When a friend first gushed to me about Handsome Ghost, I was a bit dubious. I didn’t think that an English-teacher-turned-musician could write songs that I would connect deeply with, but I fell in love the minute I first listened to the Steps EP. Handsome Ghost is an underrated gem in the ambient synth-pop genre, fitting easily alongside bands like The 1975 with their dreamy, melodic instrumentals and singer Tim Noyes’ airy vocals. Preceding the start of their spring tour, I caught up with Tim over the phone to talk about the band’s upcoming tours, indie prom, the Minneapolis music scene, and the film Blue Valentine.
How long have you been making music for?
I’ve been making music for awhile now. It’s been about 8 years since I started playing, but Handsome Ghost is just over 2 years old.
What made you decide you wanted to pursue music as a career?
I was actually a teacher in New York City for a couple years right out of college, and I was playing music. I had been playing for fun for a long time, and it started becoming a lot to balance the two. I loved teaching, but it was becoming a real challenge to play a lot of music and put in all the work that’s required to be a good teacher, so I figured it was time to give it a shot. So I started this band up, and it’s been cool, it’s been a good decision so far.
You released your debut EP Steps last year. How has it been received since then, has the response been what you hoped?
Yeah, it’s been great. It’s been really really cool playing the songs live and interacting with fans, and I’ve been really really happy with how people have been connecting with the EP. At this point, I’m really psyched to release some new music, but definitely completely satisfied with the reception to the EP so far.
Your songs combine a lot of very eclectic elements, like acoustic guitar and synth. Was it a deliberate or conscious decision to be creating something so unique, or did it just kind of come together naturally?
Yeah, it was deliberate. I usually start writing songs by acoustic guitar, so that’s where you hear the acoustics. And to me it feels like that, like it feels like someone’s just writing a song in their bedroom, which is usually how it works. But I also really love the more electronic production, so I wanted to give it a shot and to be able to write a song as acoustic, and get to play all the fun tours that I like to play and see if it worked. And it’s been a blast, it’s been really, really fun to make this kind of music. It’s like both of the worlds that I love.
You’ve identified your sound as “indie prom” (which I love). Elaborate on that, what does that mean?
(laughing) Yeah, I love it when people ask about that! Indie prom, when we were recording the EP, one of the songs–we were kind of going back and forth on how we wanted it to sound, and we were experimenting with different tones and different parts, and I was telling the producer that I was working with at the time that I wanted this to sound like a song you would hear at an indie prom. Like an indie-themed prom, you know how you’ve got like 80’s prom, and different themes for these proms, so I don’t know, I’d like to think that our music would play at an indie-themed prom.
How much is influenced by your own life, and how much is influenced by other artists, etc?
It’s mostly just my own life experiences, like mistakes and mishaps and bad times. That’s definitely the influence for the songwriting, like the lyrics and the melodies. [As far as] influences on the sound, there’s not one or two bands that I can point to and be like, “oh this is my favorite band, and this is what I want to sound like”, but I try to take as much as I can from as many different bands as I can. Especially the bands we’ve been touring with, at this point, have been really helpful. It’s been a really good learning experience, seeing their show and listening to their songs and taking little bits and pieces and making our own music better.
So speaking of bands you’ve toured with, you’re just starting a tour with Great Good Fine Ok. What are you most looking forward to?
It starts on Sunday, I’m excited. I’m really psyched to hear Great Good Fine Ok. I’ve been a fan of theirs for awhile now, so it’s very cool to be touring with them, I’m very excited to see their show. Beyond that, there’s a few cities that I’ve never been to that are part of this tour. It’s always cool to see a lot of those cities, because when you do a tour you often go to a lot of the same cities, so it’ll be fun. We’re going to go check out a few places, and we get to go down to the south for a while where it’s warm which is really nice, because it’s freezing right now in New York. But more than anything I’m really psyched to tour with Great Good Fine Ok. I’m a fan, so it’s gonna be great.
You’re coming here to Minneapolis, where it’s also freezing cold.
I know, I probably shouldn’t complain actually because Minneapolis is probably way colder.
How many times have you played here before?
We’ve played Minneapolis twice before. Once with Borns, who are really cool, good people, good band. And we just played recently with Melanie Martinez, and that was a really fun one too. So 2 for 2 in Minneapolis!. . . .I really like playing there because I feel like the music scene is so good for–no offense–but for a city that’s a little bit off the beaten path. It’s really impressive!
I kind of see it as the center for midwest bands, like obviously there’s Chicago but for anyone farther north than that, this is the place to be!
Yeah, it’s awesome, I feel like it’s not uncommon to hear something cool in the van and be like, “where are these guys from?” and it’s like “Minneapolis again??” It’s cool, it’s really cool.
So you’re coming here next week, but you also just announced another tour after that as well.
Yeah, we just announced another tour, so we’re gonna be busy pretty much through the entire spring, which is really nice. We get to be on the road and playing songs and playing new songs and all that good stuff. . .It’s gonna be a fun spring, you know, it’s gonna be busy but it’s gonna be really cool. I’m excited for it all to come together.
What are live shows like for you? Is it important to you to remain true to how the record sounds, or do you like to sound different live?
The live show keeps growing, which is really cool. When we started, I would say it was more intimate and a bit more stripped down than you would hear on the record, but I think now overtime I think it’s now maybe even a little bigger than the EP. I mean it’s different. Personally, I would say when I go to a show, I like to hear something a little different than what I like to hear in the car on the way over. So it’s not a huge departure from the EP, but I like to think that there’s enough difference that you feel like you’re witnessing something special for that one night. That’s what we try to do at least!
Since THE GARAGE/Garage Music News is centered around youth and young people, what’s the best piece of advice you got when you were younger that’s still relevant, either musical or otherwise?
That’s an excellent question. Off the top of my head, as it relates to music, my family and my parents have been unbelievably supportive through this process, and have actually kind of pushed me to follow this passion of mine. So often in music, or in any aspect of your art, you hear stories of like, “go get a real job!”, and I feel like it’s very rare to be around people who are pushing you to pursue what you love. So I think that’s not necessarily one little piece of advice, but you know, just go for it, and see what you can do. At the very least you know that you tried. If that makes sense.
Is there anything that you’ve learned over the process that you wish somebody had told you before or that you wish you had known going in?
Yeah, I think the swings in this music are really intense, for lack of a better term. The highs and the lows are really really high, and really really low. I think what I’ve learned that I wish somebody would’ve told me like a couple years ago before I dove in is that it all evens out. When you think you’re on top, there’s a low coming soon, and when you’re at rock bottom you know it’s gonna get better. You just have to keep working and it all makes sense eventually.
Alright, so I’ve just got one last random question for you. . .If you could rewrite the soundtrack to any movie, which one would you pick?
Oh man, okay, that’s a good one. Okay, well I’ll say first that my favorite artist is Elliott Smith, and he was a large part of the soundtrack for the movie Good Will Hunting, which remains one of my favorites. I would say just because I just watched it and I love it, there’s this movie Blue Valentine, with Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. It’s this really, really, really depressing love story. It’s really sad and just so real, and I feel like my music would fit really well with the great great times and terrible terrible times that come with any relationship. I would love to take a shot at scoring that movie.
I haven’t seen it, but I’ll have to check it out!
If you’re in the mood to get really depressed and never want to be in a relationship ever again, then it’s definitely the film for you.
Handsome Ghost will be returning to Minneapolis on March 8th for an 18+ show, and later will be playing at THE GARAGE on Friday, April 22nd with the Summer Set. Be sure to check them out and come to the show(s)!