Ghost Bath are one of those bands who seem to have been sent here primarily to stir shit up and polarise people – which in itself is kind of interesting to observe. Ironically, they’re not actually an intentionally provocative band, and yet almost everything about them is somewhat contentious. For a start, their music is largely a combination of post-black metal and DSBM (that’s ‘depressive/suicidal black metal’ to the uninitiated), two increasingly autonomous genres that, though passionately championed by fans, are frequently disowned and even condemned by the rest of the black metal community.
They also caused a small outrage when it was revealed that they had managed to fool fans, press and (if some versions of the story are to be believed) their own record label, by claiming that they were from China, when in fact they hailed from North Dakota in the US – a somewhat less exotic setting to be sure. Then there’s the fact that one of their more obvious points of comparison, the popular post-black metal outfit Deafheaven, claimed in an interview that the band were stealing “everything about their whole shit” from them. And to top it all off, they’re now signed to industry giants Nuclear Blast, a move that has predictably antagonised their critics as well as causing concern among their underground fanbase.
Figuring quite where the band, and in particular their central protagonist Nameless, is coming from (well, other than North Dakota that is) is in many ways a harder thing to get a grip on than their work itself. And you could argue that it’s not that important: music after all is subjective, and Ghost Bath’s surprisingly accessible combination of black metal influences and non-black metal musical and aesthetic traits is, almost by definition, going to delight some people while alienating others. A song like Golden Number (from the recent album Moonlover) – a curiously catchy combination of tortured DSBM vocals, melancholy introspection, emotive guitar textures and an almost pop-punk/hardcore melodic refrain – will either appeal or horrify, depending on your sensibilities
How much do credibility and authenticity matter if the music really touches you? And if you hate it, then surely all the cult references in the world aren’t going to make you want to listen to it. In some ways it shouldn’t matter how honest or worthy the intentions are. But even given all that, it’s still kind of nice to know where you stand with this sort of thing. And so we battled half an hour of technical difficulties to speak to the man himself via Skype and get the stories for ourselves…
**To begin with, can you give us some idea of your musical background and how you discovered black metal and its associated sub-genres in the first place?
**“I’ve pretty much been playing music my whole life and all through school and college I was in bands. My last band was called Apparatus, it was more post-hardcore basically, trying to be like Botch, Converge, Norma Jean, that sort of thing. But throughout that time I always listened to black metal and had been trying to do it as a side project. When my last band fell apart and people quit, I decided to do the black metal thing on my own and I wrote an EP. I showed it to the band I was working with and they said they didn’t like it, they didn’t like the vocals, and they all basically quit on me ha ha. So I did the EP by myself and people began to respond to it.”
**What bands in black metal were the most interest and inspiration?
**“Growing up it was mostly, let’s see, Darkthrone I remember listening to, Transilvanian Hunger was probably one of my favourite ones. Other than that I was listening to Behemoth a lot and Agalloch was probably my biggest influence. When I discovered them I decided to make something of my own because I just popped in [their album] Ashes Against The Grain and I just loved it, I had that CD in my car for months straight, only listening to that and that’s probably one of my favourite bands. From there I started discovering more atmospheric and Cascadian [black metal] bands like Wolves In The Throne Room and Austere. Silencer was another big one.”
**Right now a lot of people see Ghost Bath as being very much in the post-black metal vein, but your first releases were a lot more about DSBM, so it’s interesting that you mention Silencer, who are one of the pioneers of that strand of the genre.
**“Yeah, when I started everything I was strictly into DSBM and that’s basically what I was listening to at the time; Agalloch and DSBM all the time, that was what I was listening to making the EP and [2014 debut album] Funeral. Bands like Austere and Lifelover, Elderwind, Germ… I basically wanted to take DSBM, which for the most part was a lot of simple riffs and unpolished production, and take those ideas, the mood, the atmosphere and feeling and then give it just a touch more complexity and more polish in the recording.”
**Obviously a lot of people first heard about you because of this furore over the band initially being described as being Chinese – what happened there?
**“Ha ha! Well I made the [2013 self-titled debut] EP, which was just myself, my 100 dollar guitar and my computer. On Bandcamp you’re required to put a location – I thought it would be cool to have no location, but Bandcamp wouldn’t allow that, so I put somewhere on the other side of the world, which happened to be China. From there I got contacted on Facebook by a Chinese record label, Solitude Productions, and he wanted to put out 50 records and I was like, ‘Okay, cool, that works’. Then he said he could introduce us to his friend at [larger Chinese label] Pest Productions, and there’s two different people there. I spoke to the owner and the entire time he knew where I was from, but there’s another guy who helps out with the label who lives in South America and he started messaging me one day saying, ‘Oh you lied to the label, we might not put it out’. I didn’t know who this guy was so I talked to the owner and he said, ‘No I never thought you were from China,’ so we continued with the release [of the first album] and they put out PR saying I was from China…”
So they were in on the joke?
“They were in on it, yes. I remember they made a banner saying we were ‘from the ancient east’ and stuff like that, and I just went along with it. I wasn’t really expecting to go anywhere with the project, I was expecting to just carry on making records in my basement, but it sort of blew up over time, once I released [second album] Moonlover, the song Golden Number kind of blew the band up and at that point I thought, ‘Okay, I should probably not say I’m from China anymore,’ so I slowly took stuff off from websites. I wanted to keep the band members secret, I thought that was cool and helped with the sound of the music, but everyone became kind of obsessed with knowing who we were, our names and our faces, that sort of became the focus of everything. I really didn’t like that, so the other day I revealed all our faces. I was tired of only answering questions about this and we’re going to be playing live shows so I figured if we were going to do it, now’s the time.”
**Was there any backlash from all this? How did people react once it was revealed that you weren’t Chinese?
**“It was a mixed reaction – you had the people who thought it was… like, the worst thing in the world ha ha. They were like, ‘Oh they’re fake, they’re liars’. And then other people were like, ‘It doesn’t matter where it’s from, I like the music.’ I don’t care, let them think what they think.”
**Deafheaven also took a bit of a public poke at you…
**“They can say whatever they want I don’t really care ha ha. The most interaction I had with them is a couple of tweets with George [Clarke], I tweeted him Golden Number and he said, ‘Oh yeah, I like this song, I showed some friends when it came out I don’t mind the comparisons,’ and that is the extent of the interaction I’ve had with them. So I don’t know, I think journalists like to create a story from almost nothing. Kerry [McCoy] said something like, ‘Oh, they took everything from us…’ but I saw later that day that Kerry tweeted and said they took it out of context, so I don’t know.”
**Is it a band you think you’ve taken influence from or that you can see parallels with?
**“I can see some comparisons in sound but there’s so many bands I sound a lot more like, I’m surprised that’s the one everyone says we sound like. If you listen to Austere or Germ, I think we sound closer to that then Deafheaven. But I think because Deafheaven are so big, they’re the easier band to compare us to. And I guess when writing I didn’t do a good job of doing an Agalloch thing because no one compares us to them ha ha.”
**All this debate about the band doesn’t seem to have harmed your prospects and you’ve now signed with Nuclear Blast, a sizeable label hardly known for signing post black metal or DSBM bands.
**“Last year Josh [Schroeder, Moonlover producer] introduced me to [Nuclear Blast A&R] Monte Conner because he’d worked with him for King 810. I talked to Monte for a while and basically was negotiating with Nuclear Blast for like seven/eight months, we were talking for quite a while. I think it will be good for us. I like the fact that we’re not as ‘traditional metal’ as most of the bands on the label. I like sticking out a little bit.”
Moonlover is out now digitally, via Nuclear Blast, with a physical release coming June 10.
Ghost Bath play the Friday of this year’s Bloodstock festival.