Saturday, 02 July 2011 21:10

Wired in #18: John Ghost

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In today's Wired in we present the Ghent-based band John Ghost! They play in an ensemble of ten musicians, all of whom study music at the famous Ghent Conservatory in Belgium. Jo De Geest writes their music (hence the name John Ghost) - but the band arrange and refine the music during their many rehearsals. The John Ghost musicians are influenced by jazz and progressive rock, taking their music to the next level by including atmospheric sounds and fascinating improvisation. Check out the interview with band member Wim Segers and if you're in Belgium try to catch them at one of their upcoming shows in Ghent!

E&M: You have a bunch of shows coming up and you're also playing the prestigious Ghent Jazz festival. What has working with this band been like since you founded it last year?

JG: In the beginning it wasn't always easy to rehearse with six musicians. Everyone had their own opinion about making music. There are also a lot of ideas behind John Ghost. After a while though, we all grew into the same direction. That's also when we were all starting to want to get across the same message. And when we started to have fun playing it. People could hear that I guess, because we got the first gigs then too.

E&M: Jazz is far from mainstream these days, are you guys ever worried that your music won't 'sell' to a large crowd?

JG: We don't know. I mean, our influence is not only jazz, but also progressive rock for example. We actually think John Ghost's sound and atmosphere is more accessible than most jazz groups. We're already working on a new set with live electronics.

E&M: Are there ever situations where your tastes just clash because you have different musical backgrounds?

JG: Is our background different? I don't think so. We all grew up with classical music, jazz, pop and rock. Of course our musical education differs. We're all educated as a jazz musicians except for one band member who had a classical training. But we still go to the same venues for concerts, both classical (like Bijloke or Conservatory) and jazz (like Hot Club de Gand, Trefpunt, Onverwachts Geluk). That's actually also how we originally met. I do think that our opinions may be different on how some of the songs should sound. Especially in the accompaniment. Should it sound groovy and tight or more free and open. We try different things every time and discuss how it worked out. If we're still not sure about it, we sometimes invite a musician to come to a gig or rehearsal and ask his opinion.

E&M: I know you've been playing a lot, but at the moment there's just one song on your website. Are you planning on releasing a CD in the future?

JG: Yes! We're planning on recording an EP sometime in September. A full CD will come out at the beginning of 2012. If all goes well we might even directly get out a full CD around October.

E&M: Cool, I'll be looking out for that. Now, can you tell us a bit about the Ghent Conservatory where you all study?
JG: Our faculty of music in Ghent is really flourishing at the moment. People from all over the world come here to study because of its avant garde profile. One of the interesting teachers for classical avant garde is Frank Nuyts. His way of composing is such a different direction from what most people are used to. Sometimes you can hear really classical passages in his music, but he'll also integrate Frank Zappa in the same song.

"Sometimes those jams last from 9pm to 7am. And then we go straight to a lesson or to study, almost dead after the long night."

For jazz I believe that there's one important teacher who influenced us all: Bart Maris, who is a free jazz trumpet-player. He invites a lot of young musicians to the Hot Club de Gand every Wednesday to improvise with him, without scores or anything, just knowledge. Sometimes those jams last from 9pm to 7am. And then we go straight to a lesson or to study, almost dead after the long night.

E&M: Wow, what a life! So when it comes to music that is more experimental or modern jazz, do you think you have to have a certain musical training in order to appreciate that kind of sound?

JG: Well, I think our music is not to difficult to listen to. Very accessible in fact! You could easily dance to it sometimes.

Of course music is always evolving. Some people can handle it, others can't. But from what we get from our audiences, we think that John Ghost music is not really difficult to listen to. There are a lot of bands that do have difficulties finding the right scene or finding their way. Or contemporary ensembles who just live on government money. I hope we don't fall into that category.

E&M: Have you ever considered adding vocals to your music?

JG: Jo De Geest, who writes the music, doesn't hear it with vocals at the moment. Unless they were used as a sound effect. We might already add that to our set when we play a contest at the Ghent jazz festival. The idea then will be to use effect pedals for our vocals. We are also thinking about adding a wind section in the fall. That would bring the music to another level.

"We usually start off with coffee and cigarettes. Then we rehearse for an hour, break, another hour."

E&M: What does a typical band rehearsal look like for John Ghost?
JG: We usually we start off with coffee and cigarettes. Then we rehearse for an hour, break, another hour. We don't like to do marathon rehearsals. Four out of six are ADHD-ers so it wouldn't even be possible!

That factor does keep the rehearsals fun, although I can imagine that the two others sometimes go mad from our joke-arguments. The rehearsels are often about getting our timing as tight as possible. We loop the themes a few times to get the balance where we want it. We rearrange some parts if we don't like how it sounded... Sometimes we also just start playing and improvising to get a better feeling of each others ideas and timing. That's something you can't immediately feel when you play arranged music, but it's really important to have as a band, so you can change some things during a live gig. That's what the audience picks up on as well.

E&M: And who's your favourite unknown band?

JG: Our favourite unknown band is a rock band called "Marvelas Something". You should really check it out. Those guys deserve to be played on the radio every day. They mix rock tradition with Dutch music and psychedelic rock. The energy the musicians bring on stage is truly marvellous.

E&M: I'll make sure to check them out. Maybe they can be on Wired in soon! Now, tell me, what does Europe mean to John Ghost?

JG: Difficult question. Europe means culture, I think. If there's one thing we can be proud of it's art and architecture. They really influence our lives. They're our beauty and hope. Sadly enough Europe also means war and destruction nowadays. I hope our politicians will make good decisions for the global climate in the coming years. Otherwise there won't be much to enjoy for our next generations.

Last modified on Sunday, 03 July 2011 15:10

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