The emotive super group that have hardly met each other.


Photography by Gabriel Green


Sweet thoughts manifest when you meet Freddy Ruppert, the man behind Former Ghosts, as he perches coyly on the end of a worn, brown leather sofa, his coiffure slicked firmly back, wringing his fingers nervously. But when you listen to the aching vocals layered upon sad synths of the songs he writes, there rushes a severe melancholy in lieu of that gentleness.

LA born and bred, Ruppert takes sole care of the recording on the West Coast, while his busy band mates – Jamie Stewart of Xiu Xiu and Nika Roza of Zola Jesus – send files over from the East Coast. With those two constantly on the go with their projects, the guys have never been able to get into the same room to record, let alone tour together.

“We had all said, ‘Alright, for the next record we should at least somehow meet up for a couple of days and [work] in the same room’,” Ruppert begins “but it didn’t happen because Jamie’s record came out and he got insanely busy with touring and Nika’s EP came out and she got super busy, so the only stuff that got recorded in the same room was what my friend Jasmine sang on because she lives in LA. Otherwise everything was through the mail again, which seems to work well for us because we don’t get to record a bunch of takes and say, ‘Oh that wasn’t good, let’s do it over’.”

It’s a novel approach to being a band when there are 2,500 miles between members.

“Yeah, definitely,” agrees Rupert. “When they send the files back to me it’s like, ‘Well, this is the one I have so I’ve got to make it work.’ So yeah, it’s weird but I like it because it’s limited.”

The group’s first LP, ‘Fleurs’, is a story of heartbreak and failed relationships but the tracks were never intended for the album. “It’s weird,” starts the singer “because at the time that most of the songs were written it wasn’t a break-up record. It wasn’t until almost a month before it was gonna come out that the relationship totally fell apart.”

He tells us that the tracks were born of hope that things would resolve themselves more than of resignation, but the pairing of his deadpan Ian Curtis-like singing and Nika’s deeper Patti Smith-esque vocals on top of hostile, industrial-sounding synths says otherwise, especially in ‘This is My Last Goodbye’, which was the first track Ruppert sent to Nika to work on, while ‘Hello Again’ mirrors the detachment that comes from the artificial sound of Kraftwerk.

After Ruppert had abandoned making music for his previous solo project, This Song Is A Mess But So Am I, the Former Ghosts tracks became an outlet for him when he and his girlfriend were going through a rough patch. “We would go through periods where we weren’t talking to each other, so I’d record a song and post it on a blog, she would see it and I would take it down. It became our way of communicating when we weren’t communicating. So it’s a weird thing to be made fully public now.”

The record came out late last year on Upset the Rhythm, which seems an odd choice as they’re based in London. “I’ve known Chris [Tipton, head of UTR] a little while,” Ruppert explains “because he’d put out some of my friend’s records (Bar, Lucky Dragons) and I always thought it was a really great label. He was familiar with the old band I did but I’d quit doing that, so when I started this I was like, ‘Hey Chris, I’m working on this stuff do you think you could give it a listen?’ and he was really into it, really supportive and wanted to put it out. So, although it’s London-based, it’s exactly what I wanted from a record label. Did that answer your question?” he asks uneasily, worried about going off on tangents. “I get really nervous.”

It’s a quicker turnover than most for second album ‘New Love’, which will be released later this year, because Ruppert doesn’t do things by the book. For him music is something that has to be hauled from his system while it’s still there, in one fell swoop.

“I can only make something if it’s related to something that’s going on with me. It’s really cheesy to say out loud, but for me it’s a form of expressing certain things.” He says this with an awkward smile that’s slightly slanted, as though cautious of spilling too much. “I had a lot of stuff to deal with I guess so I was able to put together the next record because there was so much left to sort through, so much left over. Before I’d even told Chris [about the second album] he’d contacted me and said, ‘Freddy, if you’re gonna do a new record we’d love to do it again,’ and I was like, ‘That’d be awesome, how about right now?’”

As the albums come so close together, you can imagine that thematically they’re similar. Again, ‘New Love’ is based around a relationship, but this time it’s a little darker, even if it sounds more upbeat. “It has a lot to do with jealousy,” Ruppert states. “The first record had a weird romantic hope to it, but this new record…I feel it doesn’t have a sense of romance. It’s way more depressing, which is weird because people thought ‘Fleurs’ was depressing, so I don’t even know what they’re going to think about this one.” He ponders his words, letting them sink in before continuing.

“I went through this huge period where I didn’t know how to deal with being in a relationship and being intimate with someone, so a lot of the record deals with that and jealousy issues with people I attempted to date and also with the person I’d broken up with. It’s a mess. I don’t know how else to explain it.” A mess maybe, but a good mess. Ruppert has stuck with his trusty computer to piece together the sophomore record, but despite the dark matter it’s come out a tad poppier.

“Yeah, I think it’s really streamlined and really song-based,” he says animatedly. “The first record is poppy but it fits together as a whole, whereas this one seems to me more like song, song, song; a lot of it has pop-song structure. Recording-wise there’s some guitar stuff on it – the first record didn’t have any guitar stuff – and there’s some live percussion elements that Jamie recorded and sent in, so it’s not all drum machine-based.”

Later this year Ruppert plans to finally get the whole band on tour in England, once the new record is out, and as a treat they’ll not just be flogging Former Ghosts, but XIu Xiu and Zola Jesus too, before Ruppert starts penning tracks for the third album. “I’ll probably start writing it when I get back,” he laughs. “Every time I do music it’s focused on a specific thing in a really obsessive way, so for whatever reason this person who keeps coming in and out of my life has been my muse for the past two years, so I imagine that the third album is the final one or something. Maybe that’ll tie everything up.” He pauses, analysing his previous words. “I don’t know, I don’t know. I don’t like doing music, it’s so weird,” and, a little uncomfortably, he laughs again. “Does that make any sense at all?”

Bu D. K. Goldstein

Originally published in issue 18 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. June 2010

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