Interview: Ghost Twin

May 1, 2017 in features
Ghost Twin - Photo Credit: Karen Asher

Ghost Twin – Photo Credit: Karen Asher

Hello Karen and Jaimz!  It’s so good to touch base with you and find out more about your music.  You recently released the stunning “Saturn Swallows the Sun” single ahead of your upcoming debut album, Plastic Heart, which comes out May 19th via Head In The Sand.  Before we get into the details, could you introduce yourselves and describe your duties in Ghost Twin?

Karen: Hello Jen, I’m Karen and I sing and play guitar.  Our songwriting is collaborative, with each of us contributing about the same amount.

Jaimz: Hi Jen, I’m Jaimz! I sing sometimes too, twiddle knobs, play some keys, and do most of the production and visuals.

While the foundation of your music is electronic and synth-pop, you also imbue your tunes with a darkwave atmosphere and either alternating or twinning vocals. Why did you decide on this style of music?

Karen: We have always gravitated towards minor keys and enjoy well-placed dissonance in music.  Dark music is inevitable from us – I think it’s how we process life’s blacker moments and harder lessons.  We also enjoy vocal harmonies – They add a special energizing quality to music.

Jaimz: I don’t think it would have been possible for us to make any other kind of music together, honestly! Karen and I always describe whether we are attracted to a sound only if it appeals to our “inner teenage goth”. While we don’t necessarily look outwardly goth, we still have that young black clothes-wearing kid that sits in a corner of a dank basement huddled around a candle drinking their parents red wine mindset.

You released you debut EP, Here We Are In The Night, in 2015 and it caught the attention of Maya Postepski (AKA producer Princess Century, drummer for Austra).  Postepski has now collaborated with you and co-produced Plastic Heart.  How did her involvement change your creative process?

Karen: We had this creative person with great musical taste with us to bounce ideas off of. She particularly got involved choosing synth sounds, vocal takes, and mixing details. And of course with the percussion. She added live drums and also programmed drum machines for each track, which adds so much rhythmic intricacy.

Jaimz: What Karen means is that Maya was our shit filter: She would tell us when our ideas were bad! Which is exactly what we wanted.

Michael P Falk engineered and also co-produced your album.  Why was he brought on board and what did he add to the mix?

Karen: We worked with Mike on our EP and he is a wonderful calm presence in the studio. He helped with pre-production and made some great ideas for subtle changes to the song arrangements.

Jaimz: Mike is also a great vocal producer. He’s got a great calming presence that makes good vocal takes happen. Also that man knows his way around guitars, pedals, and amps! He was absolutely essential for getting the guitar sound we were able to achieve. He and Maya worked very synergistically.

I noticed that two of your EP’s tracks, “Chymical Wedding” and “Mystic Sabbath”, made it onto the album.  Why did you decide to include these on Plastic Heart and have they been re-worked for the album?

Karen: We love these songs and weren’t quite ready to let them go just yet – and wanted them to be available on vinyl and in wider release.  They have been reworked a bit – We added Maya’s drums and drum machines, some additional synths, and harmony vocals.

Jaimz: These songs have developed live quite a bit since we recorded the EP, especially “Mystic Sabbath”. We wanted to try to tap that live energy into the record and having Maya collaborate on them made them huge.

What are some of the themes that you cover on your upcoming album?  Is there an overarching concept, either lyrically or sonically?

Karen: Most of our songs have supernatural themes.  Some of the more esoteric ideas we explore are sleep paralysis, haunted houses, Ouija boards, and the Tunnels of Set.  We also visit more human, relatable topics such as love, death, losing friends to addiction, and the oppression of women.

Jaimz: I feel in some ways this record is a summary of our life and experiences together as a couple too. Many of the tracks are quite personal and deal with difficult relationships and being super-poor when we were younger. Most of the weirder stuff comes from me as I grew up in a haunted house and used to have terrible sleep paralysis all the time.

What I enjoy about your sound is that you amalgamate several genres that I’m into, from electro/synth-pop to darkwave and industrial.  What acts/artists in these fields inspire you musically and/or attitude-wise?

Karen: Oh, so many! We made a playlist on Spotify recently for Storming the Base that features many of our favorites. We are really loving the big dancefloor sounds of Vitalic, Röyksopp, and Covenant. We love Austra for the intense vocals, bone shaking beats and bass, and intricate composition. Anything with sad / gritty / shoegaze guitar (The KVB being a favorite). Our formative years forever will bear the marks of the likes of Nine Inch Nails, Portishead, Skinny Puppy, and PJ Harvey.

Another strong influence that comes through in a subtle way is baroque vocal music such as that of Purcell, Vivaldi, Handel, and Pergolesi. We have done one cover song from Dido and Aeneas and I hope we can do more things like that.

Jaimz: We went to NXNE in 2010, the year before Karen’s band broke up and got to see Austra and Trust, and were both completely mesmerized and blown away. I think their performances really inspired us to explore that kind of music with Ghost Twin.

What first caught my ear about Ghost Twin was your vocals; your sweet, operatic range, Karen, and your stark, shadowy tone, Jaimz.  Just like chocolate and peanut butter, they go great together – or more like delectable caramel and dark chocolate, respectively (LOL)… Did you know from your start as a musical duo that you wanted to incorporate dual vocals?

Karen: We like to sing together and, yes, the combination of tones is kind of special.  I don’t think there was ever a question that we wouldn’t both sing.  I have studied classical voice, so I take the lead a bit more often, but Jaimz’s vocals are so important.

Jaimz: We are both really big fans of Terry and Susan Jacks and the Poppy Family. Honestly, that is probably one of the biggest influences of how we handle the vocals in Ghost Twin.

Karen: Oh no, now I’m thinking about the Poppy Family… Who knew that ‘60s bubblegum pop could be so dark and moody!  I love it so much.

Speaking of duos, you are also married.  How does this fact impact the band? 

Jaimz: It’s the opposite really. When we first met, Karen was in a band that lasted for quite a big chunk of our relationship up until 2011. When they broke up, we thought it might be fun to work on some tunes together, which we had already done for some short films over the years. We started it as something fun to do together and it’s gone wildly beyond anything we expected. If anything, the band has taken over our relationship!

Karen:  Yeah, the band really takes over sometimes, so we have to step back from time to time and remember we are just Karen and Jaimz.  Also we spend all our holiday time from our jobs touring and recording, instead of taking actual vacations, but we’re OK with it.  We are sneaking a little trip over to Niagara Falls during our upcoming tour, which will be sweet!

Jaimz: Well, we used to spend all of our vacation time going to film festivals, so it’s really not that much different!

At the outset of Ghost Twin, you wanted to create an artistically immersive experience in the live environment that included a visual aspect.  How do the audio-visual components come together during your live performances?

Jaimz: It was something I was particularly interested in exploring when we first started the band. Before this, I had just done a performance at a festival in Iceland where I recontextualized my film as a live performance, along with my friend who performed his score live. I got the performance bug after that and came to Karen with the idea. It’s likely the film background, but our songs are all very visual, so it made sense that we would have the images the back up what is happening lyrically.

The visuals are created from hundreds of clips from films that explore similar topics and aesthetics, which we boil down to a visual language that’s live-triggered during our performance. It’s an important component to our live show as it adds a dimension that encourages people to get absorbed into our world of ghosts.

Speaking of shows, you’re touring Canada all through May to promote Plastic Heart.  What are preparations like for this trek?

Karen: We have 12 really exciting shows locked in and are now busy perfecting our live show and getting the word out about the album and tour.  Also, Jaimz is working on getting his driver’s license.

Jaimz: This is the main prep that needs to happen. I’m a grown man with a beginner’s license. With that out of the way, I am especially excited to see all the other artists across Canada we are sharing bills with.  We reached out to many bands we love in different cities who helped us put these awesome gigs together.

And speaking of your native Canada, how has living in Winnipeg, Manitoba influenced your sound and outlook?

Karen: Six months of winter makes for a lot of introversion time. Also, the culture here in the arts has a unique energy. People are open to a darker and more experimental aesthetic, so we have really felt free to let this project be what it wants to be.

Jaimz: Winnipeg is a weird combination of being a total dump and being really cool, but it’s all of us weirdos in the city that make it really special. Being in a band is pretty new for me, but everyone from the film community has been really supportive and we have a big family of friends in the music scene now.

Also, it’s been incredible how much support we’ve had from the get-go from our local music organization, Manitoba Music, and from the local industry funder, Manitoba Film & Music. We would really be nowhere near where we are now without them! I would really say that they are partly (and in some cases completely) responsible for the vibrant independent music scene of Manitoba.

MFM not only supports the bigger bands, but they dole out small demo grants to some of the weirdest and newest projects, which is great because some of these people go on to have huge followings and if these pack-of-peanuts sized grants didn’t exist then no one would ever hear this music. The validation of having your music supported financially is sometimes the reason you keep going and it’s really important to artists without the financial means to record their music otherwise.

Their programs not only invest and contribute to our strong economy, but to our vibrant, inclusive, and eclectic arts scene. Both organizations just got massive cuts from the Provincial and Federal governments and I’m scared to imagine the impact this will have on our community.

So I’ve heard that you’re both obsessive vinyl collectors.  What will you attempt to snag on Record Store Day?  What are some highlights in your vinyl collection?

Jaimz: I was honestly going to try to answer this positively, but I looked through that long boring list of crap and just couldn’t! I think RSD comes from a nice place of supporting your local record stores, which I love to do – Karen can tell you how much time I insist we spend in each city flipping through records. But what it really comes down to is the bigger labels clogging up the manufacturers with “limited edition” garbage releases that nobody wants, which end up festering in a discount RSD bin all year long as the stores get no real say in what they receive. Why do we need limited repressings of records that are in every single used section in the world? Who exactly is dying to own the soundtrack for A Bronx Tale on vinyl?

As far as collection goes, my favorites are the deluxe edition of Heligoland by Massive Attack that Karen got for me; the box edition of Coil’s Ape of Naples/The New Backwards and the rest of my Coil collection, really. One that is really special is the Too Much Soft Living Soundtrack by Special Affect (which was an early project of Al Jourgensen of Ministry and Groovie Mann from Thrill Kill Kult) and I somehow own the copy that belonged to Harry Rushakoff of Concrete Blonde.

Karen: Jaimz is more of a collector than I am, but some of my special items are the complete Poppy Family / Terry Jacks / Susan Jacks / The Chessmen collection, an original pressing of Beck’s Mellow Gold, and Bo Hansson’s Music Inspired by Lord of The Rings.

How did your recent music video shoot go for “Plastic Heart”?

 Jaimz: This was especially fun for me as I haven’t made a film in a couple of years, and the ones I have been making have been with a very minimal to no crew. So directing 30 people and having long shoot days was exhausting, but exhilarating. Karen and I collaborated on the idea, which is essentially her going to an after-hours “goth gym” that also seems to be set in a horror movie…? I can’t wait for people to see it – It’s ridiculous.

Karen: So exhausting, but so much fun. It was a very “physical” video with both dance and kickboxing sequences, so everyone got more than their daily quota for exercise.  A lot of friends came out to participate in whatever way we needed them to, which I found really touching and sweet.

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By Jen Dan

Jen Dan is a music writer based in New Jersey, USA who has a thing for Canadian music – well, as long as it aurally intrigues her… Over the years she has written countless music reviews and news pieces and interviewed a multitude of bands and singers – and even an actor here and there.

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