Following last year's debut EP, Nativity In Beef, Ghost Beef is back with his Devo-worshipping, synth-laden Midwest garage punk on his second EP, End Times Behavior, which veers between hooks-filled, infectiously melodious and angular groove glory. We caught up with the mad scientist behind Ghost Beef to learn more about the project, his insomnia-induced recording adventures, and the basement synth-punk spasms of his latest tape.
Ghost Beef is the frantic collision of his zany insomnia-induced ideas and energetic scrambled egg-punk. After releasing his debut EP, Nativity in Beef, last year, has Ghost Beef unveiled earlier this month his second EP, End Times Behavior. The new tape is also being released through the Miami-based Gravity Hill Records (a cassette label), run by prolific DIY artist and literal twelve-year-old, A.J. Cortes.
Across the new release, Ghost Beef dives headfirst into a chaotic world of buzzing synth-punk and hyperactive mechanics. All four tracks are super-melodic and have great song titles, there's some definite Coneheads influence, and Ghost Beef's oddball vocal shouts sit perfectly on top of his tight, trebly arrangements.
We caught up with the mad scientist behind Ghost Beef to learn more about the project, his insomnia-induced recording adventures, and the basement synth-punk spasms of his latest tape.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Paperface Zine: Take me through the origins of Ghost Beef. How did this project come about and what was the vision when starting it?
Ghost Beef: I started making demos under that name while in a past band, it was a dumping ground for ideas and anything that didn't necessarily fit under anything else I was working on with other people. Back then it was full live instrumentation, me playing and recording everything. Its current incarnation/vision on the performance end is inspired by several folks doing the one-person band deal. I'm nowhere near coordinated enough to do the Mark Sultan setup of playing both guitar and drums simultaneously, but over the past couple of years I've been trying to do the solo performance thing in a way I can wrap my head around, like Gorilla Knifefight, Jeff from ZHOOP, FEED, and DJINN, Ian from Ouija Boys, Justin from Bribed Fuzz.
Have you been part of other bands over the years? If so, how were they different from your approach now as Ghost Beef?
I played guitar in the Cincinnati band Day Camp and we were actually once signed to the now-defunct Rochester-based label Dadstache Records. Most of the bands I've been in over the past two decades have been DIY – recorded by myself or another band member, but this time I've taken that to the next level in that I'm playing everything. The approach differs here from past projects in that there's no one to bounce ideas off of, which I'm sure anyone that's done solo music will tell you is a blessing and a curse. I'm also using sequenced drums/synths and the writing/recording process is happening concurrently, both of which I've never done in past projects.
Take me through a typical Ghost Beef recording session. What's your setup like?
I've got in the habit of always recording or being able to record because the silliest idea can turn into a song. There's an instrument in most rooms of my house whether that be a guitar, keyboard, drum machine or stylophone so I can figure out a melody or beat. I have the recording software on my computer always up with whatever song or idea I'm working on so I can capture that new idea. There's always a guitar plugged into a fuzz pedal and an SM57 plugged into my interface. I have a Tascam 238 cassette 8-track as well, but my overall impatience with getting ideas out relegates that to mixdown and bouncing tracks while mixing to clear up memory on my ancient Mac Pro for the time being. For the past decade or so, Ive been building my own guitar pedals, mic preamps, preamps/EQs, mics, and modular synths which makes it tough to speak to my specific setup since I'm always adding to my collection, but you can usually tell what I've gotten or built up recently as it will be prominently featured in my recordings as the stylophone is on End Times Behavior.
End Times Behavior continues your jittery and zany bursts of synth-punk. What was the recording process like for this new EP and when did you begin recording it?
Recording took place over a few weeks toward the end of last year and the beginning of this year. I set out with two goals to build on the sound I had on last year's tape: add guitar to the mix and focus on creating music I'll actually be able to play live in a way that will be interesting to watch and vaguely resemble the recorded versions. I recorded a dozen or so ideas to substantial completion during that time and picked the best five to mix and master, four of which made it to this tape.
What influenced the songwriting of these four new tracks and how did your original ideas for them develop into songs?
Lyrically, it was influenced by horror movies (Rod Lane's the ne'er-do-well the cops think is doing the murders in the first Nightmare on Elm Street), insomnia-induced dumb ideas (the grim reaper on a Razor scooter), or toilet humor. Musically it was influenced by early DEVO, Oingo Boingo, and Suburban Lawns, and encouraged by the ACAB Discord server and fellow online weirdos on Instagram.
Were there any songs on this release that turned out way different than their initial idea? Were there any that really surprised you?
"Laffing All the Way to the Toilet" was a surprise from the inception — it was based on a joke my partner made that I couldn't stop cracking up about; it's significantly slower and longer than anything I've written in the past few years; and I enjoyed the counterplay of its synth/organ parts. Everything I write is kind of a surprise because I either straight-up hate most of it or don't think there's enough for it to be a song until I come up with something that will glue it together.
The new EP was once again mastered by Nate Iversen of Smog Moon Recordings. What's it like working with him and how does he help with your vision?
I've known Nate for most of my life at this point — we were playing in and recording bands together in our local scene way back in the early aughts then grew apart when I moved away from Michigan. It's great working with him because he's like family in that I'd trust him to tell me if something's mega-off with how things are sounding. Like anyone that's great in studio work, he's great at helping folks present the best version of the sound in their heads and I'll keep working with him until he's too busy or too expensive for me.
You released the new EP through A.J. Cortes' label, Gravity Hill Records (D. Sablu, Billiam). What was it like working with him and how does his approach influence your work?
A.J.'s funny, super creative, easygoing and accommodating to any request I've had. I look forward to doing more work with him and I am stoked to have him do art for flyers and maybe music videos as I begin to get myself more out there in that capacity!
The cover art is so wonderfully strange and odd makes sense with the EP's closing track. Who did the cover art and what was your reasoning in selecting it for the EP?
I did the cover art and I'm glad you like it! It was based on the song on the EP and I had made the image for an Instagram post teasing the song then printed it out in black and white, traced it with a marker, blasted it with chemicals to get that nice melty look (shoutout CLR), then scorched and dried it in a frying pan. Everything else was adhesive lettering laid out by hand then shrunk and manipulated PDF software around a J-Card template. It's a huge pain in the ass to do layouts so I may get out of it and have friends that are better at it do it in the future, but we'll see.
Since these tracks were meant to be played live, do you play any live shows coming up? If so, who’s in your band and do you have any shows coming up?
I'm in the beginning stages of booking shows now that a label's putting out my music and the pandemic is hopefully receding! It'll just be me for the time being unless that ends up disastrous or boring for crowds — anyone in the Midwest reading this that enjoys what I'm doing and wants me to play at their roller rink or basement should definitely reach out as I'll be yelling at faces in the region this spring and hopefully further than that later in the year.
When do you think razor scooters are going to make a comeback?
They already have in my dreams — I see one person riding one in a fitted suit in downtown Columbus every now and again so it's not far off. Barring that I hope the person making Heely Crocs on Etsy makes them in a size 13 one of these days because that's an instant buy.
Do you want to tell us anything else about you?
I'm running on five hours of sleep most days and my day job in the engineering field uses the handful of braincells I have left so it'd be incomprehensible even if I had something poignant to add. I'll leave the dear reader with spay and neuter your pets — I don't feel like that’s said enough these days (RIP Bob Barker) and I can't trap and spay/neuter every feral cat in the world even though I want to!
End Times Behavior is out now through Gravity Hill Records.
Stream the new EP below.