It starts with an end…'The End': the title of The Ghosts' beautifully heartfelt debut album.
Introduced by mutual friend, The Charlatans' Jon Brookes, in December 2010, Palmer (drums) travelled from Birmingham to meet London-based keyboard-player turned Ghosts singer/songwriter Starling (formerly Ou Est Le Swimming Pool) at Euston Station. "We got coffee, discussed what we liked and didn't like about music and used that as a starting point," says Starling. "Ian is really into 80's synth pop and also bands like MGMT and Empire of the Sun, and I'm a big fan of TV On The Radio and bands that use synths in modern interesting ways, so it was kind of different stuff but there was definitely crossover. I played him a demo and he said he really liked it. He had a strong vision, he wanted to do a new project and I had just come to the end of one, and so we checked out a few studios together and then The Ghosts grew from there."
"The first meeting was a revelation," adds Palmer, "I had spent years as a drummer playing for others in both my music studies in New York and as a working session musician in London, and here was a chance at possibly the toughest stage of my life to make 'the' record. Alex and I had so much in common and I felt creatively so connected to him."
The duo, bonded through mutual experiences of loss, chose their name to reflect their experiences. Starling wrote the songs that would become 'The End' in two months and in a prolific two week stint with producer Tim Bran (La Roux, The Charlatans, Paul McCartney) in an analogue studio in Stockport, the debut was done. "I wrote everything on a classical guitar," says Starling, "then we did the demos with guitarist Dan Whiffin, picked the best tracks and worked on it in the studio with Tim surrounded by banjos, balalaikas, harps and loads of old synths. So many ideas were floating around, everyone in the band is a keyboard player so they all had lots to say, plus each member of The Ghosts has so much experience of playing in different bands that they brought all of that to the recording. The most important aspect throughout, though, was the song, it was always about the song and then it would build from there."
"We wanted warm sounds," he adds, "and Ian had this idea of making an album that was like a dream; a mixture of a fantasy world and reality, these two worlds colliding, analogue and digital and merging those together. He is a big fan of the movie Tron so he wanted to make something like that and it had to be very beautiful, not cold or overly trendy or detached." Palmer adds, "I had a musical vision of warm analogue electro meeting the precise cut of digital ones and zeros."
The result is a strong, sincere and beguiling collection of songs. First single 'Enough Time' features Starling's stunningly fragile falsetto soaring over glacial soundscapes giving the music an unsettling yet romantic tinge. 'Ghosts', 'Forgetting What You Know', 'Eyes On Another One' and 'Underrated' are all equally stirring, synth-tinged pop imbued with a compelling melancholy. But 'The End' is not purely electronics-based, as an acoustic guitar drives ballads 'Company Like Yours' and 'Unless' – the debut's stripped down, closer. Strings feature to emotive effect too – on 'Scared' and the atmospheric 'They've Started Guarding Us' – and 'Everything Will Do' proves an undeniable highlight as Jeff Buckley-esque riffs pound and thrash against thundering drums. "'Everything Will Do' was created a little differently," explains Palmer, "I always wanted to create that massive tribal Bonham-esque drum-scape and asked my friend Jon Brookes (The Charlatans) to join me. I'm sure two drummers together sounded like everyone's worst nightmare," he laughs, "but do you know what? It works!"
This sonic diversity is important to Starling. "Rayna Ferner (keys) studied at The Royal Academy Of Music and played violin and viola on the album and Alex Sharman (keys) is also a guitarist and massively into The Stones and The Smiths, so we really want to incorporate as much of these elements into The Ghosts and have fun with it without overpowering the songs. Now the songs work in all sorts of ways; we could do a purely acoustic set of the album, add strings or do a straight electronic set with them."
The making of this music was something for us to get our teeth into," explains Starling. "I was concentrating on it so much at the time and focusing on getting the record done that I didn't think about anything else. But looking back on it, it probably was a great distraction and ultimately cathartic. I felt a big release at the end of it that wasn't just about getting an album written and recorded, it was something more than that. Loss was the starting point for something new to grow, and it's about moving on from that now, the end of one chapter and the start of another."
"Chance circumstances led to us meeting but since that happened we're not leaving anything to chance," Starling adds. "Everything is considered and we are meticulously looking at every aspect of our band until we are happy with it. We're incredibly proud of what we've done so far and we need it to work so that we can move on and make the next one."
Tender, unique and mysterious; fate brought The Ghosts together. Classic songs and unshakeable belief will keep them strong.
'This is superb, accessible, melodic pop' - The Guardian
'Showing their unnerving ability to write deliciously macabre and compelling synth pop hits...' - NME
'We predict big things for 2012' - Mixmag
'This band are building on the established electro-pop trend and making it interesting again. Top stuff.' - The Sun