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Simian Ghost on Being Fed Up with How Stupidity is Celebrated Today

Welcome back to Soundfly’s weekly interview series, Incorrect Music, curated by guitarist, singer, and composer Lora-Faye Åshuvud (of the band Arthur Moon). In this series, we present intimate conversations with artists who are striving to push the boundaries of their process and craft.

Swedish indie-pop band Simian Ghost told The Independent this summer that they “never rehearse.” While many of the tracks on their eponymous full-length, released this September, boast immaculately “correct” pop production, there is a notable lack of self-importance to their musicianship and lyricism that feels refreshing. It’s clean, sparkly music, but it’s also a playfully subversive break from the solipsism of so much contemporary indie-pop.

Perhaps many bands will be dubious of “never rehearse” as a piece of advice for a successful career in music, but for Simian Ghost, I wonder if it’s simply a part of the ethos that makes their tight, formulaic approach to pop music interesting, or — as we would say — ”incorrect.”

Simian Ghost’s self-titled new record is out now via Heist or Hit Records.

– Lora-Faye Åshuvud

Interview by Dan Reifsnyder

You started out as a home studio “production” project and then expanded to a full band. We’re seeing artists take this path more often due to the demand to play live. What made you decide to go that direction as opposed to staying a studio project?

Simian Ghost started out with me recording stuff at home and in a school where I used to work, but Erik and Mathias and I were already collaborating on other stuff. Us teaming up here as well felt like a natural progression. It was prompted by live requests like you say, but we were also actively looking for a collective outlet.

How have your live shows changed over time?

They were with me right from the get-go, so the core dynamic hasn’t changed much. We’ve had Wilhelm coming in a bit later. Having him in the band gave us an opportunity to do more ambitious live shows. Also, we’ve gotten better at it. I used to hate playing live, but now I really enjoy it.

Did you work with any reference tracks when you were mixing this record?

Yeah, a lot of Prince, Earth, Wind and Fire, and Michael Jackson. But there’s also a dab of Eno and the Who in there. And some newer acts as well.

Who are some artists that have inspired you during your development?

I’d say Prefab Sprout, the Beach Boys, Kratwerk, and Neu!. That covers a lot of it.

What do you feel the overarching theme to this album is?

Being fed up with living in a cultural era where stupidity is celebrated, and short-sighted dum-dums run things in the political arena.

What was it like doing your album at a more professional studio after doing so much at home? 

Actually, we did a huge chunk of this album at home as well. We did the drums and some additional layers in the studio. But it was great! We got some really good input from Thomas and Henrik.

How did these tracks typically take shape? In other words, were there scratch tracks or demos, that you worked from and did you write the material before entering the studio?

Usually, it starts out with me and Mathias jamming in a sofa somewhere with acoustic guitars. Then we record the stuff we like on our phones and send it to the other guys. Then we meet up and work out the arrangements and begin recording them immediately. There are a thousand versions of the tracks we put out. We write a lot, too, when we get going.

I have six hours of unreleased material on my computer.

How much of the record is instrumental versus electronic? It’s all so well mixed I can’t even tell!

Haha, thank you. That’s the intention. I better not tell you, then! Maybe half of each.

In general, where does the inspiration come from in writing your material? Like, lyrically, or thematically, what is the first thing that comes to mind when you set out to write new music?

We always write the music before the lyrics. We sort of hum the vocal melodies. Then I sit down and try to force words into them. I usually just listen to the tracks and then I grab the first image that comes up in my mind and make a lyric describing that. So, a lot of it is stuff that has been bugging me lately, along with some recurring themes about identity, celebrity culture, and our psychological relationships with nature.

We do live further away from each other now, so we’ve started mailing ideas back and forth. It’s a cool thing to be able to write music long distance.

At Soundfly, we love to use the term “Incorrect Music” to describe the things an artist does that go against people’s assumptions, or even their own instincts, but which yield exciting and unique results. What about your music might you consider to be “incorrect”?

That depends on the perspective from which you look at it. Our music lands somewhere between alternative and popular music, not quite fitting into either category. Even though those genres are sort of melding together these days, I think we inhabit a pretty unique space in between.

I take our lack of commercial success as a proof of this.

Did anything accidental happen in the making of this record that sort of made you rethink something or take a new path?

Yeah, boredom. For every album we’ve put out, we’ve made two or three additional ones in the writing process. This time, we made a more rock-oriented one, then we got bored of that and took the disco route instead.

Growing up, what kinds of musical experiences did you have and how did your musical upbringing lead you to where you are now?

We’ve all studied at music high schools. And we have parents who care a lot about it. Then we have a bunch of friends who do music and art, so that’s always been a main focus in our lives. We’re branching out a bit now though, with Wilhelm working high up in the Swedish forest hierarchy and me studying to become an environmental strategist.

What was it like working with Thomas Hedlund (of Phoenix and Cult of Luna)? How did you guys hook up?

Through shared friends. It was amazing working with him. He is a great drummer and has a very good taste in music. Really, really nice guy to hang out with, too. Warm and positive.

What would be your advice for amateur artists looking to scale up their careers?

Don’t care too much about the opinions of others and don’t use fame as a measure of success. Trying to carve out a place for yourself in the music industry, you’ll most likely get hurt over and over, and it’ll suck most of the time. Be ready for that. And surround yourself with good people who genuinely care about the stuff you do. That’s more important than associating yourself with a ”popular brand,” at least from a mental-health perspective.

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Dan Reifsnyder
Dan Reifsnyder

Daniel Reifsnyder is a Nashville-based, Grammy-nominated songwriter, having started his musical journey at the age of 3. In addition to being an accomplished commercial actor, his voice can be heard on “The Magic School Bus” theme song and in Home Alone 2. Throughout his career, he has had the honor of working with the likes of Michael Jackson and Little Richard among many others. He is a regular contributor to several music related blogs, including his own, Songsmithing.net.