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Local Music Spotlight: Ghost Soul Trio

Grant Walters Grant Walters Local Music Spotlight: Ghost Soul Trio
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The threesome's debut set of infectious, glimmering tracks, "Too Many Futures", will be front-and-center during their album release party tonight at The Basement

I’m always happy to hear from local artists like Ghost Soul Trio who are tirelessly working to shape Columbus’ diversifying musical palette.

My first taste of their material was the thick vintage R&B thump of their recent singles “Pantherland” and “Potassitorium,” both of which spotlight the obviously adept chops of bassist Nate Gelfand and drummer Joe Amadio. Lead vocalist and guitarist James Harker’s evocative falsetto adds ethereal depth that completes the trio’s sonic equation, which is irresistibly fetching.

Their debut full-length album, and follow-up to their 2016 EP, Sinking Moon, Too Many Futures dropped earlier this week – a tightly-produced and cohesive effort that sounds more Sunset Strip than High Street. But the threesome’s self-described ‘fat beats from skinny boys’ were lovingly conceived in our own backyard. And they deserve all of the hometown attention that is surely forthcoming.

For a mere ten spot, you can catch the band’s album release show tonight at The Basement.

Last week as they were ramping up to reveal …Futures to the world, Nate, Joe, and James generously took time to offer me some perspective into their work as a creative unit.

All of you have some sort of background or connection to jazz music. Tell me a bit about how that manifests in what you’re recording now, and are there specific techniques or ideas derived from that genre you employ on a regular basis?

Joe: I started playing jazz in high school, and I went to school for Jazz Performance at Ohio State. For three years I studied with a world class jazz drummer at OSU who taught me a lot about both drumming and life. That being said, I chose to remove myself from the jazz scene. I never listened to a jazz tune and then felt inspired to write a Ghost Soul Trio song. I mostly picked up my jazz influences through drummers that I admire that were much deeper in the jazz tradition.

To add, I have many more ‘rock’ drummer influences than I do jazz influences. I only studied jazz in college because that’s mostly the only music program available for drummers. There’s very few ‘rock’ or ‘pop’ drum schools. I know pretty much nothing about music theory past the basic music scales and major and minor triads. I just throw my hands on the keyboard until I come up with something I think sounds good.

James: I played jazz saxophone from a young age and listening to a lot of music like that. My dad is a pretty prolific saxophone player in our hometown of Youngstown, so the environment for me growing up was always surrounded by that influence. As far as bringing that influence into our music goes, the only thing that I’ve taken out of it for this band specifically is just the attention to detail when writing melodies and structures for songs, I think.

Plus, more literally, my dad actually played clarinets on one of the songs (‘Heartbreak’), so that was really cool to have happen.

Nate: I also grew up in a super musical family, but on the classical side.  I played classical violin in a super disciplined way. In high school, I got into the bass mostly to play Funk and Hip-Hop, and then studied upright bass in college for a year before deciding that I was more interested in studying other things.

Before moving to Columbus a year or two ago, my main musical job was playing a lot of the local theater productions in Youngstown, which I loved. I think that each of those experiences manifests differently in my current playing and writing. The classical playing made me favor those types of chord progressions and arrangements.  The interest in funk and hip-hop moved me to write in more of a loop-based way. The appeal of the upright bass sound causes me to play the electric bass in more of an upright style.

Finally, the experience playing tons of musicals definitely led me to listen to songs in a more theatrical way, if that makes sense, where I’m thinking of the scene and characters set by a song.

Walk me through the making of Too Many Futures. What was your vision for the project, and did it materialize in the ways you’d initially hoped?

Joe: Too Many Futures was about two years in the making. For me, it literally turned out exactly how I had hoped. In the two years it took, the three of us took as much time as necessary to make as good an album as possible. Pretty much every tune started as a demo in one of our computers. At that point, we’d pass the demo along to one another and re-record the MIDI parts, give our thoughts on chords, groove, production ideas. We were all very involved with creating each song.

James: The creative process did end up being much more collaborative, which I think led to much, much better songs in the end. The record ended up not sounding like anything any of us have made before, and I think we would all say it turned out better than we had expected it to. I’m so incredibly proud of this thing in every aspect, from the music to the artwork, to the production. It was all done by us in Joe and Nate’s house, and we managed to bring it together in a great way despite that.

Musically, I think the new album was a product of the three of us hanging out a lot more and sharing musical interests a lot more than we did on Sinking Moon. I feel like we honed in our influences a bit. Also, we’ve all learned a lot more about music production and writing in the two and a half years since that first EP, which is hugely helpful.

Your website mentions your collective love of movie and video game soundtracks, and I’ll admit I’m not well versed at all on the latter. What do the three of you consider to be strong contenders from each of those genres?

Joe: This is a great question, by the way! My all-time favorite game series is Kingdom Hearts. The theme music from that is probably my favorite melody in existence — particularly the version of that song on the home screen from the second game. The music in that game perfectly sets the mood and theme for each world. It’s masterful work. The theme song for The Last of Us by Gustavo Santaolalla is one of the most epic pieces of music for one of the most perfect games ever created.

I was playing that game three summers ago when my family took a trip to Italy. Anytime I hear that theme, I instantly think of visiting the town of Pietrabbondante, the town where my family was from before they migrated over here, which has a population of about 800 people and sits atop a mountain. One of the most amazing places I’ve ever been to. Truly a surreal place.

James: Super Mario 64! Best soundtrack ever. I was singing through all the songs with my roommate just the other day. Also the soundtrack for the movie It Follows by Disasterpiece is amazing — one of my favorites! It’s all weird electronic stuff that compliments the movie so well.

Nate: There are a lot of soundtracks that are important to me. Growing up, some soundtracks that really stuck with me were Kirby: Nightmare in Dreamland, Pokemon Silver, Castlevania, Oblivion, and Warcraft III. Chiptune game soundtracks were super interesting to me, because the tech limits would force composers to really boil songs down to the essential parts and melodies, which still appeals to me.

In terms of actual instrumental influence, I’d say that the two greatest for me were the bass sound from Red Dead Redemption and the guitar sounds of The Last of Us, which is a game that the three of us love. Some of the movie or series soundtracks and use-of-sound that have been most influential for me have been Lord of the Rings, Blade Runner, Lawrence of Arabia, Cowboy Bebop, and Edgar Wright’s general use of music in his movies.

You’ve spent the last few years navigating the Columbus music scene in different ways. What has your experience been like, and are there things you’ve learned about it that might be surprising to those who aren’t it in?

Joe: My favorite thing about the scene is how supportive it is. You could be a new band playing your first gig, and there’s a good amount of people that will come out to see you play and raise you up. Your band can release a new single, and a bunch of people in the scene will share it over social media. The scene as a whole has no ego, at least from what I’ve detected. A very healthy scene to be a part of!

James: I agree with all Joe’s points. There are a lot of great bands in all genres, and the music scene in Columbus is big enough to have some attention from the city, but not big enough to be cut-throat, so everyone is supportive of each other and it’s really awesome.

Obviously, the three of you have chemistry and a strong group work ethic. I’m curious, what are the things each of you won’t compromise on as you work together? What are some things that you’re all willing to abandon and be loose about, conversely?

Joe: Again, another great question! We won’t compromise anything. We wrote 100 percent of the music. We recorded this album ourselves in our basement with our own gear. We mixed it ourselves. We made the artwork – and our good friend Kayla Hay offered great input along the way. We wrote, directed, and edited our music video for ‘Pantherland,’ and Kayla shot the video. We were there every single step of the way and there was never a point where we were like, ‘It’s good enough, let’s put it out.’

It took us two years to make this record and every single thing about it was deliberate. About what we would be willing to abandon, I guess the best way to put it is this: If I come up with a drum part, and I love it, but the other guys aren’t feeling it, without question, I’ll happily go back to the drawing board and come up with something that everyone can agree upon. A lot of the drum parts were born from the other guys’ inputs and I’m 100 percent happy about that.

Songs as a whole were changed to be almost unrecognizable from the original demos because one or more of us wanted to try something different with it. Simply put, we all were able to abandon our egos for the sake of writing a great song.

Ghost Soul Trio takes the stage at The Basement, 391 Neil Ave., in the Arena District, tonight, Friday, March 15 for their Too Many Futures album release party with special guests Playing to Vapors and The Raquels. General admission tickets are $10, plus applicable taxes and fees, and are available via Ticketmaster. Doors open at 7 p.m. Learn more about GST by visiting their official website, or following them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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