The glorious noise of Ghösh - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart

With the world exploding into an uprising amid a pandemic, we need bands like Ghösh to propel us through the tumultuous noise, to soundtrack the chaos surrounding us. The Philadelphia duo brings it with a ferocity that is part angst-ridden diatribe, part 90’s rave in an abandoned warehouse, part political polemic, part industrial cyberpunk drag show– there’s a lot of parts, sure, but Symphony Spell (vocals/lyrics) and Zachary Devereux Fairbrother (various instruments/samplers) would have it no other way.

Ghösh combines the darkest elements of aforementioned 90’s rave — pummeling beats and washy, distorted samples ala Atari Teenage Riot or Front 242– with the lyrical intensity of a 2009 LiveJournal entry co-written by Angela Davis and your little sister: they’re pissed off, informed, and ready to party.

It’s a weird mix on the surface, but with songs like “Dear Daddy” intoning how bad all cops are (“even my dad,” Symphony shouts) over a dizzying jungle beat, to a cover of Limp Bizkit’s “Break Stuff” where buzzsaw riffs that tear through the an avalanche of Miami bass empowered 808 kicks where they scream-rap “my suggestion is to keep your distance / right now I’m dangerous”, it’s clear the genreless entropy is not just intentional, but beautiful.

The band has honed their sound in the usual spots: basements, dive bars, the batting cages, defying the usual punk orthodoxy with ever slurred, tripped out vocal sample, every re-appropriation of 90’s hip hop and nu-metal, every radical, queer, noisy explosion. And it’s true, Philly gravitates to bands that push, explore and distort a myriad of experiences and influences, the eclectic shit, as much as we love three chord punk, staid indie rock, and meathead hardcore.

But Philadelphia has never seen a band quite like Ghösh. A band that, as they say on the single “Rave Moon”, will lead us ecstatically “twerking to our coffins.” So we chatted with Ghosh about eclecticism, music in the hour of Covid and uprising, and all the glorious noise we can make in the time between.

The Key: So, hi! General introductions I think are necessary, first who are you individually, what pronouns do you use, and how did you meet? Your bio says you met while working at a pizza parlor and became friends through mutual interests. That’s really rare, how did you find all of that out?

Symphony: My name is Symphony (she/her). I am the emcee. The pizza shop itself is a pretty cool spot where everyone is friends. A lot of artists and musicians work there; it’s kind of its own scene. I was pretty detached from the community at the pizza shop at first, the manager at the time of my initial hiring would send out a weekly e-mail. One week, he reprimanded Zach for a yelp review written about him in which the customer complained that he played Korn to kick them out at closing time. I thought that was pretty sick because I love Korn. So I was like, “I wanna be friends with that guy” and made a point to talk to him more I guess. And then I actually moved to Hawaii for a little bit. But basically as soon as I came back, Zach wanted to start jamming and that’s how Ghosh happened.

Zach: My name is Zachary Devereux Fairbrother, he/him. I am a Canadian that has been living in Philly since 2010. Yes, we met at a pizza shop. It is a pretty groovy place to work, almost everyone there plays in bands. The boss is pretty absent too, so the vibe is very chill. Lots of talks about music and goofing off while waiting for the customers or pizzas to arrive. Symphony is really comfortable with what she likes, she has a 311 tattoo, they’re her favorite band. People dunk on 311 all the time, unfairly, but Symphony doesn’t care and I find that powerful. We probably had some conversation about nü metal or something sometime and it just sort of grew from there. Just as we first started to get to know each other she moved
away to Hawaii, however the volcano happened and forced her to move back. When she returned she asked to start a band and we just went for it. I was in between bands, mostly playing rock or punk, struggling to get practices together. I had been making beats on my laptop for years, but never found a comfortable outlet. With Symphony’s open mindedness it was the perfect opportunity.

TK: In your songs, I hear both an intense, socio-political messages lyrically, but it’s often couched in this atmospheric, cosmic party. How are you able to balance being a politically-charged band and an exciting, party band? Do you think there is space for social and political ideas in music and can you explain why or why not?

S: As a queer Black woman my existence is inherently political and any art I make is going to reflect that. In order to find empowerment in the complexities of every aspect of my identity, I’ve relied on music a lot. I’ve always been simultaneously alienated and empowered by my Blackness, my queerness and my femininity; that incessant polarity has inspired me to celebrate the triumphs of my communities but also critique the structures that oppress them. I acknowledge my disenfranchisement, but that’s never stopped me from having a good time. That in itself is a political act: jubilation in the face of misogynoir, systematic racism, bi-phobia, whatever. Dancing, performing and being a clown are my own forms of resistance. The cosmic party is political, it always has been, always should be. There’s definitely a place for social and political ideas in music. It would be irresponsible at the least and dangerous at most to think otherwise currently.

Z: I think the music is just a reflection of our personalities. We’re both interested in politics, or how power organizes itself. More directly how [power] affects our day to day– like your crappy job with no future or developers ruining your city or cops. But also we’re both pretty self aware and don’t take stuff too seriously, we like to have fun. Music has always been a release for me, it’s cathartic. Dancing is cathartic, moshing is cathartic, screaming “fuck you pig” is cathartic. So I think it’s just a reflection of that.

TK: In your sound I can hear Detroit techno and Miami bass / electro, but often in the same song I’ll hear flashes of nearly industrial bands like Front 242 or the Prodigy. What aspects of the production led to this eclecticism? What music influenced you as kids, what turned you on to the concept of making music as Ghosh?

S: As a kid, I loved ska, punk and hardcore and was pretty active in the local scenes in Connecticut. But I also have siblings ranging 6 to 20 years older than me. I was watching MTV from a super young age. I remember having favorite Cypress Hill and Bone Thugs songs before I was old enough to be in school. So, nü metal felt like the midway point between the hip hop that most of my Black peers and family listened to and the punk that I was into. Even though there are very few Black women in nü metal, nü metal and rap rock have always allowed me to feel seen. But also, I love dance music and I love to dance. We bonded over our love of nü metal and juggoalism, but I didn’t know that Zach was into drum n bass and jungle until he sent me the first Ghösh instrumentals. So, knowing that we both were interested in those two very different kinds of music really sealed the deal. Once we came together, organically fusing our strangest tastes (niche, over the top and not particularly cool tastes) we
just went for it. It’s gauche, and that’s why we’re ghösh.

Z: Ghösh definitely references a lot of stuff I liked as a kid: Limp Bizkit, Prodigy like you said, The Beastie Boys, Rage, Cypress Hill, Pantera, Slayer, Korn, Aphex Twin. All that stuff from a very different time in the music industry. I think metal, gabber / hardcore, Miami bass, drum n bass, industrial are all very heavy genres, very physical, you feel it in your guts. I’ve always liked music that made my body want to thrash or jump around. All those genres, they just explore “heavy” in different ways, you can headbang to all of it. I think it was just a matter of trying to thread the strings between them I heard in my head in a coherent way. I started making electronic music without too much knowledge of the history, I knew the basics, but just kind of went for it. I think if I had been a DJ for years before I might have been a little more self conscious. Not saying everything I made was great but it just allowed me to follow ideas without too much baggage, of trying to make something “cool” or contemporary.

TK: How has the Philly punk and underground scene embraced you? I often talk to bands that are doing something different besides basic indie rock or basic 3-chord punk and I get mixed responses. What other artists have you played with that you find support your sound

S: Since there’s not a lot of music that sounds like us, we haven’t found a music community exactly. But we are friends with musicians who support us. We sound nothing like Palberta, Empath or TVO but they are our friends and we’ve enjoyed playing with them. And ultimately, we put on a fun show so people have been excited about asking us to play all sorts of shows. Being genreless weirdos has worked to our advantage in that way; we get to play drag shows and ravey dance parties and noise shows and punk shows. In terms of artists that support our sound…I’d say NAH, who we toured with in January was a great fit. We’ve also played with Manikineter and his whole thing compliments our whole thing in a pretty cool way. Kuni, Machine Girl and Deli Girls also made sense sonically.

Z: It’s been great. Philly has been really supportive, we were offered so many shows right away, it helped us hone our skills. Sam from Ranch Jams helped put out our music. Through that we were able to go on tour with NAH in January which was such an awesome experience. Played so many great shows, with Deli Girls, Machine Girl, Dreamcrusher and others. We’ve played shows with lots of different types of bands, like Pissed Jeans and Palberta. Generally, we like the shows where people aren’t afraid to get into it. It’s hard to do what we do if people just stand around, it makes it feel like we aren’t doing our job right.

TK: What’s the song writing process like?

S: The song writing process is never the same. Sometimes, a song starts as a freestyle. Sometimes, the lyrics exist first without any music and I just see what fits. Sometimes, I write something around a phrase that’s inspired by the music. Sometimes, I’ll write lyrics while we’re together jamming. And sometimes I’ll write lyrics to an instrumental that Zach sent. It depends on the song!

Z: Often I come up with the beats and Symphony has the hooks and lyrics and we come together and figure out an arrangement. But it’s never exactly the same. Around this time last year we started working with Kevin Keenan as our sound guy, eventually he became a full time member and is now our co-producer. We really started to build the songs from the live show. Playing the music we play, you just gotta have good sound, the bass has to be big, you got to hear what Symphony is saying. Focusing on getting the live sound right, changed how we approached the mixes, the energy, everything. Kevin is really good at getting into the nuts and bolts on how to make a good mix. He has a good ear for edits and ways to make our ideas hit harder. It’s a really rewarding collaborative experience through and through.

TK: With the current state of the world being exasperated by Covid-19 and yet more cases of Black people murdered by the state or through vigilante justice, what do you think the artist’s place is among all of this chaos? How have the uprisings in the wake of George Floyd’s murder affected Ghosh’s music and the way you present your band?

S: The artist can play so many roles in all this chaos. I hope we can be healers for our broken communities, advocates for people who struggle to find their voice and visionaries who can imagine a more just future. It may sound corny; but I am incredibly hopeful and proud of this moment. I know so many artists using their art and the platform to share resources and information and take action towards radical change. I’m stoked that people have reacted to George Floyd’s death in such a monumental way. These revolutionary demonstrations are phenomenal and new but unfortunately, the death of George Floyd like Breonna Taylor and Tony McDade, is a regular occurrence in the Black community. It’s nice to see all sorts of new people on board. But we have always been anti-racist, pro-Black and extremely anti-
cop. So, I guess we’ll continue to be that way.

Z: I think the role of art is still being decided. Music is in uncharted waters right now, it’s hard to say what the landscape will look like post pandemic, post uprisings and how these will converge with technology. What will shows look like if we are still expected to observe social distancing? How will DIY survive with more surveillance, crack downs of public gatherings? As for how it affects our music directly, it’s obviously been hard to write songs together because of the pandemic. Speaking for myself with regards to the protests, I think it just puts things in perspective, like it’s hard to worry about your music when there’s so many bigger things going on. You just got to take a step back and reflect, learn and give yourself a necessary break. People are going to need the music, the art, the culture, more than ever though. We need it to keep the movement going and I think it’s going to create some really powerful stuff.

Ghösh drops a new digital single July 3 on Bandcamp.

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