HIRAM-MAXIM is expecting the worst, and who can blame them. Politically and socially things are getting dark and when the lights go out, that might just be when the nightmare begins. Ghosts, the second LP from the Cleveland band, is a torrent of punishing noise, dark textures, and bleak visions of pain that come in the wake of this darkness.
These veterans of the Cleveland music scene, Fred Gunn, Lisa Miralia, John Panza and Dave Taha came together through the Lottery League, a citywide festival of ad-hoc collaboration. Taking its name from the inventor of a machine gun that helped turn Europe into an open air slaughterhouse during World War I, the band combined doom, noise, psych and shoegaze elements, a testament to that anarchic spirit and the members’ disparate backgrounds.
HIRAM-MAXIM recorded GHOSTS with Martin Bisi (Sonic Youth, Helmet, John Zorn, Unsane) in Brooklyn, with some portions captured at John Delzoppo’s Cleveland studio, Negative Space. Guest guitaristist Oliver Ackermann, of A Place to Bury Strangers, adds sonic broken glass to the opener, “Behind the Blindfold” and the title track, “Ghosts.”
On “Burn,” which Ghettoblaster has the pleasure of sharing today (below), Panza’s thudding rhythms march in step with Taha’s fuzzed out stoner riffs until the whole is subsumed by a distorted swell of Miralia’s electronics and ambient noise.
We recently caught up with Gunn to discuss the effort, as well as some of Cleveland’s finest features and exports. This is what he told us.
Are the Indians looking good this year?
I think this is best team the Tribe has had since the ‘90s. If we can stay healthy, my prediction is 96-66 and winning the World Series over the Cubs in 6.
Your start was as four strangers in a band lottery, but it stuck. Are you friends now?
Actually, Dave and I were pretty good friends prior to Lottery League. But to answer your question, yes we are friends. However at this point I think we have moved more into “Band Family” territory. When things go wrong in our personal lives, we share and support one another. There is a lot of trust and I’m not sure there are many secrets within the group. It’s pretty cool.
What were the catalysts that inspired this record as you were writing it?
Lyrically, Ghosts is a very angry record. I have channeled a lot of my frustrations with the current political and social climates in the country into this album.
It’s odd because living in my social circle, surrounding myself with good people and even seeing the way society is portrayed in entertainment, you start to believe things are finally starting to turn around. You think we are growing and evolving as a society. Then you see things like the passing of HB2, the murders of too many black males by the police, and the empowerment of the white supremacist community by the Trump campaign/administration and so on. I felt like we were past all this shit. It’s something I believed was behind us. There has been so much regression within the last year or so. It is like ghosts of our past have come back to haunt us.
Martin Bisi was involved in this creation. What did he bring to the table that transformed your ideas?
Martin is very hands off when it comes to the production of the songs. There was never a “Hey, why don’t you try playing it like this?” or “Sing it like this.” Martin is very well versed and experienced in experimental/louder music. He also knows his space very well and how to achieve the best recordings from it. He was able to dial in Lisa’s rig, which can be a challenge.
Where Martin really transformed this record was in the mixing process. The record sounds huge. I also highly recommend listening to it through headphones. Some of the panning he did on the album gives a whole different experience through headphones.
What role did Oliver Ackerman play in this album?
Oliver plays guitar on both “Behind the Blindfold” and “Ghosts.” We were very lucky to have him play on this record. So, Oliver comes in, sets up, gives “Blindfold” a listen, and then goes downstairs to record. No run thru, just jumps right in. He starts off on guitar and he is on the ground, hitting pedals with his knees, just ripping right through it. So the song gets to slow part, right before it comes back in super heavy again, and he unplugs his guitar, pops in a contact mic, that he applies to his neck, and just starts howling through his pedals. It was unbelievable. He nailed his parts for both songs on the first takes, weaving in and out, and finding his own space. What he added was perfect, even Martin was blown away. He is an amazing talent and probably one of the nicest dudes you will ever meet.
Who are the Cleveland bands that you see as the forebears of this album/endeavor?
I’m not sure I would really say any Cleveland bands were the “forefathers of this album”. Lisa and John are big fans of the band Craw and I can definitely see connections between us and that band. Another band – and I know, technically Akron but hey! We’re basically one big family – I could see is Devo. Over the summer we were invited to play at MOCA-Cleveland as part of the Mark Motherbaugh: Myopia exhibit. That night we performed a deconstructed cover of “Gates of Steel” at about half the speed. It was super gloomy and almost ballad-y. No one recognized what it was until we got to the chorus.
Speaking of Akron, do you guys use Earthquaker Devices pedals at all?
Three fourths of the band are currently using EQD pedals. Oddly enough, our guitarist Dave is not one of them, yet. Lisa uses the Disaster Transport Sr, John is using the Arpanoid on his drum machine, and I sing though the regular Disaster Transport.
Will there be a book companion to Ghosts? If so, what is the concept?
There is a book. It was designed by Aqualamb label co-owner, Eric Palmerlee. This one is broken into sections or chapters, if you will. It includes photographs from photographers Byron Miller and Lauren Voss, as well as some photos from myself and others. There are also some live and studio shots. This one also includes the lyrics, for which Eric came up with a really cool idea to use a redacted text technique, which looks so fucking cool. Eric did an amazing job, I’m very excited for everyone to get a chance to check it out.
Will there be a support tour to accompany this album?
We have a few things in the works, nothing concrete right now. We will be hitting New York for sure, sometime this summer. Probably some weekend regional dates, as well.
So I have to ask, we are getting a Melt (Cleveland-based sandwich shop) in Dayton. What should we order?
Well, a few years ago when Melt only had the one location in Lakewood, I was eating there fairly regularly; once every two weeks, sometimes more. Eight years and 20 lbs later, my advice is you should probably just get a salad. But, if you can show a little more restraint than I did, the Chorizo and Potato was always my favorite.
(Visit HIRAM-MAXIM and Aqualamb here: http://aqualamb.org/
Catch HIRAM-MAXIM live:
4/14 Hiram-Maxim — Cleveland, OH — at Now That’s Class w/ Ex-Astronaut
4/24 Hiram-Maxim — Cleveland Ohio — Beachland Ballroom w/ A Place to Bury Strangers)