Grave Concerns recently conducted a telephone interview with Portland’s Ghost Parade, a rising force in the Goth-rock community. Ghost Parade is Autumn (vocals, guitar, founder, main song writer), Dan Divens (guitar), Elliot Corso (bass), and Mike Star (drums). The group was to be found relaxing, enjoying drinks, and communicating from a speaker phone installed in the bar of the Leopard Lounge; a lounge area in Autumn’s home completely covered in leopard print.
An invitation from Ghost Parade and Grave Concerns both: If you have the means, grab yourself a drink and relax while you read about Ghost Parade’s upcoming release, Divide…
GC: To start, how was the response to your last album, Dying Breed?
Autumn: We actually had a very good response to the last record. We got some very good reviews and we are still selling quite a few records, so it’s cool, it’s exciting.
GC: How many albums have you put out as of now?
Autumn: We released a limited EP in 2002 named Ghost Parade, and then Dying breed, so the record we are about to do is our third actual release.
GC: I saw that Ghost Parade was a group as early as 2000?
Autumn: Yes, that is correct. We released a few limited singles in 2000 and 2001, mostly around the Portland area.
GC: Dying Breed was your first world-over release, then?
Autumn: That is correct.
GC: I saw Dying Breed got a lot of comparisons to David Bowie and Peter Murphy, how did that affect you?
Autumn: Actually (laughs), I was flattered by the David Bowie comparison, even though I don’t think I sound anything like David Bowie. I think people were comparing the low baritone vocals-- the sound, maybe the tone of the vocals or something, but obviously it’s flattering
GC: The aesthetic, maybe…
Autumn: Definitely. As for Peter Murphy, we are all old-school Bauhaus fans so that’s a huge compliment, that guy is legendary.
Dan: As far as being compared to David Bowie and Peter Murphy, that’s fantastic. They’ve been a big influence of ours, particularly Peter Murphy with my guitar playing and song-writing. The work that he’s done…To be compared to people you hold as influences is incredibly flattering, so I think it’s great.
GC: With your new album, Divide, you mentioned it was going to be a bit different from Dying Breed?
Autumn: One of the reasons we are calling it Divide is because it is a complete divide, but it’s also the next step. Ghost Parade has gone through an evolution process. We started out with a lot of darkness type-stuff, keyboards were prominent in the mix. As we evolved into Dying Breed we started adding a lot of electric guitars. We still had the keyboards in there, but we evolved into what you would call a Goth-rock band. It was very much a progression into Goth-rock—the guitars were in your face, and I think with this new record it’s another evolution. One of the things we’ve done is remove the keyboards all together. It’s going to be straight Marshall guitars on ten. It’s the next step for the evolution of the band and it’s one of those steps that feels very natural.
GC: You said you named the new album Divide because it’s representative of a divide, can you clarify that a bit?
Autumn: Well, we feel like it’s our breaking point. This new record is the best thing we’ve ever done. Dying Breed was a really good record, but we feel that Divide is a huge step, the next step. You’re still going to hear the same types of lyrics, because we’ve always written dark lyrics, and you are going to hear the same types of vocals, because that’s the way I sing. The same with the guitars. The new stuff is incredible. We’ve spent a lot of time working on the new material—we’ve spent the last 18 months writing, and we’re finally in the studio and we’re doing it, and it’s the best we’ve ever heard ourselves. It’s a complete departure in that respect. It’s a better record.
GC: So what motivated the change of focus from keyboards to guitar?
Autumn: Like I said before I think it was a natural progression. I’ve been a guitar player for a long time and I got burnt out on it before Ghost Parade. I got this attitude where most of the songs were centered around the keyboard because that’s the way I was writing at the time. As I started coming out of this burn-out, and as the band progressed through different members and natural progressions, it just sort of happened. I don’t think it was something we actually tried to do…
GC: So is this still going to have the darker gothic feel to it, or?
Autumn: Definitely, and anybody into Dying Breed is going to be way into Divide. At the same time I think we are opening doors that may have been closed before because we were labeled just Goth. I think we are going to have a lot of different kinds of new fans for this next record. If you are worried about the darkness, there is a song called Suicide on the record that is going to rip peoples heads off. There is also a song called Stargazer that is going to make you get teary eyed and go somewhere nice and take a nap. (Laughs.)
Dan: It’s still unquestionably a Ghost Parade record. Just like Autumn said, anybody who’s a fan of Ghost Parade is going to really like this album. I’d probably argue that they are going to hear even more of everything they liked from the previous albums.
Autumn: Also, there was some definite questions in the record Dying Breed that are now being answered on the album Divide. There are continuations. I don’t want to give too much up here but there is an answer to the question posed on the song Drift on this next record. Which is pretty amazing, it’s not really a concept album at all, nothing we do has ever really been a concept; but it’s the next step. I actually got to sit down and look at things…It’s like you’re answering yourself in your own song writing, and it’s really cool.
GC: Did you mean to pose these questions originally?
Autumn: I’m not sure, it’s just a creative thing that happened. Is there a concept behind it? Maybe. We always said we were going to do a trilogy, but then we said we were never going to do a trilogy. So I don’t know...
GC: You said you’ve been working on this release for 18 months now?
Autumn: Something like that, yeah, mostly by myself.
GC: What is your normal recording process in the studio?
Autumn: For most of the songs we’ve done about four or five demos because we are being so picky. The first demo is usually drum machine and scratch guitars, mainly us trying to form the songs and trying to put them together. The next demo refines those ideas and the next demo would have Mike on real drums doing, not album quality, but a really good demo so we could finish the song writing and go on. Some of the songs we’ve done a couple demos, and some we’ve done three or four. It’s all about getting things nailed down. We’ve gotten to the point we’ve started building a CD of material. We’re trying to piece things together. Dan is bringing in ideas and we’re collaborating, trying to make things better to where we have an actual record put together. We’ve been very picky about everything.
We wanted to figure out exactly what the record was going to be and then take it into the studio and nail it. On Dying Breed we did a lot of experimental stuff and half written songs. We just went into the studio and wrote on the spot. I wrote a lot of lyrics on the spot. Divide is completely put together as a record, even the layout of the songs, and we are just going to go in and nail it.
GC: Who is writing Divide? Is it a group effort, or?
Autumn: It’s interesting the way the band works. I’ve always been the main song writer, but I’ve always been really open to other people in the group bringing ideas to the song. For Divide I’ve written a certain amount of songs that are maybe 70 or 80 percent done, and Dan has also brought songs to the table that were maybe 70 or 80 percent done. So there’s been enough room left in the songs to collaborate as a collective, but still enough freedom as a songwriter to paint the attitude we want to paint. On this record we’ve been able to finish things together as a collective, but a lot of songs come to the table partially done which is cool because everyone gets to say what they want but everyone still gets to help decide whatever Divide will be.
Dan: That’s really well said. It’s really great to be in a project where you can have visions for a song and get it on the canvas, so to speak, get it a long way and bring it to the group and hand everyone paint and paintbrushes and say, “How are you interpreting this?” Especially great about writing with Autumn is he’s got such really, really different ideas than I do, so it’s great to take something I’ve started and completely take it to a different, new, and most often, a cooler direction
Autumn: It’s definitely not a singular vision. It’s cool because we are collaborating. If I didn’t have Dan finish the work I’ve done, and if he didn’t have me finish the work he’d done, it wouldn’t be making the music that we are making right now. We tried the other way, where we just start from scratch and everyone throws shit in the mix, and that just doesn’t work. You have way too many cooks in the kitchen, way too many ideas, and too many people getting pissed off because it’s not going the way they want it. (Laughs.)
GC: I saw a lot of praise for the openness and thoughtfulness of the lyrics for Dying Breed. How do you feel the lyrical content compares?
Autumn: The lyrics are better. We’ve evolved as a band, I think everything’s better. To be honest with you I’m a better songwriter than I was on Dying Breed. I know Dan’s a better song-writer too.
Dan: I agree. With anything, even people that write novels and especially when you collaborate, the more you work together the more you create a better product. One of the cool things about Divide is the songwriting is really enjoyable. We had the freedom to go out and write exactly what we wanted to write.
GC: Dan said you now “had the freedom to write what you want.” Did you have problems getting across what you wanted to get across before?
Autumn: There’s never been any conflict with Dan and I, and I think that through the years we’ve figured out exactly how to work with each other in a way that we both get to be artistic and do our thing.
Dan: I’d like to clarify, too, I didn’t mean so much that I couldn’t write what I wanted. I meant, as a more experienced song writer I’m able to get out more of the feeling I’m thinking. I can get in touch with exactly what I want to say in the song. It comes out a lot better.
Autumn: Just to clarify again, I’ve always been the main song-writer of this group. One of the things we are really excited about with this record is Dan and I are collaborating. Last time we collaborated on a musical level, now we are collaborating on a song-writing level. This is amazing for me because we are getting to do all these cool things together, and like I said earlier, his input on my stuff and my input on his stuff is what makes this a really good record. It’s sometimes hard for someone who’s gone through what we’ve gone through—and me being the main song-writer it’s sometimes hard to share that. I was 90 percent of Dying Breed, I’m writing 50 percent of Divide. It’s a better record because of it.
GC: What inspired the writing on this album?
Autumn: I don’t want to paint a tragic story or anything, but to be honest with you, a lot of the song writing came from being disgusted with the music industry. We went three years touring and doing all this stuff without any kind of implications, and we got to the point where we were burnt out, and a lot of dirt came from being burnt out. Here I tell you some lines…
“Ashes to ashes, we all fall down, looking for something that can’t be found, killing time to change the hands of fate, it’s all too perfect at the moment we all divide.”
That’s me saying, “I’m taking a break from this,” but you look and look and you try and try and you work and work and sometimes you really start to feel like you’re beating your head against the wall, and that’s what that line is about. Here’s another:
“All the glitter turns to rust and fools gold, the back stage is sleaze trying to grab at my sleeves, the time has come at last to do what we want to do, and I don’t need you anymore.”
...It’s all about being sick to death of the sleaze trying to grab my sleeve. Have you ever been backstage at a goth concert? There are quite a few people from back stage trying to touch your hand, touch your whatever…
GC: I saw on your page, referring to Erik Sosa and Azriel Sin, that they have "moved on to pursue their domestic lives. Maybe now we can get some work done." What's the story behind that?
Autumn: I want to make it clear that Dan and I fired our former guitar player Erik and our former bass player, Azy, because they weren’t doing their job. Part of being in a band like Ghost Parade, and doing the high profile stuff that this band does, just showing up is important. I don’t care how much you think you look like Marilyn Manson or how much money you think you can get out of your girlfriend for beer money, it’s not important to us. We’re professionals. If you can’t show up you’re fired. It’s not professional and it was bringing down the band, and the only way for us to get the band back up was to let them go. Sometimes it comes down to that.
GC: Were there other conflicts with them, or were most of the conflicts stemming from their inability to show up?
Autumn: There was drama, but there’s always drama in a rock band. I can deal with drama, but when someone is supposed to show up for a gig and you can’t even get a hold of them, and it takes you driving around Portland for three hours to find them at some chick’s house? They think they are so rock star they can’t even show up to their gig…
GC: So it wasn’t just practices?
Autumn: I’m talking about shows, rehearsals, photo shoots, whatever we had going on. We just got tired of the drama, it was bringing down our band. We’re not the type of people that need to entertain a bunch of punk kids and scream at people to show up. As for Eric and I being co-writers, unless you consider him bringing one or two little guitar riffs here and there co-writing, we’ve never co-written anything together. Anybody who thinks that is absolutely out of their minds. I know he likes to think that, and he tells all the girls he’s trying to sleep with that, but whatever. That’s where I cut off.
GC: Has their absence from the writing on this new album had much of an effect?
Autumn: No absolutely not. Except that it’s better now, but that’s because we’ve evolved as a band, not because they’re no longer in the project. We were at a point with those guys where we could not continue on as artists. When you get to that point you have to make a decision and Dan and I made the decision to fire them so we could continue on, and it was the best decision we’ve ever made.
GC: Did you guys have a hard time coming to that conclusion?
Autumn: Well yeah, because we love the guys. When you spend that much time on tour, playing out shows, doing all this heavy stuff with people...Sure it’s hard, because there’s hearts in the way. You get to really love people, you know? It’s very, very hard to do but as professionals it was something we had to do.
GC: Are you still on decent terms with either of them?
Autumn: I’d like to think so. It’s too bad the way things went down, but it wasn’t something we could control. The band goes on.
Dan: It’s not like we didn’t like them. Like Autumn said, we spent a lot of time playing shows together and we were really good friends with these people, but Ghost Parade is focused on success and delivering a decent product to our fans. It really got to a situation where we weren’t making the progress we wanted to be making. It wasn’t fair to the fans that’d go to the shows. They pay good money to watch us play and we take it very seriously. We didn’t fire them because we didn’t like them, we fired them because we want to be a rock band and they didn’t.
Autumn: They wanted to, and they couldn’t show up, they couldn’t fulfill the obligation. Honestly, they wanted to be rock stars, and I consider them rock stars. If we didn’t we would have never worked together to begin with.
GC: Are you planning on self releasing Divide?
Autumn: We are actually being scouted. We actually had to get permission to do this interview, but part of the stipulation was not to say anything—so without saying anything, I will say that we are probably going to be more accessible with this record. It might not be right away, but with the second pressing…
GC: What’s the ideal target audience for this release, then?
Autumn: It will be the same audience, anyone that likes Goth rock, or David Bowie. Anyone that likes the Smashing Pumpkins, anyone that likes modern rock or Peter Murphy... It’s wide.
GC: Have you had professional producers working on Divide?
Autumn: Dan and I are producing. Also Dave Boyle, the engineer who did the first Better than Ezra album, is now co-producing as well. He’s someone we found that we trust a lot, who listened to Dying Breed. We told him what program we were on, and how we plan to take it to the next step and he’s into it and he’s into working with us.
GC: Are you planning on touring to support the release of Divide?
Autumn: Our schedule is such that we are getting out of the studio in late June and going directly into rehearsals. 4-6 weeks of rehearsals and then we’ll be on the road. We’ll be doing a bunch of shows In Portland, and then we hope to do some on the west cost this fall or this winter. We are definitely planning on touring we just aren’t exactly sure when yet.
GC: Have you had the opportunity to play any of the newer tracks live?
Autumn: We’ve sort of made a commitment not to do anything live until it’s on the record. We have done some of the songs live before but most of the stuff hasn’t left the studio.
GC: What kind of environment do you guys try to set up in your live shows?
Autumn: We like to do lots of fog and we like our Bela Legosi samples. We’ve got these new tricked out laser lights that do cool things in the fog, and we like a lot of reds and blues. I don’t know if you heard about our last tour, in the fall of 2003…We did a cover of “Bela Legosi’s Dead.” We actually had a casket on stage.
GC: What do you think sets you apart from other bands?
Dan: One of the things that sets us apart no matter what is Autumn’s vocals. It’s a very unique and recognizable voice. We’re both old school guitar players, we’ve both grown up playing guitars. No matter what kind of guitar work we do and no matter what mixes are on there, it’s always going to be us, and it’s always going to be a Ghost Parade album. So when we sit down we don’t stick our heads together and say “Okay, let’s try to target this market and let’s try to target that.” We know when we put our hearts into it it’s going to sound great. It’s going to be unique.
Autumn: Another thing that sets this band apart is that Ghost Parade is all about the show. There are too many damned bands in the northwest that just put on a show. They don’t even have a live show. They don’t even have anything! They just get up there and play. Even if we go on the road, even if we have to hire lighting technicians to pull it off, our fans are happy at the end of the show because they see a real show. It’s all about putting on a big show. We’ve always been known as a stadium band playing clubs. We’ve been told that plenty of times. When people go to a Ghost Parade show, from what I hear—I wish I could see it sometime (laughs)–it’s a big deal, a big production. Because we care, we want to present it. We are very theatrical. A good light show can be the difference between a good show and a bad show. I don’t care how good the band is, if you are just standing there in front of normal lighting and your not dressed to the nine…it makes all the difference.
GC: That is a problem everywhere, not just in the northwest…
Dan: Well that’s the thing. People pay their hard earned money to see a show and we love to play our music live and we love our fans. Quite frankly it’s a lot more fun for us to play a show when there’s more going on, too. We’re entertainers, we put on a production.
Autumn: It’s all about being “tight.” For instance, we went and saw this local band last week, and they played—well first of all we’re supporting local talent, we went; we showed up. There was no show whatsoever, they go on, they play 5 songs…They play a short set, like 20 minutes, and walk off the stage! We waited all night to see these guys, I mean, what is that?
GC: How many tracks do you play live on average?
Autumn: Our last set was an hour and fifteen minutes. When we’re done we’re exhausted and so is the crowd. You don’t feel cheated. A twenty minute set? I’m sorry, that doesn’t cut it. I’ve never seen anything like that before, actually.
GC: Have you done any videos in the past, or do you plan to do that with Divide?
Autumn: This is something we’re just breaking into. Actually this new CD is going to have a making of video. There will be a CD extra with about 6 or 8 minutes telling about the making of the CD. There might be a couple cool interviews on there as well. We definitely plan on doing a music video sometime by the end of the year. We’ve done some experiments, nothing that we’ve really showed, though. A video is definitely in the plans.
GC: Are you getting a lot of support for the new album?
Autumn: Quite a bit of support. Locally, in Portland, there are a lot of people talking about it. I guess the word’s out. This is one of those towns where word gets around pretty quick.
GC: Do you have a tentative release date planned yet?
Autumn: We don’t have a date yet, but it’s probably going to be late summer or early fall. It’s going to happen pretty fast. We’ve been working every day and every night on this for a while. And yeah, we’re on a tight schedual.
GC: I think that’s it for my questions, is there anything you’d like to add?
Mike: We are very excited about this album and I can’t wait for the fans to hear it and go on tour.
Elliot: Everybody coast to coast better be ready for the new album because it’s going to blow their heads off.
Autumn: I also want to make a point to say that Elliot Corso, a new name for people that were into Dying Breed, and I worked together when we first started the band in 2000. Him and I have gotten to be really good friends. When Azie left the first thing we did was make the phone call to Elliot. It was a no brainer. So Elliot is back permanently this time. And of course Mike and I have been together forever. He didn’t get the recognition he should have on Dying Breed…Neither did I, actually. (Laughs.)
GC: Thanks a lot for your time, guys!
Autumn: No problem.