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"Gangcharger @ Hi Dive"

After Boulder's melodically atonal Mansfield Ghost broke up, it was entirely possible that the band's unique guitar sound would follow it into the annals of local music. Fortunately, two thirds of Mansfield went on to form the decidedly noisier and more beautifully abrasive Gangcharger (due at the hi-dive on Friday, June 26). Recalling Sonic Youth at its heady peak, the group's sound is wrapped in dynamic layers of razory melodies and thick rhythms swimming amid textured streams of distortion and white noise. If you tend toward cleaner tones and harmonies, Gangcharger's splintery, albeit electrifying, output may be something of an acquired taste. On the other hand, if you're a fan of noise rock of any stripe, or you like your music almost aggressively raw, this act is the embodiment of both. - Westword


"Q&A with Ethan Ward of Gangcharger"

Gangcharger started out as something of a side-project Ethan Ward did with a few friends. Few probably saw or remember the earliest incarnation of the band, but when it started up full force at the end of 2008, even if you didn't like the act's music, it was hard to remain in the same room and ignore the brutal beauty of Gangcharger, whose blistering volume, fragmented sounds and melodies, coupled with relentless rhythms, drew immediate comparisons to Sonic Youth and Isn't Anything-era My Bloody Valentine.

We recently spoke at length with Ward about the roots of Gangcharger, his love of '90s hip-hop, his utter fascination with Denver underground music, and the unspoken glass ceiling for such bands given the climate of our city's music industry, and how that sometimes warps expectations and aspirations.

Westword: You were in the experimental band Mansfield Ghost. Did Gangcharger start after that band was over, and how does your songwriting differ between both projects?

Ethan Ward: Gangcharger as it is now, started after that project was over. But once, during my time with Mansfield Ghost, we had been invited to play a show at the Fox for a skate video release party - for Meta and Null. We didn't have a drummer so we decided to do another band anyway.

We had three weeks to put it together, and we had a buddy in the neighborhood named Gordon Koch - he's a crazy metal drummer. He lived behind us, and we asked him to play the show, and it worked out; we recorded two songs, and played the Fox. Another guy, Jim Murray, played that show, too, on guitar.

Gangcharger started being my name for other stuff I was doing that wasn't Mansfield Ghost. Mansfield Ghost was always supposed to be much noisier and more messed up than it was. I think we just weren't good enough to pull that off, or it just didn't happen that way. Most of the drummers we played with were more into more traditional rock, and didn't like that as much.

When we started doing Gangcharger the way it is now, it was closer to a noise band. We weren't trying to be like Sonic Youth or My Bloody Valentine. It's probably way less noisy than I wanted it to be. My original vision was for it to be three minute long songs comprised of static, fucked-up, noise-assault craziness -- like old Magik Markers. No one would do that with me, so it didn't end up being that. I was trying to make it as noisy and as messed up as possible but that's not where everyone wanted to go.

WW: You use Fender Jaguars, and have kind of a gritty sound. How did you come to learn about and cultivate that sort of sound in your music?

EW: The first guitar I had was a Les Paul. This girl I was dating years ago bought it for me, and I hadn't been playing guitar at that point - in 2002 or 2003. When I started learning about sounds and how guitar sounds I realized, "Oh, this guitar sounds like Pearl Jam!" I hated it. I went to Robb's Music in Boulder, and I was looking at a Fender Stratocaster, but I didn't really like it.

But they had a Jaguar, and I got it. I got into that and got another one because I didn't want to switch guitars and have to switch settings on the amp, when I switch guitars. It made me understand why Sonic Youth has twenty of the same guitar - Jazzmasters. Playing those guitars force their sound on your music a tiny bit.

Long before I ever played guitar, the first thing I'd be listening for in music was the guitar sound, and I got into making different sounds right away, before actually learning to play the guitar. I was never interested in being good at playing guitar; all I ever cared about was making songs that had cool sounds.

WW: When did you first get exposed to underground and experimental music?

EW: From skate videos when I was really young. From 1992-1994 - right around when I first started getting into music. All the classic indie stuff from that time period -- I heard it all. And on the back of Thrasher magazine. There were ads for whatever music, and I thought, "If it's in Thrasher it's probably cool." I'm from Brooklyn, and you hear different kinds of music in bigger cities.

WW: You're known for being outspokenly picky about music. Is there anything you've been really into of late?

EW: I'm bad about listening to new music in general but I pretty much just listen to '90s hip-hop at my house -- old Wu-Tang stuff, all their solo projects, Mobb Deep, Ghostface, Capone and Noriega. New York City, '90s rap stuff. RZA is a genius. He pretty much did the production on those solo albums. Sometimes he'll rap about some new beat making machine he just got, what new recording he got -- names of microphones. The point being is that I just listen to that on Pandora or to Denver bands.

The most important music, what made me want to do it, if I hadn't seen it I wouldn't be doing this, is all those Denver bands from 2002-2004: Bright Channel, Tarmints, Hot IQs, Nightingale, Matson Jones, Monofog -- a lot of those bands you've referred to as "The Class of 2002."

I didn't even know how to play music then, really. I saw Bright Channel play at Bender's with Matson Jones in front of like fifteen people, and everyone left after Matson Jones played. Nobody was there.

I started going to shows and I didn't care if people were there, because I was so far removed from whether or not a band was "doing well." Instead, it was just like, "Whoa, there are bands this good around here." It just blew my mind and I thought, "I'm going to get a fucking guitar.

I always wanted to do this, and I'm going to play in a band!" If I hadn't been influenced by them, I would probably be playing rap. I'm just really into Denver music so fucking much. I listen to Rabbit is a Sphere more than I try to find out what hot music is on Pitchfork right now.

WW: Why are you calling your album Metal Sun?

EW: It's from one of the lyrics from one of the songs. It's kind of from a dream. It's also kind of a reference to harsh cubical lighting. In the song it says, "metal sun is currency." All the rest of the lyrics in that song are from a dream I had.

It fit really well with the imagery, as well, and it ties back into the concept of Gangcharger, the name, as a commentary on the hidden waste, corruption and dehumanization that permeates certain sectors of our society. It's from the song "Apparition." On the recording it sounds like I'm saying, "Metal Sun is coming soon."

WW: You've mentioned to me before something about there being a ceiling Denver if you're in a band. Can you talk about that?

EW: There's a ceiling here you can hit pretty quickly. You zip straight up to the ceiling, and spend a couple of years pushing the ceiling up a little bit at a time. That's where you get tons and tons of people, and do much better in Denver. But for most of the bands I've watched do it, it's over years of playing here. There are obvious exceptions.

You end up opening at larger venues for bands you love, and you think you're really on your way up, and then you realize there's nowhere else to go in Denver. Then you spend the next two or three before you can headline that venue. That's not really an accomplishment -- that's a symptom of how things are here.

It's stupid to think, "I'm going to work really hard for the next two years until my band can sell out The Bluebird." That's a dumb goal. It's just something that should happen, and I think it should happen a little sooner for most bands here, if they're already at the point where they're doing well.

But for me, I'd rather play the equivalent of the hi-dive all over the country, in front of thirty, forty or fifty people, than stick here, working in Denver until two years from now I can play in front of three hundred people.

Gangcharger CD-release show, with Overcasters, 9 p.m. Saturday, December 19, Weather Center, 1401 Zuni Street, free, www.myspace.com/thesoakingquiet. - Westword


"Concerned Interview: Ethan Ward of Gangcharger"

Ethan Ward is lead singer of Denver band Gangcharger as well as newest member of Donnybrook favorite Blue Million Miles. Gangcharger (along with Overcasters) are quickly filling in the void that was made when great Denver bands like Bright Channel and Tarmints broke-up. The Donnybrook Writing Academy is presenting a Holiday Mixer at the Weather Center (the Overcasters very own warehouse venue) on December 19th featuring Overcasters, Gangcharger (who will also be releasing an EP) and our very own DJ Guido Sarducci IV (father of the Snobcast). The party costs nothing but what you can afford to donate. Weather Center is located at 1401 Zuni St.

You live a crazy rock and roll lifestyle. Where is the strangest place you’ve:

Urinated?

Pants!

Played music?

Ruby Room in Portland. Don’t go there. You will either get stabbed or find yourself so disgusted with the place you end up wanting to stab somebody.

Gotten wasted?

Random camp ground in Ogden, Utah. Was woken up in the middle of the night by some lunatic rifling through my stuff looking for Rolaids.

Had a quickie?

My parents are reading this, pervs. There is already enough sleazy gossip about my sex life elsewhere on this blog.

Vomited?

At a Penn State frat house.

Crashed a car?

Put one about 30 feet into the woods one night in Sparta, New Jersey.

Been electrocuted?

In the mouth! You can Google it.

You play this really loud music, so loud that we always have to have our servants cover our ears for us at shows. Why is your music so loud and squelchy and all guitary?

That’s what happens when someone who has no idea how to play guitar starts a band after seeing some Bright Channel and Tarmints shows.

The last time we partied with you, we all ended up passionately and belligerently talking about how AMAZING Biggie Smalls was at 5 in the morning. How has the Notorious B.I.G. influenced your life or your music?

“Kick in the door / wavin’ the four four…”

When you toured with the band Blue Million Miles (who you also play with), they discovered you have a strange sleeping habit. Care to elaborate what that is?

That could be any one of numerous things. I was a sleeping machine on that tour. I think I may have some kind of controlled narcolepsy (among other disorders). When I want to I can pretty much go to sleep within minutes, any time, anywhere, no matter what’s going on around me. I think this was pretty amusing to those guys. I probably divided that tour about 60-40 between sleeping or partying my balls off.

Speaking of which, you wrote some tour diaries that we would like to see. Can you give us a teaser right now?

Crap, I’m gonna be in trouble when those guys read this -I cannot find that notebook anywhere. I’ve looked all over the place for it and it is gone. This is unfortunate because there’s some fairly incriminating shit in there. If anyone knows where it’s at (especially the section about the girls in LA) I am open to negotiations, I’m sure we can work something out.

After what situation could you think to yourself, “Okay, self. I can now die happy.”?

I’m so far from any situation like that, I couldn’t really say. Maybe after I’ve accomplished one fifth of all the shit I’m trying to do I could start thinking about it.

Most importantly, if WE come to YOUR CD release party, what will YOU DO for US?

I will let you steal some thunder and tack “Donnybrook Holiday Mixer” onto “gangcharger CD release party.” I will also have my friends, The Overcasters, blast loudness at your heads so hard that your servants’ hands will rattle off, leaving your tender little ears exposed to the mayhem. - Donnybrook Writing Academy


"Gangcharger - Metal Sun EP"

For a band that was started almost on a lark, Gangcharger seems to be doing damned well for themselves. In fact, if things keep moving the way they are, and the band continues to enjoy some pretty constant airplay, they could be responsible for shooting some desperately needed new life into the noisier, almost-shoegaze genre that Denver’s scene has all but missed over the past couple of years (as solid as they are, Overcasters and Sonnenblume simply can’t fill that part of the scene on their own). And it may never have come to be, as lead singer Ethan Warde (who also plays for Blue Million Miles, another like-minded band) explained in an email:

“About 2 years ago, Mark Mullis (bassist) and I had a band called Mansfield Ghost. We were invited to play a release party at the Fox in Boulder for skate videos from Meta and Null, but we had no drummer at the time. We decided to say fuck it and start a new band just to play this one show, so in 3 weeks we got 6 songs written with this crazy metal drummer named Gordon Koch (who now plays in Black Sleep of Kali and Iron Horse) and our friend Jim Murray playing 2nd guitar, and we called it Gangcharger. These two tracks are what we recorded at that time. Obviously we revived the name and the general aesthetic for Gangcharger this year, just with some different people.”

Metal Sun, the group’s debut EP, is a gritty, seismic collection of songs that entwine swirling riffs drenched in reverb with driving, hypnotic beats and draped heavily with Ward’s lyrics, warbled in a deep, stuck moan. Think any song from Loop’s A Gilded Eternity mixed with Sonic Youth’s “Death Valley ’69” and you get the idea. Live and on record, the sound is huge, maybe one of Denver’s loudest bands, but not unwieldy. And with bands like Bright Channel, Tarmints and Monofog now defunct, Gangcharger fills a sorely under-represented hole in the Denver scene. Raw, forced chords and heavy bass drill into the inner ear and drag you and your surroundings inside with them, leaving you in an aural vertigo, leaning heavily on sheer volume to remain upright.

Lately, the band’s “Kathy In the Quarry,” with a sonic nod in Lydia Lunch’s diretion, has been getting pretty regular play on CU Boulder’s Radio 1190, and deservedly so. Here’s another taste of Gangcharger below, “Apparition,” from the new EP: - Denver Thread


Discography

Kathy in the Quarry - Single, 2009
Metal Sun - EP, 2009

Photos

Bio

Formed in January, 2009, Denver noise-rock outfit Gangcharger has ascended rapidly through the ranks of their local scene, quickly earning themselves slots on large summer festivals like The Westword Music Showcase and The Denver Post UMS, as well as sharing the stage with such like-minded bands as Autolux, The Sian Alice Group and Mika Miko. Seamlessly blending classic rock song structures with updated guitar sounds and broken radio static assaults, their brand of noise has prompted comparisons to early Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine and A Place to Bury Strangers, and drawn praise from local critics such as Tom Murphy, who stated "if you're a fan of noise rock of any stripe, or you like your music almost aggressively raw, this act is the embodiment of both."

Gangcharger’s debut EP, Metal Sun, was released on December 19th, 2009, at a massive warehouse bash described by Westword as a “party you think belongs in places like New York.” The record is quickly garnering critical approval from writers like Billy Thieme: “Gangcharger fills a sorely under-represented hole in the Denver scene. Raw, forced chords and heavy bass drill into the inner ear and drag you and your surroundings inside with them, leaving you in an aural vertigo, leaning heavily on sheer volume to remain upright - live and on record, the sound is huge.” Aiming to harness the momentum, founding member Ethan Ward and newest addition Paige Peterson are now at work recording the first full length release for a group that local press has already labeled “one of Denver’s best bands.”