Extra Happy Ghost!!! Opens Up About Working with Chad VanGaalen on Debut LP
Published Jul 25, 2011Even if you don't yet know Calgary songwriter Matthew Swann and his project Extra Happy Ghost!!!, there's a good chance that you're familiar with producer Chad VanGaalen. Swann laid down his debut full-length, Modern Horses, in VanGaalen's Yoko Eno studio -- the same space in which the producer recorded such albums as Women's Public Strain and his own Diaper Island. Swann says that, although he is thrilled to have had the opportunity to work with VanGaalen, the songs didn't turn out quite like he envisioned.
"Initially, going into it, I thought, 'Wow, what craziness awaits?'" Swann tells Exclaim! "Funnily enough, I'd say the main factor [VanGaalen] brought to it was actually a lot of restraint. Often times, when I'd be like, 'Hey, let's add a theremin,' or whatever outrageous notions I was coming up with, he said, 'Dude, no.'"
This meant that the nine-track collection ended up being much more sparse than Swann initially intended. Nevertheless, he is pleased to note that Modern Horses carries the distinctive sound of VanGaalen's studio. "The sonics were an influence on it," he confirms. "His tape machine in particular."
Certainly, there's no mistaking Yoko Eno's unique sound. The songs on Modern Horses have the same stripped-down aesthetic as much of VanGaalen's recent work, with many of the tracks featuring only the most basic of rock band set-ups: strummed guitar, subtle bass, pattering drums. These minimal arrangements are the perfect vehicle for Swann's melancholic songs and spectral vocal harmonies: "J23439" is a chillingly stark ballad, while the single "So at One" is downright haunting despite its catchy chorus and brisk rhythm.
His collaboration with VanGaalen began with a chance run-in with Flemish Eye Records boss Ian Russell at a Vic Chesnutt show in 2009. "Ian approached me and said, 'Hey, Chad is a big fan of your record [How the Beach Boys Sound to Those with No Feelings],'" Swann recalls. "I mentioned to Ian on the spot that I was a big fan of Chad's work, and I loved both of the Women records -- though at that point only the first one had come out."
Swann told Russell that he'd be interested in working with VanGaalen; a few months later he happened to bump into the beloved indie star, and the rest is history.
"It was challenging, actually, to relinquish control," Swann admits of working with an outside producer, explaining that past releases have been mostly been self-recorded at home. "I operate creatively in very strange ways and on very weird schedules. I'm totally product of inspiration. A lot of the time I'll lay down a weird guitar part at three in the morning when I'm drunk. That part was different."
Even though heading into a studio presented a challenge for Swann, he says that the process was ultimately beneficial. "But it was an amazing experience," he enthuses. "It's a crazy little studio that he has... He's a fascinating, extremely talented, wonderful person."
Modern Horses comes out Tuesday (July 26) via Saved by Radio/Saved by Vinyl. Read more about the disc here, and listen to the songs "So at One" and "Mercy, Mercy" below.
Extra Happy Ghost - So At One by killbeat music
1 - Mercy, Mercy by extrahappyghost