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“A Bit Of Change Was In Order”: An Interview With Crooked Ghost’s Ray Lark

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With the upcoming release of Asheville’s post-punk rockers Crooked Ghost with their new Colors Bleed EP, I spoke with frontman Ray Lark about all things Crooked Ghost–the new release, the past and the future of his band and loads of hints about the Ghosts along with some personal views and an articulate vision of his art.

SEM: Hello Ray, congratulations on the new, exciting Colors Bleed EP. Tell us a few things about the title and also tell us about the idea behind the band’s name.
 
Ray Lark: Hi Mike! Thank you so much. While we were waiting for our Skeleton House LP to be pressed, we went back into the studio to work on some new ideas we had been dabbling in. I had written about 25 additional songs after Skeleton House for a future release, and I started noticing a pattern of color in my songwriting. It was completely unintentional, but after about 4 songs relating to color (or shade, if you will), we decided to section those off as our next release. The title of the EP itself is from a lyric in “Black Rainbow,” the first song on the EP, and the first one written after Skeleton House was finished. The songs are some of my most honest lyrically, and they sound big and bright. The lyrical subjects here speak of mental illness, queerness, and healing. The name Crooked Ghost came to me sort of like a lightning bolt out of the sky. It seemed as though all the cool band names were taken, and I had been struggling for weeks to find a fitting name for this project. Randomly something clicked, and I decided these words worked well together and they described the project perfectly. Shockingly, the name wasn’t already taken.

SEM: Being accustomed to the Ghost’s trademark sound, I found a new record which is not quite similar to the previous Skeleton Hands LP. I somehow feel that the previous record was more introspective and a bit shadier, while the new EP is a bit different than what we were used to. How did you arrive at this new sound while maintaining the band’s brand?

Ray Lark: I always like to try different things on each album. I’m not the cleverest guitarist, but for the longest time, I was quite frightened by certain “brighter” chords and ways of playing. I feel like I was really able to explore myself and what I like on this EP. I also feel like my songs reflect my current state in life, so naturally they’re going to sound different from time to time. Skeleton House was full of a lot of mourning over someone I loved who passed away, and those songs happened to go in a more melancholy direction. This EP is full of a lot of honesty and healing. As a result, it naturally sounds more light-hearted than the previous. I just like to ride the wave and see where the song takes me.  I think it’ll all end up sounding like Crooked Ghost, no matter how we evolve as a band.

SEM: I hear some shoegaze sonic approach in the new record and some veiled darkwave elements on the previous album, and I’m wondering what shall we hear on the next long-player…

Ray Lark: A few of us are quite into shoegaze. I would say that particular sound has to do with our guitarist Charles, and his varied style of playing and love of guitar pedals. He makes everything quite big and shiny sounding. I feel like Colors Bleed is a good taste of things to come as far as future releases go. We have several songs planned to be on our next LP, and a lot of them sound like the darker songs on our first two records, yet a lot of them also have that newly found brightness to them. It’s a mixed bag, but I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at some of the things we have in store for the next record. It will be our longest record to date.

SEM: Was it a rush to release the new EP instead of writing a number of more songs and put out a new LP?

Ray Lark: Not at all, we actually had been working on these recordings periodically for about 9 months before we decided to release them. Like I mentioned earlier, we have more songs than we know what to do with at this point. I am prepared to really take my time with the next full record (most likely a double LP), as the songs are quite intricate and will involve a lot of additional guests and instruments, such as strings. We plan to go into cocoon mode and really start crafting these songs in the fall, and it may take us years to release more music. I wanted to release these songs to fill some space between now and our future album, and also as a thank you to everyone who supported us with our last album. Consider it a little peek behind the curtain.

SEM: The band’s Bandcamp says ‘dream punk’, ‘post-punk’, and ‘indie’. Which one do you prefer most and why?

Ray Lark: That is quite tough. I think I struggle the most with describing our sound and attaching a genre because to me it’s all so natural and fluid. Everyone’s going to ask the inevitable question and you have to at least attempt an answer. Dream-punk or post-punk seems most fitting, but we’re always open to new descriptors! We all come from punk backgrounds and ideals, so to us, the music will always be intrinsically “punk” regardless of how loud, fast, and angry it may or may not be. Punk can be melodic, pretty and arty. I’m also a big fan of dream-pop like the Cocteau Twins, and I feel like we naturally have a dreaminess to our sound and performances. I say indie because we’re independent, functioning as our own record label, booking our own tours, etc.  but what do I know! It’s fun letting other people describe us.

 

SEM: I’d like you to tell us where are you coming from as a singer, your singing style roots and your biggest expectations as the frontman of the band.

Ray Lark: I love to sing! It’s probably my favorite thing in the entire world. When I sing, I really am the most true version of myself. I get completely lost in it, and it’s one of the best feelings in the world.  I grew up listening to a lot of strong female singers like Tina Turner and Deborah Harry, so I naturally adopt a more feminine style of singing.  I like to sing in different styles and really explore all the ranges that I can, from smooth and crooning, to a demonic scream. I never wanted to sing like anyone else, I just wanted to sing truthfully. I used to be embarrassed of how feminine my voice was, but I’ve later learned that kind of thinking is trash. I also really love the art of just emoting through sound. Taking a feeling and giving it a soundtrack, it’s just so euphoric. As far as my expectations as a frontperson, I try not to have too many. I appreciate that my bandmates are my friends and that they want to play this music with me. It’s quite magical when it all comes together. Everyone is present and focused at rehearsals, they’re as dedicated to this as much as I am, and that’s really all I could ask of anyone that plays in Crooked Ghost. I expect myself to stay focused and keep doing this for as long as I can. I want us all to be able to have that musical escape from our mundane realities for years to come.

SEM: Give us a clue on your lyrics–what excites you the most when you put on paper your ideas that become lyrics?

Ray Lark: I write lyrics very in the moment. I often don’t realize what I’m writing about when I’m writing. It’s usually not until much later that I connect the dots and think, “Oh. THAT’S what this song is about. I get it now.” It all just starts with a feeling, and the words seem to push themselves out onto the paper in my notebook. The songs always reflect my current feelings, no matter if I intend to write them or not. This was especially true on Colors Bleed. I had no idea I was basically writing diary entries that I would later be gleefully reading aloud to my friends at band practice. It wasn’t until I had to type out the lyrics and read them back that it all kinda struck me. For once in my life, I was being completely transparent with myself. I really love the surprise of songwriting; you never know what you may discover about yourself. I can only hope the music resonates with people, and that listeners can relate to and form their own relationships with the songs. Music can be very personal to people, and lyrics can be interpreted in so many ways.

SEM: What other music styles do you like and can we expect any impressive twists in the band’s style?

Ray Lark: I personally love lots of different types of music. A lot of it is described post-punk or punk. I like dream-pop, shoegaze, metal, new wave. As long as it has a bit of soul and melody to it, I can usually enjoy most music. My musical tastes haven’t changed much over the last 12 years. I would hope most people can expect us to keep evolving and keep getting better as time goes on.  I don’t foresee us adapting any particular style other than what is naturally meant to be, which I hope is as exciting to you as it is to me.

SEM: I understand that the Ghosts are a dedicated team to your vision. But I also hear some pretty serious liberty in the band’s performance–how does it all work in the band?

Ray Lark: We all really love to be doing this, and we’re all genuinely happy to be able to have the opportunity to perform for people and make records. I think that can be chalked down to sheer dedication on everyone’s part. We all work really hard. Plus, no one gets wasted or parties too hard, which definitely helps improve the performance and attitude of the band. I just sing the lyrics and play a singular guitar part, they make the rest of the magic happen. They all have a natural ear for music, so I feel blessed that they all seem to know just what to play to all of my crazy rhythms and time changes. It’s definitely a group effort.

SEM: Frontman, guitars and singing, post-punk, indie and some new romanticism too–who is really Ray Lark and what happened to the letter “C”?

Ray Lark: I am just a person who really loves to play music, paint, spend time with my partner and with my animals, and the outdoors. I like history and science, video games, and cooking vegan food. I have an affinity with birds, so I dropped the C from my professional moniker to just Lark, a type of songbird. I’m in my 30s and sort of coming into my skin in a lot of ways, so this is me finally having come to terms with the past and with myself. I’ve been on a path of healing and personal growth after a period of much darkness, so I felt a bit of a change was in order. I don’t really feel there’s an alter ego or anything, I’m the same Ray on stage and off.

SEM: Any chance for a bigger tour maybe, festivals, any trip overseas to Europe?

Ray Lark: We do tour when we can, which we try to do about once a year. Most of us work full-time, and booking shows yourself can be quite painstaking. We usually end up going on smaller tours as to not break the bank, but we would love to do something bigger when the opportunity arises. I really love touring and getting to play in places we’ve never been before. I haven’t applied for us to play many festivals yet, but we’ve gotten on a few of the local ones that have been really fun.  I would love for us to get over to Europe sometime next year or in 2021. It is definitely happening!

SEM: Any upcoming official video? 

Ray Lark: Yes actually, we have two forthcoming videos for two of the songs on Colors Bleed. They’re very story-oriented and quite avant-garde. Our videos are usually a mesh of our ideas and our director’s ideas. I like to always try to have them be more of a short film than the typical music video. We’re excited to be able to share both our new videos and are glad to see the other two are getting so much love. I used to really hate being on camera but I’ve grown to really appreciate the art of it all. We’ve been fortunate to work with some extremely talented directors who really respected my visions of the songs. I think you’ll really love the two videos we have in store, they’re not just us playing our instruments in a practice space. They each have a solid storyline and are quite beautifully executed.

 

SEM: Ray, thank you very much for talking to us, is there something you want to add?

Ray Lark: Thank YOU for talking to me! It’s been a pleasure, Mike. Digital pre-orders are live on Bandcamp for the Colors Bleed EP which drops September 20th! I hope you enjoy it.

SEM: Thank you!

Ray Lark: Thanks so much for your support of Crooked Ghost! We appreciate you!

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