[INTERVIEW] We Have Ghosts

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We Have Ghosts: Bryan Patrick (Left) and Thomas Puglisi (Right) [Photo via We Have Ghost’s Facebook]

Thomas Puglisi and Bryan Patrick are students of everything gloomy and harrowing. Together the two make music for their project, We Have Ghosts. From New Jersey, to Champaign-Urbana, IL, and now Philadelphia, PA, Puglisi and Patrick have relationship that almost seems brotherly-like. “EP2” is their second grouping of songs this year, which was recorded soon after their “true debut,” “EP1” was completed and released. Much like its predecessor, “EP2” is sprouting with emotions both lyrically and instrumentally.
We spoke to the duo by e-mail, during their mini-Midwest tour and move to Philadelphia, PA.

How did this project come about? Did it start after the move to Champaign, IL from New Jersey? Also I hear you guys are on the move again, this time to Philly?

Bryan: Thomas and I have known each other for something like nine years now and we’ve been making music together for almost all of those years. We were in our first bands together back in high school and this band in particular started shortly after we moved in together in CU (Champaign-Urbana). And yeah! We just moved to Philadelphia. My girlfriend’s family is all right near where we live so we get to see her nieces and we both got pretty much our dream jobs lined up here, so it seemed like the right time to move. There’s also an insanely amazing scene here and up in NJ and I guess it just all felt too perfect to not pull the trigger and move.

Thomas: What he said.

What was behind the decision to shift from a guitarist and drummer line-up to a two guitar and a drum machine set up? Is it the same set up for live shows?

Bryan: The easiest way to explain the drum machine is convenience. We found a great deal on the one we use now and sorta came to the conclusion that we wanted to try something different. I also like the opportunities a two-guitar setup offers us. I don’t have to fill the majority of the sonic space on my own and can play specifically in a way that fills the music rather than consuming it entirely.

Thomas: I’m also just not much of a drummer.  I like doing it and I definitely CAN drum, but singing/playing guitar is just something I’m more comfortable with.  It’s also a lot more creatively rewarding for me.  But using a drum machine also brings out this other side of music we both like that me playing drums just wouldn’t be able to fulfill.

Is not having a live session drummer a hindrance for you guys when writing new songs?

Bryan: For me, no. I usually just play guitar for a long time until something sticks out and ultimately a drum part forms secondarily. My writing has always been driven by what I can do on guitar, so I never really think much about drums till a song or part is as close to set as possible. Thomas is admittedly much better at writing drum parts since he used to be our drummer and I typically trust his judgement and only write/program drum parts on my own occasionally.

Thomas: At this point I almost need to have the drums before I can begin “writing” a song.  I can come up with a riff or chord progression just by fucking around on a guitar but if I wanna start writing the song I kinda need drums for some reason.

When I was listening to EP2, I noticed that the tracks sounded a tad bit brighter than the songs on EP1, was there a shift in influences for this EP?

Bryan: I think we’d been listening to brighter music generally speaking when we were working on these songs. Springtime was doing its best to crack through and I can imagine subconsciously we really just wanted to help it shine through a bit. I also recognize the fact that I’ve been listening to a lot more pop music in general; I bought a car in February and have finally had the chance to listen to the radio a bit more and there was a delightful 70s and 80s pop station in CU that played a lot of really great songs that simply don’t leave you.

Thomas: The change in weather was defiantly a big part of it.  For me, I was also trying to not write about the same stuff I wrote about in EP1.  EP1 was a lot of depressing stuff going around in my head.  I don’t wanna say I wrote “love” songs for EP2, but I kinda forced myself to write about relationships more.  I dunno if it’s GOOD relationships or not, but love and feelings towards other people besides myself was definitely something I tried to do.

To me, the emotions on EP1 stemmed from Thomas’ vocals and lyrics, while the guitars were the primary catalysts for the emotional components with longer instrumental interludes on EP2, sort of like what post-rock bands like Mogwai and Explosions In The Sky have done. Is this a direction that you guys see yourself going in?

Bryan: I absolutely love instrumental music (specifically post-rock like the groups you mentioned) and I’d be comfortable playing that kind of music any day, but I do recognize the power of lyrics and vocals so it’s not something I’d want for this band. I’m not sure if it’s ever a fully conscious decision for us to write such long instrumental passages, but we do like having them and it gives us space to really experiment with mixing our guitar sounds and pushing the music to new and interesting places. We really do like having the sorts of crescendos that you find in so much post-rock music because it helps to build the emotion of the songs. I think Thomas will have a really interesting perspective on this since he’s the one that writes the lyrics and has to sing among all this guitar-music muck haha.

Thomas: For me, I just didn’t think certain parts of these songs NEEDED vocals.  Like the build-up part in “Summer” or the ending noise-jam-thing in “Close”. I toyed around with singing over those parts but I just didn’t think it was necessary.  I really enjoy singing and writing lyrics but I think it’s important to just kinda shut the hell up every once and awhile.

“A Horse, A Horse!”, the closer on EP2 is an interesting song, as its probably the most “violent sounding” We Have Ghosts song thus far and the most intense in Thom’s lyricism, what’s the story behind this track?

Bryan: I’ll let Thomas take this one fully since I can’t really remember how this one came to be.

Thomas: That song kinda went through a lot of different versions of lyrics.  Like, the name of the song really has nothing to do with the actual lyrics because the song had a totally different meaning and ideas behind it when we first came up with the music.  But usually what happens when I write lyrics is a line or something will just kinda pop into my head and I won’t be able to get it out, then I’ll sort of write around that one line.  To me this song is about these habits I’ve picked up over the years and how they affect me.  Things like staying home and wanting to be alone made me feel comfortable, but in reality I think they were doing harm to myself and my relationships.  And yeah, the lyrics are kinda violent now that you mention it. It’s just how I was feeling at that moment in time.

Bryan: That’s a better story than I could have told. This is also our most simple song structurally speaking and it’s kind of interesting to do a verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus standard setup kind of thing juxtaposed with that really intense emotional aspect of it that makes it so different for us. It’s not a structure we always use and it was cool to write such a loud and blatant thing as the cap for the EP.

Both EPs were recorded by rudimentary means, which really suits the hollow-sounding elements in your songs, are there any plans to hop into a studio and abandon your lo-fi recording setup for future releases?

Bryan: I wouldn’t say it’s out of the question, but it’s not something I feel compelled to do. Studio recording is so regimented and time-constrictive that it breeds stress and the potential for fallout is too worrisome for me to really consider it at this point.

Thomas: Obviously I think we both have these fantasies of two dudes in a band trying to make the best record they can make in a studio.  We’re both huge fans of like… “studio stories” and stuff like that, so the idea of getting into a studio is super tempting.  But we’re also both pretty anxious people at times and booking studio time just feels stressful to me.  I’d totally love a super cool home studio set up though.

What are your immediate plans for the project and have you guys already started on “EP3” or “LP1”?

Bryan: Well, as soon as we released EP2 and started prepping for shows or tour we found ourselves working on new songs haha. We are both always playing and writing and experimenting to find new sounds from our instruments so it’s only natural that we’ll stumble into something new. I’m focused right now on getting us some shows in the Philly-NJ-NYC area and adjusting to my new work schedule, but I do think we’ll start on something new soon.

Thomas: We’ve talked about it a bit and I hope I’m not giving away too much information, but I would love to do one more EP before we jump into a full on album.  We take these EP’s super seriously, but I think EP’s also allow us to fuck up and really grow as a band.  Doing an album seems like this huge step that I personally am a little afraid to make at this moment.  Not that we’re not good or something, but albums are just a big deal for me and Bryan. But other than that I just wanna play shows and get our stuff out there.

Pair your favorite cereal with your favorite or current favorite record.

Bryan: Ah man, this is hard. I’m gonna go with Honey Nut Cheerios with fresh strawberries paired up with And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out by Yo La Tengo. The sweetness of the strawberries paired up with but full but still sort of sweet taste of the Cheerios feels like a perfect pairing for that album. Now I feel like I ate the wrong dinner.

Thomas: I don’t really eat cereal too often anymore but I really do love Reese Puffs, which might pair well with Life of Pablo which I’ve been obsessed with since it came out (haters gonna hate).  But a nice bowl of oatmeal with raisins or something in it would probably pair super well with Deathconscienceness by Have a Nice Life.  Put some black coffee with that one, too.