I N T E R V I E W
Ghosts of Electricity;
Music to get Puppies to Sleep
by Ian Duggan
Ex-Hamilton band Ghosts of Electricity recently released their latest album, 'Music to get Puppies to Sleep'. We caught up with front-person Tim Fowler, to talk about the new album, its seemingly less-PC content matter than their previous album, and where the band is at in 2017.
HUP: The album has songs that primarily fit into two extremes in style, ranging from lush crafted pop songs to those that are more sparse and spoken word. What has driven the change of style from that of your previous album Trolls, which was primarily ‘punk’, and how has the new album come to have such contrasting styles within it?
Tim: I think there's a whole lot of reasons for this. We liked Trolls, but I guess none of us saw the point in trying to remake it. Previously 90% of our songs came from jams; this time almost all of the songs were written at home. Because of this I think we had a lot more time to think about things. There's a lot more odd meter songs on this album, and we tended to use scales and modes we wouldn't normally use. I have developed an irrational love for the v chord in mixolydian mode after hours spent alone, for example. After we had a collection of demos, it just so happened we liked the spoken word stuff and the poppy stuff best, and as we liked it, we exaggerated it even more. Annie Clark is one of my all time faves, and one of the things I love about her writing is that she can make a bloody complicated piece sound like a pop song, then she'll get halfway through and put an insane barely tonal fuzz solo over the top of beautifully produced pop. I really love the concept of trying to make things both easier and more difficult to listen to at the same time. We tried to do that by making the musical pieces sound more musical, and then if we decided a section or instrument didn't need to be so musical (usually the vocals), we'd try to think about it more as an aesthetic feature than a musical one. It's not everyone's cup of tea, but then nothing ever is.
HUP: In another departure, Trolls seemed pretty ‘politically correct’ lyrically, while on this album you have songs like ‘Young MILFs In Your Area’ and ‘Tits out for the Boys’. Talk me through this!
Tim: It's funny, I think "Tits out for the boys" is PC as fuck. Essentially that song was written after reading Tony Veitch's "apology" article in the paper, and reading the letter to Brock Turner written by his victim. It made me think a lot about what young males know, what they talk about when they're drinking, what they aspire to be, what they do, what they would do. For the song I wanted to re-frame the chant "tits out for the boys" to make it sound awkward and pitiful, which it mostly is anyway. The lyrics in the verse ended up a bit intentionally vague partly because I think men need to listen more on this topic, so it wouldn't be helpful to anyone to have me try to do some finger pointing. I don't think men trying to control conversations about rape culture really answers anything. Also, as a joke to myself, that song uses the same chord sequence as "Wrecking Ball". I just really wanted to write a song about masculinity that musically quoted the most inappropriate source I could think of.
HUP: The album and cover art have been finished for several months. Why have you chosen to until now to release it?
Tim: It just gave us time to make videos really. We like to set a release date after we've recorded so we've got a specific target to get things ready by, but we set this date before we know what we are going to do about videos, so we set it fairly conservatively to give ourselves enough time.
HUP: You use a lot of keyboards and samples on this album. How will you perform live? Are you going to tour to support the album, and importantly, will you be playing in Hamilton?
Tim: Really good questions, none of which I can give an exact answer to. In the past we've always had one or two bits of a song that we couldn't reasonably play live, and we've had to tweak it a bit to make it workable. Some of this album is a whole other level of challenge though. I think on "A trip to homeworld stadium", the first part has 4 rhythm guitars playing different parts, plus bass, vocals, djembe, glockenspiel, melodica and piano. We can re-write things to a degree to make it more playable, but it starts to be a pretty heavy re-write if we change too much. When / if we play these live, we may not be able to reproduce some of it with the number of humans who we can convince to join us on stage, so something has to give. Having said that, we can play a re-arranged version of most of the material with the usual 3 piece, so I think that's the most likely option, beyond that it'd be great to have a keyboardist or another guitarist for live shows. We'd likely be practicing in Hamilton if anyone's keen. If we play live again, I think Hamilton is the most likely venue.
HUP: I understand you have now left Auckland, and you have lost your bass player? What, if anything, does this mean for the future of Ghosts of Electricity?
Tim: I'm in Rotorua now, Pete [Beazley]'s in the Netherlands, Patrick [Girard]'s still in Auckland. We're still making new music together. I think we've got about 25 minutes of new music in demo form that I'm pretty happy with. We just record things on laptops and send them around to each other. I've got a baby on the way as well, which I suspect will slow things down a fair bit. Hard to say what we're doing live, but we've got at least another album in us I reckon. Albums are a bit easier with distance than live shows.