A sit down at Clinton Street’s Donnybrook
pub with Ghost Ghost guitarist Karl Ward and bassist Kevin Peckham is as much
a lesson in literature as it was in lyrical composition.
Over drinks around the corner from the band’s Lower East
Side rehearsal space, the guys are as eager to discuss Kurt Vonnegut as they
are their other more musical inspirations. For the guys in Ghost Ghost, being
part of a band is as much about books as it is about making music. “One thing
that’s true about both of us is we need to be reading books to write songs”
Peckham says of the band’s songwriting method. “There’s a lot of music I love,
but a very small amount has inspired me to write a song; a large amount of
The ability to blend the line between
literature and lyricism is what brought Ward and Peckham together in the first
place. The two found their creative connection in 2008 and after a
long-distance song-writing exchange, Peckham decided it was time to relocate
from San Francisco to New York. “We’d been swapping songs for years,”
Peckham says. “I moved here with the express purpose of starting a band with
The two originally met passing off apartment
keys for a summer sublet in the city back in 2004.
It’s not surprising then that two years
after forming Ghost Ghost with drummer Tim Ireland, when the duo decided to
write its first album, its members found their inspiration in a book: Savage
Beauty by Nancy Milford, a biography about Pulitzer-Prize winning New
York poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. Her morphine addiction, sexual trysts and
tragic end—when she was discovered dead at the bottom of her stairwell—are the
imagery rock music is made of.
“I feel she’s almost totally unsung as far
as poets go,” Ward says. “I studied poetry and never read her in any class.
Almost no one ever mentioned her and now I think she’s one of the best poets in
the English language, whose life happened to be as, if not more, interesting
than her writing, and I think she’s due for a renaissance.”
And why not a rock renaissance? Ward and
Peckham penned the 10-song tribute to Millay one day shy of her 118th
birthday on February 21; yes, the whole thing in just one day. The resulting
record, No Clothes on Ragged Island, was released March 1, on the same day as
the band’s second EP Of Innocence and Experience. No Clothes gets its name from
an island off the coast of Maine where bathing suits were banned and Millay
spent her summers swimming naked. And while Innocence is in line with the
high energy, hard rock aesthetic that’s gotten Ghost Ghost a regular rotation
at venues like Public Assembly and Webster Hall, No Clothes offers another side
of Ghost Ghost. It’s a combination of country and folk that puts the band more
on par musically with bands like Counting Crows than, say, Fugazi crossed with
Bruce Springsteen circa “Thunder Road,” which is how the band describes itself.
“This is the first time we’ve really been able to stretch out into
the areas in which we haven’t done before because it was less organic,” Ward
says. “If you don’t have a deadline you just keep screwing around. It opened up
venues that we thought about but never tried.” It’s fresh, enthusiastic and a
credit to how passionately the band approached the challenge of portraying
Millay’s life from her birth in 1892 to her death in 1950.
this doesn’t mean that the band is dialing down its live show any time soon.
“We’ve never tried to step back. Our shows tend to be pretty upbeat and
loud—[there’s] a lot of jumping around,” Ward says. It took me two trips to the
bar at a recent live show to understand that you don’t set down your drink at a
Ghost Ghost show; the reverberations alone are enough to knock it over. This
progression from the band not only promises less glass breaking, but also a
chance for Ghost Ghost to get recognized for something other than erratic
“There’s a lot more to what we can do, and this is the first time
at least on record where we’ve said ‘yeah we can do that too.’”
June 21, Public Assembly, 70 N. 6th St. (betw. Wythe
& Kent Aves.), Brooklyn, 718-384-4586; 4, Free.