Thank technology for letting three musicians in three different parts of the country be a band together. Former Ghosts is Freddy Ruppert (This Song Is A Mess But So Am I), Jamie Stewart (Xiu Xiu), and Nika Roza (Zola Jesus). It’s a bit goth, but in a sort of uplifting way that flourishes on the album Fleurs and Rupert bears his soul with Shakespearean style. Make their L.A. show your Halloween destination. This interview by Daiana Feuer.
What kind of factory would you like to work in?
Freddy Ruppert (vocals/synthesizers): Maybe a factory that manufactures cakes—a baking factory. I’d work on the cupcake line. As the cupcakes come down the conveyor belt, I’d have to pour the frosting on.
The sounds on ‘Us And Now’ remind me of a factory, which is why I asked.
Freddy Ruppert: We all grew up on a lot of ’80s goth and industrial stuff, so the weird sounds come from that influence. I guess it’s surprising that I’d say a cupcake factory, but I think the record kind of mixes the sweet with the dark.
What song reps the sweet?
Freddy Ruppert: Probably ‘Unfolding’ or ‘Us And Now.’ All the songs are kinda love songs aimed for a particular person I was insanely head over heels for. There wasn’t a plan to release them. They were written in a tumultuous time when things were going badly between us and given to her as presents while we were going through this rough stuff.
What made you decide to share them with a band and release them?
Freddy Ruppert: I quit my old band, This Song Is A Mess But So Am I, because I couldn’t handle it anymore. I didn’t do music for two years then I met her and started writing and put the songs on a blog and I’d take them down after she heard the songs. I can’t justify their existence, but this record label wanted to release them, so that’s how it came together. Me and Jamie had been friends for a long time. We were talking about starting something forever. Nika, I really like her voice so I asked her to sing and then asked her to join. But it’s hard for me to justify making it public. Other than hoping to relate to someone else, if that makes sense. I guess the girl was my muse at the time. Making it public is hoping that someone can relate to having that sort of depth and suffering and confusion.
Is there hope in it?
Freddy Ruppert: It’s hard to say. At the time of writing them, a lot of the songs were hopeful. It always felt like I was crazy—on the verge of blooming or withering. Now looking back on them they don’t seem so hopeful. They’re dark, but there’s some hope trapped in there for someone to find. I have a problem with making things too personal. But that’s how I am. I don’t have a gauge or barrier for that. And that is a problem but maybe it’s also a good thing? I think a lot of the songs have a sense of desperation. It was like, ‘I am holding on to this—why aren’t you holding on to this?’ Love is a crazy thing. It skews a lot of stuff. You get wrapped up in it. It almost takes over. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s hard to know—you know how you feel but the way someone else feels could be not as strong or stronger.
Do you compose songs structurally or organically?
Freddy Ruppert: Kinda structurally. I usually have an idea in my mind, but I approach it musically first. I set the music then I go lyrically. It’s compartmentalized. I put the structure and then I mail it to Jamie and Nika and they add in their parts. Lyrics and content stuff is more organic—based on feelings—but the piecing together of the sounds is more structural.
‘A white sheet descends over our bodies and I watch it from a distance.’ What’s that line about? Have you ever had an out-of-body experience?
Freddy Ruppert: Not so much out of body but a feeling of seeing yourself in a certain way—or in the future with someone else that you’re with in the present. Being in this moment where you are in love and captured by them and you can see yourself and this person out of your body, experiencing something else. Not necessarily floating above my body. I have a tendency to romanticize the future. That line is about from a distance seeing your relationship come apart and hoping it can be brought back to life. Like lifting a white sheet off a dead body. Seeing the relationship die.
Are you sad or do you connect with sad? Are you Etta James or Muddy Waters?
Freddy Ruppert: I would say Etta James. I think it kind of becomes a problem when I play live. It can be cathartic to a point but then it can be painful to relive. It’s a fine line. The songs are all personal expressions of my own life. So I am more Etta James. My main concern is surviving through the day.
Why the abrupt ending for ‘Choices’?
Freddy Ruppert: I guess that song is heavy. It was like I was waiting while she was sorting herself out—and I am just waiting and waiting. I feel like that crazy build at the ending—it’s this intense thing of hoping. It represents a thought process that builds up but cuts off. ‘I am waiting and going through all this stuff but you’re not realizing it.’ Then it’s just cut and that’s it. And then what do I do with that? What do I do when it’s gone?
When something can’t be put in words, does the music pick up where the lyrics can’t go?
Freddy Ruppert: Some people write crazy lyrics and the music might be happy. But music should also be representative of the emotion being expressed. When I write a song I know what the song is about. So the emotion and feeling I want to express is there and I need the music to express it. The medium is the message in a way. The emotion would be lost without the music conveying that. For me, they are intertwined.
How did you get Jamie and Nika’s contributions if they don’t live in L.A.?
Freddy Ruppert: I live in L.A., Nika lives in Madison, and Jamie lives in Durham. For ‘In Earth’s Palm’ and ‘Bull And Ram’ and ‘I Wave,’ I sent them music and Jamie did the lyrics for his and Nika did hers. For ‘I Wave,’ me and Jamie worked together. Then I sent the music to Nika and she put in her part. It worked out that their lyrics fit the theme of the record. We just seem to work together well. Nika is completely unbelievable. The first song I sent her was the last song, ‘This Is My Last Goodbye.’ When she sent it back I was like, ‘Please join the band!’ I am completely in love with her voice. She has these moments when it comes across vulnerable but when she lets loose, it’s this really powerful thing. I’m so excited to work in depth with them for the next album—in the same room. I hope she will sing more. Jamie is here now so we can practice though Nika can’t do the tour with us. Maybe we could set up a Powerbook and do a video conference with her projected on the wall so she could sing!
If someone unearthed Fleurs post-apocalypse, what vision of the past would it deliver?
Freddy Ruppert: My biggest fear is looking like a crazy pathetic person who obsessed over a girl. I would rather them see it as a romantic gesture rather than pathetic. Something that captures a past romance. In terms of music, I think the sounds are strange—at times they are pop melodies but dissonant and off-putting in moments. If they never heard music before, maybe that would be unfortunate.
FORMER GHOSTS WITH THE L.A. LADIES’ CHOIR, POCAHAUNTED AND MORE ON SAT., OCT. 31, AT SYNCHRONICITY SPACE, 4306 MELROSE AVE., LOS ANGELES. 8 PM / COST TBA / ALL AGES. SYNCSPACELA.COM. FORMER GHOSTS’ FLEURS IS OUT NOW ON UPSET THE RHYTHM. VISIT FORMER GHOSTS AT FORMERGHOSTS.COM OR MYSPACE.COM/FORMERGHOSTSSLEEP.