I/O: DIRTY GHOSTS
Twelve years ago, Allyson Baker felt a big change calling and made the move from her native Toronto to the cosmopolitan hills of San Francisco. As a member of Toronto punkers TEEN CRUD COMBO, Allyson felt that she had done all she could at the time within the Toronto music scene, and she felt that to pursue her aspiration of making music her career she needed to leave the city. It looks as though the move paid off – on her most recent return to her hometown Allyson was accompanied by her new band, DIRTY GHOSTS, as part of their month-long North American tour to promote their debut album, Metal Moon.
To be exact, DIRTY GHOSTS are not really a ‘new’ band. Allyson has been working on the project for about five years, with the writing of the songs starting as a personal outlet. After the frustration of some failed bands, she was trying to take a step back from the pressure she had put on herself to succeed; in fact, she actively tried to quit music. However Allyson found she still needed to write, and some experimentation with her friend and former PARCHMAN FARM band member Carson Binks produced the early stages of DIRTY GHOSTS. Slowly but surely, an unrelenting drive to be part of a successful band returned to Allyson.
“I started to feel like I wanted to play live again; get a band going; be active. All the things I was avoiding when I started DIRTY GHOSTS. I just lost the desire to do all that stuff after doing it for so long: just your typical burnout. But after about four years it started to bubble back up again.”
She enlisted the help of a drummer, who before the recording of the album, quit. This paved the way for her then-husband and major inspiration in the initial recording stages of the project, AESOP ROCK, to step in, adding drum loops and production touches to the album. However, on their recent tour, DIRTY GHOSTS featured neither AESOP ROCK nor Carson Binks, but instead a new line up of Erin McDermott, Ben Tuttle, and Nick Andre.
“All the music I listen to gets in my head and a lot of times when I listen to something I think, ‘ugh I wanna try that’, and that’s how it started; it’s ‘record collector music’ I guess.”
“With this band I’ve learned that everything can change in a second. The plan is to have no plan. I’ve already started working on writing the next record and things with the live band are going great so the idea is we’re a band now and we’ll all be in the studio doing the next record.”
DIRTY GHOSTS’ debut album, Metal Moon, features a hybrid sound of Allyson’s punk and guitar background fused with slick production beats, late 60s funk, 70s rock, post-punk, new wave, and R&B. As Allyson says, “All the music I listen to gets in my head and a lot of times when I listen to something I think, ‘ugh I wanna try that’, and that’s how it started; it’s ‘record collector music’ I guess.”
So how does the album’s sound, with its production flares and chugging drum loops, translate to the guitar/bass/drums/keys line-up of DIRTY GHOSTS’ live show? Allyson explains, “The live show is pretty high-energy and doesn’t have the subtleties of the record that you’d hear in your headphones. We try to get as much of that as we can in the live set but it’s definitely more ‘big and rock’ live.”
DIRTY GHOSTS have just finished a month-long, 27-date stint touring their live show across the continent. Despite narrowly escaping a violent hail storm in Texas that claimed their tour van, (“We had some pretty stiff drinks at the hotel at the end of that night!”), the band made it to the Silver Dollar in Toronto as part of their tour. Allyson says it was one of her standout shows on the tour.
“My family and lots of old pals came out – even high school friends showed up that I didn’t expect to see – and Mark Pesci put on the show who’s an old friend too. It was definitely a special show. When we played in Ottawa it was the same scenario for Erin because that’s her hometown. Montreal and Vancouver were great too. It was good vibes in Canada; I’m very much looking forward to going back there again.”
It seems Canada plays an important part in the life of DIRTY GHOSTS. The band’s name is an acknowledgement to a personal joke among friends from Allyson’s time in Toronto, and references can be found in both TEEN CRUD COMBO and PARCHMAN FARM before the name was resurrected in full for this project. The band also maintains its Canadian ties through its record label, Last Gang Records. The Toronto-based label, which helped launch such Canadian acts as METRIC, MSTRKRFT, DEATH FROM ABOVE 1979, and CRYSTAL CASTLES, became involved with the release of Metal Moon after an inadvertent reach-out by Allyson.
“I called an old friend of mine to see if he had any leads on parties for SXSW last year. He didn’t but he told me he was an A&R for Last Gang and started asking me about my band. So I wound up sending him the record and that’s how it happened. Last Gang are awesome and I’m really stoked to be with a label from Toronto.”
“The live show is pretty high-energy and doesn’t have the subtleties of the record that you’d hear in your headphones. We try to get as much of that as we can in the live set but it’s definitely more ‘big and rock’ live.”
The label seems like a perfect fit for the band’s first album and its gritty-yet-polished electro-hip hop-rock stylings. Now that DIRTY GHOSTS have a set lineup with a slightly different instrumentation to their record, it will be interesting to see what direction their new compositions take. Allyson says the closest the band has come to writing new material was on tour, when they were “listening to music and talking about things we wanna try on the next record. I’m [Allyson] super excited to get to work on it.”
Despite the fact Metal Moon was released a mere four months ago and DIRTY GHOSTS have just finished an extensive and busy tour, Allyson is excited and energized with her new band and is eager to do it all again.
“[Touring] was so great – I hadn’t done it in so long and it was so fun to do with Erin, Ben and Nick. They’re all friends first so that really makes it feel like a vacation in a way; we’re all ready to go back out, even though we’ve only been back a few days. In terms of style, there are a lot of things I’m excited to try on the next record, and [to make] a record that doesn’t stretch over a 4-5 year period; it’s hard to have all the songs relate when they’ve been made so far apart from each other. It did show me that people don’t really give a shit if all your songs make sense next to each other or not, as long as people like them.”
You can catch Dirty Ghosts when they return to Canada to play Calgary’s Sled Island Festival in June – in the meantime you can read more of the band’s tour antics on their blog.