Handsome Ghost On Using the Home Studio to Balance Vulnerability and Experimentation

by | Mar 6, 2018 | Interviews and Features

Handsome Ghost is certainly a band to watch right now. After releasing singles dating back to 2015 (and garnering well-deserved acclaim while they were at it) and working on eclectic side projects, the band is poised to release their debut album aptly titled Welcome Home—which they crafted in their home studio in Massachusetts.

“We made an effort, because the lyrics are so honest and personal and intimate, that we wanted the production and the instrumentation to contrast that and be dramatic, be a little more full-range, set against really personal songs and also really intimate vocals, to have the production be the antithesis of that. So, we built a studio, and we were able to take our time and really try to be thoughtful with every single part. It’s cool to be able to talk things out and say, ‘What do we really want to do here for each little thing?’” lead singer Timothy Noyes muses.

And the deliberation truly worked. Handsome Ghost, made up of Noyes and producer and instrumentalist Eddie Byun, created their album over a year’s time—and good things certainly take time. The new record features 11 songs, each speaking to one relationship that Noyes notes needed closure.

“I started the band a few years ago now. We went on this musical journey—that sounds a little cliché—but we’ve been winding all over the place, and when it came time to make an album I was like, ‘Okay, what do I want to write about?’ And I found myself sitting down and feeling dread about that same relationship even though it’s been years now — and that’s taken on so many forms, and there’s distance and time between the two of us at this point. It just felt like there was a little more to say there, so I thought that putting this album out would give me a chance to breathe and say, ‘Okay, that’s enough. Move on.’

We went over it all—the fact that writing can create closure, and in turn, sometimes it’s easier to be vulnerable when it’s through song. We lose the inner critic, the fear of the reaction, and are able to speak the truth: “Writing is different than the real world, if you will, which is my chance to reflect on things and wonder what was good, what was bad, what I messed up, and kind of make sense of it. And yeah, ideally close the chapter and start again,” Noyes notes.

Noyes also speaks to the fact that moments are amplified through song—one specific memory can become a three-minute ballad in its own right. “I think too with songs, sometimes I’ll find myself writing about one very specific moment that I can remember, whether it’s good or bad, or whatever it is, and then that little moment becomes more of a larger statement, and it grows into something more important than one night or one morning.”

Their songs showcase variety, and this album proves to be no exception. The band tried out a variety of things production-wise thanks to the studio time they were afforded. “We tried some new stuff, and we always try to mix real instruments—strings, guitars, we had a mandolin, ukulele, all of this great stuff—with the electronic, digital stuff. We try to toe the line between two worlds, and I think we did a nice job on this album of finding the balance between the two. We tried everything—we did some off the wall stuff and were like, ‘I’ll never show that to anyone, ever.’ But it’s fun to have a studio and say ‘Okay, we’re up, let’s get to work.’”

While Byun took more of a perfectionistic approach to completing the record, Noyes allowed him to experiment with the sound. “I feel like if we get the tone of the song correct or the way we envision it, then the listener will kind of fill in the gaps. It doesn’t necessarily matter if everything is completely in its right place,” he states.

Step one is to get the lyrics down as efficiently as possible. Noyes begins with guitar, and then hums out a melody. To him, the words should dictate the melodies and the production. Beyond their songwriting, they’re no strangers to this sort of improvisation elsewhere—with the Sudden Sessions, Noyes’ brother filmed a series of the band performing songs in an on-the-fly format.

“We did spend so much time in Massachusetts doing the album that we wanted to take the songs away from that context and start over. We would get together, either just the two of us or we’d get a band to join us, and we’d just put together an arrangement on the spot, and bring a bunch of instruments and see what happens. It’s cool because you spend days and weeks on one song, and then you just blow all that up and try it in a different way,” he says.

So, they’ve played in-the-moment shows, large-scale shows, and intimate shows. Which one does this band’s lead singer prefer? “I like when there’s a large enough crowd that you can feel the energy and you can feel the heat of the room—there’s that buzz. But still small enough that you can see everyone’s face, like a club. I like small clubs, that’s where I feel most comfortable. But we’ve done it all—we’ve done super small acoustic shows, like in a living room, and then we’ve been on a tour where we’re doing 5,000-seat theaters. Somewhere in between is where I feel best.”

Augmenting the sound to fit the room is something that Noyes and Byun approach organically; authenticity is key. “We just try to be genuine and play our music as we want to, and hopefully people connect. I’m definitely more comfortable in an intimate setting. I’d rather strip things back to the bare bones than try to make it enormous. We don’t do ourselves many favors when we try to get too big. Our music is intimate, and it doesn’t necessarily translate when we try to make it into a big party.”

Handsome Ghost – Welcome Back

Photos by Cortney Armitage