Interview: Ghosts of Sunset
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QUESTIONS ANSWERED BY JOHN MERCHANT, SINGER, SONGWRITER, GUITARIST FOR GHOSTS OF SUNSET
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today? Like so many before me, the Beatles were really the hook to play music. My father was a musician as well, so that paired with the Beatles made the pull of music nearly impossible to deny. Really, I never wanted to do anything else. Not a cowboy, policeman, fireman, superhero; nothing. ALWAYS music. It’s cliché to say, but WITHOUT music, I doubt I’d even be around to consider anything else. It’s always been there. Any other jobs, hobbies, etc..have played second to music.
What do you like to do when you're not playing music and how does that influence your creativity? I actually had the idea for the ‘Headed West’ concept EP while out running. The time alone while running provides time to think about everything from musical parts to lyrics and concepts. Besides running, family is the primary focus of free time.
How long has your band been around? My partner Todd Long (songwriter, drums, bass, harmony vocals) and I have been making music together for over 30 years now. Ghosts of Sunset is a new project and band for us, but we’ve been writing and performing together in some way for nearly all our adult lives.
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music? Both Todd and I grew up in Michigan and Todd and his family currently live in Alaska. I think there’s a ‘midwestern aesthetic’ to what we do musically. It’s really the idea that you have to put in the work. Everything is grass-roots, street level. Michigan has a reputation of bands that deliver the goods both live and on record. Songs are always the focus.
How did you come up with the name of your band and what does it mean to you. With our EP ‘Headed West’, we focused on the 1980s Sunset Strip scene and that led us to the name. Ghosts of Sunset as a name has nothing to do with the artists or sounds being ‘dated’, but is an homage to how much guts and determination it took to leave your hometown and move to Los Angeles to make it in the music scene. The ‘Ghosts’ of Sunset include everyone from Frank, Sammy, and Dean, to the Byrds, the Doors, Buffalo Springfield, to Ratt, Poison, Motley Crue, Quiet Riot, and every artist to spring out of that scene. The Sunset Strip was/is a magical place and our name is our recognition and appreciation to all the artists that built their careers there.
Tell me about the best and worst shows you have played. Well there’s some old saying about the worst day of fishing being better than the best day at work. Gigs are sort of the same way. They might all not be transcendent, but it beats breaking rocks with a hammer all day. We’ve played festivals to thousands with bands like Goo Goo Dolls, clubs with bands like Faster Pussycat and LA GUNS, to an animal shelter where the dogs outnumbered the humans. I like to think we gave all those audiences the same level of performance. We do it out of respect for the audience. We were raised that way by the 1980s scene we loved. EVERY venue was a full arena no matter what it may have physically looked like.
Tell me about your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you haven't already? We’ve played fantastic clubs and festivals all over the country, but I can honestly say, Ghosts of Sunset would love to get on the M3 festival or the Monsters of Rock cruise. Those are a couple special events filled with people just like us who love this music.
If you could play any show with any lineup who would be on the ticket? Wow, this could go on and on. All the classics. 70s Stones and Aerosmith, the Dolls, TREX, Slade, Bowie, to RATT, Motley, LA Guns, Faster Pussycat, KIX, Junkyard, etc… Michael Monroe or Hanoi Rocks would be bucket list stuff.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into playing in a band? Be empathetic. Realize not every member is exactly where you’re at. Remember human frailties. Be kind, be open, be honest. Anyone can START a band, it takes way more to KEEP a band. Relationships are hard and require continual work.
If you could go back in time and give yourselves advice, what would it be? Me personally? It would be “be present” which, for me ultimately means “be sober”. When your heroes are all addicted or dead, it’s easy to fall into that mold. It ate up so many good years and stole so many memories. I’m grateful though, because I needed that to get here and be ready for Ghosts of Sunset.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why? Our first single “Miles In-Between” kicked the whole band off and set the tone for our future. After it was completed it sort of said to us “this is serious and is going to require work and attention”. From that moment we became Ghosts of Sunset.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most? Due to Covid-19 we haven’t played live yet, but when that happens we will deliver every song with the same passion and intensity. They deserve that.
What is the creative process for the band, and what inspires you to write your music? Usually Todd will email me a riff or idea or even a full formed song. I’ll get a melody and a storyline in my head and get started. From there, it’s just back and forth, bouncing ideas, adding to the arrangements and fine tuning everything. Our musical partnerships is an even 50/50. We do it all together. We trust each other and each other’s tastes. Inspiration comes from the human experience. Either ours or someone else’s. We just tap into a song that’s been running forever and sort of pull our little piece out and then send our song back in. It’s been going since early man beat on a rock with a stick.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music? Some optimism and hope, some cautionary tales. Really, you’re just trying to connect with other human beings. The gift is, that connection makes you feel less alone and the listener feel less alone as well. That’s really what humans are looking for; connection.
Do you ever have disagreements in your band, and how do you get past them? Trust. Knowing that we both care about the quality of anything Ghosts of Sunset does. When you know opinions are coming from a place of love and trust, it’s easier to handle disagreements and talk through them. It’s art, there are no right or wrongs. For us, it’s about quality. We want to always do good work.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that's coming up? For now, we’ll continue promoting the single “Miles In-Between” and prep for the next single release (slated for October) and then the full EP to follow. Already we’re working on our follow-up. Between our fantastic label Golden Robot Records and our new management team at Samurai Artist Management, we’ve got a good team in place that mirrors our focus on content and quality across the board. It’s an exciting time.