GHOST OF THE ROBOT: The band chats new album BOURGEOIS FAUX PAS – Part 1 – Exclusive Interview
Charlie De Mars, James Marsters, Sullivan Marsters & Kevin McPherson talk their new album
Ghost of the Robot, the guitar/vocal-driven rock band, have just put out their third album, BOURGEOIS FAUX PAS. The band started back in 2002, when James Marsters, who at the time was playing Spike in BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and ANGEL, started playing guitar on the porch with then nineteen-year-old next-door-neighbor Charlie De Mars, who had just moved from Sacramento to Los Angeles. De Mars, already in a band called Power Animal, brought in fellow musicians Kevin McPherson, Aaron Anderson and his brother, the late Steven Sellers.
Ghost put out their first full-length album, MAD BRILLIANT, as well as a few EPs and singles. They toured in the U.S. and internationally, then broke up in 2004. Sellers passed away and Anderson moved out of state, but in 2010, De Mars, Marsters and McPherson brought Ghost of the Robot back together for some live performances. In 2011, they put out a new album, MURPHY’S LAW, this time with an additional guitarist, Marsters’ son Sullivan Marsters. More touring and recording ensued, with lots of breaks for scheduling conflicts.
At a deli in the Valley just north of L.A., De Mars’ photographer friend Skyler Stanley takes candids while De Mars, McPherson, James Marsters and Sullivan Marsters all sit down to talk over lunch about where Ghost of the Robot has been, where it’s going, BOURGEOIS FAUX PAS and various musical concepts. It turns out they don’t always agree with each other, but it’s clear they enjoy what they’re doing.
ASSIGNMENT X: Did you take a break between albums or have you just been working together constantly and BOURGEOIS FAUX PAS is the result of however many years of work?
CHARLIE DE MARS: We’ve been working on this since 2013. It’s been a two-year project. Like most Hollywood relationships [laughs].
KEVIN McPHERSON: We’ve been lucky enough to make records as we have the funds to do so. That’s how it goes. This is just a self-sustaining project and we’re really lucky to be able to make music together. Time is the most difficult thing to negotiate with regard to any project – a record, a tour, a photo shoot. It’s not for lack of [desire], either, it’s just lack of opportunity.
CHARLIE DE MARS: Definitely. Everything we make off of any musical endeavor we do goes right back into the band, and that makes it less complicated, and it really makes it absolutely about the music. We would love to constantly make music together, but …
JAMES MARSTERS: We have about four albums of songs that we have a loose kind of plan for. And so as soon as we finish one album, we’re starting work on the next one. And then we have to contend with everyone’s schedules to get people in the same town at the same time to actually record it, so it takes a little while.
Classic example. The band voted Sullivan into the band without asking me. He brought another band down to Santa Monica to warm up for Ghost of the Robot and they were awesome. After the show, Kevin and Charlie came up to me and said, “Oh, we found our new guitarist.” And I’m like, “Oh, fabulous. Who is it?” And they said, “Your son. As a father, you can veto this, but as a band member, you’re already outvoted, so shut up.” And my immediate reaction was, “You do know he’s in school. And you do know that, as soon as he gets out of high school, he’s going to college. So as far as recording and touring, it’s going to be really complicated to get everyone together.” And they said, “It’s worth it.” And that’s exactly what’s happened. Sullivan is adding so many good things on top of my songs, on top of Charlie’s songs. His guitar is kind of like George Harrison – he puts his own little flavor on top of it and makes it better – his own songs are having a big effect. He’s got one song [that he wrote and sings lead on] on this album, but on our live performances, he’s got much more. Going forward, he’ll have much more. But it’s that double-edged sword. We’ve got a really talented member in the band, but his schedule makes it even more complicated to get into the room to actually record or to get to a live show.
Kevin is another great example. Kevin is always busy – he’s become an incredibly successful musician apart from Ghost of the Robot, because he’s so good on the bass. Every time we play, someone says, “Who is that bassist? He just hits so perfectly.” Again, he’s worth waiting for, but you have to wait for him.
AX: Is there a particular theme to BOURGEOIS FAUX PAS?
JAMES MARSTERS: Charlie came up with the title of the album. And I think it’s fun. “Bourgeois Faux Pas” means a middle-class mistake. Charlie, I don’t think you’ve ever explained what that’s about. For me, I wonder if sometimes in my life, the big mistake in my middle-class life has been my love life, and I think I’ve only recently gotten that figured out, because there’s been a lot of missteps [laughs], and so my bourgeois faux pas has been maybe spending a long time with the wrong sort of person trying to make a life. Let’s ask Charlie.
CHARLIE DE MARS: It can be applied to a lot of different things, like the themes of our songs – not that they’re generic, there’s a sense of – I think the term is “objective correlative,” and that’s kind of what the title is. You can apply it however you want. It’s like a good love song that doesn’t specify who the muse is.
JAMES MARSTERS: What I’m excited about is, we’re retaining the energy and the driving force of our first album; the lyrics are still about our love lives, but they’re more positive. I think on our first album, a lot of the songs were, “Oh, she done me wrong and I’m going to get back at her with this song,” which makes a good song, but what I like about what we’re writing now is, I think we’ve maybe figured out a little better how to be in a relationship, and so the songs reflect a more positive experience. I think that’s maybe a little more useful to the audience, rather than just kind of me whining about some woman that I thought hurt me – which in retrospect is almost embarrassing.
SULLIVAN MARSTERS: I think that the first album was very stripped-down. A lot of people like that sound. It’s a cool sound. The second album was much more ambitious. We tried to add a lot of different sounds, a lot of different instruments that we hadn’t before. And then this album, we took both of those concepts, best of the both worlds, and combined them, and so it’s definitely got that raw, first-take feel. At the same time, it’s ambitious enough to have a lot of different instrumentation, orchestration, whatever you want to call it. It’s really thoughtful. That’s what I appreciate about this album.
KEVIN McPHERSON: But like all of our records, it’s a culmination of everyone’s voice. We have four different singers on this record, three different songwriters [De Mars, Marsters and Marsters]. We had it mixed by Darren Sell, who had nothing to do with the engineering, which is something we hadn’t really done before. All those inputs combined have always made our records unique. But there’s a little bit more cohesion this time, while still retaining the individuality of each song, each performance, each member of the band.
JAMES MARSTERS: To piggy-back on what Kevin said, one of the things that I always wanted with Ghost was to have at least three lead singers singing the songs. One of the many things I loved about the Beatles was, they had four lead singers. When I first listened to them, I didn’t consciously understand that there were new singers all the time. But the albums were surprising in a way because they had more than one lead singer. I don’t think any band can ever be like the Beatles, but one thing I always wanted was to be in a band with multiple lead singers. And this album, we have three – we have Charlie, we have Sullivan and we have me, trading off songs. When I listen to the album, I’m like, “We got it, we did it!” You don’t know what’s going to happen with the next song.
When I hear an album with only one lead singer, I don’t always listen to the whole album, because I kind of get tired of that voice. I’m like, “Well, let’s switch over.” And I’d like to think that someone could just sit down with this album and just play it from front to back and have that constant sense of surprise. I think Sullivan is right about us combining the energy and propulsion of the first album with some of the experience we now have in the studio and having the best of both worlds. I think we have a gloss and a sheen on this album that I’m really proud of, but we haven’t lost the energy of the first album.
AX: How has Ghost’s sound has changed over the years?
CHARLIE DE MARS: We’ve definitely gotten better at our instruments and listening to each other. We really care about each individual song. Which we always have, but now I think we’re all pretty conscious of it in the process and -
JAMES MARSTERS: Yeah, you don’t want to calcify and always go for that same sound you had on the first album. Our second album, MURPHY’S LAW, was a radical departure. It was more blues-driven, more folk-driven. It still had that driving pop-rock stuff that we had before, but there were also a lot of slower songs in there. This album probably pulls more toward the driving rock that we started with. And our next album, we’re thinking, might be a country album. It’s like, “Why not? Let’s have fun.” I think my voice is a lot better than when we started. I was smoking cigarettes when we started, and that’s not really good. And when I hear my vocals on this album, I prefer them hugely to the first album or to the second album. I think I’m getting a little bit better with each album.
SULLIVAN MARSTERS: I think it’s impossible not to change. It’s been thirteen years – it’d be weird if we didn’t.
AX: You grew up during the life of Ghost of the Robot. What was your impression of it when you were first hearing it and what’s your impression of it now, being part of it?
SULLIVAN MARSTERS: When I was six years old, my dad picks me up, puts in this CD, really loud, and I hate it so much. It scares me so bad. It’s just monsters screaming. And that was MAD BRILLIANT, and I love that now [laughs], but yeah, I picked it up later, when I was thirteen or something, and I was very curious. I’m [now] bringing in influences, because I’m influenced by the band that I belong to. I’m in a band that I was influenced by. That’s a very rare occurrence.
JAMES MARSTERS: When you listened to it at thirteen, I remember you were just like, “Who is Charlie De Mars? Who is Ghost of the Robot? I want to get that.”
SULLIVAN MARSTERS: Yeah. That’s why I think it’s just more thoughtful now. I think we put more time into it. I think that people are collaborating more and we’re all a lot more mature – but that’s coming from the nineteen-year-old in the group, so take that with a grain of salt [laughs].
[De Mars knocks over table salt.]