From the mountains of western Maryland sprang Red Clover Ghost, a duo featuring identical twin brothers, Clint and Gibb Cockrum. The brothers, whose songs rely heavily on vocal harmonies, underscored by a variety of acoustic instruments, and lyrical content exploring traditional folk themes such as love and the longing for home, recorded and released a handful of demo tracks in 2011. After exhausting their local scene, the brothers relocated to Virginia Beach, VA, to pursue other professional endeavors.
The band, however, continued performing and in early 2012, they completed recording the tracks that will become their first official, full-length LP. The self-titled LP will be released by the small independent label, Good Soil Records, in a variety of formats, including vinyl, on October 23.
Ghettoblaster recently caught up with Gibb Cockrum to ask him about the record. Here’s what he told us…
When did you begin writing the material for your most recent album?
The compositions of a few songs (namely “Nobody Knows,” “Bear Hill,” and “Crooked Tooth”) date back as far as 2006. Writing material to fill out the bulk of the album, though, began around January 2011.
What was the most difficult song to take from the initial writing stage through recording and mixing? Why was it so troublesome?
Although it’s presented with a very simple arrangement, “The Dark Haired Queen” probably gave us the most trouble as a whole recording process. The instrumental backing track of the version that appears on the album was actually performed in one take, as we played guitar and banjo simultaneously. And the vocals and light percussion of the final version were done fairly quickly, too.
But initially, we were set on releasing an entirely different recording of the song—much more pop-oriented and upbeat with drumming and bass guitar. And even though we ultimately scrapped that one (which does still appear as a washed out, 20-second coda to the song), we worked very hard on trying to make it sound right. We experimented with different banjo riffs, a piano track and even some harmonica (which led to some of our greatest moments of frustration), but eventually discovered that sometimes when a song just doesn’t feel right, the best solution is to totally re-imagine it.
Which of the songs on the record is most different from your original concept for the song?
“Cowboy Killer (Days Fade Away)” is the song on the album that veers furthest from its earliest concept. But there’s a logical reason for that: we didn’t write the song. It was written by our older brother, Davey Christian Jones, many years ago. He recorded a demo in the vein of a ‘90s-alternative-rock song for his band, Stellar Watson. While the melody remains identical, we gave it as half-step, bluegrass-y a feel as possible.
Did you have any guest musicians play or sing on the record?
Guest appearances were very minimal. Our producer, Kenny Tompkins (of The Christmas Lights! and new god), added some synth effects to “If I Could Only Have the Last Time,” and our other engineer, Derek Shank (of Distorted Penguins), helped out with some floor tom drumming on “Leaving is Believing.” We love the idea of having guest vocalists, but the right opportunities just didn’t present themselves with these songs. Maybe next time around…
What input did Tompkins have that changed the face of the record?
Kenny Tompkins was the co-producer, along with both of us. We’d worked with him before on demos and other projects, and we’ve both played in bands of his, too, so the three of us have a long-standing musical relationship. I think because of that friendship, he was more comfortable in pushing us to try new things. One of his biggest impacts on the process was challenging us to allow our arrangements to continue building subtly from start to finish—that is, offering the listener one new instrumental line or backing vocal as each new verse or chorus is introduced. You might notice that happening on a number of the tracks.
His other big input had to do with simply making the sessions more comfortable. During the last few days, he had us sitting on couches, drinking whiskey and coffee and singing and playing together on as many takes as possible. Despite the minor drawbacks that doing so might’ve presented in terms of getting the perfect tone out of things, it allowed the takes to feel more natural. As a result, the performances were more spirited and genuinely better, allowing a bit of that “fun” vibe to spill over into the recordings.
Is there an overarching concept behind your new album that ties the record together?
While it wasn’t necessarily our intention, many of the lyrics deal with losing things: childhood innocence, love and friendship, spiritual beliefs. In fact, there’s not a single track that doesn’t mention or at least imply a loss of some kind—which is strange because we consider a few of the songs, anyway, to be fun and happy.
Have you begun playing these songs live and which songs have elicited the strongest reaction from your fans?
We’ve played a number of these songs live, but the arrangements are much more stripped down because there are only two of us. We usually split our set into two “halves,” one in which we use guitar and banjo, and the other in which we use guitar and upright bass (with an occasional harmonica). “Cowboy Killer (Days Fade Away)” usually gets the best response live, which is cool. Even though we have to admit that we didn’t write it to people who say, “I really loved that one song,” it’s still nice to think that we’re taking a song our older brother wrote and allowing it to be heard by a wider audience. He’s always been a big musical inspiration of ours, so in this sense, he kind of gets to be a part of it, too.
(Download a track from the record here : Red Clover Ghost – “Cowboy Killer (Days Fade Away)”.)