Published Jul 25, 2008Daft Punk have the helmets. Justice have the cross. And the Black Ghosts? Well, they have the skulls. And like any good symbol, it gives you a pretty clear idea of whats in store on the UK duos long-awaited debut LP. Composed of former Simian crooner Simon Lord and the Wiseguys Theo Keating, the Black Ghosts drop an undeniably sinister groove, twisting up a dark mass of synths, beats and danceable drama that would haunt any discotheque. It all shows the grim flip-side of dance but at the same time, embraces its more pop-leaning ways, with Lords flamboyant vocals packing a whole lot of soul, as well as hooks. At one point, Blurs Damon Albarn even joins the duo on the fit-for-radio "Repetition Kills You, pushing the group that much further into the realm of pop. And its the perverse juxtaposition of dark and light that makes the album such an absorbing listen. The record is not quite full-on macabre but its not all sunny good times either. Its some brilliant combination of two and something thats all the Black Ghosts.
You two met each other online and started making music together before you had ever met face to face. How do you think that impacted the music?
Lord: It kind of meant the music came first. It was just about ideas because we each have studios and we can work independently and just sort of work on these ideas and fire them to each other via email. And it just meant each of us could work on stuff when we were inspired or in the mood. It kind of made it easy to begin with.
So do you still work this way?
Yeah. Like I said, we both have studios and our own ways of working so it kind of makes sense to do it that way. We both live in London, but we could be other the other sides of the world. And thats one of the cool things about the internet. Its made it possible to work in that way and work with all sorts of people you couldnt work with before.
How do you divide up the division of labour in the band?
Well, I do all the vocals and arrangements and the song side of things. And Theo works more on the beats and production side of things. It work well and there is this sort of simple division, just purely in that those are the two things that we naturally do anyway. Its quite complementary that way. Its not like were competing for ideas. Im good at the vocal side and hes good at the beat side so we dont step on each others toes.
Could you tell me a bit about the live set-up are you guys using these days?
Its based around a DJ set, with live vocals and agates and laptops and stuff happening as well. So it kind fits into the DJ world, but when we do our own songs we apply a lot of those live elements and vocals.
So what kind of tracks by other people are you mixing in with your own material?
All sorts of stuff, like our friends who make records like Boy 8-Bit and other stuff that is sort of part of the UK scene. All kinds of things really.
What motivated you to take on this particular sound with the Black Ghosts?
There wasnt really much thought behind it. We didnt make a plan or decide on an aesthetic; it was just us trying out stuff. We are both into a wide variety of music and we just drew from all our influences and tried it out and saw how far it could go. I mean, neither of us wanted to make a niche record that is just one thing. I think we both enjoy trying out different styles and different flavours, and I think when we were making the album we were just exploring what worked. And the tracks that made the album were just the ones that excited us. There wasnt any sort of bigger picture. They were just the ones we thought sounded cool. And there is variety in there, but I guess thats just a reflection on the different influences we have and the different backgrounds we have, with Theo being more of a DJ and me coming more from a songwriter background. There are a lot of things going into the mix.
What kind of emotional reaction were you aiming for with this record?
There is obviously a big variety in the mood of the songs. I dont think there is one reaction we are going for with the songs. The overriding thing we wanted was for all of the tracks to be pop songs and to write songs that people would remember and sing along to. But we wanted the message to be double-sided, where it has this immediacy and popness to it, but this dark, more mysterious thing happening as well, where there is this split personality instead of one mood. When we came up with the name and imagery, it all sort of became all dark, but a lot of the music doesnt have that to it. And its not like we wanted to write dark tunes; we just wanted that split thing going one. And that darkness to the whole thing balances out the popness as well.
There is also this kind of soul vibe to the record. Was that something you were consciously going for?
Yeah, with the vocals we really wanted to inject that kind of soul attitude into it. The music kind of forced me to do that as well. Ive done quite a lot of music that was more of a kind of laid back feel and sometimes it was kind of hard to push the vocals when the music is like that. But this stuff let me let loose a bit and I was getting more confident with my vocals. So yeah, I was definitely aiming for that more soulful style.
Could you tell me how did the collaboration with Damon Albarn took place on the track "Repetition Kills You?
It was actually a track that Theo had started previously. He knows Damon and they just started the track but they never managed to finish it off. And Theo told me about it and I was like, "Give it here. Give it here. So I got it and stuck my bits in to fill the gaps and to build it into a finished thing. And we sent it back to Damon and he really liked it, and we took it from there. So it was kind of like Frankenstein monster. But I mean, Ive always really liked Damons voice and he does these really great hooks and I figured we should do something with it.
How do you think Black Ghosts compares to your old band, Simian?
One of the reasons we stopped working as Simian was that we didnt want to be in a band anymore and that is one thing I liked about this new project its not a band. Its more of a studio-based thing thats not trying to become a "band.
Do you think Black Ghosts will ever collaborate with your former band-mates now in Simian Mobile Disco?
I did a song with Simian Mobile Disco on their last album, [Attack Decay Sustain Release, but I dont know if we will do anything together.
Where does Black Ghosts fascination with dark, gothic imagery come from?
When we met, we realized it was something we both had an interest in. At the time, there wasnt much of that stuff about and we didnt want to be just another dance thing. We had these other influences in the music and we sort of wanted to show that. It just kind of made sense.
So what role does the dark supernatural thing play a part in the band?
Well its not like we are having seances on tour or anything. Its more of just a visual thing. We like the imagery. We wanted a concept behind the image of the band and that sort of stuff just sort of fell into place.
Could you tell me about how your plans for all the music videos you have out there?
Well, we did videos for the singles, and at the start we asked young filmmakers to make a short film for each song without any direction. And then these guys from all around the world made all these films that we are planning to release as a DVD with the album. Thats one of the things with our music: we wanted to control the visual side as well and involve those elements. So weve been releasing the videos one at a time over the last few months and we plan to use them in a bigger way in the future.
Why is the visual side so important to you guys?
Because it can be. I guess there are lots of other bands that leave that to other people but we have ideas about what we would like so we would rather do them ourselves. Being into music isnt just about listening to speakers; its about being into the whole thing and there is no reason you cant do it all yourself.
What do you hope listeners take away from the record?
Just to have a good old-fashioned album listening session, you know? That was one of the things we were conscious of when we were mixing it and sequencing it. We wanted to make it good to listen from start to finish, and work at home or out or whatever. So if people can do that, thats great. There is so much music right now that is based around singles or a few tracks on your iPod or whatever. But we wanted to make a good old proper album that you can experience as a whole. And I just hope people can do that with ours. Thats the message: to listen to the whole thing. (I Am Sound)