Interview: Ghost of Tom Joad

Ghost of Tom Joad - Photo by Tim Brüning

Ghost of Tom Joad - Photo by Tim Brüning

Ghost of Tom Joad is a band that feels it has finally found its voice.

The Münster-based trio, which was formed in 2006, consists of Henrik Roger (vocals, guitar, keyboard), Jen Mehring (bass) and Christoph Schneider (drums). Together, the three have spent the past five years churning out catchy, post-punk infused tracks, with two EPs and three full-lengths to show for it. The most recent however, last year’s “Black Musik,” took things in a different musical direction than the releases prior.

“We went to the studio the year beforehand and recorded like 12 songs,” said Schneider, in the band’s first interview in English, late last year. “But in the end, when the 12 songs were finished, we just sat there and thought, ‘Well, they suck. We don’t wanna [put] them out on the record.'”

The one exception was the song “Black Musik,” which the band liked and kept, eventually making it the title track of the album.

Schneider explained that the band’s focus then was to imitate that style, aiming to write an entire album full of similar-sounding songs.

“The 10 songs that are on the record now are the result of this second time of trying to write the album,” he said. “”I feel good that the drums are so much in the focus, [and] in our ears, it sounds a bit more like hip-hop music without the rap.”

The cost of essentially writing two albums in order to settle upon 10 songs they were proud of is something Schneider said took a lot of time and a lot of money. Additionally, the year spent working on the music was one where the band wasn’t able to tour.

“But in the end, I think the outcome is worth it,” he admitted. “I think it’s interesting because it sounds a bit different than the album before, ’cause we started with drum beats, and instead of writing the songs based on guitar riffs or melodies, most of the time we just went to the rehearsal space and I was drumming stuff along, and whenever we liked something we wrote it down.”

As for the 11 songs that were scrapped, he said they still exist, but that they may not ever see the light of day.

“There’s no plan of bringing them out in the near future,” Schneider explained, although he didn’t dismiss the idea that they could eventually be released. “In the moment, it wouldn’t feel right to release them.”

Since the February release of “Black Musik,” the band spent much of 2011 touring and playing festivals, which Schneider said is the highlight of the band experience. Although he loves to travel and perform in different venues, he also explained that one appeal of playing live is because he thinks that’s how music should be ideally experienced.

“I think that you can only say that you know a band if you’ve seen [it] live,” he said. “It’s more important how it sounds live, how the band plays it live. Because on the record, we can do everything, whatever [we] want with every kind of machine that helps [us]. And I prefer bands who play stuff live different than on the record. And most of the time, if bands do this, I like the live versions better. If the band plays the stuff perfectly and exactly the same way that it sounds on the record, well, it’s alright, it sounds good, but to me it’s a bit boring. And I’m always interested in hearing how the band interprets [its] own songs.”

Because that is what interests him in other bands, Schneider said it’s also what he hopes is a selling point for Ghost of Tom Joad.

This is also part of the reason why the band pens lyrics in English, as the members want what’s going on in the music to be the main focus for listeners.

“Being a German band always meant something different, because, I think, if you sing in German in Germany, the focus of all people is much more on the lyrics, and the music is reduced to some secondary thing,” he said. “I think that the point is that the lyrics are so much more important if you sing in German. Then everyone just listens to the lyrics and not so much the music, so for us it’s never been the question. We would have been a different kind of band or different music if we [sang in German].”

The most recent news in the Ghost of Tom Joad camp is that the band will be calling it quits this year. However, it wouldn’t be unlikely to see the respective members continue to pursue other avenues of music. In particular, Schneider said that at 30, he’s doing exactly what he wants to be doing with his life.

“Whenever I think about what I am doing right now, I compare myself to the classmates I had back in school,” he said. “Probably most of them earn like 10 times as much money as I do right now and have proper jobs and houses and cars, and I’m still at a student’s level and living in a flat with some flatmates, and feeling great with it and being free to not care about which day of the week it is right now or how late it is when I get to bed and when I get up, and this feels good. This is what I’ve always wanted to do.”

The Ghost of Tom Joad will do a farewell tour in the spring. The final Berlin show takes place at Comet Club on April 21. Tickets went on sale this week.

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