More Ghost Than Man: The Worlds We Made There

We’ll start with this: Terry Grant is a genius, one of a small handful of visionaries in the scene who is truly aspiring to make something new. Everything he’s done lately has been notable and often beloved.

The music of the More Ghost Than Man project is, in a word, beautiful. But that’s a word that contains multitudes: it’s hauntingly beautiful, and then beautifully chilling, lifting you up in a whirlwind of furious percussion and then dropping you in a beatless, abstract space. It’s music for dreaming and meditation, but never entirely fades into the background.

It’s too interesting, too engrossing to become the kind of electronic wallpaper that provides a 24/7 score for our lives — by turns opulent and lush, the music of sensation, and then austere and thoughtful and full of deep meaning. It’s the kind of music that you want to turn on for your friends, and spend an inordinate amount of time trying to describe it. “If Nick Cave sang for Burial” was how 8D Industries’ Michael Donaldson described the debut self-titled More Ghost Than Man album. The second album, Everything Impossible Is Far Away, took a step beyond into a rigorous, tactile journey through sound and vision. “David Bowie meets Flying Lotus at a party that Massive Attack threw for Burial,” is how Grant himself describes it, with a hint of impatience at trying to fit what he does into a box.

From the start, More Ghost Than Man has also been a multimedia project: Grant creates dynamic short films to go with each album’s singles. As intimate as his music is, it’s impossible to separate sight from sound, sound from vision.

More Ghost Than Man is far from Terry Grant’s first or only project. He’s previously released acclaimed records on labels from Bedrock to Baroque, recording with other deep house artists including Aki Bergen and Pezzner, Luke Solomon and Spiritchaser. “I am still very much turned on by sounds that are dark, and dubby, and melodic,” he says. “Only now I don’t worry about whether or not the music I make is fit for the dance floor.”

Terry’s albums have grown with me over the last five years, which is about as long as I’ve wanted to speak with him about striking out on this strange path. His newest long player, The Worlds We Made There, was released on September 24 on 8D Industries, and that was as good a reason as any.

You have what those in the business like to call an “eclectic discography.” Let’s talk about your start and bring me up to date on how your recorded sounds have changed over the years.

Ha, yeah — I suppose I do. When I first picked up a guitar at 15 I very much wanted to be BB King. Then at 17 I wanted to be Eddie Van Halen. Then at 19 I wanted to be Trent Reznor. Then it was Prince… then Björk… then A Tribe Called Quest.

I moved to Nashville and got a job as a as DJ quite by accident. They actually hired me specifically because I didn’t have experience, and therefore no “chip on my shoulder” (their words) about what records I would play. Which worked out well, as no matter where I played in town, the crowd was pretty much always at least fifty percent college kids & tourists, and let me tell you — after being berated for playing “nothing but techno” for the third or forth time by some random drunk girl in a prom dress and a sash that says “BRIDE TO BE,” you figure your shit out quick.

This particular club would allow the local house heads to do their thing on off nights — Tuesdays and Wednesdays, usually — and that’s where I was introduced to the world of underground house and club music. I soaked it all up because it was all so new to me, and I really identified with the somewhat faceless nature of being a DJ and a producer.

2020 was hard on us all, but it was uniquely so here in Nashville. Not only did we have a pandemic and a very contentious election to deal with, but we had a devastating tornado in the Spring and a fucking bombing on Christmas Day that sort of bookended the year.

I started messing around with Pro Tools and creating a couple of bootleg remixes, and then I took a stab at producing original tracks. The first one I finished was “I’ll Kill You,” which I was lucky enough to sign to Bedrock.

I spent the next few years trying to reconcile my desire to experiment (as a songwriter) with my desire to please labels and DJs (as a producer), and generally failing as often as I succeeded.

All of this was happening at a time when the industry was reeling due to the shift from physical to digital, and so I faced a very uncertain future, no matter how I chose to look at it.

And I guess I reached a point where I needed to step back from club music, and make records purely on my own terms. Records that I would want to pull off the shelf in ten years and listen to… in any situation. And for me, that meant making records that weren’t necessarily aimed at the dance floor — with all of the rules and regulations that they can sometimes require.

I am still very much turned on by sounds that are dark, and dubby, and melodic… only now I don’t worry about whether or not the music I make is fit for the dance floor.

I didn’t break up with club music. We’re just taking a break. That’s kind of how More Ghost Than Man came to be.

I think the first thing that I remember of yours was “Sinners Blood” with Luke Solomon, which was so strange-sounding, like if Jim Morrison was born 50 years later and discovered a DAW. It had a poisonous but seductive sound.

Luke had heard a track I did called “I Never Sleep” in which I sang the hook myself for the first time. He found me online and asked if I’d be interested in maybe collaborating on some songs for a record he was putting together.

I said “fuck yeah” and then he just started sending over a whole bunch of stuff. Half-finished tracks, fully-finished tracks, rough demos…. I ended up singing on several cuts and playing various instruments on several others.

As for the Morrison thing, yeah — guilty. I’ve never considered myself much of a singer, and my heroes in that respect are all a bit atypical — Morrison, Bowie, Waits, Cave, Cohen. It’s not that I want to sound like them, I just sort of identify with that particular vibe. It feels authentic to me.

How do you describe the sound of “More Ghost Than Man” as a project?

David Bowie meets Flying Lotus at a party that Massive Attack threw for Burial.

Basically my entire record collection all simultaneously fighting to be the favorite child.

The music and the films you’re making are highly interrelated. You’re not really illustrating music with video, like most “music videos.” They feel… symbiotic? How would you describe relationship between them?

That’s a very interesting observation. I’ve long believed that while every artistic craft has unique systems and properties, the very idea of creating has a few core tenets that are universal, and so practicing any craft is beneficial to all the different ways in which you might choose to be creative.

Which is a fancy pants way of saying that I believe that painting makes me a better musician, and making music makes me a better writer, etc., and doing any one of those things makes me want to try all the others, because it’s like learning another language.

Film in particular is this amazing umbrella under which all the other art forms routinely come together to make something larger than the sum of the parts, and so it’s naturally just sort of the biggest and best sandbox for a weirdo like me.

For what you do, something like Bandcamp or Beatport doesn’t seem wholly adequate. We’re at the point in society where videos that are less than 60 minutes long and don’t involve teaching us how to make money are maybe as devalued as music — they’re seen as something that’s “supposed to be” free. Does MGtM present a kind of novel distribution problem… or… is it a novel distribution solution?

Well, sadly, I’m not sure I have the solution to anything. Getting people to pay attention to the thing you do has sort of always been the big problem for indie artists, and the scary thing now is that a lot of the advice and so-called “solutions” you see touted online boil down to just being a ham on social media, and I mean, come on man — not everyone likes TikTok.

We’ve effectively trained several generations in a row now to believe that recorded music has no value, and until we figure out a way to make buying all your music the cooler option, we’re just going to head further down that dark path.

Having a distinct visual identity for MGtM wasn’t really ever about promotion or creating more avenues to explore, it’s just something I do because without the filmic element, I feel like the albums are never really complete, and vice versa.

Your music dissolves from acoustic to electronic, the latter eating through like acid. There’s a conflict there. You know it reminds me of those very strange museums in Europe, where an old building is “remodeled” and it looks like a modernist building is kind of absorbing it. Is this conflict and then harmonizing between acoustic and electric part of the overall architecture and DNA of MGtM?

It is, but only because that’s sort of always been a thing with me. I’m always trying to marry electronic sounds with traditional instrumentation, as I get a kick out of it when I hear others do it well. I’m always trying to combine what I see as the future with what I love about the past.

That kind of “peanut butter in my chocolate” thing can end up being ugly as sin, or it can be effortlessly beautiful, but as long as it’s interesting to experience, then I don’t see a problem.

The Worlds We Made There: This album does not feel as dark as the self-titled. “A Penny Sitter” is actually, dare I say, a ballad? Have you heard this from others and what do you think?

It’s funny you mention that, because something happened during an interview recently. I was in the middle of this long winded explanation about how rough of an album this was to make…

2020 was hard on us all, but it was uniquely so here in Nashville. Not only did we have a pandemic and a very contentious election to deal with, but we had a devastating tornado in the Spring and a fucking bombing on Christmas Day that sort of bookended the year…

… and so I was trying to make the point that this record ended up being far darker and more angry than I had meant for it to be, when it hit me that the album doesn’t really sound like that at ALL.


 

 

 

I think at heart — I may in fact just be an optimist, as the music I make has a habit of feeling sort of uplifting or at least affirmative, in spite of it’s subject matter at times.

I think I need art — and I use the process of making it — as therapy… as catharsis. And maybe that’s why even when I’m writing what I’d consider to be protest music, it doesn’t really end up feeling like protest music. I don’t think I like being quite that literal.

How freeform is your music creation? How much of the finished material on TWWMT came from experimentation vs. a clear vision?

Painting has taught me to think less and just move my arms more, and so I’ve tried to apply that to music as well. In the early stages, it’s all about blind creation — come what may. There will be time later to sift through the rubble and find the pieces that fit.

Filmmaking, on the other hand, has taught me that the trick really is to be as prepared as humanly possible, and yet also be ready to throw all that preparation out the window and just make shit up as you go along, so I suppose the sweet spot is somewhere in between.

What do you use to create? I mean a DAW, but also various things involved. Pen and paper is a tool and so is, I don’t know, hiking to clear your mind. What is your creative process? What do you use when you’re stuck?

Oh man, let me tell you — I have discovered the joy of the long walk over the last year and a half. Nothing, and I mean nothing I have found, has been better or more therapeutic than a 5 mile walk alone. It clears the mental cobwebs, allows you to reset, and generally brings me back to a place where I am able to be the best version of myself in the studio. I highly, highly recommend it.

I also keep a running list in the phone of words and phrases I find interesting. Potential song titles, lyrical snippets, general ideas and phrases… It’s the best kindling for every time I sit down to start something new.

Aside from that: Pro Tools, guitars, drums, synths (hardware and software), and fuzz pedals… lots of fuzz pedals.

I said before that your music is not for background listening: it’s too interesting, it’s always asserting itself to the front of my attention span. Who do you imagine is listening to TWWMT and what are they doing when they’re listening?

Oh wow… Hmm… I guess I make music for long walks. I wish I had a cooler answer, but truthfully — I make the kind of records that I would want to listen to, and that I would listen to on a good long walk.

That’s totally going on my tombstone. “Here lies Terry. He was really tall, and he made short music for long walks.”

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