Outtakes: Black Ghosts Part 1

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Excerpts from an interview with Black Ghosts' singer and ex-Simian frontman Simon Lord. To read the full feature, download a pdf of XLR8R 119.

XLR8R: What did you think of your Black Ghosts partner Theo Keating at first?

Simon Lord: We’d made a connection through the music. It was obvious that we had lots of things in common, about our influences while working on the music like films and books. We didn’t really have to ‘get to know each other.’

What was your songwriting process like for the album?

I don’t really have a strict process. There are lots of different ways–sometimes if I hear a track a phrase will just pop into my mind or sometimes I’ll start singing nonsense and words will just appear. When you listen back to it you can pick out words.

Lyrically, which is your favorite track?

“Any Way You Choose to Give It,” because I like the rhythm of the vocals. That was something I was playing with on this album. People do that all the time in hip-hop, but it’s not really done that much with people that sing or pop stuff. Usually the rhythm is really straight and I wanted to play around a bit.

A lot of your lyrics are moody and dark. Do you consider yourself a cynic?

I wouldn’t say I’m cynical, I’m just realistic. Songs that sing “happy happy happy”... It's not true. I don’t know anyone who has a completely happy life 100 percent of the time. I just try to show both sides, and to me that’s a lot more interesting than just making candy floss for 12-year-olds to dance to. I like songs that are a bit ambiguous as to what they mean. If you’re in a good mood it could be an uplifting song and if you’re in a bad mood you can hear it in a different way and it can be moving. I always try and walk a line down the middle as to what they mean.

How did you guys get hooked up with Damon Albarn for the track "Repetition"?

Similarly too with Theo, we never actually made the music in same studio. Theo had started track with Damon a while ago but they didn’t finish it. Damon didn’t have enough bits of vocals to make a proper song. He told me and I said ‘Well that sounds interesting, send me what you’ve done.’ He sent me the bits he had and then I bolted them together with parts I wrote to finish it off, the Frankenstein method of sticking together different bits. At the end we played it for Damon and he was really happy with it.

What is your favorite scary movie or ghost story?

I like Don’t Look Now, which is an old scary movie. It’s got loads of suspense in it and it holds back from the gore–I often find [it] more scary when there’s something disturbing and you don’t know what it is. This kind of creeping dread. If it’s about horror stuff, I prefer ghosts to zombies. Some of the Japanese new ghost films are amazing; they hold back from stabbing you with a kitchen knife and instead give you this terror.

What is your favorite place to write in London?

A lot of my writing I like doing spontaneously and quickly when the music’s there, so I do most of it in my studio. I don’t want to think about it too much or labor it. My studio’s not one of these cold office building places. You go to some studios and it’s like being in an estate agent’s office. I try and make it quite cool and have all my books around so I can get inspiration. I haven’t yet gotten into wandering around the city looking at people and writing down lyrics. Most of my lyrics are about what’s going on in your mind, whether that’s something surreal, like a dream, or make believe. That’s what I want to write about, what’s inside people’s heads rather than looking at homeless people or people in nightclubs, whatever it is. It means I can stay at home.

Are you a Simian Mobile Disco fan?

We’re still all good mates, we live nearby and bump into each other at gigs. We’ve done a track with them. When we split up, it was more of a case of not wanting to be in a band together anymore. We were still friends but we just didn’t want to do the band thing. Our record label went mad and it seemed a good time to call it a day. We just got fed up with being in a rock band.

“Never Be Alone” is such a force. How do you feel about the track now?

I’m still really proud of it. I still get a kick when I hear people singing it at clubs. When it was really big I wasn’t going to nightclubs in London, I was more into songwriting stuff. It was only when Black Ghosts started and Theo was like ‘You don’t understand how big this tune is’ and he took me out and I was like ‘Okay.’ It’s like a word-of-mouth thing. There are so many tunes that record companies want you to buy and put loads of marketing behind it and there wasn’t any of that. It just came up through the clubs which is why I think it was so popular in that way. I’m still really into it… I mean, it’s my voice so… Justice might be sick of it because it’s a remix of one of our songs rather than one of theirs. I think everybody involved in it is pleased with how big it's been.

You’ve got a couple other projects in the works right now too, like Lord Skywave. What exactly are you up to and how are the projects different?

Black Ghosts came together because me and Theo are both producers in our own right. Lord Skywave is me on my own, and it represents a bunch of stuff I was working on, it’s quite eclectic. It’s some electronic influences I’ve gotten from Black Ghosts with songs. The name comes from the synthesizer called the Skywave which was built by my dad in the '70s. It’s also got some classical parts to it, there are some recordings of my grandmother’s. She was a composer, and I made an archive of her old recordings and used some of those as well. It’s a mad mix of all the things going on in my head. It’s weirder than the Black Ghosts. The Black Ghosts is us meeting in the middle and our solo projects show the extreme of each part. Theo is doing stuff on his own that’s more club-oriented and that’s his background, and my background in songs and psychedelic stuff is represented in Skywave.

How do you find new music?

MySpace is a good one. There’s lots of shit on it but if you take a bit of time to go through it’s a good way of finding new stuff. It’s amazing how many nuggets you can come up with that way.

What is your favorite place to party in London?

I’ve got a couple of locals but I wouldn’t call them parties. I go to a pub in Borough called The Gladstone; my mate owns it and it’s not really a dance venue but they always play cool old psych stuff and '60s stuff. We do so many club nights that when I go out I like to be different. The next show we’re doing is at a nightclub called Trailer Trash down in Shoreditch. I occasionally nip down to Forward, the dubstep night.

Black Ghosts Part 2 with Theo Keating