An interview with Simon and Theo (mostly Theo) of the semi-super group, the Black Ghosts, a U.K. dance band consisting of former Wiseguys and Simians.
Both of your past bands' Wikipedia pages start with mentions of ads and shows that their songs were licensed to - does it seem like that kind of cross-promotion is a big part of the modern music industry? Has the stigma been lifted?
Theo: Well that is just the easiest reference point for the majority of people, as everyone watches TV whether they are into music or not. So it's natural that the ads get the first mention. Advertising syncs are a major way of getting music out there on TV, especially as there are no longer many outlets for music videos or music in general, unless it's super mainstream - like RnB. I think it often comes down the individual ad and the product. If you have no ideological problem with the product, it's not something laughable like dog food or bum ointment, and the ad has been well made, then why not?
I've read that you met online - how did that actually happen? How strange was it to finally meet after working on songs together virtually?
I had the idea of working with Simon cause I was really into his Simian stuff. But I had no way of tracking him down because they had split up. But by chance someone I met knew how to get hold of him. So I gave this guy a CD of some tracks to pass onto Simon, but wasn't really expecting an answer. But only a few days later Simon emailed me a song he'd written to one of those tracks. It was excellent. So did another, and just kept going. It wasn't til we'd done about 5 or 6 songs this way that we actually met face to face. It wasn't that weird doing it that way round. If anything it made it easier as it meant our roles were clearly defined from the start and we could get straight down to writing the songs, rather than having to get to know each other and each other's studio idiosyncrasies while trying to make music at the same time.
Can you explain how the live show actually works? how different is it from the actual album?
It's more of a hybrid DJ show really. I play off 2 or 3 CDJs - and Simon plays off his laptop. So we can each play tracks as and when we wish, and overlay loops and effects on each other's tunes. It's pretty much all improvised and happy accidents. But the main difference is that Simon sings live when we drop our own tracks. And he can layer up his voice to create harmonies live, chop them up, etc. while I mix in the next tune or whatever.
What have been your favourite Black Ghost-related remixes? How did that aspect of the band come about?
Well initially we wanted to involve some people we knew and liked from the "scene" in London, who also happened to be great producers. So we asked Kissy Sell Out, Switch, and our good friends Boy 8-Bit and Fake Blood, as well as some newer undiscovered names. Then as we went on we just carried on picking people we liked and who had been supportive, but also some strangers whose work we just thought was awesome - like Emperor Machine, Skream or Vincent Markowski. As for favourites, I'd have to say all the ones I just mentioned.
Do you feel like the subtext to the lyrics of "We Are Your Friends "was lost in the Justice reworking (for Simon Lord)? if so, are you concerned that the dark undertones of the Black Ghosts' songs aren't overshadowed by the pop hooks?
Simon: I like the way that the songs have several layers of meaning and i don't think it matters if some people only pick up on one of them. It's great how Justice turned the 'we are your friends' lyric into something positive and uplifting with their remix, it's that energy that has made the song a success. Also it's a case of the two balancing each other, having dark lyrics and dark music would be too much similarly having pop lyrics with pop tunes is again too much so it's best to blend them together, sweet and sour.
What are each of your duties in the recording / songwriting process?
Theo: Generally I will start by making a batch of basic track ideas, and then send these over to Simon. Then he picks which ones he wants to write to. Then he sends me back the song with his vocals attached, and I begin to build new elements around what he's written. But a few of the tracks on the album were songs that Simon wrote then sent to me with very basic backing - bass, guitar - which I then take apart and reconstruct. Almost like remixing. In this way we had very clear roles, but without ever discussing it. It just happened that way, and very easily, so we stuck with it.
How did the Damon Albarn guest appearance come about? Why did you go that route for the first single?
That was a track that Damon and I did together around the same time that Simon and I first started working together. But Damon wasn't happy with some of the vocals he had done, so we weren't sure how to proceed. But then I played it to Simon, and he saw a way of writing a song around Damon's hooks. I played the end result to Damon and he was really happy with it - we kept his best bits, but then Simon created a killer duet and song around them. But it's not the first single! Well not for us anyway, as we have released a few tracks already here in the UK.
If you had to describe The Black Ghosts to someone in their 60s, how would you do it?
Two skinheads from London making modern pop songs you can dance to.
Any cities in the world where you've been surprised by your popularity?
We just got back from Tokyo, and the response there was amazing. We played a huge club called AgeHa, and before the doors opened we were a little daunted by the size. But when we went on there were 3500 people in there going nuts. And each time we dropped one of our own tracks they went crazy. That was an incredible feeling. Kyoto was fantastic, too, and all the people we met over there were great. An awesome place.
Black Ghosts play Wrong Bar @ 11pm, Tuesday, July 22.