Thomas Turner (left) and Aaron Behrens of Ghostland Observatory

On November 5th, 2010, I was fortunate enough to catch Ghostland Observatory on their tour stop at 4th and B in San Diego. After the typically energetic and captivating show, I sat down with Ghostland’s Aaron Behrens and Thomas Turner.

We talked about the history the band, their business model, and how they fit into the burgeoning electronic music scene. Aaron and Thomas were incredibly accommodating and had a lot to say about how their approach to the ever-changing music industry and their plans for the future.

On their goals for Ghostland Observatory when they first started the band:

Thomas Turner:
I remember one time I was at Aaron’s apartment, and we were working on some other project and just hanging out, and I was like “Man, let’s do something different. Let’s do some different music. No rules. Experimental.” And he was down, and I was happy and we just kept going with that. There’s no other thing really.

Aaron Behrens:
I’d have to totally agree. That’s what happened.

On their relationship with their booking agent Jackie Nalpant of Paradigm Agency (Paradigm represents the group for all live engagements):

Yeah that’s our booking agency. So basically they handle all the bookings, or a majority of the bookings and festival things. They’ve been with us for 4 or 5 years now and they do a really great job. Our agent is Jackie and she does a really great job.

On the band’s strategy when planning tours:

We try to do spring and fall, or spring, summer and fall. Some places we only do once a year, but most places we keep it to twice a year.

On the advantages of being a two man outfit, traveling light, and what they bring with them to a gig:

We rent the drum kit, but bring the lasers. It’s a fair trade.

It used to be that we just packed up everything. There were no lights or lasers. We used to just live out of a van for three week. Not bathing. (Turner laughs)

And once we started doing the lasers , we started doing weekend shows. Like a Thursday, Friday, Saturday and an occasional Wednesday. That’s when we started doing a lot of flying.

We have all these lasers and a laser company was shipping them every weekend to different parts of the country. Sometimes we’d have a Friday show in LA and a Saturday show in Atlanta, and they’d have to ship them. So now we take them [with us on a tour bus] and they are traveling with us for this tour right now.

Aaron Behrens of Ghostland Observatory

On the breakdown of the revenue they generate from live shows, album sales, and selling merchandise:

The majority would be touring. A decent chunk is album sales and then merch. But it doesn’t matter what we make, because the lasers get it all (they both laugh). They get  lot of it.

On whether or not they want to sign with a major label:

Well if we do anything, it’s comes down to if we are both comfortable about it and feeling good about it, then we’ll do it. If either one of us is unsure about something, or we’re not in agreement, we don’t do it. We were never presented a deal that was just, you know, that was better than what we’re doing right now. There were a lot of deals offered and it was hard to imagine not working for yourself, and [then] having rules or regulations [working under a major label].

Or owing anybody any money. (Aaron laughs)

That’s always nice.

On their boutique label, “Trashy Moped”:

Ghostland takes up a lot of time. Trashy Moped, the idea of it, was for it to be a boutique label. So there was never a goal of having 50 bands and being some major force. It was supposed to be what “Warped” was in the early days: having a few unique acts and each one of those acts being really cool or really different, or whatever.

On putting their newest album, “Codename: Rondo,” out on vinyl:

I think it’s just a touch of class. And also, the new record is going to be on vinyl. 180 gram. Full side A and side B. And this record, “Codename: Rondo,” was designed as a record. I’ll get you a record. It sounds awesome. It’s beautiful.

If you put the needle on and you just let it play, on track 5, it fades out. And you flip it over and you start the B side. And it goes through. So in the recording process it was meant to sound like record. Not like a super-loud MP3 or a CD. It was meant to sound like a record. You can put the headphones on and you can be…

On illegal downloads and allowing fans to tape their live shows:

I don’t think you can really stop it. You can stop anybody from doing anything. It is what it is. People who support us will buy our records and people who support us will download it from their buddy. You just can’t stop it.

You hope they’ll show a friend who has heard us, or show a video on YouTube, or maybe they’ll play them a certain track and then they’ll come to a show. So it all works out.

On their reputation as a “must see” live band and how it effects their approach to recording:

We just try to get as creative as possible. And if we’re both in agreement on a song, then we’re happy with it. And if it works out that it fits into the live set, and it makes people move and has some kind of emotion, then we go with it. The main thing is that if we both like a song, we’ll put it out.

On balancing family and their touring schedule:

Yeah, it’s a challenge. You have to balance. You know, you want to go home and be there for your wife and kids too. It always takes a little bit though, and I can only speak for me personally, I can’t speak for Thomas, but to cut the road off a little bit and get back into the family lifestyle, it always takes a little bit.

And then by the time you get used to it, you’re back on the road again. It’s just crazy. (To Thomas) It’s about the same for you, huh?

Yeah. (TT leaves to talk with venue rep)

(To Thomas) Take a break, take a break. Time for the B side.

On my conducting the interview with the aid of a dictaphone:

I remember we used to record stuff into one of those. And we would both listen to it. You see I used to work at a law firm, and that’s what they all had.

On Aaron’s background before music:

I grew up in a small town in Texas called San Sabo, a small little 2,500 person town. And then I moved to Austin after high school. And I was playing in a band in high school, and I knew that’s what I wanted to go do.

I’ve always been performing since I was 9 years old. It’s something I’ve always felt, and just loved it. It’s where I’m the most comfortable. I’m very very comfortable up there, man. It’s like I just feel like “I got this.” Every time I step up there it’s like “I got this.” You know, it’s good.

On how he (Aaron) interacts with and uses the lasers in his performance:

I think for me personally, I don’t think we ever really thought about it. When we started out doing it and the laser thing came along and it was something cool and something different for us, you know. It kind of took it to a new level.

And we’ve tried to incorporate it to where you can still see me and get the laser effect. So now it’s in some strange [thing] like, you see me every now and then. And then you get lost in it. It’s just something crazy. It’s just happening, you know?

On how their laser show creates a greater sensory memory of the live experience:

I don’t think that was ever our intention. We were just looking to surround you, you know?

*TT comes back into the interview

On where Ghostland Observatory fits into the electronic music scene:

I love electronic music, but I don’t think it [Ghostland’s music] is like house or something like that. I think it’s more psychedelic. It’s like a new form of psychedelic music.

It’s not just strictly electronic music because there are so many other elements. I really do enjoy the fact that electronic music is being more accepted now than it used to be. It used to be that people didn’t like it at all and that they were anti-electronic music for some reason.

On the fans at their concerts:

We’ve seen a broad range of people at our shows. Kids, all ages. You have 50 year old to kids, you know? They bring their children. All races. Everybody. It’s everybody. There is no line.

On Ghostland’s “5 year plan” as a band:

Ride this wagon till the wheels fall off, baby!

I don’t think we knew what was going to happen when we started. And there was never a plan like “if we just do this” or “if we play like this showcase for this person and then they’ll hook us up with this…”

We’re gonna be set forever!

I don’t think there’s a free lunch. Not in entertainment. You can’t control what people are going to like or want to hear or go see. So you just have to go out there do what you believe in and see what happens.

Thomas Turner of Ghostland Observatory

*All photos were taken by Sean Clifford back stage at 4th and B in San Diego, California.


Chris Robinson Brotherhood's first date of their Spring tour

The Chris Robinson Brotherhood’s first date of their multi-show run at Echoplex was a high-energy set marked by a more laid back, spacey vibe than a typical Black Crowes’ concert. Chris Robinson barely put down his guitar, playing rhythm on most of the tunes, which ranged from new material, to Crowes’ classics (Appaloosa), to covers (Eddie Floyd and others).

Robinson fronts the band on vocals, harp and rhythm guitar. He’s joined by Neal Casal on lead guitar, who occasionally picks up the slide. The Crowes’ Adam MacDougall plays keyboard, and George Sluppick and Mark “Muddy” Dutton, formerly of the band Burning Tree, round out the rhythm section.

Excuse the bad pictures of a great night. I’ll be sure to make it back for more shows in their residency, which will no doubt spoil me over the next two months.

He’s My Brother, She’s My Sister’s recent set at the LA Public Library was a short but lively ramble into American roots music. Part of an ongoing series at the Mark Taper Forum, the concert was one segment of an evening that included a panel with comedian Patton Oswald, singer and writer John Wesley Harding, and photographer Catherine Opie.

Playing in an outdoor courtyard, the performance suffered a bit from from the chilly temperature and acoustics, but the energy and musicianship were enough to keep the audience listening until the finale. An interesting outfit with a lineup that includes a tap dancer, pedal steel guitar, and upright bass, He’s My Brother, She’s My Sister’s music might best be described as one part alt-country, one part Sushine pop. The Bakersfield country sound meets the Mamas and the Papas, more or less. With an upcoming residency at LA’s Spaceland, I’ll be sure to check them out again for more insight into their unique cross section of Americana.

An obvious fan of The Grateful Dead, blue-eyed soul, and the Blues, Greene chugged through two sets with smooth vocal delivery and confident guitar work. And while the comparisons to Bob Dylan are misplaced (he bears a physical resemblance, but has better chops and a more palatable, if less distinctive voice), it’s clear that his reverence for 60s  rock classics informs his music immensely.

Covers of The Beatles’ “Taxman,” and a medley of “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” “Another Brick In The Wall,” and “Shakedown Street” found Greene hitting his stride. He traded his guitar for keyboards at one point, and demonstrated he can make his mark there as well. His original material is also strong, and his backing band is up to the task of supporting a guy who seems poised to keep making great music for years to come.

Paul Barrere and Fred Tackett play "Sailin' Shoes"

Little Feat’s Paul Barrere and Fred Tackett played an acoustic set last night at Lucky Strike Lanes in downtown Los Angeles to benefit the Bogart Foundation’s Cancer Research Program. The two veterans were there to honor Little Feat’s late drummer, Richie Hayward, who succumbed to cancer last year. Though attendance was light, the event was well-organized, and a great chance to see the musicians in an intimate setting.
Barrere, whose tenure with Little Feat began with 1973’s “Dixie Chicken,” played acoustic slide throughout the performance and shared vocal duties. Tackett who did session work with the band as early as 1973, and joined the band as a full-time member on “Let It Roll” in 1988, played acoustic guitar and mandolin. The duo had obvious chemistry as they worked through a 45-minute set of Little Feat classics (including “Willin'” and “Sailin’ Shoes”), as well a some lesser-known numbers. Country singer Nick Nicholson joined them for the last few songs, contributing vocals and acoustic rhythm guitar.
While this version of the band isn’t the same raw, bluesy combo that recorded a host of great records for Warner Brothers in the 1970s, it’s clear that their maturity has allowed them to feel comfortable exploring stripped-down arrangements of their hits. This was a first-rate set by guys who have been doing it for years, and are now doing it for a great cause.

Nick Nicholson, Paul Barrere, and Fred Tackett play "Willin'"

Honeyboy Edwards at Cozy's in Sherman Oaks

Honeyboy Edwards’ show at Cozy’s last year was bittersweet. It was amazing to see the 94-year-old guitarist get up and play the delta blues he learned in 1940s Mississippi. And while he makes B.B. King look young, it was also strange to watch a guy play the same songs he’s played for so many years in front of small audiences.

The music itself was great, if a little repetitive. Edwards’ fingers aren’t as nimble as they once were, but who can blame him. Before the show I glanced over at the bluesman only to see him double-fisting (a whiskey and a Heineken) — just like the music, it seems some things never change.

Chris Robinson plays the harmonica on "Thorn in My Pride"

The Black Crowes’ latest tour made a stop at the Spotlight 29 Casino in Coachella this past December. The venue was a little unconventional for the band (Chris Robinson asked the audience at one point “What is this place, a fuckin’ casino?”), but the acoustics were great and there wasn’t a bad seat in the house.

The set lacked material from their two most recent albums (“Warpaint” and “Before the Frost”), but given that this tour might be the band’s last for a while, it’s understandable that they focused on their entire catalogue. Rich Robinson and Luther Dickinson’s playing was fantastic and the show proved to be the best Black Crowes concert I have seen.

Set list: Waiting Guilty, Another Roadside Tragedy, Wiser Time, Oh! Sweet Nuthin’, I Ain’t Hiding, Thorn in My Pride, Girl From a Pawnshop, Hotel Illness, Jealous Again, She Talk to Angels, Hard to Handle, Shake Your Moneymaker (Encore)

Luther Dickinson on slide