ghost and the city
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ghost and the city

Oakland, California, United States | SELF

Oakland, California, United States | SELF
Band Rock Jazz


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With deep, nicotine-inflected vocals and a tone that's deliberately dark, it's hard to avoid comparing Ghost and the City to Nick Cave. Which is always a compliment — this is an excellent album, pleasantly bitter and twisted. Throaty female backing vocals accent the mood perfectly; music is somber and bluesy with occasional moments of orchestration. Perfect for drinking to on a rainy day. - East Bay Express

Ghost and the City isn't another one of "those bands" - in fact, the term band fails to adequately describe the group. More accurate would be musical collective. The Oakland-based ensemble consists of 10 primary members, but counts close to 30 people in its encompassing musical collaborative.

The band, whose first album was released this week, has come a long way since its inception. It first began a couple years ago, as an idea in frontman Ash Maynor's head. Bit-by-bit and piece-by-piece, that seed took root and transformed into what it is today. He admits that the original vision was quite different than its current incarnation, but after a one-day open call for recording, the orchestrated sound of horns and strings worked their way into the music and forced it in an entirely new direction. "It snowballed and kind of turned into an album," Maynor recalled.

The group's sound is distinct, with a solid indie-rock ground foundation that flirts with layers of jazz, blues and pop, and everything in between, but every listener is guaranteed to draw something different from the experience.

"I don't think we like to classify [ourselves]," Maynor. "We kind of just let people tell us what we sound like."

The result is an album which features an conglomeration of members from various past and present Bay Area acts, including: Built for the Sea, the Plus Ones, A Burning Water, Push to Talk, the Definite Articles, Book 'Em Danno, North America, Green Light Go, Picture Atlantic, the Wunder Years, the K.G.B, Royalty and more.

"Everyone in this band is really seasoned," Maynor said.

Alexis Melnicki, who shares vocal duties with Maynor, agreed.

"Everyone in the band is pretty good at what they do," she said smiling.

The diverse pool it draws from and the play between so many genres has a synthesizing affect, one that the band finds works in its favor.

"Even with the last show, we were definitely the odd-band out," Melnicki said. "But what we found was that people were really paying attention, and we were really surprised by the people that worked their way to the front and watched the whole set."

The show she is referring to was the band's debut at the Rickshaw Stop last month. Tomorrow night, Ghost and the City will play again at the Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco to celebrate the official release of the album. Members hit the stage donning all black, with white armbands featuring the band's logo -artwork which references the synthesis of the meaning of the lyrics and the name of the band.

Maynor described it as a sense of distaste or disgust for a city, the city in this instance being San Francisco. The ghost character central in the image represents a figure wanting to leave that place, due to feeling like it doesn't belong there any longer.

It is this sense that Maynor feels makes the music applicable to the audience, because everyone can place that feeling of not belonging or having things go wrong. The lyrics themselves are a reflections of the rough times Maynor went through involving relationship breakups, band breakups, feeling broken inside, drinking too much and general discontent.

"I think the important thing that we try to do is that we want people to be able to relate to it," he said. "We don't want it to be so abstract and so crazy that you're like, 'I don't know what the hell they're talking about.'"

And while the lyrics speak straight to these issues, the music and tonality also serve to reinforce the written content and drive the point home.

At the forefront of the band are Maynor and Melnicki, who alternate between singing together and apart, while also showcasing a sense of duality, like a conversation between the two. Maynor's vocals are deep and brooding like Stephen Merritt and growly like Tom Waits, while Melnicki's supplementary and sultry voice resonates, floating in, above and between. Add in the traditional elements of guitar, keyboard, bass and drums, and then throw violin, viola, cell, trombone, saxophone, trumpet and a choir of voices on top of that, and the end result is more cabaret than clumsy, more dramatic than delineating, more powerful than paltry.

What's so captivating about this band isn't merely its way of being an exception to the standard indie rock band formula, but rather the larger-than-life attitude it employs. The attention to detail reveals itself in the music, its emotional play demanding and commanding an audience. More than a live show, the band sees itself as putting on a performance, always striving to be innovative in its arrangements and presentation.

"We're more worried about quantity than quality," Maynor said. "I think a large portion of it was figuring it to make it work."

But Ghost and the City certainly has made it work. While the album has been available for online purchase since Tuesday, Friday night's show guarantees to be a unique experience. The album will be available for purchase at the show via posters with digital download codes. In today's technological climate, anyone can get an album for free whether through friends or torrents, so the band chose to go about things differently than the traditional model.

"Technically, we're giving the album away for free to people," Maynor said. "We want as many people to hear it as possible."

In the process, the band hopes to win over new fans, who are drawn to it not because it sounds like something people are familiar with, but because it doesn't.

"We're just making music that we like," Maynor said. "And that's how it comes out." - Oakland Examiner

The scope of the Bay Area’s independent music scene shone through brightly at Friday night’s sold out show at the Bottom of the Hill. From epic trudging post-rock, to uppity indie-pop and string metal, the show was true to the emerging and innovative spirit of the Noise Pop Festival.

Opening the night was San Francisco’s own Glaciers, an instrumental post-rock endeavor. Glacier’s full electric guitar sound rhythmically worked its way through well-crafted ebbs and flow’s of energy, creating a gritty emotional soundscape reminiscent of the icy landscapes their name brings to mind.

Taking stage next was Ghost and the City, another SF gem of a band that’s forging its own way in this music-saturated city. Their songs had the narrative sensibility of a singer-songwriter’s work, turned dark and accompanied by a full horn and string section; definitely worth the listen.

The popular highlight of the night was without a doubt San Francisco’s own Scissors for Lefty, the part indie-pop, part dance-rock, colorful sensation. Beginning their set with a simple and sweet acoustic guitar and voice moment, lead singer Bryan Garza’s flawless falsetto drew the crowd into their danceable world. Full of playful keyboard parts, singable melodies, and driving rhythm and bass lines, the laser shows and fog machines we’re only the cherry on top of this delectable experience. Scissors for Lefty has shared the stage with the likes of Bloc Party and Smashing Pumpkins before, and I would say their uplifting talent has a bright future lying ahead. Scissors for Lefty is true to the positive and yet slightly angst-filled energy of a clear sunny day in San Francisco, and they’re one more reason to be proud of the Bay Area.

Closing the night was an astoundingly innovate treat from across the bay, the string-metal trio Judgement Day. As dark and foreboding as their name suggests, Judgement Day delivered the raw energy of black metal with the finesse of classical musicians and the compositional structure of a sweeping romantic-era composition.

With just a drummer, cellist and violinist, this group tackles a big-band fullness without ever sounding thin. In fact, when they we’re joined by a two man horn section for their last couple songs, the additional instruments barely added to their grandeur. It seemed as though their bows were starting to come apart by the end of the relentless fifty minute set. Pushing the limits of what can be done with just some drums, a cello and a violin, Judgement Day is a very promising trail-blazer in San Francisco’s music scene. - Green Shoelace

As previously discussed, Friday night's Noise Pop show at SF's Bottom of the Hill was off the hook, and that goes for the photography, too. There were so many great photos from this event that there are multiple entries, and—before you ask—the reason co-headliners Judgement Day don't have any photos featured in either article have to do with a combination of no longer having room on the compact flash card (8GB, totally full, after three acts!), as well as Your Examiner being perhaps a little too excited to talk with Bryan Garza after Scissors For Lefty's mind-altering set ended. Apologies to Judgement Day, who were more than amazing (who doesn't like string metal? Answer: no one!).

On that note, please enjoy a few more highlights from Friday night's fantastic show, featuring Glaciers and Ghost and the City (added bonus: trombones!): - SF Examiner

Ghost and the City Captivates with its devastatingly enchanting style, evoking sensations of beauty, loss, love and the downward spiral that often comes hand in hand with such emotions. It's a story we all know: the experience of heart-wrenching pain and becoming lost in our own dark thoughts. What started as a studio project between friends has evolved into a full-blown, 10-piece ensemble, creating music that defies the basic boundaries of any one particular genre.

With a band full of seasoned musicians, one can only expect the intricacy and complexity apparent in the songs created by Ghost and the City. Their self-titled album began as a few band members fooling around and evolved into an epic musical odyssey, providing a window into the life of the ghost character. Anyone who ever lived in a city can relate to the overwhelming sense of loss and confusion portrayed by the ghost becoming consumed by the world around us. The band maintains a dark yet enchanting tone that is strangely comforting. It's the sort of music you can feel seep into your skin and pulse through your body, leaving a lasting effect. It's hard not to lose yourself in the music when the songs surround you with a stunning blend of strings, keys, horns, percussion and even at points a large children's choir. "We're just doing something that we weren't really worried about pulling off live," says singer and co-producer Ash Maynor. "It would just be larger than life."

And that sense of grandeur is apparent not only in the music but in the performances themselves. Whenever the band comes together for a live show they take the stage in all black, sporting white armbands in a very classic, old-era fashion. You experience not just a rock show, but rather a theatrical and intensive concerto of sorts. The band hits you with a combination of jazz, modern rock and influences of orchestrated musicals such as The Nightmare Before Christmas. It's a delightful grab bag of genres molded neatly into an acoustically and visually ?stunning package.

Although the band puts on a hell-of-a performance, they prefer to keep their calendar to only a few shows every now and then, focusing more on getting their music out into the digital world. "It's like the landscape has changed, so bands, or any type of musicians, get smarter on what they're doing and how they market themselves," says Maynor. "We're only playing certain shows here and there and having a heavy emphasis on the online stuff because there's only a certain amount of people that are gonna see us in San Francisco, but we want people that are on the other side of the country to know what it's like to be at a show when we're playing."

Ghost and the City is not a band whose main goal is to be signed and make it big, perhaps evident in their lack of focus on gigging hard. Rather, they make music purely for the love of music (and if they do happen to become more well-known in the process, then that's merely icing on the cake). Even now, they thrive in true DIY fashion, free of the boundaries and constrictions that would normally come hand in hand with a label or management. The album was recorded in homes, warehouses and a number of studios, taking a total of two years to complete in order to create the beautifully orchestrated narrative.

It was never really about creating something original or something that hadn't been heard before, but somewhere along the way the band managed to orchestrate a sound beyond labels and classification. It is art in the purest sense, creating something from scratch rather than something from what has already been heard a thousand times before. - Performer Magazine


ghost and the city: self-titled (full length), released 2009
ghost and the city: murky (full length), 2011 release



ghost and the city regales listeners with booze-swilling tales of anger, loss and regret from memories so hauntingly familiar. contained within a collection of these diaries, you will find a character in his best attempts to expel the demons weighing against his mind and the price for redemption. it is believed that for a man to tell a story, he must first purge himself of his own darkness.