Interview: The Ghost Inside

The Ghost Inside

On June 5th, The Ghost Inside will triumphantly return with their self-titled fifth album – an eleven track journey featuring the heaviest and most poignant work of the band’s illustrious career. It’s the Los Angeles band’s first release in nearly six years and it’s a record that almost never existed as the path towards The Ghost Inside was littered with tragedy, pain, and self-doubt. On the morning of November 19, 2015, the band’s tour bus collided head on with a tractor trailer while headed west to Mesa, Arizona on U.S. Highway 180. The drivers of both vehicles, Greg Hoke and Steven Cunningham, lost their lives in the accident, while vocalist Jonathan Vigil, bassist Jim Riley, guitarists Zach Johnson and Chris Davis, and drummer Andrew Tkaczyk suffered life-changing injuries (Tkaczyk lost one of his legs following an initial ten-day coma). After facing a lengthy recovery period, the band took time to get into the right head space to figure out if they wanted to continue as The Ghost Inside. Realizing that this tragedy is the precise moment to put their inspirational lyrics to the test, the quintet returned to a sold-out performance last summer at Los Angeles’ The Shrine, promising new music soon. That moment is now and I was fortunate enough to speak with Andrew about the record, the moving visual for their first single “Aftermath,” and creating the record the band was always meant to make.

So the new single, “Aftermath,” – whew. I got to say that that video is just super emotional, super powerful. Obviously, I’m assuming that the COVID stuff kind of changed plans for how that video was going to be shot? Because it looks like Jonathan was at the location of the accident. Was that the plan the whole time or was that kind of the idea of going into that video shoot?

Well first of all, no, John is not at the site. That’s just a couple of miles away from his house in Las Vegas. But it does look similar to where the accident happened. So a lot of people are thinking that. And I get why, but no, that’s in Las Vegas. But yeah, the plans did change. We were set to go do a few music videos. We were going to go to LA and just kind of film two or three all at once to have them in line and ready to go for launching singles. But obviously with the coronavirus and this pandemic that’s going on, we… Jim for the most part came up with the idea to do a self quarantine style shot video of all of our performance parts and then use archive footage to kind of piece together the story and everything. And it turned out probably better than what we would’ve actually done had we legit shot a video. So yeah, it turned out absolutely incredible and the feedback has been insane.

Yeah. I mean I was telling my wife about it and the part that gets me is at the end with the split screen with the recovery and then y’all playing at your first show I’m assuming.

Yep.

Yeah man, that part gave me chills.

Yeah man. That shot, the side by side, it says so much with showing so little. It’s so concise how it’s like there we are at the very beginning of this journey and there we are meeting our main goal we’ve had the entire time. And it translated with the vibe of the song and the part it’s on so insanely well. I think everyone seems to get a little choked up. I’ve been watching every single one of these reaction videos on YouTube and people that are completely…they go in blindly, they have no idea who the band is or anything and don’t even like metal or hardcore and they’re moved by it. So that’s saying something right there, that it’s a powerful message. You know?

Yeah, absolutely. Which I mean over your career as The Ghost Inside, you’ve always had kind of that positive message, but you really put it to the test with the songwriting and the lyrics on this record. I know some of my favorite songs on the record, I love “Pressure Point,” “Outcast” and “Still Alive,” man. What a great opener. After the instrumental intro, that’s wild. All of y’all who were involved in the accident sing gang vocals on that (“Still Alive”). Where did that inspiration come from?

Yeah. Wow, so you’ve heard the record. That’s awesome.

Yeah. Yeah, the record rules, man.

That’s awesome. Dude, yeah I’m excited. I’m excited for it to be out and everyone to hear it. Yeah, for Still Alive, yeah that was actually… I want to say that was the very last track we wrote for the record and we wanted it to be… We knew we needed a big opening track, like first that intro, but then “Still Alive” is kind of like the first full song, you know what I mean? So we approached it like we wanted to go back to the roots and have sort of a Returners vibe to it, which I think that very first opening riff and verse sounds like something straight up off of Returners. And then yeah, the lyrics and it’s called “Still Alive.” I forget whose idea it was in the studio, but it might’ve been Vigil. It was either Vigil or Jim I think had this idea to just get everyone, all 10 of us band and crew that were in the accident and just sort of yell that part into their phones. And Will (Putney – the records producer) was able to take just the iPhone voice memos and make them sound like it’s a thousand people. It’s all 10 of us and that’s such a cool little Easter egg that’ll be cool to share that with everyone. But yeah, it turned out awesome.

The whole vibe of the record is really, really cool because obviously that song kind of touches on the accident, but you don’t dwell on it through the whole record. It’s a very optimistic and positive record, but it’s also realistic and it can be angry. It’s not cornball. But that anger never turns to bitterness, where it could be really easy to be really bitter about things. And I just think just that whole mindset of just that positivity and just overcoming, that’s heard throughout the whole record. This is just a total different level than past Ghost Inside records. And metal and hardcore are such a cathartic method and mode of music. This is the perfect type of genre to play where you have to bounce back and rise like the Phoenix again.

Yeah, exactly. And it was very cathartic for us too to put all this stuff down on paper. And we encouraged Vigil when writing lyrics, don’t be afraid to get a little dark if you have to because we’re all about being completely raw and transparent. And what we went through was raw. Some of that needs to shine through on the record to convey the message. But ultimately, yeah, it’s like we’ve been talking about how crazy it is kind of that all of The Ghost Inside’s lyrics since The Ghost Inside has been a band have been all these kinds of lyrics that are motivating and push forward and never look back kind of ideas behind them. And now this, we’re put to the test now. We have to stand behind the meaning of these lyrics. And a lot of that has been in this record too, which is pretty crazy how it turned out. Yeah man, we’re all very, very, very proud of it. Just can’t wait for it to be out.

I think that’s why “Pressure Point” has resonated the most with me because it feels like an angry song and it is angry, but not a bitter song. And it still has that positive message. But the riffs and then that breakdown is just so nasty. That song rules. I feel like that’s one of the heaviest Ghost Inside songs I’ve ever heard in my life.

That’s what we were going for, for that track because if you kind of look through, every Ghost Inside record has that one track that’s just super pissed off and super heavy. And we were like, well we got to do that. That’s one of our staples. It turned out to be also, one of our collectively I think absolute top three at least, favorite tracks on the record and how it was put together. I don’t know if we expected the heavy one to be one of our favorites, but I think it’s one of the best songs on the record.

Absolutely. I want to circle back around to “Aftermath,” I’m always interested in albums sequencing and what singles get released. When I first watched the video, I didn’t know what the track listing was and after I heard it I was like, wow, that’s got to be the opener to the record, but it’s actually the closer. What was the strategy behind having the closer of your comeback album be the first single to release?

Yeah, it was a tricky thing for me especially, because we knew that that song when the record was done had to be the closing track. That’s like the book end of the record. But it took a lot of convincing from me to convince to the band and even our producer, Will, that this needed to be the first song people hear. I don’t think anyone was onboard with it for a while and I just kept fighting it. And then I think once the record was finally mixed and everything was finished… Actually we had one night out of the blue, Vigil texted me in the middle of the night and he’s like, “Yo dude, you were right.” And I’m like, “What do you mean? What do you mean?” He’s like, “You were right about Aftermath.” He’s like, “No other song on our record or in our catalog makes me feel the way that does.” Except I’m sure “White Light” is probably the most personal and emotional one for him. I can’t speak for him exactly, but I would assume. But he texted me and I was like, aw, thank God. He gets it. It took a lot of convincing from me to make that the first record and I think it worked out. So I’m glad everyone got on board with that.

It makes total sense. It has the lyric before the breakdown – triumph over tragedy – which feels like  almost kind of just the mantra of the whole record. I feel like that ties in perfectly.

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And it’s got the whole… It’s got the formula of everything TGI is about. It’s got those super energetic verses and chorus and it’s got the big breakdown. It’s got an epic triumphant ending that’s almost reminiscent of an “Engine 45” type song. And that’s what I was trying to explain to the guys, was this could be our next “Engine 45” level of a song because of how it’s structured and I think the effect it’s going to have on people. And the video is what took it to the next level I think. The video is what made it go… Just absolutely made it go ‘okay, no wonder they did this song first.’ To tell our story and the first one being out after six years of not releasing music, it just made sense that that was the first one.

After such a traumatic experience, you never know if you’re going to even play music again. I read that you were the first one on board, which surprised some of your fellow band mates. Just that’s incredible to me, that positive thinking that you and the band were able to get back to – back to that point of making a new record. Did you ever think you were going to get to this point where a new Ghost Inside record would be coming out five years after the fact?

I never knew or expected when it would happen, but I always knew it was going to happen. I knew it. Yeah, with what happened man, I just, I don’t know what it was in me, but I was just not going to accept that my music career and this band and all of this was going to end because of something like our accident. We all agreed we want the band to end on our own terms. And we were just going to do literally everything it took to make it so it’s going to end on our terms. And now with new music coming out and we’ve played a couple shows and we’ve dipped our toes in the water of performing again. I mean I think we all have scratched that itch and we want more. And who knows what is going to happen, especially right now with the coronavirus pandemic and all of this stuff, it’s like back to uncertainty again. It’s almost… Excuse me. And so we’ve talked about this before, just amongst ourselves about how after the accident there was a few years where it just felt like our lives were on pause. But when that was going on, when we were recovering, the world was still going on around us. We were seeing everything business as usual, we were seeing all of our friends on tour. Knowing that okay, well our goal is to get back and do this again. And in this situation, it’s just like everybody is on pause and it’s just so bizarre. And there’s that uncertainty again, which we’re oddly conditioned to already from what we went through.

Giving a record the self-titled treatment is always a bold move, especially so since it’s The Ghost Inside’s comeback record and a self-titled is almost declaring that ‘this is our definitive piece of music.’ when you self-title a record. That and the mosaic of the album art give the record a very “this is a big deal” feel to it. Where did that inspiration come from?

That was our dad and genius of the band, Sir Jim Riley. He actually came up with the concept of having the album be self-titled years ago because it was a situation where it was the first time where everyone in the band was involved. In the past, with our old guitar player, Aaron, he sort of took the bulk of everything and not everyone was super, super involved. And this time it was all five of us, it was The Ghost Inside creating this record and that translated into how it turned out. And there’s no better title for it than just The Ghost Inside because this is The Ghost Inside. And then the mosaic idea was another idea Jim had with sort of the idea to pay homage back to our fans and the overwhelming amount of support we received over the years. We had this sort of cryptic message saying, we’re working on a project, send me your TGI tattoos. And no one really put together, at least that I know of, that it was going to be for our album artwork. So the album artwork is… It’s like the message is, is this is The Ghost Inside, but we did this because of you guys. You guys gave us the strength and drive to do another record. So that’s like our thank you in a way.

The Ghost Inside is out 6/5 on Epitaph Records. Pre-order it here.

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