Ghosts of Modern Man
pretension haunts elsewhere!
by Levi Soulodre
August 4, 2009
Only a few minutes deep in conversation with Regina's Ghosts of Modern Man (GOMM), the four band members give the impression that they possess a valued yet often unfound element of cohesiveness, not only as musical participants, but as friends. Even over the phone, they sound relaxed, carefree, even excited. Simply put, they are having a good time, engaged in talking about all things concerning the band, from their long past, newly released debut album City of No Light, relationship with label Smallman records, future endeavours, and favourite kinds of beer. GOMM are engrained with a positive attitude that will eminently help them win more fans and create exciting music. The band immediately nullifies any concept of band mentality gone sour; rather, they are its antithesis.
With a new, solid lineup and the most recent arrival of talented drummer Tristan Helgason, who previously committed his drumsticks to nationally emerging Filmmaker, the band is easygoing, humourous and good-natured. City of No Light, released in late March 2005, is a strong, listenable debut that has aided the band in spreading their saucy blend of post punk, hardcore and hard rock to all parts of Canada. With all members of the band possessing a strong sense of musical drive and camaraderie, it is now only a matter of time before GOMM begin reaping the full desserts within a newly exploding Canadian indie rock scene.
Ghosts of Modern Man was quasi-born from the locally popular '90s hardcore punk act Pillar, which is where Jonah and Jamie began with original drummer Chris McBennet. GOMM's current lineup is now comprised of lead vocalist and guitarist Jonah, 27, bass guitarist Jamie, 28, guitarist and vocalist Stacey, 28, and Tristan Helgason (jokingly 11 years old), who completes the quartet on drums. All members are from Regina, with Stacey originally from Melville. Gathered around the speaker phone, the group continuously pokes light-hearted jeers and stabs at one another. They admit being huge fans of Pilsner and Bohemian, consequentially spawning the typical Saskatchewan argument concerning the regionalism of certain beers between cities and small towns. When describing the way they make music, the band confidently affirms an ever-present level of comfort.
Although the majority of songs on City of No Light were co-written with Chris, the band now feels that they are 'doing well for songwriting' with the current lineup as well, where all members actively participate in the writing of songs.
All four members were raised in the Regina area, and Jonah and Jamie met in high school, bonding over similar tastes in music which centered around old-school punk by the likes of Good Riddance and Ten Foot Pole. Jonah and Jamie have now been playing together for over 12 years.
Perhaps unexpectedly, Pillar did experience an unusual longevity for a Saskatchewan-based punk band, and naturally went through a sort of rebirth with GOMM. Jonah admits they had some legal problems tied to the name Pillar, and that became one of the main factors in changing the name. Also, the band sought a fresh start when Stacey joined to fatten their live sound on second guitar, and especially when longtime drummer Chris decided to depart from Ghosts (after a hefty eleven-year jaunt) to pursue other interests as a pilot in the aviation industry. "Most of the songs off of City of No Light were written with Chris," Jonah says, "but he left to become a pilot." This led to Tristan's landing, which subsequently had the band decide to record their album with Tristan and not with Chris. Jonah admits that with Chris in the drummer's seat, it got increasingly hard to push tours as Chris focused on other goals. Ironically enough, the band itself rehearses in an airplane hanger.
Overall, it is evident that GOMM is very excited and keen on their new drummer; the decision to focus on Tristan's drumming and punctuated rhythmic patterns was an exclusive decision on the band's part to mix his drums tracks more to the forefront of the album, which in all focuses on heavy, driving rhythms. The band agrees that the rhythm-heavy focus on the album and the drums' specific forward presence was done with a purpose. "We're a very percussive-driven band, all in all," Jonah adds, "and although we like to keep things somewhat uncomplicated on the guitars, the rhythm section feeds off so much energy that they then emerge as a heavy, complicated rhythm-driven act." The band assures that writing with Tristan is "working out pretty well."
The guys feel very confident with GOMM, as it is "pretty much its own different band from Pillar," states Jonah. From songwriting to their live sound, they possess a new energy. Jamie adds that "We all love playing music and traveling, and although the musical trends have fluctuated in Regina, we feel a part of the re-invigorated music scene."
Of course, the band still finds it hard to devote the entirety of their time to music. Says Tristan, "Music life is fun and exciting, work life pretty boring and stagnant. But right now we need the one to support the other." City of No Light offers a blast of raw, passionate, rhythm-driven rock which bulldozes through ten songs. The band's sound is fairly unique; Tristan suggests, "We try to keep things interesting. All of our songs are sort of off-structures, within a pop structure feel." Stacey adds, "Whatever the song needs is what is added." The band also admits that in rehearsal, they'll break down the most mundane things in the music and lyrics, an exhausting yet overall rewarding effort when creating music. "We play the same thing over and over and over again. The hard thing to do is to make our sound look and feel effortless, which in itself takes a lot of work and precision," Jamie notes. In terms of recording versus performing live, Stacey is quick to point out that "playing live kicks recording's ass!" The other members agree. "There's no pretension in our band," solidifies Jonah. The album certainly gives that impression as well. Its production is fairly stripped down; the band worked hard to achieve a sound quality that would mirror their stage sound. They were inherently concerned with not overly producing the album. "There's nothing worse then when things are not sounding (live) as they do on the recording," Jonah states.
A welcome change from gain-flooded, metal-like tones, GOMM achieves a grittier and entirely more ferocious sound by sticking to the basics. The band explains that they don't use a lot of effects. "I'll use a delay or a tremolo pedal here and there, but nothing much," Jonah notes. Essentially, their distortion is run through their amps. In Stacey's case, he also employs a blues driver Boss pedal. Jonah employs a Les Paul 1973 model, which he uses both for recording and playing live. In the studio, however, his live amp (consisting of a Marshall 900 head) proved too muddy for his liking; thus, he combined the brighter tones of a Fender Twin reverb tube amp with the Marshall stack to equalize his sound.
Stacey's arsenal consists of a G & L Fender Stratocaster model, and a Marshall head and speaker cabinet. Jamie plays an Ernie Ball Stingray bass guitar, with a Peavey Pro 500 Head and an 8x10 Ampeg speaker cabinet, although he also used an Ampeg head for recording. Tristan reveals solely that he uses Pro-Mark natural 5B drumsticks. The band plays in standard E tuning, with a few songs in drop D. With not a lot of gadgetry and gizmos to dazzle the audience, the band remains true to the most honourable of performing methods; maintaining a lively, energetic stage presence and performing their songs with practiced and genuine honesty. "Stacey is the one who goes nuts, he's got great presence," Jonah offers. "It's easy to hide behind walls of distortion, so we try to get away from that and simply offer our music." However, the same could be said for each member. Vocally, Jonah's strong, guttural voice demands attention. Jonah's vocals are impressively powerful and charismatic on City of No Light. When asked how he has conditioned his voice to such a melodic, grainy fuzz, he admits that "I smoke a lot of cigarettes."
Of note is the impressive imagery found in his lyrics, which he writes almost entirely on his own. The lyrics on City of No Light, according to Jonah, are "complicated, and somewhat abstract." He finds comfort in reaching a happy medium between relating personal experiences and problems, and probing into general observations on life and society, resulting in lyrical honesty. Perhaps, GOMM are so rocking that at a few points in the phone interview, the speaker phone itself began wailing sharply with feedback, as if their loud music was transmitting itself through its members.
Refreshingly, the band is reluctant to ascribe themselves to any one particular genre or music label. "Labels are for jars," the band agrees, laughing out loud. While they see it as something of a necessity, they'd rather not let it get out of hand. They play their own brand of music and try to ignore how others might stamp them. This eclecticism is reflected in each band members' current listening. Jonah is spinning Queens of the Stone Age (a band favourite), Minus the Bear, and has also been enjoying the new Converge album. Jamie admits he finds the new TV on the Radio quite brilliant. Stacey is digging Conor Oberst's currently neglected side project Deseparecidos, Hot Snakes (another band favourite), and Small Brown Bike, an older band signed to Smallman. Tristan admits he would love to work with Andre 3000.
Shifting gears towards the band's label Smallman, GOMM are immediately excited to express their gratitude and happiness with being associated with the Winnipeg-based label, found at www.smallmanrecords.com. The band simply calls the label, and their bands peers, 'family'. "Instead of feeling nervous and going to sign contracts, we arrived at Smallman and had a big BBQ," Jonah explains.
Smallman has, without a doubt, given the band a much-appreciated boost: their album is available province-wide in major music outlets, as well as on the Smallman website. In terms of how they signed to this small yet thriving label, which is made up of a terrifically stellar lineup of bands including Choke, Moneen, Comeback Kid and the Reason, the band did the tried-and-true method; "We played our song 'sleeping at the switch' (the album's opener) over the phone, and that pretty much sealed it," Jamie recalls.
Stacey's old band Layaway Plan was also associated with Smallman, so they had a connection there. "Basically, we're making music for people who want to hear and listen to this kind of music, and Smallman is great for that," the band agrees.
Concerning the other bands on the label, they only share "warm, family feelings." There is no competition to be found within these groups, even though some (like Moneen) seem to command more attention these days. But, as the band explains, "Moneen has toured all over the world, whereas we've only toured throughout Canada. So obviously, there's more business sense applied to them; they've been on this label far longer than we have, and are regularly performing to 2000 people." Jonah explains that the label "is pretty equal" with how they treat their bands. "Nevertheless, the more successful a band is, the more money comes into play, and so then it becomes more of an investment."
In any case, the band is on their way to joining that level of popularity, by "sticking to our own guns and playing our own music." Since the release of their debut, Jonah is pleased to announce that more and more people are singing along to their songs at shows. Although they are taking a small repose back in Regina, the band is gearing up for a Canadian tour this September, which will see them take their music from Lethbridge to Whistler. Next spring, see them all over North America. "We'd ultimately love to go to Europe - that's the goal," the band states. If GOMM continues to progress, they will be playing Europe and other far reaches in no time. Parting words from the band including a (perhaps sarcastically enthusiastic) 'GO RIDERS!', as well as a message for all other bands to simply "do their own thing". Ghosts of Modern Man are doing just that, and it is working for them. The band has finally come into its own, and seems to have discovered all the ingredients that will stew their rock recipe to unprecedented heights. Discover them for yourself at www.ghostsofmodernman.com.