From The Horse's Mouth: Ghosts In Pocket on Barberton

The location and audience of Ghosts in Pocket’s first show says a lot about who they were and continue to be; a pancake dinner fundraiser for a local conservatory. The raw melancholy of Ghosts in Pocket’s sound was first heard by a swarm of sixth graders drunk on maple syrup and rock music. Looking back, Keith Beshwate, Zach Mullen, Chris Pulley, Nick Hartman, and Eric Atkinson would happily return, as they would any venue, for one specific reason: they love playing their songs for people who love hearing them.
And they’ve got something new to offer. Since the release of their first album Shadowbox in 2013, GIP has been recording, mixing, mastering, and praying that their new EP, Barberton, can make some new friends. After many long hours of work on this labor of love, they’re ready to present what they feel is the culmination of their sound: hard guitars, intricate drumbeats, and thoughtful lyrics, with a synth and trumpet or two.
Beshwate, the band’s singer-songwriter, found inspiration for the title Barberton after a momentary interest in basic geography led him to the discovery of the town of Barberton in Mpumalanga, a province of South Africa, with mountain ranges 3.5 billion years old, amongst the oldest in the world. He adapted this concept to the songs in what he feels is the firm root of the band’s sound; the title-track speaks to this very beginning, both in the lyrics and the song structure (a simple synth tone, bass bellowing, and an explosion of sound).
Raising the DIY-bar, GIP enlisted production savvy from John Glenn Kunkel of The New Division to accurately situate their National meets Interpol meets Killers sound. Recording was split between C4 Music Lab in Eagle Rock, CA and Kunkel’s converted home studio, allowing for an even blend of polished and raw sound. Additionally, hours were spent on drums with co-producer Israel Medina in order to fully realize GIP’s live resonance. This combination created the most accomplished work of the Ghosts career.
No one particular song on Barberton was written the same. At any given moment, a particular drumbeat, vocal melody, or guitar hum served as inspiration for a larger concept, and was taken to its fullest potential. The major consistency in the songs is the mood, evoking the intensity of thought on the work’s subject. The lyrical focus revolves around meditations on isolation, desire for change, and an understanding of bizarre, often dream-like scenarios. The compositions are both sweet and raw, shifting seamlessly between moments of weighted noise and engaging hooks. Every song benefits from the craft of time, care, and effort that connects the members to their music.
Ghettoblaster spoke with members on the band about their latest EP, which was self-released in early October.
When did you begin writing the material for Barberton
Keith Beshwate : Some of these songs are actually a little more than two years old now. All of them were written in 2013, sporadically, so we’re VERY familiar with them now.
Which of the songs on the EP is most different from your original concept for the song?
KB: Hmmm… I’d probably say “Statue’s Pulse.” The horns and synth were written and added after the initial demo, and the ending is much bigger than before. Probably my favorite development of a song as far as realizing its potential.
It’s been two years since the release of Shadowbox. How do you feel you’ve changed, musically speaking?
Zach Mullen: Shadowbox was developed over various times in the first three years we had been together, so looking back, I think we almost see it as the prologue to what we are now. At the time we were testing the waters with a few different ideas and styles. I’m not really sure we knew what kind of band we were yet and Shadowbox was a way for us to figure that out. I think in that sort of process you learn a lot about yourself and we took as much as we could from that experience. The Barberton EP is our first project where we really feel that we’ve found our sound; it feels much more focused and cohesive. Shadowbox was our first baby, and we’re proud of it, but Barberton is a real introduction to Ghosts in Pocket.
“Make It Break” has some really beautiful lyrics. But they’re also quite vague. Can you give us some insight into what that song’s about?
KB: Thanks! As impossibly cliche as it sounds, the lyrics are based on what I can remember from a series of dreams. A lot of what I write is a combination of recalling the dream scenario and working through its meaning. The track title references Gillian Welch’s “Elvis Presley Blues” (a personal top ten), which is also used in the song’s lyrics, and I think I was connecting with that feeling of awe one gets when you realize you’re in the presence of something special, and how it almost punishes you to look back at it with a present-mindedness. A trip back through the “100 pages” to fully comprehend how you got to “now”.
We’ve heard you brought in John Glenn Kunkel to produce. How was working with him? Did you know him already?
Nick Hartman: We were beyond fortunate to get him. We had an opportunity to open for The New Division at their Night Escape EP release in 2013 and met in passing. To be honest, our big fear was that he might pass. He’s very selective about his projects and we knew that, so when he said “yes” there was definitely some Napoleon Dynamite style celebration at headquarters.
Working with John was educational on a number of fronts. First, we wanted someone who was invested in the material, but objective enough to call us out when something wasn’t working – someone hands-on. I think the perfect example is, Barberton, the title track itself. He listened to several run-throughs in the studio rather pensively and then just came out with something like, “This is a single that’s two minutes too long. Cut four measures here, jump into the next verse, go straight from the last verse to the chorus, outro.”  We managed to pull it together and that’s the version you hear on the EP. He absolutely nailed it. He also brought in Israel Medina to work specifically on drums and Israel is another wunderkind. I don’t want to give away any trade secrets, but John is very visionary and process oriented. He made sure we were on the same page long before he sat down at the mixing board.
What are your touring plans for fall?
ZM: We are doing our best to make it up north later this fall or early next year. We’d like to make it to the Bay and maybe even further. Nothing has been set on that front as of yet, but in the mean time, we’ve got a few shows in LA coming up in the next few months that we’re really excited about.
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