From Canada by way of the Bay Area comes the band Dirty Ghosts who cherish the rich storied musical histories of scenes past and present from geographical osmosis. Having released the album Metal Moon on Last Gang Records earlier this year, we caught up with them in their backstage tent at Treasure Island Music Festival to talk taquerias, band evolutions, cheese balls, collaborative futures, Heaven’s Gate, Canadian pride, Norm MacDonald and the paranormal.
Initially it started off as you and Carson Binks and you went from a duo to Erin McDermott, bass, and backup singers. How did that come about from the humble beginnings to now with Dirty Ghosts?
Allyson: Well, I guess when the band first started or when Dirty Ghosts first started it was more of a project, something that I just worked on at home, you know, Carson and I would just do it bit by bit after work, it was never intended to be a band or a record or anything like that, it just sort of became that. And when we got more serious about it, Carson joined this band Saviors, a metal band in Oakland and they’re like a full time touring band and at that point Erin joined on. And we had never played a show at that point, so it was kind of like a good time for her to come in. We’ve had a couple different drummers but Ben is our drummer now, so now we are more of a band, whereas before it was more of a recording project, where we would sort of work on it, we would record but we would never actually play live.
So it was all part of that evolution then from Parchman Farm to Dirty Ghosts?
A: Exactly, so towards the end of Parchman Farm, Carson and I wanted to try something different and we both knew that just because of the type of music that Parchman Farm there sort of was some constraints, stylistically.
The stripped down blues thing?
A: Well, I think because Parchman was very…
Erin: 70s rock.
A: It was very 70s rock, yeah, exactly and I think that toward the end we started incorporating more break beat and funk and so if you listen to the later Parchman Farm recordings you can hear a little bit of Dirty Ghosts in there. But I think we just really wanted to branch out and try everything, try all kinds of music and it seemed like starting from scratch was the best way to do it.
Also too, I have heard from earlier interviews that you said the 60s and 80s are cool decades for Dirty Ghosts to focus on and I was wondering what particularly about those decades as opposed to the more 70s Parchman Farm appeals to you all?
A: Well, I think both of those decades were very experimental, 60s definitely being experimental coming out of straight rock and roll and I think the 80s, was kind of the same thing, rock was very straight. And even punk rock to a degree as well in the late 70s was like that and I think people started experimenting more and getting more weird and bringing in synths and different influences and funk, different rhythms, I guess those are two time periods of music that I draw a lot of inspiration from.
Even the name from your prior act stems from a Blue Cheer song, do you wish there was more talk about Blue Cheer influences than say, Joan Jett?
A: Exactly, for sure, I definitely think there are more Blue Cheer influences than Joan Jett for sure. Because that’s what we listen to, we listen to everything, we are not really you know, I don’t know…
E: Well Joan Jett, clearly if you listen to the music, only a visual reference with Allyson.
A: That is there, the female presence, where a girl who plays guitar and looks like someone. That to me is obviously amplified and distorted like that but other than that I don’t think there is any other comparison but it makes sense because people get side tracked by visuals, you know.
Blue Cheer as a San Francisco band and then coming from Toronto, was it part of that allure of moving to the Bay?
A: I think for me a huge appeal of Blue Cheer was the fact that these 3 guys that were really influenced by Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton but they were doing their own version of it, which when you listen to it they were extremely punk rock for their time.
Grungy and they looked like Nirvana.
A: Yeah, yeah! And they wre just totally musically very wild and loose, and very over the top and just, you know I just think that they were different from a lot of the other bands during that time period in the same way that the Stooges were that type of band, the Blue Cheer were in a different kind of way San Francisco’s version.
Outward smack references, “shoot my wife” and “shoot my arm”.
A: Yeah, totally, they were just wild and I felt that they were very punk and they were always a big attraction for me and I think that just being in San Francisco because Erin and I are both Canadian, Erin is from Ottawa and I’m from Toronto and musically there’s not a lot of music to draw from where we grew up per se, but San Francisco is such a hot bed and there is so much because there so much musical history. And for me that’s very exciting and I don’t know if you feel the same way but just to be able to walk down the street and know that certain things happened here and happened there and blah, blah, blah. It definitely excites me.
[Backstage dressing room at TIMF]
It’s interesting the indie electronic scene happening up north in Canada, how do you all feel about that ?
A: I mean, we moved here in 2000 so we missed a lot of that, that sort of happened after we left and I think what was happening when we were there was very rock n’ roll, there was a big glam rock scene almost and that [electronic movement] hadn’t really kicked in so by the time we were here that was already happening over there but Erin and I are massively proud Canadians and any band that is doing well and making waves in Canada for us is amazing. I moved here because I wasn’t able to make things happen for me in Canada at the time and America seemed like the land of opportunity and if I come here and try it here maybe it will happen for me here. We actually had a lot of friends that became successful after we left, people we know that are still there and it’s really amazing to see that happen because for me personally I had to make a big move to make that happen and in some ways it would have been interesting to see what would happen in if I would have stayed and tried to make things happen there and how my path would have changed and what not.
I almost think in a way being from Canada and living in San Francisco and the level of excitement that created for me with moving to a completely different country and it being way more extreme than I’m used to, I think a lot of what I was saying before about the history of the city and what had happened in the city is so exciting to me because walking around Toronto there is not a lot of landmarks, Anvil had their matzo ball soup there, Geddy Lee got his shoes shined at this place, there’s not a lot, you know what I mean, but here it’s like Mama Cass shooting cheese balls in that post-up on the hill! But you know what I mean? I think not being from San Francisco creates such a level of enthusiasm for Erin and I that I think we just soak it in super hard. It’s amazing, I love living here.
E: Plus Taqueria Canc