photos by Maddy Fox
“I’m gonna break [Garage Music News]’s record for the interview with the most times saying ‘Hippo Campus,’” declares Jesse Pederson, lead vocalist of nearly-brand-new indie pop act Spooky Ghost. He’s summarizing one of the prominent undertones of their first interview for a publication. (Hippo Campus was mentioned 16 times, in case you’re curious.) Over the course of an hour-and-a-half, in Sporty’s Pub in the Como neighborhood of Minneapolis, I got to know the boys behind Spooky Ghost, their motives, their past, and their ever-present sense of humor.
After they met in junior high while all living close together in Hopkins, the four-piece Spooky Ghost as they are now didn’t come into being until 2013, when they were in high school. Half-inspired in part by a spooky, muffled sound on their school’s speakers, they were originally called Spooky Ghost and the Root Beer Floats. “We were like a joke band,” recalls Max. Comprised of a dozen or so members, an upright bass, a violin, a harmonica, trumpet, ukulele, keyboards, “a girl who just hula hooped,” and more, they played only a few shows that were rough to say the least.
The group had a specific idea in their minds of what they wanted to sound like from the get-go. “There was a band called The Unicorns that had an album I had gotten and I really liked it, all their songs were about unicorns and dying and stuff; it was a really weird album, and it’s very ramshackle and not very good, so I wanted to sound like that. I basically told all my friends who played music, we’re all gonna just come and practice, and people just showed up and joined onstage, and they’d be like, ‘oh I brought a tambourine and a piano, can I play?’…so a lot of the songs we wrote for that weren’t very good, or they were just a little rough, so then we dropped the Root Beer Float section of the band and just made it Spooky Ghost after that.”
After abandoning the Root Beer Floats, Spooky Ghost released their debut EP, Dreamy, on March 1 of this year. The EP was produced by Chris Heidman, manager and producer of many notable bands around the Twin Cities, including Howler, whose frontman, Jordan Gatesmith, worked with Spooky Ghost to fine-tune many of the songs on Dreamy. After seeing Spooky Ghost open for Girls at 7th St Entry, Heidman took a liking to them, and they recorded the EP in a single day at the Terrarium in Minneapolis, with the only five finished songs they had.
Dreamy reflects the carefree attitude Spooky Ghost have maintained since the beginning, but shows that they are nonetheless serious about what they’re doing, and contains no signs of harmonicas, hula hoops, or death unicorns. With five single-worthy songs and Warhol-esque album art, Dreamy is a dose of sunny garage pop with a splash of nostalgia, providing a uniquely bright sound for Minnesota, capable of warming even the coldest winter day. Highlight tracks include “Brooklyn Girls,” a demo of which was released all the way back in 2013 on Bandcamp, and “Milkshake,” a wavy, vaguely sappy tune that sounds a little like how a milkshake tastes.
Although there was no track agreed on unanimously to be a band favorite, they agreed to be proud of “Nail Polish,” because of its progression from the original demo to where it is now. As one of their older songs, for them it represents a time when they were still very young and the idea of playing music was fresh in their minds.
Their overall demeanor is reflected in the message they hope to convey through their music. “We just want people to enjoy it,” Jesse says after a minute of deliberation and ingenuine, jokey answers from everyone. “Writing music is a fickle beast, so I think if people can enjoy it and get into it…I remember when we were in high school and stuff like that, you’d hear a local band that would play music and stuff and were a little younger, and I would be like, ‘oh, they’re kinda like us,’ you know what I mean? Like if they’re really young, and they’re from Minneapolis and they have cool tunes, we can do that. If we can do that to other people, that would be really nice.”
Along with some serious musical influences, like Arctic Monkeys, the Strokes, Rolling Stones, Girls, and the Babies, the band listed many, many other influences, which basically just spiraled into a messy list of pop culture references, including the Tyson Chicken jingle, My Chemical Romance, pineapples, and Guy Fieri. In relation to their motives, drummer Cayle Wendorf offered an inspiring [thought]. “I hope that maybe a kid will not listen to Justin Bieber, that’s what I’m going for. . . .hopefully a kid will listen to us instead.”
Spooky Ghost have played a handful of shows already this summer, including two at the end of May, at 7th Street Entry with Arbor Labor Union and at Kitty Kat Club. Although I haven’t had the chance to see Spooky Ghost live yet, they filled me in on what it’s like. Without missing a beat, bassist Will Burnton described it “like two garbage trucks crashing into each other, and then no one sees it happen, so everyone just kinda forgets about it.” An interesting image. After deliberation and more vague, confusing answers, Jesse adds, “you know that scene in Titanic where Rose puts her hand up on the sweaty glass? It’s like that.” I guess we’ll all have to attend a show to see exactly how that works, but on a more informative note, they did describe their performances as “upbeat” and “energetic”.
Their summer has been a busy one, and will continue to be. They’re recording their first full-length album, which they already have a dozen or so songs written for. In addition to their other past and upcoming shows, they also did an in-studio session at Radio K on July 1.
On a closing note, Jesse pointed out, “I feel like whenever there’s a Spin article or something, they close it out with something really thoughtful, so I’m gonna say something fuckin’ stupid.” No specific closing statement was ever made, but the interview ended as it had began and progressed–with a confusing wave of bad jokes and anecdotes.