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Ghastly Menace has tripled. Four years ago, the band was just Andy Schroeder and Chris Geick, two former posthardcore musicians that got together to play pop. Now, the psychedelic outfit has six members. A rotating cast of characters simmered down to a steady lineup during the recording of the band's debut album, Songs of Ghastly Menace, which came out on Tuesday via The Record Machine.
I meet all six dudes of Ghastly Menace at their practice space, a side room in a steel warehouse that does not have a street address. Lit with Christmas lights and decorated with pin-ups, the space proved to be an effective incubator for Songs even though it's, well, a steel warehouse. There are ambient sounds all around, like passing Metra trains and the clicking of a giant industrial heater. A few found their place on the album.
Ghastly Menace recorded the new album with Nigel Dennis, who engineers the recordings for his own band, A Lull. "I always loved their recordings, and when I found out that he had been the one that had recorded all of it himself, I was like, would you be interested in doing ours?" says Kody Nixon, who plays bass. "This is the first time he's done something that isn't A Lull, and he had a blast. It was really freaky how well it worked." Schroeder agrees: "He was very much like a seventh member. On some songs, he did more than anyone."
Songs has some of the same coppery hues that appear on A Lull's records, though it's less beat-based and more traditionally "pop." Ghastly Menace loves harmonies and hooks; loves guitars that sound pulled from the golden age of radio; loves big, steady, solid drum parts. The songs are Schroeder's, at least at first, but part of his journey toward making the album was learning to let go of a certain degree of perfectionism and free up the music to group input.
Schroeder used to play in Suns with current Menace members Nixon and Clint Weber. When he left that band, he thought he was leaving music for good. But soon enough, he resurrected Ghastly Menace, a project that had been left dormant for years. "I moved back home to my parents' house and I was there for a while, and then I just kind of naturally started writing songs again," he says. "I wanted to record them, and I thought, okay, I would prefer to do this with my friends. I didn't want to do it on my own."
Reunited with Geick, Schroeder started bringing in "a rotating cast of characters" to play his songs. People came and went, but by the time Ghastly Menace started recording the album, the lineup had stabilized at six. The pressure of a self-imposed album deadline helped them actually finish the LP: "I was like, let's just book the time, and that'll be the fire under our ass to finish everything," Schroeder says. "You probably would have gone crazy if we had pushed it off any longer," says Nixon. Schroeder agrees: "We wouldn't have started yet. I still would have been working on everything, like, aw, it's not perfect yet, it's not good."
Schroeder came up with the blueprints for the 11 tracks that ended up on Songs, but the whole ensemble came together to run them "through the band filter," as Geick puts it. The songs sound like six-person songs, deep and spacious, occasionally making weird turns, like when "Real Life" burns from a bass-powered jam into a distorted guitar freak-out, finally settling on a mellow piano outro. The compositions are ambitious.
Part of getting there was just easing up on control. "If I sat here and tried to control what every single person was playing, it wouldn't be very productive," says Schroeder. "In doing the record, we found a groove as a band. We'd been playing together, but I wouldn't say that we had necessarily fully locked in. I think in doing this, we found more of our roles and our places. Now we can work together a little bit better."
They certainly have a rapport. They're the sort of band with a million inside jokes among them. By the end of the interview, they're talking about the massive group texts that they still fire up every day, all six of them. They go to work with their pockets buzzing, band business getting swept up in YouTube exchanges and jokes. It's the sort of communion you can hear on the record—an accomplished, professional outing still inflected with laughter.
Ghastly Menace plays an album release show at the Empty Bottle on February 7.