2013 Recipient – Rock Album of the Year – 23rd Annual LA Music Awards “Sinking Suspicion”
2014 Nominee – Musical Group – 24th Annual LA Music Awards
“We The Ghost is a pop band on the rise. Only two years old, the project has already grown by leaps and bounds, garnering more and more acclaim along the way. One trait that characterizes the band, making them both unique and modern, is their interest in genre fusion. By incorporating sounds, styles and instrumentation from across the musical spectrum, We The Ghost craft memorable pop songs that stand apart from the crowd. Songwriter, vocalist, guitarist and synthesizer player Beau Tyler rejects the mindset of “real music” being strictly defined by one particular genre, and embraces the “very eclectic time for music” in which we live.
“So much has been done,” he says, “that fusion seems to be the obvious approach. Maybe not reinventing the wheel, maybe not introducing a new sound, but taking what it is you love in music and creating your own thing, being original within that.”
Tyler brings his grounding in early Motown and jazz to the table, but, in forming the band, he was also very conscious of the styles that he wanted to bridge under the We The Ghost banner: “With the band, I knew exactly what I wanted – I wanted hip hop drums, and I wanted rock guitar – but I didn’t want to be rap-rock! I wanted a classical element, so we got a violinist. When you blend everything, basically you become pop. I thought it was going to be hard, I thought, ‘how am I going to talk a legitimate rock guitarist into this?’ But I just focused on writing really good songs, and from the beginning, everyone came in really quick and said ‘I want to be a part of that!’”
From the outset, even when the band was in its embryonic stages as an acoustic duo comprised of Tyler on guitar and Dain Samuelson on djembe, Tyler was already “creating a blueprint for what I wanted the band to be,” a sound which he describes as “equal parts reggae, and hip hop, and rock, and electronic. That’s really what we are – we really aren’t a rock band! People call us that because we have a guitarist and a bass player and a drummer, but I don’t think of us that way.”
Given this approach of creative fusion and stylistic innovation, Tyler is understandably cautious about imitating any particular act too directly, or doing anything that has already been done. He dislikes “getting into the game of listening to other bands and saying, ‘I want to do that!’” He describes an early experience playing alongside superstar act Imagine Dragons, and realizing that the bands were developing a similar sound: “It would have been very easy for us to say, ‘why don’t we do what they’re doing?’ But the answer for us is always, ‘they’re already doing that.’”
The band had a similar experience upon first hearing Rixton (recently interviewed by ThatMag), whose hit single “Me And My Broken Heart” reminded Tyler a little bit of “where I imagined we were going after [2012 EP] White Noise. Some people would have said ‘obviously that’s working, keep doing what you’re doing,” but we said ‘no, Rixton’s doing that now, and they beat us to the radio, so let’s adapt!’”
Instead of direct imitation, We The Ghost prefer to incorporate “not so much a sound as a vibe” from their influences, such as an increased focus on atmospherics and ambience inspired by indie rock band The Neighbourhood. Although the band certainly loves pop music, they absorb sounds from elsewhere as well. “When we’re on the road and we’re traveling in the van,” says Tyler, “we listen to classical music as much as anything else. That’s from [violinist] Jocelyn [Rowland]’s influence on us, and being that everyone in the band is classically trained, we have that approach of really loving technical music as well. Our rule, when it comes to what we listen to, is this: is there a great melody, and was it performed by top-notch musicians?”
We The Ghost is unquestionably comprised of top-notch musicians. Tyler is a very careful, considered and focused songwriter, and he writes with “a very specific idea of what I want. I don’t write in the dark, I usually know exactly what vibe I want.” From there, he brings the song to the band, where his precision and ability as a songwriter is crucially matched by the band’s musical ability and technical understanding in realizing the songs.
While the band is uniform in their training and technical savvy, each member brings a distinct set of stylistic influences to the project as a whole. Tyler outlines the role and influence of each member in We The Ghost: “[Lead guitarist] Matt [McHan], despite being so diverse, and having the ability to play anything on guitar, starts from the place of a bluesy rock approach. Matt brings a very rootsy form of playing guitar. Calvin [Berkenbile] has a degree in guitar from the Berklee School of Music, but he plays bass for us, so he has a very technical and wide-ranging approach, but he comes from an indie rock background. He loves bands like Vampire Weekend. Dain, who we center the band around, plays djembe, and he wraps it around his waist and beats it like a crazy person and hits it as hard as he can. He loves bands like Incubus, and the really technical side of rock. Jocelyn can play anything, but is very classically-based. My heart is in pop music, I love pop songwriters, I grew up on Motown. I love jazz for what it is, but if you ask me who the greatest songwriters alive are, I’m going to say people like Tom Petty and stuff like that. I want a big, simple melody. I come from a Christian background – a lot of us do – and I started playing music for the first time when I was playing praise and worship in the church while I grew up. I come from an approach of, ‘how simple can I make this without it being stupid?’ I want it to be complex, I want to convey what I want to say lyrically, but how do I make this as simple as I can possibly make it?”
I suggest that, sometimes, making things simple is the most complex thing that you can do. Tyler agrees, arguing that “if you start with a complex structure, you can’t go anywhere from there, unless you get more complicated. What we do, is we come up with very simple structures, and we make very intricate music. If you listen to the guitar play between the violins, and the way the drums interact between the rhythm of my vocals, there’s nothing simple about it, but the foundation is very simple. It’s not even verse-chorus, it’s just hook-hook-hook-hook-hook, repeat.” Ultimately, the greatest challenge in pop music is not complexity but simplicity, restraint and focus. Tyler affirms that “the biggest thing it took for a band like us to coexist, despite being immensely talented and versatile on their instruments, was the ability to lay back and play what’s right for the song, and not necessarily what shows off for themselves.” With songs this strong, the members of We The Ghost are willing to selflessly commit to the music as a whole, investing their abilities in music that doesn’t require a degree in music to love.
Moving from an acoustic quartet, to the expanded instrumentation of White Noise, to the new synthesized elements on last year’s full-length Sinking Suspicion, the growth of the band record to record is clear. But, as Tyler reveals, We The Ghost are just getting started. In fact, they have two albums planned for release in 2014, including a completed record called The Kids Can’t Dance that Tyler says “puts everything else to shame. It’s a whole different level for us.”
Even at the beginning, the band understood that electronics would inevitably become a part of the We The Ghost sound, but they were intent on taking their time, mastering each step before moving on to the next one. “What we chose to do with White Noise was to encompass the very organic part of our sound, with no programming whatsoever,” explains Tyler. In an era of instant gratification, this considered, patient approach makes them an outlier.
From there, they began adding synthesized elements to Sinking Suspicion, but Tyler admits that “it was still not the full vision.” He says that Sinking Suspicion “will serve to show people what was in between White Noise, and where we are now. Now that we have everything figured out as a band, and we fully understand how to perform our roles within that dynamic, now it feels like the sky is the limit. Now it’s electronica, but at the same time it’s completely organic. It’s reggae, it’s hip hop, it’s rock, it’s pop, there’s a little bit of jazz, there’s a little bit of blues, but it’s all at once, and it’s just We The Ghost!”
With their new material, the band draws inspiration from the progressive tendencies of modern pop producers, such as The Neptunes, the pioneering production duo that in many ways defined the future-shocked sound of 21st century pop music. Tyler describes their work in particular as “just amazing and out of this world, rhythmically complex while structurally simple,” hinting at an affinity between the two projects. For Tyler, many progressive, forward-thinking current pop producers are “picking up a creative pace where I think rock has stalled out for the past few years. That’s not to say that there isn’t a lot of great music coming out of rock, but it’s not necessarily new. Pop hasn’t had that stalemate yet.” Tyler sums up this future-oriented attitude with a simple question and answer: “Alright, what have people done? Let’s not do that.”
Inspired by their favorite producers, the band also took a brave new step into self-producing their forthcoming album. Although Tyler admits that “we were afraid that we might not live up,” thankfully, this wasn’t the case: “it turns out that it’s the best thing we’ve ever done, because we were able to do what we wanted to do without arguing with a producer.” The confidence with which Tyler makes statements such as these demonstrates his commitment to the band’s forthcoming music, and it’s hard not to feel a tingle of anticipation for what they release next.
Another thing that stands out about We The Ghost is the degree to which they are connected to their local music scene in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In a musical world defined more and more by the internet, many artists don’t have such a strong link to their hometown, but We The Ghost certainly do. Although it doesn’t spring immediately to mind when you think of great music towns, Tyler tells me that Tulsa made Forbes’ ten best music scenes in the US list in 2013. A medium-sized city, Tulsa is nonetheless “full of real bands: a lot of folk, a lot of great hip hop, a lot of great rock. And we’re a little bit different from everyone else. We’re definitely a product of where we’re from. There’s a lot of fusion around Tulsa, it’s a very big thing here. Nobody is really trying to be indie, nobody is really trying to be rock, it’s a very unified scene. It’s very easy to gain a following if you’re good.”
In a sense, We The Ghost straddle two worlds. Although they remain committed to new forms of music, and although they certainly have a significant internet presence, at the project’s outset, Tyler’s aim was clear: “Let’s not pretend to be a band online, let’s not have five friends that play a show every now and then and don’t rehearse enough. Let’s be a real band. Let’s be all for one and one for all. Let’s stand up for each other, let’s stand by each other, let’s be a band.” They wanted to avoid the trap of “being a band that just exists on Facebook,” and while they do use Facebook and Twitter, they believe that by simply making the best music they can, they will build a more lasting fanbase. Tyler encapsulates the band’s outlook succinctly: “we’re not business illiterate, we have our marketing plans and we have great management, but while a lot of bands are focusing a little too much on their social media strategy, we’re working on our songwriting strategy.” We The Ghost strike a balance between approaches to music and the music industry, where they “have one foot in the old-school door of being a band, and one foot in the new-school door of embracing electronics and social media.”
Although plans for shows in Russia and Poland have fallen through, the possibility of playing for the band’s considerable UK fanbase overseas is promising. Nonetheless, the band wants to take their time. “We’re always hesitant to tour,” Tyler tells me. “We’re always willing to get up and tour, and this band is the center of our lives, but when it comes to touring, we do it very carefully. We make sure that where we’re going there will be people there. We try to do everything right and do it big.”
Doing it big has always been a priority, and We The Ghost have big dreams for future live performances. Tyler explains that, “when it’s our show, it’s always something special. When we come to town, we always make an event out of it. The only way it’s not a big spectacle is when, once or twice a year in our hometown, we do a really big, full-band acoustic show. It’s like a “Storytellers,” it gives us a chance to talk to our fans. If we go on a tour, we’re pretty much going to play the same show every night, and that means that we’re going to give 100%. It’s going to be a massive show, there’s going to be a huge lightshow, we have our huge backdrop, the rock boxes. It’s definitely a spectacle, and it’s very crowd-oriented.”
Cancer has loomed large over the lives of many of We The Ghost’s band members, and they have made it their mission to work for research to fight the deadly disease. Bassist Calvin Berkenbile had childhood leukemia, his mother passed away from cancer, and both Tyler and guitarist Matt McHan lost their fathers to cancer. Tyler says that the band’s fundraising work is “about what cancer does to families.” The unfathomable hurt is palpable in Tyler’s voice as he tells me about the pain and anger that came to him in his confrontation with the death of his father, the sense of confusion and loss.
This experience fed into the writing of “Letters To God”, a special song in the band’s catalog and the final track on Sinking Suspicion. Tyler explains that, “my father was my hero, but there’s confusion that comes about with death, and you start blaming people, because human instinct is to put the blame somewhere. It was about the turmoil that was existing inside of me. I was mad at myself because I couldn’t do anything, mad at my father because he’s leaving me, as irrational as that was, mad at my family, because I’m the youngest, and why can’t they fix it? That’s what ‘Letters To God’ was about, that moment where you’re saying, ‘I’ve been writing letters to God / The only thing that I got was return to sender / Am I alone on an endless road?’ I think it has helped. We did a cancer benefit last year. Half the room were survivors, the other half were people touched by it, and there were a thousand people there. You’re afraid of singing such a selfish song, but to these people, it’s not selfish. They get it. We want to be a part of something real. We don’t want to be a band that just stands for ourselves. I don’t think that it’s a band’s job to be a role model or an influence, until you are one. And then, it may have not been our choice to be a role model, but if we’re going to be put in that position, then we’re going to live up to it.”
It is clear from speaking to Beau Tyler that this is a band that is fully committed to their art, and committed to making a difference in the world, both musically and otherwise. As they continue to pick up steam, people around the world will begin to take notice, as they have already begun to do. 2014 will see the band pass landmarks big (the release of their new albums) and small (the first-ever TV appearance of one of their songs on Bad Girls Club), all on the road to a brighter future. Now is a perfect time to get to know this promising new band, brimming with refreshing talent and ambition.”
– Ari Roth (ThatMusicMag.com)
We The Ghost is:
Beau Tyler – Lead Vocals / Singer / Songwriter / Keys
Dain Samuelson – Djimbe
Jocelyn Rowland – Violin / Backing Vocals
Matt McHan – Guitar / Backing Vocals
Bradley Jones – Drums / Backing Vocals
Todd Shaver – Bass / Backing Vocals
Kristen Goss – Keys / Backing Vocals
Sarah Hutchison – Backing Vocals