Singletrack: Michael Golas of Exit Ghost

Behind the Scenes with Exit Ghost (fragment)

Exit Ghost
"Speaker" from the album Elston (residency at High Concept Laboratories)

There are an infinite number of ways to create a song. It can begin with a founding motif. You can impose a rhythmic device that structures the sounds around it. Starting with a lyric can generate a vocabulary of imagery for the music to follow. A simple riff can morph into an entire phrase. There are times when we try every one of these approaches, but many of Exit Ghost’s songs stem from an acoustic draft recorded on a phone by vocalist Evan Holmes. Raw and unabashed, it’s generally a simple chord structure played on guitar with a defined vocal melody and lyrics in place.

“Speaker” began as a fairly loose-ended song with echoes of classic rock that perpetually cycled through a descending chord pattern. While there was no lack of heartfelt emotion in the first hack of playing the song together, the lyrics emerged as the focal point, developing larger, metaphorical meanings out of specific descriptions. As an example, the opening verse is a literal description of a scene:

A table by the window
Lincoln Avenue
Lights below the gray sky
Thirty-five degrees
Angled to the woman
Angled back to me

This begs the question, what does it mean to be angled back to you? What is that feeling of trying to understand someone as much as they are trying to get to know you? The second verse continues the imagery and implications in a heavier, more rhythmic anecdote:

Biking to my backyard
The wheels reflected turn
Biking to my backyard
The wheels reflected turn
We built ourselves a fire
And let the fire burn

The mental image of a fire burning influenced the sonic landscape that couches the choruses—we created a sort of all-consuming approach to highlight the short, single-phrase chorus. On these choruses we imposed a more synth-based sound over a redefined chord progression on acoustic guitar, creating a layered representation of what it means to being angled back to one another.

“Speaker” becomes almost shoegaze-y in this way. The changes it took through the course of writing makes it less immediately identifiable. The new sounds and form we were able to experiment with on this track opened our eyes a bit—it influenced our approach to quite a few other songs. “Speaker” proved that starting things one way doesn’t necessarily dictate the outcome.

Exit Ghost is a collaborative vehicle structured around the songwriting of Evan Holmes. The group’s debut EP, Pony Soldier (2010), explores the imagery and culture of the American West with fiddle and harmonies provided by multi-instrumentalist Rachel Kahn. Brothers Jordan and Julian Stacey provide a powerful rhythm section that resonates soundly through the group’s first full-length album, 2012’s Move Alone, an album hailed by Performer Magazine as “like [Neil Young’s] After The Goldrush on steroids.”  Move is a bold, at times orchestral, effort engineered by Mike Hagler of Wilco’s Summerteeth. With a nod from Paste Magazine as one of “10 Illinois Bands You Should Listen To Now,” Exit Ghost recorded at Chicago’s Engine Studios with the addition of avant-garde guitarist Michael Golas and engineer/instrumentalist Dorian Gehring. The EP Engine documents a band reinventing itself in the space of a studio, and would see the group’s first commercial placement in the HBO series "Single Long." Exit Ghost’s Daytrotter Live Session previews a distinct and cohesive set of new work, to be completed as the band’s second full-length due Fall 2013.

On this track:
Evan Holmes, Vocals/Guitar
Michael Golas, Guitar
Dorian Gehring, Guitar/Keyboard
Curtis Schreiber, Drums/Percussion
Neal Conrad, Bass

Engineered by Dorian Gehring. Produced by Exit Ghost at High Concept Laboratories, Chicago, Illinois

Video by Jack Lawrence Mayer and Jacob Hurwitz-Goodman

"Singletrack" is CAR's Artist Story for Chicago performers in which songwriters, bands, playwrights, actors and writers discuss the creation of a recorded work alongside audio or video clips of the performance. To submit your song for consideration, please email our researchers.

Submitted by CAR_Editor on Mon, 08/26/2013 - 1:54pm