Using a range of influences, from The Police to Marvin Gaye, the UK-based group Ghosts Of Our Former Selves (GOOFS) certainly have a unique sound. We speak with singer Theo Brehony about their long-awaited album Night Church, musical accomplishments, future plans and much more!
OSR: How did Ghosts Of Our Former Selves come together?
Brehony: I’ve always written music and sang (I was previously signed to Sony as an artist and Universal as a writer). A few years ago, I found a small self-published book of my Dad’s poetry dated 1992. I was in some of the poems, my mother, my brothers. Love, death, work – humour, tragedy. I felt they were like pin drops on a map or that we were echoes of them. That’s where the name Ghosts Of Our Former Selves came from – plus I like that it can be GOOFS.
So… I started writing new songs and I used some of the words my Dad had written in some of them. I was working with a talented Brazilian guitarist called Sanderson Rocha and producing beats and tracks for the songs, but I knew I needed someone to give the project focus. I kept running into a music producer friend of mine, Fred Ala, in Iranian restaurants. We talked about jazz, hip-hop, classic songs and I sent him a couple of mine. He didn’t listen to them! Six months later I saw him again and reminded him – this time he did. He liked the vibe and agreed to go into a studio with me. To cut a long story short, he grew to love it so much he became part of the band and we collaborate on everything now.
OSR: What is the backstory to your new album Night Church?
Brehony: ‘Night Church’ the song came about after I found myself in downtown Los Angeles late at night looking for a gig taking place in an old theatre. I had to negotiate some of the sketchy streets close to Skid Row, but I eventually found the venue and was overcome by the shared feeling of excitement and love of music with everyone who had managed to get there – there was a feeling of “if you know, you know”. This was a Night Church looming up out of nowhere and I felt like it was just at the point in my life when I needed it.
I had gone to LA to find something for myself. Now I realise after the strange and unnerving times that we have all had that we all need this. As for the album as a whole, it’s the story of our lives for the last four years. It’s a time period bookended by the loss of fathers and the birth of children for both me and Fred.
In the middle, a lot else has happened. Night Church started out as an album about the breakup of a relationship but turned into a record about redemption, love and starting again encompassing all the life experiences in between. There are songs about online dating, Brexit, Glastonbury, the weirdness of Dubai, lockdown, couples therapy and living like it’s your last day.
OSR: What was the writing and recording process like?
Brehony: While making the album, we became obsessed with the classic songs of the 70s and early 80s and that influenced the way we recorded the songs. We wanted an organic approach with the whole group playing as if live in different rooms. We would then choose a take and add extra tracks to give the songs a modern edge.
At one point we just realised we had found the sound. It’s something you agonise over so I was pretty euphoric when I listened back to the drum track on ‘Sea Of People’ and knew it was what we wanted. I had watched The Defiant Ones documentary about Dr Dre and Jimmy Iovine. At one point there is a story about Bruce Springsteen killing everyone in the studio taking three weeks to get a drum sound – we almost reached that level of insanity but we got there in the end.
Mixing the album proved the trickiest part. The lockdown this last winter meant we couldn’t get into our engineer’s (Charles “Chicky” Reeves) studio. At least half the record was mixed on Zoom with an audio app -we could listen back in real-time, see the virtual mixing desk and then make comments.
At first, it was frustrating because you don’t have that interaction or chemistry in the room but actually it makes you more focused. You listen and wait to talk. It also means no travelling to the studio which meant you could dip in and out of mix sessions while at home. I wouldn’t do this every time but we will probably always do this for some mixing sessions from now on. It saves time!
OSR: What is the most exciting part of being in a band?
Brehony: There’s more than one. You get a huge buzz when you know you’ve come up with a great musical idea – that part right at the start when you are working it out. Then later you can take that idea and play at a gig and see if it works live – that’ s the performing part where you interact with people. Music is not about sitting in a room all the time, it’s there to move people. You know when you’ve had a good night.
OSR: Which is your favourite track on Night Church?
Brehony: Probably, ‘Golden’. I like the way it builds slowly to a massive gospel rock 70s jam at the end. Also, the lyrics mean a lot to me – it’s about my mum bringing me up and then later in life thinking what it would be like to have my own child. I have a son now and the second verse is about him.
We’re also very proud of ‘Beautiful World’ because we wanted to take on the challenge of writing a proper Motown style pop song and I think we nailed it.
OSR: What about the least favourite?
Brehony: I think it’s a great record and I would not remove any of the songs. The one we struggled with the most was ‘Outsiders’. We just could not get the earthy sound we wanted. We recorded it twice – we actually rejected the first recording we did at Metropolis Studios. The version you hear on the record is on a more home-made set up which we did ourselves, there were cushions and blankets all over the drums to get the sound we wanted.
OSR: If you could change one thing about Night Church, what would it be?
Brehony: Record more quickly! I like our songs to be a news flash of how we are feeling and sometimes get frustrated that we don’t release what I am excited about sooner. I think we will get better at that. Mostly though, we don’t look back. If there is something we should have done, then we think that’s our next challenge and we release new music. That’s being an artist – you are always thinking about the next thing.
We really enjoyed creating our own sound with our regular collaborators and we found a groove about half way through the recording process – Iain McFarlane on drums, Keshav Kanabar on bass alongside some other very cool musicians we know. We would like to continue working like that.
OSR: If you had only one more day on Earth, what would you do?
Brehony: Is a meteor coming and we are all going to be wiped out or have I lived a long life and it’s just me? Basically, our song ‘Beautiful World’ is about this – live like it’s your last day. See the ones I love the most, play music, make love. It’s all about love in the end as the Beatles say.
OSR: What is your favourite review to date?
Brehony: There have been quite a few really positive ones but I read one recently from Indie Top 39 where I think the reviewer really took the time to listen to the music and the lyrics. I had been worried that the music was too varied on the album (in this world of pigeon holes) but he points out how we really “curated” the sound and that the songs have depth and emotion. Thanks!
OSR: What is your greatest musical accomplishment to date?
Brehony: You can say things to impress people. I toured with Beyonce and have written hit songs. Fred has worked with all sorts of legends, but the biggest thing is that we have had a vision for this music and somehow, with help from a lot of people, it has been translated onto this album. That feels like my biggest achievement so far.
OSR: Do you have future plans as Ghosts Of Our Former Selves?
Brehony: We will release a lot more music. We are in a groove. There are some people we love writing with (Jonny Wengrowe on keys and Harry Haywood on guitar, for example) and we already have a lot of new ideas we are working on. We will put out things that are relevant and exciting to us all the time now. We want to reach out to more and more and people and get back to playing a lot more live shows in 2022. We need the love!