Deland, Florida's Roadkill Ghost Choir released their excellent debut EP Quiet Light EP a couple of weeks ago and are now taking the show on the road, thrilling fans of alt-country and indie rock alike wherever they go. Last Sunday the band stopped in Charlottesville for a two night stand, and we made the trip down to check out the show and chat with them for a bit about their past, their future, and all the wormholes along the way.
You can, and SHOULD see Roadkill Ghost Choir play TONIGHT (10/12) at the Metropolitan Kitchen and Lounge in Annapolis, MD, but if you don't want to take our word for it, read on below and be convinced!
AS: Andrew Shepard (Vocals, guitar); ZS: Zach Shepard (Bass); MS: Maxx Shepard (Drums); KM: Kiffy Myers (Pedal steel, banjo); SG: Stephen Garza (Guitar, space whale rider); JD: Joey Davoli (keys, trumpet); CG: Chunkyglasses
CG: When I first heard your band name, Roadkill Ghost Choir, it sounded like a great name for a sweet comic book supergroup. So, if you were to write a graphic novel about your band, what do each of you bring to the table in terms of the band?
JD: (laughs) I like that there’s the three brothers, Andrew, Zach, and Maxx in the core of the group, because how can you have a tighter connection musically, and then we kind of fill in stuff around the outsides.
CG: The group kind of started with the three brothers? Can you give a little backstory?
AS: I think it was towards the end of 2010 I started writing a lot of music, and I got a show offer on New Years Eve to play an acoustic set by myself and just the thought of me doing that, it was a terrifying one, but I also thought it would be really boring for people watching it. So I was like I don't want to do this by myself because I've got people around me that can play with me for this one show at least and see how things go. Around that same time we met Kiffy, and found out he plays petal steel, which was crazy because as I was writing the music I had a lot of pedal steel in mind in the songs, so when we met him and found out he played pedal steel it was crazy because it was all in that same period of time. So, I asked him if he wanted to play and he said yes and then I got Maxx and Zach to jump on as well and that was kind of the start of it where they learned the songs and then it branched out from there.
CG: So, it kind of started with a gig and then you needed to assemble a crew to do it?
AS: Ya, and then it just kept going from there
JD: That Christmas Present demo you did was like one of the first things you did.
CG: You had recorded a demo by yourself at that point?
AS: Ya, just acoustic stuff, it was a Christmas present for my dad because he knew the songs I was playing but they weren't available on a cd that he could pop in the car or something and that was all he really wanted so I did that for him and so that was kind of where it all started, those songs on the demo were the starting points.
CG: So the songs that were then developed for the first full band EP Quiet Light, what was the process for writing those?
AS: I started the songs just on acoustic guitar usually, and wrote out a rough arrangement and then we will all came together and from there it gets arranged even more, because I have a tendency to make songs really long, like add too many parts and it gets too bloated...
CG: ...and then all of a sudden you are a Yes cover band.
AS: (laughs) exactly, so we all come together and trim stuff down and they all add their parts so it is a pretty free process of collaboration.
CG: Were there any songs that took a really different direction when you brought them to the group than what you might have originally expected?
JD: Well, I think our overall sound is like that which is cool, in terms of what we all play and bring too it from these different backgrounds and the way it all melds together.
AS: Like the song “Drifter”, I wrote that song around when we were in the studio, and so that was built pretty much in the studio, I didn't really know where that song was going, I had a rough idea, but that one came alive in that situation where I didn't know what was going to happen with this song, and at the end it is probably one of my favorite songs we've done so far, it was kind of spur of the moment, like hey lets try this and this.
KM: And the guy who produced it, Dave Plakon, he had a lot of cool ideas about how to make things a bit more different than how I would have played on stuff, which helped make it sound better overall.
CG: Maybe help organize the sound a bit, because it is easy to get lost and say lets go explore space and time over here and suddenly your in a wormhole of who knows what, and having someone to rein that back in, that seemed to guide the developed of your sound on the EP?
JD: Ya, he was actually the one who introduced me to all of them
ZS: He had Joey come in to play trumpet parts and different stuff, and then he played really good parts
AS: And he played keys, and we needed a key player, so it really happened at the right time
CG: Are there certain different musical areas you are pulling from that inspired the overall sound on Quiet Light?
JD: Well, Andrew, Zach, Maxx, and Kiffy all like the older stuff.
SG: Ya, the country stuff like Gram Parsons and John Prine, they are the twang of the group.
JD: Stephen and I kind of smooth it out a bit, Stephen does a lot of cool ambient stuff on guitar and pads, which provides a cool mesh of sounds that makes it bigger and rounder than being one particular style or sound.
CG: Rather than being just straight up twangy, country music?
ZS: Ya, that was kind of how it all started actually, we were just playing straight up twangy, alt-country.
KM: We didn't even have a lead guitar player when we first started so every instrumental break would be a pedal steel break and it’s kind of hard not to be pretty twangy.
ZS: Ya, I think Andy was the first one that kind of got fed up with the alt-country thing and then we started getting more focused.
AS: The thing is we recorded the original album that became the EP in two different recording sessions. And the first go around was like a week and it was the first songs that we ever did together, and they were really twangy. So after we did that initial session we had like a month to sit on the songs.
CG: So time to reflect on what you did during that first session.
AS: And during that period I was listening to more krautrock and bands like Neu! and Can and stuff like that, and that was the major influence on Drifter. So, from there I kind of had an idea of where I wanted to take the band, sort of mix everything up a little better influence wise instead of just doing straight up alt-country, because I was getting really bored with it, so I realized we have to change it up a bit.
When we first started the record I had this whole idea that was never executed at all, and I was kinda drunk when I was talking to someone about what I wanted the record to sound like, and I wanted it to sound like an ambient John Prine record which makes absolutely no sense at all, but I always wanted there to be a spacey element to it, so the first go around in the studio we didn't execute that at all, so the second time we went through we had a better mindset of where we wanted to take the band and the influences we wanted to weave together. So, after the second session, everything flushed out more in terms of where the band was heading and so it was a good learning experience.
JD: And I like the amount of time it has had to find itself and now we are putting our best foot forward, and this is going to be what we are doing.
CG: So now you are going to go out and play these songs for people and this is going to be their first impression of your sound, and then you can evolve from there?
JD: Or we can always step back as needed, now that we have moved it forward we can go in any direction.
CG: That’s a good point, you can always drop back to now we are just going to be a Merle Haggard cover band.
AS: (Laughs) Mama Tried.
JD: There is the sparser stuff too, where it gets down to Andy and his voice, that's something in itself that is worth just as much as this band, so we can get big or small and there are a lot of options of where we can go.
CG: There are six of you so that is a lot of instrumentation and there are a lot of dynamics with a lot going on, and that can easily become a cluster when you get that many people together, so how do you manage that?
JD: Well it helps that Garza's guitar playing is super tasteful because he went to music school and was a classical guitarist at first and so I try to listen to him and try to fit into the holes
SG: It’s all about finding your space, we are all good at sitting out when we have to, we know when to be silent, which is a key element of our music, we have to have that
AS: and no one is really a noodler where it's like I'm going to take a solo for no reason (laughs), so that also helps that we are all kind of restrained when we play.
JD: and just the sound we are creating together, well I like this much better than jerkin' it on the keyboard, it is just as great to sit and listen at times.
Stream/Buy Roadkill Ghost Choirs debut EP NOW!
CG: The EP overall has a warm live sound to it, what was the production process?
AS: It was pretty quick, we didn't have a ton of time in the studio to be like you need to do that drum part 20 times until it is perfect.
ZS: The drum and bass parts were pretty much recorded at the same time.
AS: and it was really quick, the drums especially, most of it was done in a day.
KM: The engineer, Mark Mason, really helped, he is the easiest guy ever to get along with and to be in the studio. There was no pressure to do anything in a certain way, which made it easy.
AS: There weren't many takes for each part, there was probably like two real keepers and then you just kind of decided from there. We didn't take too much time on things like one guitar part saying "oh, it doesn't sound right", that’s where Mark Mason came in and was like "it sounds fine, it sounds like it is supposed to, it's a guitar", because that is the thing we all probably go through making music, just being overly critical and that can kill a lot of what is going on in the studio at the time if you sit and say "oh, that doesn't sound right, I hate how I played that", when you played it just fine
JD: and that has been the benefit of this tour, kind of just playing the songs over and over and realizing that we sound good, where things are sometimes a little different every night, we have really eased into our overall sound
CG: You guys are from Florida, what is the scene like down there?
MS: There are some cool pockets, bands like Hundred Waters, Levek, our friends in Saskatchewan, so there is some good music now starting to come out of there.
JD: We have been friends with a bunch of these bands for a few years in the Orlando scene, I don't know what bands are coming out of Tampa but they are coming out for music and there are a lot of cool people who are coming out to support the music community overall.
ZS: Tampa, Sarasota, and Gainesville are really cool scenes.
JD: They are small, but everyone comes out for a huge amount of support.
AS: That is why I'm kind of grateful we are starting out in Florida like this, where it is a building scene, and in the past few years that we have been a band we have had a chance to watch it get really awesome where there is now so much good music now going on and it is a good group of bands down there that are doing good stuff where no one is real cut throat, everyone is really welcoming.
SG: Ya, everyone wants to help everyone else out which is really nice
AS: I think the closest thing we've gotten to playing a show on tour where it is like, man if we were a band here we probably would not make it was Nashville, because it is just everywhere, everyone’s in a band and a great musician
ZS: they are all crazy good, insane musicians
JD: Ya, we probably would have never met each other if we lived in Nashville
AS: So, its a good thing that we kind of came up in a scene where it was building, because if we were in New York or Nashville, I'm not a very competitive person, I just like playing music, I don't know if I could deal with the stress of having to fight your way to just play, so I'm grateful that we have had this opportunity so far in our local scene.
CG: Are you writing new material right now?
AS: Ya, I'm excited to get back home, take a week and demo a whole bunch of stuff I've started writing
SG: Ya, half our live set is new stuff, we did a lot of stuff before we left for tour. We still play the EP for the most part, but the live set is split half and half.
CG: And this is your first tour ever, and you are getting a chance to find out all of the trials and tribulations of what that means, can you give an update on where its at right now.
SG: As of last night, it’s been great.
Band: Ya, last night in Asheville was awesome.
KM: We played some place in Asheville called Jack of the Wood and it seemed like the bar had a pretty built in crowd and people who had listened to the EP before they came which made it a lot of fun.
ZS: Ya, it's the first time that’s happened on the tour so far
KM: or probably ever
ZS: Ya, where people actually knew the songs and stuff, which was pretty cool.
CG: That has to be a pretty proud moment when thousands of miles from home and these people know your songs and the words to your songs since the EP came out so recently?
RGC: Ya, September 25th.
CG: The rate at which information travels now totally compresses that whole process, which is pretty wild. So, to close out, have you figured out what each of your super powers would be for your comic book?
SG: I want invisibility
KM: It would be cool if you could wall walk or phase through walls
AS: I wish I had the ability to tune my guitar with my mind, through telekinesis.
JD: I'm already a magician who can read minds
ZS: teleportation would be pretty sweet
KM: I'm going with Garza on the invisibility.
JD: you can't have the same super power as me, be original
CG: That’s part of the story though, you two are competing with each other with the same power throughout the comic.
AS: Being able to stretch might help you with the pedal steel to get every lever.
KM: maybe to grow more limbs would be fun.
SG: more limbs so you could play a double neck at the same time.
MS: Zach, what’s yours?
ZS: Oh, I have no clue.
SG: Super hair growing powers, the power to grow a beard.
ZS: yes, that's it, I want to grow a beard, that's it.
CG: We'll we all have to dream.