Thursday, September 13, 2001
"Hello Oread neighborhood," intones Ghosty singer/guitarist Andrew Connor to a small crowd gathered at the band's rehearsal space, a converted garage in Old West Lawrence, sardonically dubbed "The Haunted House."
Seconds later, drummer Richard Gintowt kicks into "Five Short Minutes" and Ghosty is up and running, all jangling guitar lines and headrushing harmonies. By the second song, a blissful slice of three-chord fuzztone pop entitled "Gentleman Conditioned," it's clear why Ghosty is quickly gaining a reputation as THE up-and-coming Lawrence band to watch. Great songs still mean something, apparently.
Bathed in the blue light of a dimestore bulb, the trio runs through two sets of melodic garage rock before calling it a night. The crowd yells for more and Ghosty answers, not with an encore, but with a third set. And why not? After all, this is why the members of Ghosty converged upon Lawrence in the first place.
"I hate to say it, but that was really my main grounds for coming here," says Connor, who originally hails from Sioux Falls, S.D. "I would always hear really great things about Lawrence. My friend was going to school out here when I was a senior in high school. I came down to see Sunny Day Real Estate and I really liked the town. The school's fine, but that really wasn't my reason for coming here."
Farming the local scene
Two years ago, Connor and Gintowt formed the band while still freshman at the Kansas University dorms, working with a handful of bass players under various monikers, including Ghosty Music Revue, eventually shortened to Ghosty. After a series of house parties and low-profile gigs, the group made a name for itself at last spring's Farmer's Ball, the local battle of the bands sponsored by KJHK FM 90.7.
"Before Farmer's Ball, we were kind of in disarray," Gintowt recalls. "The motivation wasn't really there because our (last) bass player had quit around Christmastime. So for three or four months, it was kind of in limbo. We were like, 'We need to find a bass player now so we can play this Farmer's Ball show.' Jacob was in the right place at the right time"
Connor met current Ghosty bassist Jacob Baum, a KU English major, while jamming acoustically at an area party. Though Baum cut his teeth playing guitar in punk bands and had never picked up bass, Connor quickly recruited him to fill in for Farmer's Ball. Baum scraped together $200, bought a four-string and never left.
"It's a different instrument," he says. "It serves a very different purpose in the music."
On the opening night of Farmer's Ball, Ghosty ended up playing last on a diverse bill featuring some of Lawrence's finest new acts: hip-hop duo Archetype, indie rock outfit Six Year Sophomore and old-school metal quartet Preferred Villain.
"It was a blast," Connor enthuses. "It was a battle of the bands ? that whole setup is kind of cheesy, but a lot of people really didn't know anything about us at all, and then we sounded pretty good."
Both Ghosty and Preferred Villain advanced beyond the first show, playing the finals a few nights later alongside two other winners. Though Ghosty was edged out by the now-defunct Preferred Villain, its reputation was cemented with local music lovers. In retrospect, the loss might've had something to do with the goofy, matching "Pac-Man" ghost T-shirts the band sported during the finals.
"I think we all sort of had mixed feelings about that," Connor laughs. "Really, though, I think we're all just a little bit cheesy at heart."
Since the Farmer's Ball shows, Ghosty has been holed up at The Haunted House, refining its craft and honing its sound. The Ghosty "sound" is the product of seemingly disparate musicians combining their styles and influences to create a whole greater than the sum of its parts. All three members write and record (Gintowt has a running side project called OK Jones), though Connor has served as the band's primary songwriter to date.
"Andrew brings in a pretty well-composed song to practice," Gintowt explains. "I would say the changes we make are significant but not drastic. Jacob has a background in punk rock. He grew up playing that kind of stuff. I grew up listening to a lot of early '90s indie rock ? Superchunk, Archers of Loaf, Poster Children. In the way I play drums, those influences come through a lot. So I think our respective influences bring a lot more heaviness to the table."
"Overall, the tunes are pretty melodic," Connor agrees. "But the rhythm section is very chunky and very clean. It's solid, but it's got a little rawness to it." That rhythmic rawness serves to bolster Connor's thoughtful aural delicacies, resulting in sound that takes the band's art-house aspirations and runs them through a scuzzy garage-rock filter. In some regards, Ghosty's stripped-down style owes more to economics than ambition. Plus, it'd be hard to fit an orchestra into The Haunted House.
"A lot of times what we dream the song will sound like is really big," Gintowt muses. "When I hear Andrew's songs, I hear big arrangements ? I hear string sections and I hear sleigh bells. But it's true that we are a garage band ..."
"... Proudly," Connor finishes.
Last year, while visiting home, Connor, a music major at KU, recorded some new tracks at a friend's studio. Enlisting several Sioux Falls buddies as backup musicians, the Ghosty frontman completed six songs, recently released as the EP, "Nineteen Now, Always." Though Ghosty performs most of the "Nineteen" material in concert, the trio places its own sonic stamp on the tunes before unleashing them live.
"It's (our) songs, but I wouldn't call it Ghosty at all," Connor says of the EP. "At the time, the band really didn't exist like this. I would've loved for Richard to play drums, but it wasn't possible ... I do like the recording. I spent a lot of time on it, I'm really proud of it. It's sort of a document of a certain time in my life."
"It's a lot mellower than the band is," Gintowt adds. "It's more of a singer-songwriter CD than it is a rock band CD. It's something to tide over people, hopefully, so at least they have something to listen to while we're busy actually recording something."
Currently, Ghosty is laying down demos at Baum's home studio, with no plans to release them commercially. Instead, the band intends to continue focusing on its craft ? marking progress with each new song and each new show.
"I know that we've gotten better," Connor says. "We've all just been playing longer and we've got a more focused sound than we used to have. We're locking in together. I don't really think our sound has changed that much, though. We don't really sound like a lot of bands here. Around here what I notice a lot is the emo pop sound and indie rock. It's cool. We have a few elements of that, but that's not really our main thing."