Thursday, November 4, 2010
Embers From the Underground #4: Former Ghosts
The final 2010 installment of Embers From the Underground is, like the prior segment, a bit of an extended one. The preliminary discussion for an interview with Freddy Ruppert began in August, when all of his scintillating details surrounding Former Ghosts’ upcoming album were pushing my curiosity to the brink. At Ruppert’s request, we paused the interview process until I’d had a chance to absorb New Love, the group’s second album in as many years, and naturally the number of interview questions doubled.
This late installment is also a strange fit for the collective, seeing as how Former Ghosts are currently surpassing the underground focus of EFTU with another European tour and a growing fan-base as intensely devoted as Ruppert’s confessional song-craft.
Catching him shortly after he arrived in Czech Republic, Freddy Ruppert speaks openly about the writing and recording of New Love (review below), while addressing the passion that often dangles his music over precarious emotions. Off we go...
Skeleton Crew Quarterly: As you began completing demos for New Love, you stated some concern that your sophomore might follow the beaten path, in effect becoming “Fleurs 2.0”. With the album now complete, how would you compare New Love to its predecessor?
Freddy Ruppert: I think I was mainly worried about just repeating the same album. That I would be singing about the same exact things or that the sound would be exactly the same. I think New Love ended up being different from Fleurs in a couple of ways. One of them being the album is a lot poppier in terms of song structure and following traditional pop song structure. I also think thematically it is a lot different. I've realized maybe I am just writing about the same things- basically my obessesion with love and romance- but I think New Love strips away a lot of the hope that the first record had and I think that New Love is a lot darker. There is more focus on texture. I'm not obsessed with drenching everything in reverb anymore. I also re-discovered a lot of the glitchier elements of electronic music that I originally was attracted to.
SCQ: The Former Ghosts debut was largely written on your own, then constructed with the help of Jamie Stewart and Nika Roza. Were any roles switched around for the recording of New Love, and what effect did any of these changes bring about?
FR: I think on this record I did even more of the writing, producing, composing, arranging, programming, etc. etc. than on Fleurs. Fleurs was mostly written by me as well and New Love is even more so and I think that mainly has to do with Jamie being increasingly busy because Dear God I Hate Myself was released, and also I had a really, really specific vision of what I wanted New Love to be. So no roles were really switched around in New Love. New Love ended up coming together much in the same way that Fleurs did. Me being a crazy dictator. I would write everything and then bring in the collaborations that I was most interested/obsessed with.
SCQ: Yasmine Kittles (of the band Tearist) makes some key contributions to ‘Winter’s Year’ and ‘I Am Not What You Want’, integrating herself smoothly into the Former Ghosts sound. Are there any musicians out there you’d like to collaborate with on future Former Ghosts projects? Any dream-list nominees?
FR: I'm not really sure. Nothing off the top of my head. I'm pretty obsessed with the female voice. I think Yasmine works so perfect within the Former Ghosts collaborations because there is such a striking difference between her voice and Nika's voice. A dream-list of vocalists I'd like to work with? Sade, Francoise Hardy, Ciara, Kate Bush, Siouxsie, Sinead O'Conner- I don't know, the list is endless, I could go on forever including wishing to bring handfuls of people back from the dead if I could.
SCQ: Can you give us a breakdown of your typical recording session? What were you listening to while writing and demoing the new album?
FR: A typical recording session for me is kind of strange, because since I am so computer and software based I am basically writing and recording at the same time. Usually the music comes first and then the vocals. And then for New Love I spent a lot of time going back and adding in little textures and details. I wasn't really listening to anything new or different. Lately I seem to find myself listening to same old things over and over. I'd like to break that habit and check out newer music.
SCQ: New Love seems to deal in bipolar moods, shifting from elation to severe depression like a lover confronted with a life-or-death romance. Did this aspect of the writing process come about naturally or did you feel a need to balance out the upbeat numbers with the downtrodden ones?
FR: It is funny because some people have described the record as being more upbeat and others have described it as being more depressive. I think maybe what created the bi-polar mood is probably the time in which the songs were written. A couple of songs with romantic sentiments similar to Fleurs like 'New Orleans', and 'And When You Kiss Me' were kind of left over from that time, while the rest of the record I think is more hopeless than romantic. I think it happened more on its own, not so much a predetermined feeling of needing to balance out the feeling of the record. I think there is more a bipolar mood between the two records, between Fleurs and New Love.
SCQ: Speaking of this record’s hard-fought duality, New Love exposes some fragility between the cracks of your forceful songwriting. A lot of this vulnerability seems to be translated through tiny textures, notably on ‘Bare Bones’ and the title track. How did you approach these arrangements?
FR: I think on this record I was more interested in spending time on adding in strange textures and space. A lot of the songs on the first record were recorded in a rush and then I did not do much to them afterwards except for add in Jamie or Nika's parts. When most of the first record's songs were written it was a time sensitive matter. For this record not so much. So I spent a lot more time going back over the tracks and adding in textures that play off certain words in certain songs to emphasize or express certain things. I think this is most noticeable on 'Until You Are Alone Again'. I got more interested in these little details.
SCQ: With much of Fleurs’ reverb stripped off, these songs feel rhythmically tighter and carry greater hooks. What compelled you to take some of this heavy subject matter in a more pop-oriented direction?
FR: I just love pop music. I only listen to pop music or music that comes from a pop context. I love stuff that experiments with pop music. I think I've always been more interested in melodies and hooks than in experimental music. I just want to hear a good chorus. Maybe I'm getting old. You know? Like don't give me a song over 4 minutes long.
SCQ: While intense live performances have become a staple of yours, you’ve mentioned in the past how trying songs from Fleurs can be for you emotionally. Does performing tracks off of New Love offer you any relief?
FR: I think this is finally starting to change for me. I think playing the same things over and over isn't always a good situation for me in terms of bringing up certain feelings you are done with on a consistant basis. But I think I'm starting to learn that as I continue to do this, these songs aren't really about much more than myself and how I am in certain situations and how I respond to certain situations and how I think about love and romance and my obsession with love. They aren't about other people, about relationships, they are about me and my obsession with love and how that plays out. It seems like most criticisms or writings of the things I do seem to focus on what my music is about- but I think I'm realizing that I can look at it in a different way- that the music I make isn't so much about external circumstances but instead about myself and how I internalize these circumstances.
SCQ: You had "New Love" penned as a working title pretty early into the demo process. Would you say the finished LP addresses everything you initially set out to communicate?
FR: Yea, I think so. I mean, originally I wasnt sure if there was even going to be another record? And now I'm excited to make the third one.
SCQ: There has already been talk of LP #3. Can you give us a glimpse into what we might expect on any far-away follow-up?
FR: I think the plan is to get started on this immediatly when I get home from the European tour. I'm not sure where it is going to go yet. I seem to be obsessed with two completely different things right now: the first one being really, really restrained emotion such as Sade and insanely aggressive textures such as Nine Inch Nails Broken/Downward Spiral era. I'm also in love. So the tentative album title: "Lovesick."