Interview: A Lonely Ghost Burning [Part 2]

About two months ago, I sat down with Jamie Downes, the creative lead behind the brilliant A Lonely Ghost Burning series, to talk about the compilations he’s been putting together and what the project is all about. You can read the first part of the interview here, or carry on to read the second half now!

If a band were to submit their single or track to you, what would it take to impress you and to get them on the compilation?

Well for a start, I don’t accept one-track singles. The idea of the compilations themselves is to give people a flavour of the full record, so it needs to be at least two tracks. It’s hard to put into words what my taste in music is, but the music I tend to fall for has very strong melody. If you take each collection by name, then the Alt-Melodies collection all has a lot of melody in it, and each Beautiful Songwriting entry has an essence of beauty to it. With the Oneiric Escapism, I guess that was more up in the air. I’ve only put out one volume of that so far, but it features quite a lot of different styles.

Something that has always grabbed my attention has been vocal tone, and I’ve always had a love of singers that have sounded distinctive. So while that’s not the only thing, that’s the most common thread that someone might notice in the music I feature.

Listening through the last Alt-Melodies compilation, that’s definitely something I picked up on. I’m very much like you, I tend to look for a really strong voice in the things I listen to, so it was great to pick up on that. 

Oh really? That’s pretty cool to hear you say that!

Well I was looking back through some of the old ones, and I noticed bands like Creeper and Bad Ideas, and they’re bands that I’ve always thought have a really strong voice, both vocally and lyrically. 

Definitely, and taking Creeper for example, their singer Will is amazing. I used to love Our Time Down Here, so that was how I found them. There’s just something about his voice really stands out, and I think I probably said something along the lines of ‘he’s got one of the most interesting voices in the British punk scene’ in the write-up, which is probably hyperbole, right?

No, I totally think that’s true! I mean, I’m a really big AFI fan, as is Will incidentally, so when I went to go and see Creeper, I noticed that Davey Havok has a big influence on the way he performs, even the way he holds his mic. However, even though there is that influence, his voice is still very distinct, and the live set is just incredible. 

I haven’t seen them live yet, but I really want to. They’ve really exploded recently, and I’m keen to see what they do next.

Well, actually, in your compilations, there are quite a few bands who are getting to be quite big in their scenes now, which is not necessarily bizarre, because it shows you’ve got an eye from the future! Who do you think in Alt-Melodies Vol. 4 will be the next ‘big band’?

It’s hard to say, because I don’t necessarily look at things that way, but there are certain bands that I have an inkling about, and I reckon they’ll be pretty popular with the listeners. However, by no means is that a prerequisite for me to feature them.

I would suggest that Varsity have been very popular with people. And once you start listening to the album, it’s one of those that you just want to stick on repeat as soon as it’s done, it’s a really strong record. I don’t really like picking out names, it feels mean, but personally, the two records I’ve listened to the most are Varsity and Leggy. They just have something — I can’t really put my finger on what, but the songs are just destined to be hits. It’s quite intangible to describe, but I suppose it’s a mix of the songwriting, the voice, the instrumentation and yeah, those two are the ones for me. I’ve not really answered the question though!

That’s alright — it’s a pretty tough question!

Haha, well last year, there was a band that I really wanted to feature and they had to change their name, they’re now called Hinds? I unfortunately didn’t manage to get in touch with them, but at the time, they had about 200 Facebook followers, and they now have a hell of a lot more and they’ve played sold-out shows in London. And they were one of the bands I thought would do very well when I contacted them. I suppose you could say that there are a fair few similarities between them and The Daddyo’s, who feature on Alt-Melodies Vol. 4. Some people may disagree, but yeah, I think there’s a similar sort of sound there and I think The Daddyo’s will do very well over here in the UK.

Do you try and pick a mix of artists from different countries and different areas?

That would be the ideal scenario, but it doesn’t always work out that way. For example, in Alt-Melodies Vol. 4, every band is from North America, and that’s just how it happened this time. Ideally, there’d be an international mix, and there’d be male vocals, female vocals, but I’m not going to alter what I’m doing to fit in with that. If it turns out that way, then great, but if not, I’ll hope for the best next time.

Ultimately, you just want to put out a good record, it doesn’t really matter where it’s come from. 

Exactly, and it’s good in terms of the publicity of the record if it does have artists from different countries, because then there’s a possibility for coverage in those countries, but if it doesn’t work out that way, it doesn’t and I’ve just got to get on with it.

One thing that I noticed listening through was that all of the compilations I listened to had a really nice flow to them. How do you pick that ordering?

Well, you’ve actually made my day completely there, because I do put a lot of effort into that! I’m often sat there for so, so long tweaking the ordering and thinking ‘well that should go there, this needs to go there’ and so on. Some have been really easy, and some tracks are really easy to place, but others take more thought. For example, the first volume of Oneiric Escapism is quite a quiet and thoughtful record, but there are some tracks that are a lot louder and a lot more full. I could have put those tracks near the start, but I didn’t want people to think that’s what the whole record was about. So that was the hardest one to order, and both of those tracks ended up much nearer the end. However, it’s absolutely fantastic to hear someone say what you’ve just said and to notice the ordering because I haven’t had that sort of feedback before!

Oh, well when it comes to mixtapes, I get really into getting the ordering right. I agonise for an hour, at least.

Same, and it really makes a difference to the feel of the whole record — I think, anyway.

I think it depends on the kind of music as well, as to what the best ordering is. For example, if you’ve got a good punk rock album, you want a banger at the front and a banger at the end, but not necessarily if you’re listening to a post-rock record. 

Yeah, and with the Alt-Melodies, I always tried to make the first song something that’ll stick with you, and for me, it was important to make the last track something more mellow, but that’ll leave you with a good feeling, or that you’ll want to go back and listen to it all over again. Volume 1 ended with a song by a band called Summerhill, and that one perfectly sums that kind of idea up. Much of the vocal work is at the start of the song, but it finishes on an instrumental, and it really makes me want to go back and listen to the song all over again. And that’s what I’ve tried to do for all the compilations really — finish them with a track that really embodies that feeling.

I didn’t actually listen to that volume, but in all of the compilations I have listened to, I noticed that really came across. So I’ll ask you one of those bullshit questions now — at the time of this interview, Alt-Melodies Vol. 4 has just come out, but what will be coming up next in the series?

The general ordering has flitted between Alt-Melodies and Beautiful Songwriting, and then in February, I introduced Oneiric Escapism. So the next one will be Beautiful Songwriting, which I’m working on at the moment. What I’d like to do is increase the output, as I think a detriment to the project as a whole is that there can be too long between releases. Unfortunately, I’m limited by the music that I find, and if I haven’t got enough stuff, I haven’t got enough stuff. I’ve always said I’d rather delay a release than put something out that I didn’t truly believe in, so sometimes that means waiting. It might seem unprofessional from the outside, but I’m doing it for the right reasons and at the end of it all, I know I’ll have a much stronger release and I’ll be promoting the bands I really love at the time.

A Lonely Ghost Burning has just released Beautiful Songwriting Vol. 4. It’s brilliant. Check it out, along with the other great compilations, at alonelyghostburning.co.uk

Interview: A Lonely Ghost Burning [Part 1]

A Lonely Ghost Burning is a really exciting project. Headed up by Jamie Downes, it’s a great series of compilations, featuring some of the best new bands around, both from here and overseas. Split into three different genres — Alt-Melodies, for rock, punk and everything inbetween; Beautiful Songwriting, featuring folky, acoustic singer/songwriters and bands; and Oneiric Escapism, which features a diverse range of ambient, electronic and all-out dreamy soundscapes — the A Lonely Ghost Burning compilations are the breath of fresh air we need in this scene. 

I sat down to chat to Jamie about it all a couple of months back, and I feel extraordinarily guilty for just posting the results up now. It was fantastic to speak to someone who loves music, and championing new music, just as much as I do, and we must have rambled on for about an hour and a half about the scene today, who our favourite bands are at the moment and what the hell we’re doing trying to get people to read our stuff on the internet. I also learned a lot about A Lonely Ghost Burning and what’s coming up next, and that part, you can read below. 

This interview is split up into two parts because it’s pretty huge. Read the second part next week!

TBO: What is A Lonely Ghost Burning and where did the idea come from?

ALGB: Well, the whole purpose of it really is to share new music. It really is as simple as that. I couldn’t really say how the idea came about — it just came to me. I was looking for something creative to do, and I’d spend about half an hour working on it before thinking ‘nah, this is crap’. However, I thought this one had some legs, so I stuck with it, and yeah, I think it’s turned out really well.

So what were some of those other projects?

Nothing substantial, really. I’d become quite disenchanted — I was writing reviews prior to this and it wasn’t really leading to where I wanted it to go. I wanted to be involved with music — finding it, sharing it, talking about it — but for me, reviews weren’t really the best avenue for doing that. I thought about live sessions and stuff like that, but like I said, none of that really stuck.

Are you the only person that works on A Lonely Ghost Burning, or is there anyone else that helps out by recommending bands, putting lists together or sourcing people?

At the moment, it is just me! The only other people working on the projects are those working on the cover art. I think it’s very important for records to have great cover art. I search for most of my music via Bandcamp, going through all the new releases on a daily basis, and while I obviously don’t listen to all of them, cover art is very important in helping records catch my eye. There are many that I won’t listen to because either the art, or the band name, or the title of whatever record it is is just gross! And likewise, if there’s anything that reeks of unprofessionalism, or where you can tell that a band is just not all that bothered and treats whatever they’re doing as a joke, then I’m just not interested.

So now, I’m trying to bring that sense of care across into what I’m working on. The cover art on the older releases were just old photos and they weren’t very good, but they were functional. And now, the two women that I’m working with are just so talented and it’s nice to be able to give them a bit of publicity and give them an opportunity to showcase their work.

Well yeah, I thought the cover for the last release was phenomenal, and I would never have guessed that the artist was so young! How old was she, about seventeen?

Nope, fifteen! When she sent through that picture, I literally just stood there and stared at it for a couple of minutes. I just couldn’t believe how much talent and vision she had at just fifteen.

Well, I can only just about draw stick figures, so I won’t be contributing to your compilation covers any time soon! Anyway, A Lonely Ghost Burning is three different series, isn’t it? You have the Alt-Melodies series, the more esoteric kind of stuff and then the Beautiful Songwriting, which is more acoustic. What’s it like putting out records that are so different in tone and style?

It’s been quite surprising as to how many people have taken an interest right across the board. I thought that there would be very distinct fanbases for each one. I’m sure there is, but there are people taking an interest in all of them which is great. It is quite difficult to flit between them when you’re putting them together though. I’m doing my daily scouting, and I’m going across all the different genres and saving all of the artists that I might be interested in featuring, but I get really into one series, and then all of a sudden, I have to switch to the next and the transition can be a bit tricky. It doesn’t take too long to get used to it, but it can be a bit jarring to start focusing on a totally different style.

That also means it’s quite hard to publicise it all. It’s difficult to publicise the project as a whole, as some people might look at one side of it and really like it, but won’t be into the other releases.

I suppose that there are more outlets out there that might cover the Alt-Melodies collection than the collections that are a bit more out there?

You know what, I thought the electronic one (Oneiric Escapism) might be the one that might boost the project but it didn’t necessarily turn out that way! I guess I felt that the poppier artists and the electronic ones would bring in certain people that might be beneficial to the project, and you know, I didn’t do that in a kind of cynical way, but I did feel that it might provide a kind of boost.

Out of all of them, I think that actually, the Beautiful Songwriting compilations are really popular and that’s a little surprising because it’s all quite folky.

That said, folk’s kind of gone through a bit of a revival hasn’t it, so it’s not that surprising after all?

Yeah, I guess so, and that might be why they’ve done so well. As far as the Alt-Melodies collections go, I have changed those slightly recently — they used to be titled Alt-Punk and they used to be a little punkier, but I decided to tweak it slightly because of the wider range of music I wanted to cover. People are still coming back and downloading them, so I guess I’ve done something right.

The kind of demographic I’m going for are people that are quite open-minded — and although the compilations get a lot of downloads, I wish more people were!

Well, when you have such varied tastes yourself, hence why you’ve put out all of these different kinds of compilations, then it might be difficult to find someone else who will be into all three.

Oh yeah, definitely. And I think that as well as that, I’m just a nobody. I’m just saying ‘hey, this is my music taste, listen to it!’. I haven’t really got a background in the music industry, so I just need people to trust in what I’m doing — and I know I need to earn that trust. But hopefully, people feel that the stuff I’m putting on these compilations, even if they don’t necessarily connect with a certain style or artist, that they can understand that the artists I’ve chosen are talented, and even if they don’t like them, they can see why someone would.

I suppose that forms the ethos behind the whole project. I really love your mission statement, “discovery, community, honesty, pleasantness” — and have you found that these releases have helped you build a sense of community, or at least have a greater part in one?

While the project doesn’t have the biggest following as yet, its following is pretty loyal. There are more people coming along that are getting involved on a more regular basis via social media and channels like that, which is really important to me because even just liking a post shows that people care about it and are interested in what I’m doing.

I think that people have responded well to that ethos and what the project represents, and the people that have taken an interest appreciate those values, which is great to see. It’s important to me to make sure I’m showing those four values in every release — discovery, community, honesty and pleasantness — and hopefully, that will keep people interested into the future.

It’s not just the compilations that you do either. You do in-depth interviews with a few of the artists on the compilations. Is it important to get under the skin of what they create and to be able to highlight that to people?

Yeah, absolutely — that’s what I’m most interested in. I love how music can take you out of the present and just to some other time, or it can connect you to another event, even something you’ve invented in your head. Any music you like can get you out of the present, and I’m interested in the person behind all the artistry — how they manage to do that, and whether it’s deliberate. I’m fascinated by all the things that could contribute to an artist making an album or a song and I’m really keen to keep working on that kind of the site. It’s been quite sporadic so far, but there are several interviews I’ve got lined up over the next few months and I’m hoping that it’ll become more of a regular thing.

When I go into these interviews, I’m not necessarily interested in what the artist is doing, where they’re touring and so on, but I want to know how their mind works. I sometimes worry that the questions I write up are more of a psych evaluation, but so far, the response has been really good, and I think the artists have really appreciated having the chance to talk about their music in a way they may not have otherwise had the opportunity to do.

I totally agree, and I do find these days that a lot of interviews with bands focus more on the basic questions — where are you touring, where do you want to be in a year, and so on — so I really like that you get to the real heart of why they do what they do. 

Well yeah, I think that in the interviews that are all very similar, that they’re there just to provide content, rather than something more substantial. So I’m trying not to let that happen to the interviews that I do.

So what interviews have you got coming up next then? 

I can’t truly confirm whether or not they’re going to happen, but one that I’ve done recently is with an artist called Moth Rah, and she makes quite gothic tunes. She released a two-track single and I compared that to Bat For Lashes, so hopefully that gives you an idea of what she sounds like, and that interview came out really well. But keep an eye on the website to see what else is coming up — I try and get a couple of interviews a month up on there.

A Lonely Ghost Burning has just released Beautiful Songwriting Vol. 4. It’s brilliant. Check it out, along with the other great compilations, at alonelyghostburning.co.uk

Notes from the Keybed – This Month in Synths [July 2015]

It’s summer and the sun is out for everyone to enjoy… except for Rome’s A Space Love Adventure it seems who must’ve locked himself away in a dark studio for some time to come up with his latest loveletter to the 80’s. Synth Punk EP might not contain any ‘punk’ as such but you certainly get a whole lot of synth, in a gloriously retro Vangelis does ‘Top Gun’ kind of way! Comprising four tracks of authentic analogue synthesisers, guitars straight off a Def Leppard record, and infectious melodies. It’s irresistible stuff if you’re a fan of the likes of Kavinsky or M83… or if you have a soft spot for bad action movies, leather jackets and aviators. ‘Red Blaze’ kicks off the EP with the sort of guitar tone that hasn’t been let out of the 1980’s since Van Halen overused it, whilst ‘Avalanche 29’ would be at home soundtracking ‘Blade Runner’, and the synth-pop of ‘Thunderchrome’ just makes me want to bust out some ‘Wipeout’ on the old PS1.

The recordings are beautifully produced throughout giving you the sense that A Space Love Adventure seriously loves this stuff and puts a lot of effort into faithfully recreating it all the way down to the type of reverb on the snares; the gear nerd in me would love to see a kit list used to make this record! The EP is out now on Sunlover Records (https://sunloverrecords.bandcamp.com) for the price of a VHS rental in 1983. And whilst you’re there be sure to check out his Soundcloud for a black-metal-synthwave (seriously) rendition of Darkthrone’s ‘Transylvanian Hunger’, which is way better than the ludicrous concept would have you believe. There’s even a cheesy key change at the end. With this as well The Soft Pink Truth providing excellent electronic renditions of the dark stuff, maybe black-metal-synthwave will be a new genre… needs a better name though, answers on a postcard pls.

Here at TBO there are many things we love, such as coffee and pizza, but what really makes us tick is damn good pop-punk and chiptune. Normally guitar-wielding brat punks stay away from the clunky 8-bit videogame soundtrack that reminds us of when Gameboys were yellow and had to be held in both hands but Boston’s Future Crooks have answered my prayers by releasing a stonkingly original general MIDI version of their latest album ‘Future Crooks In Paradise’. Entitled MIDI In Paradise, the album lovingly recreates every drumbeat, guitar riff and vocal in general MIDI stock keyboard sounds. The guys usually specialise in the kind of emotional rowdy punk rock sported by Real Friends, Knuckle Puck et al. and it is testament to the quality of songwriting that it translates so well over to a chiptune context, with catchy melodies and quirky sounds galore. The computer voice that starts ‘Briton’ is worth the admission price alone. You can download the pay-what-you-want record from Bad Timing Records’ Bandcamp (badtimingrecords.bandcamp.com) and while you’re there, be sure to pick up the original version as well as the label’s new Summer 2015 Sampler, which is packed full of great tunes.

Everyone’s favourite Scottish synthpop trio CHVRCHES have announced the follow-up to 2013’s mega album The Bones Of What You Believe. Sophomore LP Every Open Eye is to be released on the 25th September with gorgeous cover art and a set of brand-new songs. Said to take a ‘less is more approach’, the band decided to forego the big budgets in favour of utilising the same setup they recorded their stunning debut with. In-between single ‘Get Away’ was a real grower, but seeing the three-piece unleash a whole new batch of songs instead of recycling this and ‘Dead Air’ from the ‘Hunger Games’ soundtrack is a great move to avoid the lazy repackaging of existing material that can otherwise leave the listener feeling short-changed. Lead single ‘Leave a Trace’ is a fantastic return to the anthemic singalong status of ‘Recover’ and ‘The Mother We Share’, with emotional lyrics juxtaposed against lifting synth pads and a real ear-worm of a chorus. Judging from the other new tracks they’ve been playing out live lately, Every Open Eye already looks set to be a contender for one of 2015’s records of the year!

A new release I missed from last month’s edition of ‘Notes from the Keybed’ was the second album from electronic rock crossover crew Modestep. London Road is out now and has all the dirty basslines, fist-pumping choruses and headbanging guitar moments we enjoyed on their debut, now joined by a whole host of guest talent including dubstep producers Funtcase and Trolley Snatcher, grime artist Big Narstie, and even Welsh reggae-rockers Skindred! As a result it is a far more eclectic affair, with big beats and layers of sub bass pulsating throughout a range of EDM styles from skittering garage to heavy brostep, all via the band’s trademark rock ’n’ bass. ‘Circle’ featuring Skindred is a strong highlight with Benji Webbe bringing his Newport swagger to a moombahton banger, and although the lyrics of ‘a circle goes round’ might not be poetry (a point carried throughout the record) you can’t argue with the pit-starting beatdown at the song’s climax. When I informed this site’s editor that Modestep had a new album out she told me how when she saw them they were ‘so loud they made her ears hurt’ and I can’t see that changing any time soon with this new set of face-melters in their arsenal!

This month’s Keytar Hero award goes to Justin Hawkins of The Darkness (and Hot Leg, who were alright, and British Whale but yeah…) who returned this year with another hard-rocking, liqueur-swigging, ball-busting collection of songs. Not satisfied with simply swinging into gigs straddling a pair of giant tits, Hawkins is also known to crack out one of his Moog or Roland keytars for a shredding solo in ‘Girlfriend’, which remains an absolute banger, occasionally whilst wearing a pirate hat. Full marks.

Review: Bangers — Bird

So top Southern punx Bangers have gotten round to doing yet another full-length record. This is generally good news for the entire nation, and in this time of great strife and political unrest that means I spend most of my evenings screaming very bad words at the television every time George Osbourne says anything at all, the prospect of new Bangers managed to put a smile on my face.

It seems that Roo is feeling just as grumpy as I am from the off as the album launches into ‘No!’, and a clear dissatisfaction with life in general seems to be the order of the day. But even as he shouts “No! I don’t think it’s getting better!”, I’ve got one substantial grin and the urge to fist pump the shit out of everything Judd Nelson-style. Typical, chunky Bangers riffs dominate this and the following track ‘Mannequin’, with those fantastic bass licks you’ve come to expect from Andrew rumbling on in the background.

From the start, Bird demonstrates a tremendous amount of energy and purpose — something that’s never been lacking from a Bangers record, but seems to be even more urgent and ever present than ever before. There’s also a huge level of control, which may seem a little out of kilter for a punk record, but it never feels too polished. Instead, there’s a Jawbreaker-esque level of bluntness and honesty, even in slightly more metaphoric tracks like ‘The Trousers of Time’. However, if there’s any track that really grabbed my attention, it’s ‘Fleshlings’, with its jangly, guitar-led fury, relentless rhythm and the repeated mantra that “everything will fall into place”.

You might think that Mysterious Ways was the weirdest thing Bangers ever wrote — and indeed, the 48-hour recording haze that led to its creation meant some fantastically bizarre songs came out on top, including the mind-bendingly fantastic ‘Mosquito’ — but Bird is pretty weird at times, despite the greater level of polish. ‘Asimov’ is really haunting in places, mostly thanks to the oddly deep backing vocals. It leads into the intricate and puzzling ‘Vibrate’, which builds up slowly thanks to some of the tightest drumming I’ve ever heard on a Bangers record. And it’s not all bad news — ‘Partial Eclipse’ ends the record on a pretty chilled out note, with a much more upbeat feel and a reminder that it’s not all so bad after all.

It’s hard to believe that this is only Bangers’ third LP, given their fairly prolific discography over the past few years, but all of those EPs and splits, plus the non-stop touring, has meant that they’ve learned a thing or two about writing a great song. There’s something weirdly English about it — perhaps that’s the grumbling — but it offers a certain level of catharsis that I’ve been sorely needing. It’s a virtual guarantee that I’ll always like a Bangers record, but I love Bird, because even though it’s full of vitriol and existential doubt, it’s dead clever with it, relentlessly loud and a whole lot of fun. Necessary listening, no matter what you’re into.

5 out of 5 high fives!

TwoBeatsOff 3.0 (or something like that)

So it’s been a bit quiet on the Western front here. I’ve been conceptualising though, and when that happens, there’s a potential for danger. Or badly formed ideas.

So anyway, the fact of the matter is that I’ve been working on a massive motorsport event with actual work, and I’ve realised that actually, real life is busy. And hard. And it leaves little time for writing — especially when your job is writing. So I’ve gotta shake things up a little with this thing, and it means that the kind of stuff you’ll be reading might be a little different. So here’s what’s going on:

LESS REVIEWS — Yep, sorry. you’ll see less reviews. I wish we had time to do them, I really do. But I must get about ten promos a day in my inbox and we can’t cover them all. At the end of the day, if I’ve got limited time to write about stuff, I’d rather write about bands I really like, and music that’s really captured me, rather than yet another crappy pop-punk EP.

MORE INTERVIEWS — on the topic of writing about more bands I really like, interviews are definitely the way to go. I want to dig deep into what makes great music, or at least, what keeps my favourite bands on the road.

MORE LONG-FORM FEATURES — that might even involve series! Gosh! There’s a lot of stuff in this scene that I’d like to discuss, dissect and get my teeth into. So hopefully you’ll see a lot more of that.

And that’s about the long and short of it! It might mean less frequent updates — well, probably more frequent than at the moment — but I hope it’ll be features that you’ll enjoy reading more. So thanks for keeping with us, new stuff soon!