposedly really need it to survive, but the only reason I'd even like to make money with music is so that I can afford to build a gigantic cube deep below the Earth.
This album was improvised in one take. How do you translate that to the live show?
Well, technically since we recorded it all at once in one take, I suppose it'll translate very similarly, except I won't have my Hammond with me. Not planning on dragging a Hammond organ around with me live. Our release show will be our first time performing it in front of anyone, so I suppose we'll find out. It goes without saying that we're not trying to recreate the piece note for note, or even sound for sound. I'd imagine certain standout themes from the piece will show up, but I'm really excited for the room for live improvisation that this music creates.
Recording the album this way was just all too natural. I suppose it could be perceived as laziness, but in my opinion that perception in and of itself is lazy. We didn't have anything written, and I wanted to make something beautiful in tribute to Edgar Froese, so it just made sense to do it this way. I'm really glad and a little bit surprised that people are being as open to it as they are. I feel like a lot of people who have attempted this sort of thing have gone completely overlooked in the past, even as recently as that new Dirty Beaches album, Stateless. I really vibed with that album. Pure expression of the artist. I just wish people were more open-minded about the art they consume. If there's no right way to do music, then there's also no wrong way. I feel like people need a reminder of that now more than ever. There's no reason not to enjoy both Emeralds and Vampire Weekend, or Modest Mouse and Kanye West, or the Beach Boys and Steve Reich, or El Burrito Mercado and Taco Bell. Everything's different and everything's the same, and that's just fine.
What does the name Gyarados mean?
Well, Gyarados is one of the original 150 Pokemon. I don't remember exactly why we decided to name it that. I think maybe when it came time to save the file we decided it was big and powerful and terrifying like Gyarados. For those who don't know, Gyarados evolves from Magikarp, the weakest Pokemon in the game. He's a little stupid looking red fish and all he can do is splash around. Everyone in the games and the television series always underestimated and mocked him, until he evolved into Gyarados, one of the more powerful, and certainly in my opinion the most terrifying looking Pokemon in the game.
I'm not really the biggest Pokemon fan or anything. I certainly liked them a lot back when I was a kid, but they've always been fascinating to me from a marketing standpoint. It shows a very interesting side of people of my generation. I think the reason we're so internet savvy and make mockeries of "uncool" things that attempt to assault us with advertisement is because we faced the most intense advertising campaign of all time with Pokemon. I still remember getting a VHS tape in the mail when I was eight years old and wondering, "What are these things and what is their purpose? They sure are cute though." Then the first day of third grade everyone I met and tried to make friends with was playing Pokemon.
The only thing to me that compares to its great advertising potential is the marketing of energy drinks. I don't even think I like how they taste, or feel like they give me that much of a caffeine buzz, but I still drink them all the time. It's just brilliant advertising to send a bunch of attractive young girls around to pass out free Red Bull though. If you like the drink, here it is for free, and if you don't, you can still talk to these cute unassuming girls who are getting paid to drive around in this hilarious looking car and make people happy by giving them free mystery drinks with ingredients that no one's ever heard of.
It's so smart! I wish there were Red Bull Boys, I'd take that job. It's so funny and entertaining to me that we're sensitive to seeing iTunes push "Arcade Fire selling their new album for 7.99" ads in our faces all the time and we'll hate the band for it, but we're somehow okay with what happened with Pokemon and Energy Drinks. I suppose its all a part of growing and becoming less bitter about things than you were when you were a teenager.
What's the next step for the band?
Well, we'll probably keep hanging out a bunch, and keep going to Stanley's. Patrick's actually never been to Stanley's, so we're gonna have to change that. We'll get around to releasing that album we've been sitting on for so long now, but I'm not in any kind of rush. For now, I just want to keep having fun and keep gathering marble materials for my giant cube.
What are you excited to share at the album release show?
I'm really excited to play the songs off of Gyarados, but I'm probably even more excited to play the songs off of our unreleased album. They actually tie together in a really beautiful and interesting way with Gyarados, and I think it'll give people a greater appreciation for everything we're trying to accomplish musically.
Also, I'm really stoked on this lineup of Ghostmouth, Chalk, and Danger Ron. It's kind of a classic lineup to us, they're some of my best homies and even looking past that bias they're my favorite bands in the cities right now. Danger Ron's album Carpet was one of the most mind-blowing releases of 2014, and I don't want to say too much about the album Chalk's working on, but it's going to put the band on a whole new level for certain.
Ghostmouth's Gyarados release show. With Chalk and Danger Ron & the Spins. 21+, free, 10 p.m. Saturday, March 14 at 331 Club.
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