If your ears were to eat up Ghostfire's tunes of tragedy and history you may feel the need to sway, you may frolic, you may even waltz, but one things for certain - you'll want more. They're vehemently London, and easily steampunk. Visualize a cobble stone street, and a giant rustic organ. There's a lot of humidity in this alternative universe (which is good for the skin) and a lot of grim (which is not good for the skin). Quicksand-like music is born from this world originating in literature. If you want to understand what this sounds like, listen to Ghostfire's single 'The Last Steampunk Waltz' - but watch out! It gets stuck in your head and trapped forever. Luckily for you Ghostfire just released their debut album 'The Tyburn Jig'. Andii, their guitarist, backup vocalist, and song lyricist, let us in on the magic behind their live shows (hint; flatulence), their album, and her veghood.
By Paola Bread 'n Water
Paola Bread 'n Water: In Ghostfire's single 'The Last Steampunk Waltz' you sing ‘Legends spoken shall never fail - every deed as hard as nails’. What will be the legend of Ghostfire? Andii: We would like to be remembered for our timeless music, cast iron credibility and impeccable fashion sense.
PB'nW: You are basically the mastermind behind Ghostfire. What was inside you that made you want to bring Ghostfire to life?
A: After a spell away from music I was inspired to write songs again and they were pretty different to anything I’d written in other bands. Although they were only acoustic sketches, I had a vision of how I wanted them to sound – big, atmospheric, widescreen movies wrapped up in music – and Ghostfire was assembled to put that vision into practice. I hope we’ve succeeded.
PB'nW: The band is proudly part of the Steampunk genre. When and how did you discover steampunk, and why do you think it’s important?
A: I’ve been a fan of a novelist called Tim Powers since my early twenties, but only realized he was considered ‘steampunk’ a couple of years ago when I discovered the movement in the UK. I was alerted to its presence by a journalist friend who’d seen Ghostfire play and thought we’d fit into the scene well. It’s quite ironic that although it was all new to me, I’d actually been reading steampunk books most of my adult life! I think steampunk is important as it’s rare these days to find any genre that’s truly original and not just a reinvention, ‘post modern’ excuse or straight copy of what’s gone before. Of course the historic aspect of steampunk means that essentially everything has gone before, which is a little ironic, but it’s done with style and imagination. The fact steampunk came out of literature, rather than music, means there’s a lot of scope for bands who wish to become part of the scene since there are no rules or predetermined requirements.
PB'nW: Ghostfire's line up was revamped with the addition of vocalist Mister E, and bassist Marcus. What are the requirements to be a Ghostfire member? What do you all share in common?
A: First and foremost you must be a good musician. Good musicians know when to step out of the song as much as they know when to put their mark on it. Playing for the song, and not yourself is probably the biggest requirement for Ghostfire and it provides our common ground and starting point for each new endeavor.
PB'nW: How did you and the band decide on 'The Last Steampunk Waltz' as a single? Did you write it with the intention of representing the band as a single?
A: It was written quite early on in our career and back then was called ‘Calibernus’. We had no big plans for it until we played at ‘The Asylum’ in 2009. This is the UK’s biggest steampunk festival and we headlined the event. When we played that song the entire room got up and spontaneously started waltzing. We knew we were onto something and so when the time came to release a single, this was the obvious choice.
PB'nW: What or who would be the antagonist in the story of the album?
A: I’ve always fancied writing something about the infamous 18th century criminal mastermind, Jonathan Wild, so it would have to be him. He was vile!
PB'nW: What or who would be the protagonist?
A: As is always the case when writing about criminals, the ultimate protagonist is justice and the long arm of the law, even though English policing had a rather short arm back then…
PB'nW: Ghostfire seek to give forgotten criminals of the past voices, but overall entertain. Do you believe that all art should be a bit didactic?
A: It would depend on interpretation of the word didactic. While we certainly hope our music and lyrics might open the pages of history to our listeners, we don’t make moral judgements regarding criminality. People don’t necessarily turn to crime because they’re ‘bad’. There are numerous factors involved and certainly in the past, people would break the law simply to stay alive.
SBV: Is there anything that happened in history that you wish was still part of today and still happened now?
A: In the perspective of our music, the times and circumstances we write about, I wouldn’t want to see any of those things happening today. Under the rulings of the English judicial system in 1815, there were 225 crimes which carried the death penalty, some as trivial as stealing a loaf of bread. This system was colloquially known as ‘The Bloody Code’, with good reason.
PB'nW: There is an entertaining element of humor to Ghostfire. Do you think it’s important to not take yourself too seriously?
A: Definitely, though it’s surprising how easily humor, particularly the darker kind, can be missed. Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen are two of my favorite writers and both carry a tag of ‘miserabalist’ or ‘depressing’. Some people just don’t see the undercurrent of macabre humor which underpins their work. Take Nick Cave’s album ‘Murder Ballads’ for instance. Songs like ‘The Curse of Millhaven’, ‘Stagger Lee’ and ‘O’Malley’s Bar’ are hilarious!
PB'nW: How do you all prepare for a show? Any before show rituals?
A: Drink a gallon of beer, smoke twenty strong tabs, eat one small piece of cheese and then take the stage farting fit!
PB'nW: Is it true that one of Ghostfire's goals is to play in the states. What other goals do you have? A: We’d love to play in the US and have put ourselves forward many times for the various steampunk conventions which run there. Unfortunately none of the organizers want to pay the costs of flying us out and we can’t afford to pay for ourselves. Hopefully one day we’ll get an offer we can’t refuse. Our other goals would be the usual: getting our music heard by as wide and diverse an audience as possible and playing all over the world.
PB'nW: You've mentioned previously that you took time off from music to pursue other passions of yours. What were those passions, and do you think your experience with other pursuits bled into the music/lyrics?
A: I’ve always been a writer so when I’m not writing songs I’m writing things like stories and film scripts. It all comes from the same creative well so there’s inevitably bleed from one genre of writing into another. My last hiatus from music was occupied by writing comedy and together with my partner we got out two thirty minute television pilots. Sadly these were never made – it’s even more difficult getting noticed in the TV and movie industries than it is in the musical one. However, songs like ‘Vaudevillain’ contain a strong humorous element, and there are some upcoming songs which are definitely not to be taken seriously so it certainly served a purpose.
SBV: You’re vegetarian (as is Mister E on vocals). You’ve been a strong supporter of animal rights since your school days. Why did you initially go veggie and how was it at school being vegetarian and into animal rights?
A: I became vegetarian last year. I should have done it ages ago but was finally convinced when I read an appalling report detailing how ducks and geese are treated in order to make foie gras. I was so sickened and angered that I immediately decided I would no longer endorse an industry which allowed this to happen. On that day I turned my back on meat.
PB'nW: How did you feel about yourself after you went veg?
A: I feel great; the act of going down the meat isle in a supermarket seems alien to me and my diet is a lot healthier. I would like to see more people, especially children, educated about all the elements of how meat is actually produced, which will hopefully impact on the next generations of vegetarians.
SBV: What do you think of schools that use animals for dissection? Is there any need for the dissection of animals in schools and universities?
A: When I was at school I took the decision to not study biology at GCSE level because the course involved the dissection of frogs. With today’s computer resources there is no reason for students to engage in this barbaric and pointless taking of life. They’ll learn better by watching something made using CGI and it will be just as realistic, if not more so.
PB'nW: Other than not eating meat, what have you done to help the plight of animals?
A: Where possible I’ve always donated to animal rights and animal care charities. I try to support them as much as possible, even by giving unwanted clothes to animal charity shops and buying my Christmas cards from them. I’ve recently begun signing online petitions since they’re an effective way of getting a strong message to the right people. There are rumours that certain organizations only want to take your money but don’t seem to get many effective results. I’m not sure I agree with that. There are cynics and self-publicists all over the world and some of them are involved in helping animals. Funnily enough, just as I was typing this an email came in from IFAW about the plight of elephants. Their campaign is being fronted by Leonardo DiCaprio – so good for him. If I was in his position I’d be doing things like that all the time. Oh, and I reside with two very pampered cats who absolutely rule the roost!
PB'nW: In your song 'Hand Of Glory' are the lyrics “Before my spirit crumbles into dust - I'll make amends for things unjust”. Do you think that the human race will ever make amends for all the injustices we have committed upon non-human animals? Is there a brighter future for farm animals?
A: There are many people who should burn in hell for the atrocities they’ve committed on animals but while the majority of the human race still eats meat, the future does not look good. However, with dwindling resources globally, our planet will be in real trouble soon. Production of crops and vegetables is always more economically viable than breeding animals for food so hopefully this will force a change somewhere down the line.
SBV: Do you think animals are better treated today than they were back in history?
A: Definitely not. Obviously there were some dreadful cases of neglect going on in the cities, but animals back then were valued more highly than they are now. They were respected as providers of food, work and transport and not intensively farmed as a commodity. Less meat was consumed then, since a live animal was of more use to poor people than a dead one.
SBV: What are some things involving animals that happen today that you think should be confined to history?
A: Where do I start? Vivisection, the fur trade, overfishing, hunting for sport, zoos, circuses, factory farms, bull fighting, dog racing… That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Animals were not put on this earth for the consumption and entertainment of the human species. Perhaps one day we’ll find out what it’s like to not be top of the food chain!