The new album from Simian's Simon Lord and The Wiseguys' Theo Keating, recording together as The Black Ghosts, is an eerily melodramatic affair but some undeniably ominous credentials back up The Black Ghosts’ tales of modern gothic romance.
Theo’s godfather directed Hammer House of Horror movies, which exposed him to their supernatural charms from a very early age. Simon, too, experienced a disquieting form of bohemia during his easily-influenced years. His grandmother, Madeleine Dring, was a music hall satirist and was considered a psychic.
Aside from youthful contact with the occult both Theo & Simon’s childhoods were steeped in music. Theo was a vinyl junky for as long as he could remember, by the age of 12 he had immersed himself in the world of Hip-Hop and by 16 he was an accomplished DJ. Meanwhile, Simon’s grandfather was part of the London Symphony Orchestra's woodwind section. "He played the oboe on the Star Wars theme" says Simon, "which meant absolutely nothing at the time, and on various Beatles tracks, including A Day in the Life, which he also just wrote off as 'some rock thing'. Simon's father, however, had a more progressive attitude to sound, building synthesizers that translated plants’ electrical fields into sound and creating a white noise dream machine for his children.
The whole Black Ghosts project has been informed by these experiences "I suppose we're aiming for that combination of very listenable music with rather disturbing lyrics," says Theo. "For instance, I was originally inspired not just by modern producers like Daft Punk and Timbaland, but musicians such as Serge Gainsbourg and David Axelrod. I'd compose a backing track and Simon put lyrics to it, or vice versa."
"Theo doesn't come from the sort of muso background that means he's always getting me to check out his jazz chords," adds Simon. "His experience comes from DJing, so the music he produces for me to write over has plenty of backbone and strong hooks. And I was never compromised by having to come up with lines in the studio with the rest of the band mucking about around me. I got to write the Black Ghosts LP by myself in a room with only suitably dim lamplight for company."
Theo adds, "They're slightly psychotic torch songs… love songs, but hardly of the 'Baby, let's be together' variety. You never get that sense of blind rage that relationships can so easily produce, for example, in pop songs normally."
Any Way You Choose to Give It, the eponymous LP's dance floor stormer, finds its protagonist in an unenviable, but familiar position - feeling randy, but racked with doubt and cynicism. " I challenge you to make the wrong move,” sings Simon, outraged by the object of his lust's supposed perfection. On Some Way Through This, The Black Ghosts become tormented by the faulty human instinct to make mutual happiness as difficult to achieve as possible. While Theo's electronic orchestra stabs with an assassin's grace, Simon implores the source of his frustration that he " Will do whatever it takes to put a smile upon your face " and laments that it's only "If my hands were around your throat would you tell me what I need to know." During It's Your Touch, a casual cynic tries to reason out his new found love, only settling for a base, feral attraction as convincing enough stimulus. "I guess you're wondering what I'm doing for you… And I guess that I'm wondering quite the same thing…" Simon drawls, exasperated, as Theo's West Coast folk-rock accompaniment exudes louche indulgence and a dangerous wistfulness.
Current activity has seen Theo & Simon taking their mercurial two-man decks, FX and vocal set-up on the road to a rapturous reception during both their Australian tour and SXSW shows. A Vice US tour is lined up for May and The Black Ghosts will be playing a host of festival spots including Gatecrasher, Rock Ness and Glastonbury. Their recent ‘Mixtape’ compilation, which offered an early glimpse into their collective psyche, established their ghetto-gothic aesthetic, simultaneously setting dance-floors and minds alight, whilst future single ‘Repetition’, featuring a very mysterious and exciting guest vocalist is lined up to soundtrack the summer.
"Music, to me, has to have a certain atmosphere, whether it's about pain or happiness," says Theo. So if you feel your world could do with an undercurrent of intrigue - or your discotheque needs haunting - just call The Black Ghosts.