FEATURE FROM foxy digitalis:
Since 2001, Eric Crespo has been recording under the name Ghost to Falco with a rotating cast of contributors from Portland’s independent music community. He recently released “Exotic Believers”, his third full-length and perhaps his most accomplished work to date. Released on his cooperative-run label, Infinite Front, “Exotic Believers” finds Ghost to Falco continuing to explore the odd intersections between folk songcraft, rock experimentation, and minimalist composition to assured results, at times bringing to mind Neil Young being backed by This Heat. Before hitting the road again for some upcoming tour dates, Crespo took the time to answer some questions about the making of “Exotic Believers” and his overall approach to songwriting, among other things.
It’s been a few years since your last release. In hearing the complexity and attention to detail on “Exotic Believers”, I would imagine you spent a considerable amount of time on this album. How long of a process was this?
“Into the Missions/Quiet at Home” actually got recorded back in spring of 2006 (before evolving into “Comfort Series #2”). I was starting to write stuff that would end up on Exotic Believers even earlier than that. Didn't really record anything that would end up on this record again until May of 2007. We did “Comfort Series #1” and then I went on tour in Europe for the summer. We really got down to real work about August of that year and worked very steadily until June 2008.
Not having money was always the biggest factor holding up this release. But the bright side of that was I got to take my time and make sure I was happy with things at every step of the way. I was paying my friend Jevon $10 an hour to help record this thing, and he was in school for organic chemistry. We would do three days a week at the most because he was busy and I had to work to pay for the time. $10 an hour can really add up!
Anyway, we'd do a session and then I'd take home the new mix and obsess and work out ideas at home and then come back to the studio and put my ideas onto tape. I really liked working that way. Once it was finished it had no label to release it and I went to Utah for a month to clear my head. I came back to Portland and tried to get everything in order with it, the mastering etc. The artwork was a long time coming too. I went through a lot of different concepts and mock ups for the art before deciding on something final.
While all of your albums have featured contributions from various musicians among the Portland independent music scene, “Exotic Believers” actually features over 30 different contributors. I’m wondering if you could speak towards the music community in Portland in general. As an outsider looking in, it seems to be a very supportive place and one where artists seem to be willing to work across different lines.
I assume there are other cities in the country that are comparable, but I'm not sure. I've never really tried to do anything like this record in another city. But yeah, if you can become enmeshed in the Portland music world, artists are willing to work across different lines. You can find someone who plays almost any instrument just by asking around. It's pretty tight geographically so people don't live too far from each other or from the studio. And usually they're more than willing to come and record for a few hours free of charge. Some people get extra excited about the idea of helping out and some not as much.
Is it important for you to keep Ghost to Falco an open, collaborative project rather than solidifying it as a band?
The idea I really liked about Ghost to Falco in the beginning was that it could never break up unless I wanted it to. I love the collaborative nature of bands, but it sucks when your own band breaks up and you wish it could keep going. It's so easy for bands to break up. And it is important for me to be able to play shows and go on tour alone if I need to. That's the way it started anyway. Band members didn't show up until I was a good four years into this project.
While I’m hesitant to call “Exotic Believers” a concept album, there does seem to be a scene-like structure to many of the songs that is pushed forward by your imagistic lyrics. Would you be willing to divulge some of the themes or ideas you were writing about on this album? What is the significance of the title “Exotic Believers”?
No, it's not a concept album in the sense of "It's the story of a boy who fell from heaven and had to row a boat around the world" or some such thing. Though the album does cycle between a few themes. I don't really want to color anyone's impression of it by saying too much.
As mentioned previously, the structure of your songs rarely follow in the typical verse-chorus-verse vein, but flow together like scenes with periodic disruptions and detours. Is avoiding conventional song structure something you are conscious of or is it perhaps a matter of sequencing an album in a way that you find appealing?
I'm not really conscious of it. Ideas do what they do in my head. Sometimes I'll start writing something that is very straightforward, and I'll go to bed liking it a lot. Then I'll wake up the next day and go back to it and just think it's terrible or I'll write one little part that is really straightforward but won't be able to think linearly enough to finish it the way a more verse-chorus-verse songwriter would, so it just goes in some other weird direction. I write in movements sometimes I guess the way composers do. It's definitely not a conscious decision though. I edit a lot. I usually go through about two inches of paper before I actually finish a song.
While it’s clear that you have an interest in folk songwriting, in the broadest sense, it also seems that you have an interest in exploring elements of minimalist composition within your work. There are some sections throughout all of your albums that employ an approach similar to Steve Reich’s phase work. Do you consider him, or others of his ilk, to be an influence on your work?
Anything I ever come in contact with is an influence. That being said, when I heard Music for 18 Musicians for the first time, about ten years ago, it instantly made a lot of sense to me. I think that working with loops also makes it kind of easy to reference that stuff too.
As alluded to previously, your lyrics are an integral component to many of your songs, particularly on “Exotic Believers”. In terms of your overall songwriting process, do you generally start with writing lyrics or the music first?
It's different all the time. Sometimes I'll have all the words written out and I'll put them to music, but that doesn't happen very often.
Ideally the music and the lyrics come at the same time. That's the way I like it the best. But like I said I edit a lot so the lyrics that come out in my first stream of consciousness run through hardly ever make it to the final cut. Sometimes I'll come up with a gem of a phrase right off the bat and build the whole thing around it.
You stated that anything you come in contact with is an influence. I’m curious then about some of the writers or poets perhaps that you feel have influenced your work as a lyricist?
I'm generally interested more in the ideas that writers present more than their actual writing style or form. I've never really gotten into reading poetry outside of a little bit of narrative poetry.
Around the time we started recording Exotic Believers I was reading this book by Derek Jensen called Endgame. It sort of helped to clarify ideas about the world and this culture that I was already having. Also I was pretty into this Terrence McKenna book, True Hallucinations, throughout the recording process. Vonnegut has been a longtime influence, especially his essays and nonfiction stuff. Right after I finished Exotic Believers I got into reading a lot of Edward Abbey. I read A Moveable Feast (by Hemingway) while I was on tour in November and I've been having trouble finding anything to top that. I just want to read that one over and over.
Your new album was released on Infinite Front, which is a collective label run by you and others in Portland. What made you want to start up a label?
I never wanted to start a label! Dealing with the pressing plants, going to the post office, making one sheets. I really hate doing that stuff! What I do like is having a channel for getting my music out into the world and being able to have complete control over it. And that's what Infinite Front is about.
What other releases does Infinite Front have in store in the coming months?
We've got an EP by a band called AAN. AAN is fronted by Bud Wilson, who drums for Ghost to Falco. We're also planning to release the new Ohioan album on vinyl whenever the money can be made.
Are there any other Ghost to Falco releases or tour plans in the works?
Oh yeah. As far as releases go, I would love to be able to release these two EP's (Hold Back the Dark and Social Trail) on one twelve inch--one EP on each side. They're all done and ready to release. Just don't have the money to do it. I've made some CD-r's for tour but that's it. They're way different than any other Ghost to Falco releases. I started making Hold Back the Dark immediately upon my return from backpacking for a month in Utah, which was my trip to sort of reset my head after working on Exotic Believers for so long. I was looking for a completely different approach than I used on Exotic Believers and I think I found it. Both EP's are all acoustic instruments and very spur of the moment, though not improvised entirely.
We also recorded some new tracks in a proper studio back in June as a full band. I recently returned from six months of touring/traveling so I'm just now starting to work on the overdubs. I'm thinking I want to do a full band style album and a more textural album that might be mostly me and release them simultaneously. We'll see. There's no money for any of this at this point. If anyone wants to give a grant to Infinite Front we could sure use it!
As far as touring goes--California in April and Italy in late June/July. Another big idea: There's a guy who Ryne (Ghost to Falco bass player/Ohioan) knows in Oakland who owns a school bus that runs on veggie oil, and he takes people on tour in it for about the cost of gasoline. So we're talking about doing a Ghost to Falco/Ohioan full U.S. tour in that come late August/September with the full Ohioan lineup of eight people or more. Hope that works out.
You were previously in the group Alarmist with Eva Pox (Inca Ore), James Squeaky (Argumentrix), and Nick Bindemen (Tunnels, Eternal Tapestry). It states on the band’s Myspace page that, “Alarmist is on semi-permanent hiatus”. Given the different directions you’ve all went, do you foresee that any sort of “reunion” is likely in the future?
Never say never, but I would say NO. Still love all those dudes though and loved playing in Alarmist. It was sure a magical time. We all still see each other a lot.
What is the story behind the name Ghost to Falco?
-- David Perron (24 March, 2010)