The Black Ghosts Biography
Last updated: 05/12/2012 12:00:00 PM
The Black Ghosts' lament through their perverse, personal pop music. Theirs is a peculiarly British noir, where the divorcee next door dreams of nocturnal visitations from predatory incubi, and an awkward boy genius tinkers with forbidden science in the garden shed. Unmanned Casio keyboards left for dead in the loft burst into requiems of their own composition, attractive cousins are murdered for what they know, and an unspeakable horror lurks in the depths of the spare room.
You might be surprised to hear the new album from Simian's Simon Lord and The Wiseguys' Theo Keating, recording together as The Black Ghosts, spun in this melodramatic fashion. But both have some undeniably sinister credentials to back up The Black Ghosts' tales of modern gothic romance.
Theo was forced by his parents to watch Hammer Horror films at a very early age -- because they were directed by his godfather. "My mum would say, 'Come and see what Alan's done, you can stay up late and watch it!' and there on the screen would be The Satanic Rites of Dracula. He also made Dracula AD1972, where vampirism meets psychedelia, and several of the TV specials - I particularly remember The Two Faces of Evil and The Silent Scream."
Theo's early exposure to the supernatural wasn't just limited to saucy spine-tinglers late on a Saturday night. One of his earliest memories, of moving house, is tinged by recollections of the crude arcane symbols the family discovered daubed across the interior walls of their new home. And out the back was a neo-classical cemetery packed with the sad sarcophagi of Victorian children. Minor poltergeists made regular visitations, causing wall-mounted mirrors to come crashing to the floor and the sound of mischievous adolescents at play to echo from empty rooms. Theo became fascinated by gothic horror; "While other kids had their soccer annuals, I was immersing myself in authors like H P Lovecraft, AND Algernon Blackwood who wrote The Wendigo."
Simon, too, experienced a disquieting form of bohemia during his easily-influenced years. "My grandmother, Madeleine Dring, was a music hall satirist in the Noel Coward vein. She was also considered psychic, and kept a whole bookshelf dedicated to turn of the century Russian mysticism. There were psychic manuals by what I came to discover were noted spiritualists, like Gurdjieff and Ouspensky."
Meanwhile an early introduction to music came from his grandfather, who was part of the London Symphony Orchestra's woodwind section. "He played the oboe on the Star Wars theme" says Simon, "which meant absolutely nothing at the time, and on various Beatles tracks, including A Day in the Life, which he also just wrote off as 'some rock thing'."
Simon's father had a more progressive attitude to sound. "He built his own synthesisers, and they weren't just for making music," he explains. "His 'Bio Activity Translator' was a device that clipped onto the stems of plants, then translated their electric fields into an analogue hum. He also made a 'Dream Machine' for my sister and I. It generated a gentle white noise that helped us drift off to sleep."
Fortunately for his immortal soul Simon pursued the family predilection for music rather than clairvoyance. At the age of 27 he's already enjoyed a successful career in music. His past work as the lyricist and lead singer of Simian has occasionally hinted that Simon's lured by the dark.
"We Are Your Friends, the collaboration with remixers Justice, wasn't necessarily intended to encourage people to hug each other on the dancefloor… it was about a cult induction. The refrain, 'You'll never be alone again', is a double-edged sword." The whole Black Ghosts project ploughs a similar furrow, combining moving arrangements with uncomfortable subject matter.
"I suppose we're aiming for that combination of very listenable music with rather disturbing lyrics," says Theo. "For instance, I was originally inspired not just by modern producers like Daft Punk and Timbaland, but musicians such as Serge Gainsbourg and David Axelrod. I'd compose a backing track and Simon put lyrics to it, or vice versa."
"Theo doesn't come from the sort of muso background that means he's always getting me to check out his jazz chords," adds Simon. "His experience comes from DJing, so the music he produces for me to write over has plenty of backbone and strong hooks. And I was never compromised by having to come up with lines in the studio with the rest of the band mucking about around me. I got to write the Black Ghosts LP by myself in a room with only suitably dim lamplight for company."
The Black Ghost's ballads concern the unavoidably grim flipside of love. "The music is about how horrible people can be to other people" says Simon. "There are some terribly dark aspects of being in a relationship -- it can bring out the worst in you. There's a trauma to being in love, and I don't mean just the control it can exert -- there are the selfish expectations, and the things you'll do to get out of relationships, plus the justifications you'll find for that."
Theo adds, "They're slightly psychotic torch songs… love songs, but hardly of the 'Baby, let's be together' variety. You never get that sense of blind rage that relationships can so easily produce, for example, in pop songs normally."
Any Way You Choose to Give It, the LP's dance floor stormer, finds its protagonist in an unenviable, but familiar position - feeling randy, but racked with doubt and cynicism. "I challenge you to make the wrong move" sings Simon, outraged by the object of his lust's supposed perfection. On Some Way Through This, The Black Ghosts become tormented by the faulty human instinct to make mutual happiness as difficult to achieve as possible. While Theo's electronic orchestra stabs with an assassin's grace, Simon implores the source of his frustration that he "Will do whatever it takes to put a smile upon your face" and laments that it's only "If my hands were around your throat would you tell me what I need to know." During It's Your Touch, a casual cynic tries to reason out his new found love, only settling for a base, feral attraction as convincing enough stimulus. "I guess you're wondering what I'm doing for you… And I guess that I'm wondering quite the same thing…" Simon drawls, exasperated, as Theo's West Coast folk-rock accompaniment exudes louche indulgence and a dangerous wistfulness.
"Music, to me, has to have a certain atmosphere, whether it's about pain or happiness," says Theo. So if you feel your world could do with an undercurrent of intrigue - or your discotheque needs haunting - just call The Black Ghosts.