HOUSTON, April 19, 2012 — It’s an eccentric conglomeration of spoken word, synthesizers, gritty guitars, electronic drums, and dream-sequence lyrics, punctuated by retro styled vocal choruses and rather jazzy sounding piano arrangements. The band is called The Ghost of Cliff Burton, and their debut album is titled ‘The Maybe Laser.’
Jef WithOneF and Bill Curtner make up the dynamic duo, which you can’t squish into a specific genre-box. Once you start to peg them as rap, they throw an old fashioned Western styled instrumental at you. As soon as you start taking them seriously, the lyrics turn comedic and nonsensical. With recurrent allusions to Alice and Wonderland, modern social issues, religion, and all the clarity of a rambling lunatic, it is safest just to dub them ‘experimental.’
For example, track 12, ‘The Divine Church of the Broken CD,’ is the spoken poetry monologue of a man confessing his sins, dreams, and desires to a broken compact disc, which he finds lying in the street, and takes home to worship. One might think it’s a snarky esoteric commentary on pointless religious dogma, but on the other hand, it could just be a shamelessly weird musical joke. The ditty, ‘New York Sewer Alligator Patrol,’ would seem to suggest the latter.
‘The Maybe Laser’ lyrics are packed with derisory ramblings and laughable limericks, peppered with controversial catchphrases, making it not quite the best album to listen to while grandma is around. Unless you have a really offbeat grandma.
The album was produced by WithOneF and Curtner in the latter’s bedroom, giving it a quaint, unpolished atmosphere and a quirky, nonconformist personality. In fact, the whole album rather evokes the image of two artsy dudes giving the bird to the mainstream music industry and pop culture, with all its materialistic standards, superficiality, and snobbery.
GRASSMAN: As songwriters, how do you guys work together? Is there a set process?
CURTNER: 90% of the time, I will compose the music and then send it over to Jef. There is the random occurrence where one of us will write lyrics before or Jef will request a certain “feel” for the song. I’m always happy to oblige.
WITHONEF: Even though Bill and I live in the same city, we both have such exhaustive schedules that the only real way to work is remotely. He’ll craft a song and send it to me to develop lyrics, or I’ll tape vocals and phrases to send to him in order to build an idea. When we do get together, we work at a frantic, intoxicating pace, often recording two songs per hour. The result is usually the terminator line between opposing viewpoints, that twilight time that photographers are always so keen on to capture the best shots.
GRASSMAN: Your lyrics sound very train-of-thought and dream-like. Where do you get the inspiration?
CURTNER: I like to think of myself as a ‘divining rod of weird in western culture.’ Driving is a great way to absorb life. I’ve always wondered if there was some kind of vibration/ frequency that affects the brain while driving.
WITHONEF: David Lynch calls it ‘catching the big fish.’ We all have Cthulhus and Dagons lurking in the oceans of our souls, you just have to learn how to get them on the line through introspection and meditation. Once I’ve got the idea though, I work on them obsessively, weighing the symbolism of each word.
I’m a trained hypnotist, and I know the power of words on a mind in the beta state, which music naturally induces. I’m not talking sub-conscious suggestions or anything. I’m not the freakin’ Hypno-Hustler. It’s more of being careful to use words and phrases that will alter the mood of the listener according to our design, whatever it may be for that song.
GRASSMAN: You’ve got everything from rap to Western elements in your music. What are your influences?
WITHONEF: Bill Hicks, the Legendary Pink Dots, Nick Cave, VNV Nation, Butthole Surfers, Beck … Honestly though, Bill has such an encyclopedic knowledge of music, and I’m a music journalist myself with a wide range, that picking any one band or even one genre as a main influence is impossible. We’ve always approached music from an ADD standpoint.
CURTNER: We take a lot of criticism for not sticking to one genre but, many of our favorite artists don’t adhere to a “set sound”. Mike Patton, Frank Zappa, Ween. It’s nice to not be restricted to one style. I find that many bands today paint themselves into a corner before they can realize their full potential. Plus, it cuts down on the need for side projects.
GRASSMAN: Every band has some kind of “cause” or at least a general intent. Some preach religion, some are political, and others empathize with our inner rebel, while still others provide comic relief. What would you say is The Ghost of Cliff Burton’s “cause?”
WITHONEF: We have the hypothesis that the music industry as we know it is a fever dream from a meth addict dying in the gutter. The gap between the top and the bottom acts has never been wider. And yet, artists at our level have never been more free. We can do so much of what major labels do in our own homes, albeit on a smaller scale.
The result, we hope, will be millions of musicians across the world making music videos, recording albums, all while continuing to live fairly normal, connected lives. I love Almost Famous, but it’s become El Dorado to me. It’s not real, even if it was at one time.
CURTNER: Much like our previous band, I feel that GOCB is a pressure release valve. I would hope that we allow people to relax and have fun. Besides, Bono is doing a pretty good job.
GRASSMAN: The production on ‘Maybe Laser’ has a charming, retro, dressed-down feel. Where did you record?
WITHONEF: Bill’s bedroom, and occasionally me wandering around The Heights in the middle of the night talking into a voice recorder.
CURTNER: We decided from the beginning that we would start from scratch with our sound. Try to get away from a lot of the over used sounds of the day. Definitely a mix of 80’s pop and 90’s alt rock.
GRASSMAN: I’m hearing a number of Alice in Wonderland allusions in the lyrics. Is there a deeper meaning there or are you guys Carroll nerds?
CURTNER: That’s all Jef.
WITHONEF: [Laughs] Not overtly, no. The line you’re thinking of in “You-Know-Who” is really just a long-running in-joke. Bill used to refer to himself as the Walrus from the Beatles tune. I always like to point out that judged on the actual poem, or at least Kevin Smith’s interpretation of it, that he is the Carpenter and I am actually the Walrus.
You make an interesting point, though. Carroll wasn’t writing nonsense, modern people just think he was because the context is so anachronistic. We’re writing about the struggle to survive, love, and create here in the Great Recession. Even when we’re laughing, it’s just to fill the silence.
GRASSMAN: Any future plans for The Ghost of Cliff Burton? Any upcoming concerts, music videos, or further projects?
WITHONEF: We don’t play live. We prefer to make music videos. Every day I wake up and see 20 or 30 more hits, to me it’s the equivalent of playing a dive bar for 30 people. Only it’s a lot less stressful and a lot more cost effective.
We’re working on another couple of videos now, as well as purchasing some better film equipment. Maybe Laser was a long time in coming, and we’re waiting to see how it’s received before we plan our next move.
CURTNER: Yep. More music is headed your way…sooner than later. With some very interesting changes. As far as live shows go, I always quote James Bond…”Never Say Never.”
About Jennifer Grassman:
Singer, songwriter and pianist, Jennifer Grassman is an award-winning recording artist based in Houston, Texas. Subscribe by RSS feed and read more from Jennifer atwww.JenniferGrassman.com. You can follow Jennifer on @Jgrassman orFacebook.com/JenniferGrassmanMusic
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