Sweet Ghosts’ “Certain Truths”

April 2, 2014 |
Sweet Ghosts photo: Taylor Noel Photography

Sweet Ghosts
photo: Taylor Noel Photography

Transcendent and ethereal are not adjectives to be taken lightly, but such descriptions of this gloriously heart-wrenching debut release are more than apropos. The 10-track album features poetic storytelling, presenting evocative slices of life that put the listener into the thick of alternately uncomfortable and uplifting tales.

The lulling songs are reflective, haunting; there’s lightness to the depth, a deft touch that features spaces between the notes and musical interplay that is as compelling as the vocals and lyrics.

While the songs’ settings are not necessarily Tucson-based, they sonically convey the shimmering, mystical quality of a desert mirage. There’s warmth in the heartbreak, an acceptance of what is and what cannot be changed. The emotive humanity within covers the universal themes of love, affairs, changing seasons and broken people who are looking for acceptance, release, recovery from the pain of life’s challenges and society’s ills.

Sung by songwriter Ryan Alfred and Katherine Byrnes, their vocals blend together exquisitely and overlay on their own instrumentations (Byrnes is on piano/keyboards, Alfred plays guitars, synthesizers, bass), along with those by: Aaron Emery (drums, percussion), violin by Ben Nisbet (Tucson Symphony Orchestra), Sam Eagon (bass), vibraphone by Omar Alvarado, Fen Ikner (drums), Dylan DeRobertis (bass) and mandolin by Ryan Green (Ryanhood).


During an email Q&A, Ryan provides some background information on the band and its debut release.

How long have you and Katherine been performing as Sweet Ghosts/when was the project formed?
Sweet Ghosts was started about 2-1/2 years ago…we played a few gigs and decided “Yeah, let’s give this a go!” And then the opportunity to play bass with Calexico came up and it kind of went on the backburner. Calexico’s off tour this year so we have time finally to pursue it.

Did you write both the lyrics and the music?

What inspired these songs?
Oh, I don’t know…the songs were written over a pretty long period of time, some as old as seven or so years ago. Some are reactions to certain situations that I encountered and felt compelled to write about, as a way of processing them, and some are just pure creation, like Not Quite December (which was written on a very hot day in Tucson) and She (which isn’t particularly about anybody; the lyrics came to me while I was working the takeout counter at a Bertuccis in Boston).

On the first track, “Detroit,” you and Katherine sing: “There’s a crazy, old homeless woman with more fingers than teeth, she’s got headphones but no radio, doing rain dance down this forgotten street.” Did you meet a woman in Detroit with more fingers than teeth?
I really did…she was a homeless old lady kind of dancing around Cass Avenue with these huge headphones on, the cord just dangling down her back not plugged into anything. As a friend of mine passed, she pointed at us and said “I got my good eye on you, and so does God!” She didn’t say hallelujah, though. I’m not sure how that word found its way in. The Old Miami (Missing In Action MI) is also real, and Danny Overstreet is the owner, the most decorated Vietnam vet in Michigan. I used to play his bar with one of my first touring gigs.

Lots of love songs on this, written very poetically. Do you have a background in poetry? What is your background – music education, Tucson, other bands, etc.
What can I say? Relationships are the most basic, simple idea on earth, and yet they are so confounding that they’ll never stop inspiring songs, haha. I don’t have a background in poetry, though I do love it (especially Jack Gilbert, my favorite). As to music background, I started playing the violin in 3rd grade, moved on to the double bass in 7th grade, and studied electronic music and electric bass at Berklee (where I met Ryan Green from Ryanhood). He and I played in bands together for years, and when I left New York in 2009, I stayed at his house before moving to my own place. Somewhere in 2009 I started doing FOH and tour managing Calexico, and started playing bass for them about 2 years ago.

Sweet Ghosts photo: Taylor Noel Photography

Sweet Ghosts
photo: Taylor Noel Photography

When were the tracks recorded?
On and off over the last two years…some were tracked at Waterworks with Jim Waters, some at Wavelab with Chris Schultz, and some at my own studio, which is essentially the B Room at Waterworks.

After the Tucson CD release party on April 19, Sweet Ghosts hit the road for an eight city tour through Texas, Louisiana and New Mexico. What was the motivation to travel through those states?
We really wanted to go to Jazzfest in New Orleans again, and decided to book a tour around it.

Is there significance to the third chair on the album cover being empty?
Hahaha, we’re not telling.

See Sweet Ghosts at Plush, 360 E. Sixth St., on Saturday, April 19. Dry River Yacht Club, Carlos Arzate & The Kind Souls also perform. Check out SweetGhosts.com for information on the band’s April tour and also look for them on Facebook.com.

Category: DOWNTOWN / UNIVERSITY / 4TH AVE, Entertainment, Events, MUSIC