By Brian F. Johnson
It’s natural for a band’s sound to evolve and grow as a group goes through the years. Most of the time, the changes are subtle, usually spurred on by a lineup change or something similar that tweaks the band’s foundation. More rarely however, a band’s sound will completely flip the group from one section of the record store to another. Such is the case, however, with Holy Ghost Tent Revival.
The Greensboro, N.C.–born, and now Ashville, N.C.-based group started life as an Americana group with copious amounts of banjo and acoustic guitar. IndyWeek described the band’s first album as a “Mark Twain yarn, that conjures images of eras spent rambling from town to town, hopping between riverboats and trains…” But these days, the six-piece group has shed much of their rootsy-beginnings and acoustic style for a horn-driven, electric guitar soul-rock approach that recalls ’60s and ’70s classic-rock influences.
“We always thought we were a rock and roll band in disguise,” said guitarist/vocalist Matt Martin, during a recent interview with The Marquee. “We always thought that we were way more than an Americana band, even though we had the banjo and the acoustic guitars way back when. We attracted a whole lot of Americana audiences but you could expect a lot more than just that at our shows. And it all just naturally evolved.”
Martin said that a few years back, an improperly installed pick-up in his Martin guitar forced him to pick up his electric guitar much more than he had, and at the same time, then banjo player Stephen Murray started to pick up his electric guitar a lot more as well. While the two primary songwriters of the group were writing completely different material than they had in the past, neither were throwing each other for a loop, instead they were growing side-by-side, according to Martin.
<a href=”http://hgtr.bandcamp.com/album/right-state-of-mind” _mce_href=”http://hgtr.bandcamp.com/album/right-state-of-mind”>Right State of Mind by Holy Ghost Tent Revival</a>
“Steve and I met in college a decade ago and we have been writing music ever since. We’ve been walking step and step with each other through this whole evolution. He inspires me and I hear a song that he writes and think, “God, that’s just too good, now I have to write a better one,’” Martin said.
He went on to explain that part of the changes in the material could be attributed to the band’s new approach to songwriting and touring. The group, which once toured so incessantly that they nearly hit 300 shows in 2010, started to manage their down time better and to take precious time off so that they wouldn’t burn out.
“In the last two or three years, we’ve started taking the winters off and that’s the perfect, prime time to write. But we’re writing by ourselves and emailing things back and forth. There’s a lot more solitude and alone time these days,” Martin said.
Maybe it was the writing in solitude that allowed the band to tap into more personal stories than they ever had before for their latest album Right State of Mind, which was released in September, or maybe it has to do with the band members getting older and wiser. But Martin said that the new album tells a personal story that none of their previous work has ever done before, to this extent.
“As we’re aging and going through different experiences, it’s getting clearer how to put that into song. ‘Sun/Shadow,’ for example, is one of Steve’s songs and you can hear the loneliness of a guy sitting around the house in a relationship that may or may not be going so well. ‘Shadow Only Knows’ is one of my songs and it addresses the paranoia that I felt, and sometimes still feel, about not knowing how to react in a crowd. And, for only the second time, I’ve talked about the death of my father in one of my songs on Right State of Mind. So, we have these much more clear-headed approaches as to how to use these things that have been going on in our lives — and when you can put that in a song and use it as therapy, that’s the ultimate goal,” he said.
When it came time to record the new album though, Martin admitted that their writing apart from one another provided its own challenges that the band had to conquer when they hit the studio. It was the first time that Holy Ghost Tent Revival was recording outside of their native North Carolina, and they traveled to Philadelphia to work with producer Bill Moriarty (Dr. Dog, Man Man, The Sheepdogs) at his studio in East Falls, along the banks of the Schuykill River.
“Mostly we had demos of the songs, maybe three or four of them we had been playing live, but when we got to the studio we didn’t know shit. It was a struggle, but it was a good struggle,” Martin said. “All we had to show were these shitty little demos and we would learn them that night the best we could, and we’d show them to Bill Moriarty the next day and then he would record it and then kick us out of the room and piece it together.”
Being outside of the Carolinas was a bit unnerving for the band but Martin said that it also made them approach the album and the recording process in an entirely different way than they ever had before. “It took it to a whole new level. You know, you’re in your comfort zone when you’re 30 minutes down the road from home, and maybe that’s good for some people. But the fact that we were there and we had to do it was something that we could just let go. We didn’t have the time to not be serious or level-headed about it.”
| Holy Ghost Tent Revival |
| hi-Dive | November 13 |
| Oskar Blues (Lyons) | November 15 |
Recommended if you Like:
• Dr. Dog
• The Band