FREE ASSOCIATION: Former Ghosts

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  • [Photos by Philippe De Sablet]

    In the spirit of our recently-released Zola Jesus issue (now available on the iPad!), we recently asked Freddy Ruppert to take us on a track-by-track tour of his New Love LP. Due out November 8 through Upset! the Rhythm, it’s the second Former Ghosts album to feature vocals and vapor trails from Jamie Stewart (Xiu Xiu) and our current cover star. That said, it’s important to note that Former Ghosts is Ruppert’s project through and through–a deeply personal tour of the tortured subconscious he first tapped with This Song Is a Mess But So Am I. And as you’re about to read, all of it comes from a place that’s as pure, and unsettling, as the artists the singer/synth-slinger chooses to surround himself with.

    Discussed: Taylor Swift, New Order, ambient breaks in Nine Inch Nails albums, near-death experiences, jealously, and the unbearable darkness of being…

    After [the 2009 album] Fleurs was finished, nothing had changed. The ending of Fleurs hadn’t signified the ending of anything. When there were new songs, Upset! the Rhythm asked me if I would like to do the next Former Ghosts record with them again. I hadn’t really thought what or if there was a next record. I felt strange re-listening to New Love and then writing commentary for each song. Something about it seemed pretentious. Felt like it put me in a strange place. Reminded me that the project seems more about myself than external relationships. Is this how directors and actors feel when they do a DVD commentary and hear it back? Blah. /End Self Analysis.–Freddy Ruppert

    1. The Days Will Get Long Again
    This song dates to around fall/winter of 2009. One of the original themes the album was going to focus on was this idea of casting off winter. The album ended up not getting to that place. When you are alone, winter is probably the most brutal time of the year. You are trapped inside for a good portion of time because it is so miserable to go outside, and if you are trapped inside alone and then it is just you and too much time with your own thoughts and your own heart. This song is also about the striking realization that after love there is a chance to love again and those feelings of love filtering back into your life.  And it is a scary realization–a familiar feeling, a feeling you once thought was lost and gone–shining its way through the clouds. It really isn’t a fleeting feeling.

    2. Winter’s Year
    This song also dates to around fall/winter of 2009. It is the first time I collaborated with Yasmine Kittles of Tearist. I had seen Tearist live countless times and they were quickly becoming one of my favorite active bands. Yasmine and I quickly became really close friends because we shared a similar vision on how to approach making music and we were going through similar bullshit in our own lives. The idea to collaborate on some things together came about and she came over to work on this song without hearing any of it ahead of time. 

    I remember my vocal parts had already been recorded, so I didn’t need to sing any of mine in front of her but she had to sing hers in front of me, and we both realized my sound card made it impossible for both people to hear the music. So this created a really embarrassing situation: Yasmine with headphones on, singing her lyrics, and me just sitting there at the computer, hearing her voice. So we bought some beers in order to make it easier. 

    I always loved the way that Yasmine’s voice sounded in Tearist, balancing between being soft and forceful. But when we were recording this song and she had figured out her part and started singing it softly, I stopped her and said, “That’s it. Do it exactly like that.” And as the album developed, I became completely obsessed with the differences in Yasmine and Nika’s voices on the record–Yasmine with this really understated soft beauty, and Nika with a really strong, overpowering beauty.

    I can say this song is about a couple of things–this pathetic idea that the one you love is with someone else and you will wait forever for them and try and deny fate, and about the idea that you can never fully understand love; that the way in which you understand love destroys all your relationships and by the time you realize what love is, you have already grown too old. Jamie contributed some synthy pitch bends on the right channel to the chorus as well as a programmed clicking at the outro.

    “And in the end? It never ends. Forever yours.”

    3. New Orleans
    This song actually dates to the spring of 2009. The original demo was posted to the blog around that time. This was the first song finished after Fleurs was done. I had been playing it solo live forever, and Jamie and I had worked out a live version for the first U.S. tour we did together in October of 2009. This song is a collection of memories with someone. Followed by an ultimatum to someone. An impending feeling of being left behind? And a realization that it doesn’t matter because it is my fault because I’m the one who fell in love. Jamie contributed percussion in the verse and backing vocals in the chorus, as well as some synth pads in the bridge, similar to how we were playing it live in October 2009.

    4. Until You Are Alone Again
    This song dates to February/March 2010. I spent a good two weeks at the end of January and February in the hospital. My brother rushed me to the hospital on January 26 because I had an intense pain in my stomach and could not stop vomiting. The pain became so bad that I could no longer walk or stand up straight. In the emergency room, I was told that a portion of my intestine had twisted on itself due to it becoming attached to an old piece of scar tissue. Random chance fucking me up. I was rushed into surgery, where a foot of my intestine was removed and then put back together, nearly died, and spent some two weeks sitting in a hospital bed hoping that I would take a shit so that I wouldn’t die and that I could go home. 

    When these kinds of life-threatening things happen to you, it brings people out of the woodwork. This was the first song written post-hospital experience. A person from the past briefly coming back into my life. A quick realization at what was still there. A certain way with timing and a closed off heart being opened up again. Dreams in which there is never an “I do.” Walking around pretending you are over someone or something and the one place you can be okay, knowing you are not. And then a return to silence until…

    5. Chin Up
    This song dates to February/March 2010. When I was originally planning this record, the idea was for me to sing half of it and Nika to sing the other half. Some kind of balance between male and female voice. Instead I got obsessed with the differences in expression in Yasmine’s voice and Nika’s voice, the theme of the record changed from hopeful to bleak, and Nika’s schedule also became really crazy. This was the first song we worked on together for the new record. I had finished all the music and sent it to her, and she came up with a vocal melody and the “I need you right now” idea and sent it back titled “Chin Up.” I think she had named it when she was still under the impression that this was to be a hopeful record, but then I sent her the lyrics I had written for it and what I wanted her to sing and it changed.  It came back in my mail box darker and heavier and really fucked up. 

    This song is about everything catching up with you to the point of breaking down–where after trying to soften the blow with every distraction possible, it finally reaches you and you are left with just a skeleton of what you used to be and stuck with what you now are. A relationship where the other person has wasted their love on other people and is now a shadow of their former self and you in turn have wasted your love on this person and you are now a shadow of your former self. Keep your chin up.

    6. And When You Kiss Me
    The power of a kiss and what that kiss could hold and mean. The original demo of this song dates to August 2009. It features some really poorly-recorded guitar work, direct to a sound card with digital distortion and computer effects and a total New Order riff rip/tribute/love/whatever you want to call it/claim it is/or accuse it as. I’m not going to lie about that or deny it. Two people always falling apart from each other and always coming back to each other and after all that time how powerful something as simple as a kiss can be.

    7. Taurean Nature
    I think this is the ugliest song on the record, and the ugliest song I’ve ever written. It dates to March 2010. The music for this track came from piecing together two different ideas on my hard drive, but I wasn’t sure where either one should go. The opening lines were inspired by a poem in the Ted Hughes collection The Birthday Letters. The idea of when you are making memories with someone, it originally is something so beautiful and so innocent, but then later these same memories become weapons to yourself and you can also wield these memories as weapons onto each other, inflicting as much damage as possible. 

    This song is about the effects damaging relationships have on all of your relationships following them. They don’t ever go away. You drag your baggage from one to the other. You take things out on people that don’t deserve it. What one begins to look for in relationships. No more healthy situations. Savior complexes. Looking for fucked up and damaging things. Craving anxiety and mixing up the feeling of anxiety with love. And in the end?  It never ends. Forever yours.

    “It wasn’t me, and yet I refused to let go and was too desperate to accept that”

    8. Trust
    This is an instrumental break in the record. Jamie contributed the heavy textured bass tones. The two This Song Is A Mess But So Am I official releases also had instrumental breaks in them. It is really bizarre when I think about instrumental breaks in a record–for some reason I always think of [Nine Inch Nails'] The Downward Spiral and the placement of “A Warm Place” on that record. Why is it that I always think about that? I thought about the same thing in the placement of the instrumental break on those This Song Is A Mess records as well. Making the same mistakes while appealing to my eighth grade inner self.

    9. Right Here
    A different version of this song originally dates to Valentines Day 2010 under the name “Still Right Here,” and was posted to the blog on that day.  That version of the song was really stripped down ambient synth tones with vocals. This version is completely different and more inspired by the amount of pop punk I was listening to at the time. The lyrics stay the same. Jealousy and longing rear their ugly heads covered up in a simple pop song.

    10. I Am Not What You Want
    The second collaboration with Yasmine for this record. I had finished the music for this track but had absolutely no idea what to do with it. I was really excited with how working with Yasmine on “Winter’s Year” really changed that song so I asked her if she would collaborate on this song as well. I am unsure of when this song dates to. My guess would be March 2010. By the time we worked on this track, I had my sound card situation figured out, so there were no more embarrassing recording situations. However, I had just moved into a new house and the recording setup was basically inside of a closet with insane lighting. 

    Yasmine came over and brought me a magazine with pop star Taylor Swift on the cover. I will admit I really like Taylor Swift. I think she has a nice romantic sentiment running through all of her songs. Yasmine and I recorded a bunch of takes of a bunch of different things and different ideas and then this ended up being the final result. This song relates to having expectations of someone and what they are, putting them on a pedestal, making them into something that they aren’t, and also at the same time you not being what the other person wants even if you wish you were what they wanted.

    11. Only In Time
    The second collaboration with Nika for this record. This song also dates to March 2010. The original version of this song had myself singing it, but something was wrong with it. I couldn’t stand the way it came out. My monotone voice couldn’t express what I felt in the song.  I couldn’t sing what I heard or express the feeling.  At this point my obsession with the difference in voices on the record was at its highest. Nika was about to leave for tour and I instant messaged her online and said, “Let’s try and do this one more song before you leave.” 

    I sent her the lyrics and my recorded demo version. She sent it back and it was insane–exactly what I had heard in my head. Her voice and phrasing on this song and interplay with the music (“My own footsteps/Meet up/With yours”) clashing with each distorted hit in the verse. Again in the lyrics, the theme of jealousy pops up as well as a theme already present in “Chin Up”–two people failing at a relationship because both have completely used every ounce of their love up on the wrong things. Jamie contributed a synth melody that comes in when the chorus hits, ambient synth pads in the bridge, as well as a heavy bass tone on the final chorus.

    12. Bare Bones
    Probably the most jealous and outright pathetic song on the record. This song dates to September 2009. “Is it him or me?” – Prince, “The Beautiful Ones.” Probably the most pathetic thing about this song isn’t the whole love triangle feeling of “who are you going to choose?”–him or me–because the choice had already been made. It wasn’t me, and yet I refused to let go and was too desperate to accept that. Jamie contributed an organ to the chorus as well as the crazy dog fight noise bridge-breakdown before the outro comes in.

    13. New Love
    This song dates to March 2010. Probably at the time of recording, it was the only somewhat hopeful note on the record but now on the second listen, maybe not. Two people who should have been together, but timing and immaturity and irresponsibility to deal with the actual situation tore it down and destroyed it. Ending up with other people while knowing that there should have been something else while knowing what there will never be. Jamie contributed the synth drone that runs through the whole track.

    • http://obscuresound.com/ Alex

      What is the deal with this xiu xiu side project? Why does Former Ghosts tour without Jamie? I get not having Nika or Yasmine sometimes, but when it’s just one guy with a computer it feels like I’m watching karaoke and it sort of ends up being one dimensional. More Jamie.

    • Gerard

      i originally loved this band because of my obsession with Jamie Stewart, and then Nika…but I realize now that Freddy IS the man! I really hope I get to see you in Philadelphia again, it was one of the best shows I have ever been to!

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    • Sauce

      isn’t it obvious why former ghosts tours without jamie? reading this commentary on the songs it seems like the guy barely even plays on the record!

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