Interview with Californian band Former Ghosts (members of Xiu Xiu, Zola Jesus, and This Song is a Mess But So Am I) conducted before their (canceled) show on October 16, 2009 in Toronto, Canada.
Present Ghosts of Freddy Ruppert: A Sighting of Former Ghosts
IT³ met up with Freddy Ruppert and Jamie Stewart over hot chocolate at a small coffee shop on Queen St. in Toronto, hoping to find out more about their new project Former Ghosts, and their haunting synth-pop debut album Fleurs. It began to appear as if we would end up talking mainly about Ruppert’s personal life – which seems to be an inevitable topic when discussing the art of Freddy Ruppert.
There came a point where Ruppert leaned back in his chair and said, “I don’t know how far I want to go into this,” which, though understandable, seems ironic considering how far he goes into it in his music. Ruppert openly admitted that he struggles, as is a common dilemma in our blogging, social networking age, with justifying what is private and what is public – but that hasn’t stopped him from laying himself out there completely in his music.
Ruppert’s first recording project, This Song Is a Mess But So Am I, began in 2003 as a means to deal with his mother’s death, and in 2004 he released Church Point, L.A. an album of extremely personal laments buried in noise and electronics. He supported the album by touring, and his stage shows were a spectacle of gut-wrenching antics not unlike an exorcism; a memorable performance, whether disturbing or otherwise. It was clear Freddy Ruppert was sincere.
But Ruppert found himself coming to terms with the issues he reflected upon with This Song Is A Mess But So Am I, and decided it was time to move on. “A time came when it just wasn’t cathartic anymore,” Ruppert told us, and, staying true to his original intentions, he decided to quit music. He sold all his gear, and spent two years estranged from recording. This diversion, inevitably, didn’t last.
Former Ghosts, Ruppert said, was born out of songs created for a specific person. The songs from Fleurs were originally created and posted on his personal blog as a means to exclusively communicate with this someone.
“I’d post songs when we weren’t communicating; it was an effective way to reach her – I knew she was checking my blog (http://freddyruppert.blogspot.com/). Then, once she heard it, I would take it down,” Ruppert told us.
Ruppert’s fans from his This Song is a Mess But So Am I days were privy to the songs as well – as were some contacts from the music industry, and Ruppert seems almost serious when he claims to have found a label for Former Ghosts because of a Talking Heads cover he posted, among other positive feedback from old fans.
This exaltation seems to be carrying over to the project’s finished product. Ruppert’s official return to music, Former Ghosts’ Fleurs, has been getting favourable reviews in the blog world since its release – partly due, of course, to its ties to two other highly praised indie acts. So, how did Freddy Ruppert join forces with the inimitable Jamie Stewart of Xiu Xiu, and the enigmatic Nika Roza of Zola Jesus?
Ruppert and Stewart, having toured together in the past, had been planning on working together for some time already. They had become friends seven years prior to Former Ghosts when, following the death of his mother and after reading Stewart had, similarly, just experienced the loss of his father, Ruppert emailed the front man of the experimental pop group. The two toured together, and have been sharing music with each other for a long time since then. When Ruppert found himself with new songs, they began an official collaboration, still mainly over the internet. As for Nika Roza: Ruppert, a fan of Zola Jesus, simply asked if she wanted to sing. (Though Nika was not available to tour this fall, her haunting vocals on Fleurs are a key element to the album’s mournful power).
While elements of both Stewart’s Xiu Xiu and Roza’s Zola Jesus are plainly heard on Fleurs, Ruppert acknowledges that Former Ghosts’ sound is quite different from the abstract electro-industrial noise of his last project. “I’ve always been a fan of pop music, and I wanted to do something different.” says Ruppert.
The sound isn’t the only thing that’s changed. Where the This Song Is A Mess’ primary means was as a place for Ruppert to reflect on his past, Former Ghosts’ songs were created as the issue (or romance) progressed – and the songs themselves were an actual means for communication of the messages and feelings that the songs were about. Ruppert is quick to clarify that that doesn’t mean Former Ghosts is just a one-off project. “I have new songs already, and will be going back to work on them after the tour.”
Stewart reinstated the projects longevity, calling Former Ghosts “a long-lasting regular band”. Ruppert seemed excited about the future, especially for a not-too-distant time when all three of the band’s members would be in the same room together once the band wraps up their hectic 30-day tour.
The tour itself seems like it’s been a trying experience, as Ruppert says, “it hasn’t been fun”. Amid venue confusion, long drives, and busted shows, this may or may not also have to do with the fact that the relationship with the mystery girl (the catalyst for many, if not all of the album’s songs) ended right before the tour – and the subject matter he has to deal with every night when performing. Nevertheless, Stewart pipes up with a smile on his face when asked about some tour experiences: a man running in during one of their sets with his face cut, screaming “they’re going to kill me!”, the force feeding of chocolate bars in the van, or one instance, apparently un-chocolate bar related, of Rupert puking on an exotic dancer.
Stewart goes on, explaining a new band the two of them are working on. The plan is to be sponsored by Hummer and Blue Shield Health Insurance, and, instead of playing actual music, they will tour with a band of their choosing – and proceed, each night, to beat said band up until they can’t play, in order to “quell the rotten music genre pool”. After urging Stewart to disclose some of the bands they’ll be targeting with this new project (which they claim will be called Guan(u)o; they couldn’t decide on the number of ‘u’s), he decides, laughing into his tea, that it would be better to give us an exclusive some time in the future, so the bands can’t prepare for the attack.
As for Former Ghosts, what does the future hold? Will there be more songs for this mystery girl? When asked how Ruppert communicates with this special person now that he is on tour and all the songs have been made into a full length album, he replies, “insane text messaging.” A recent entry on Ruppert’s blog makes reference to an “insane text war” on private property in where, after being approached by security, Ruppert implores, “”I’m in the middle of an insane text conversation with the girl I was insanely in love with! What do you want me to do?!”
The security guard answers, “Oh o.k., it’s cool man. I understand. Do what you need to do. It’s alright”.
Which is exactly what Freddy Ruppert has been doing with his art, and graciously has shared with us on Fleurs.