The first time I listened to Ghostwriter I was driving home late at night from Columbus to Cleveland on Rt. 71. I let the CD "Road Angels & Torrential Rain (Travel, Murder, + Loss)" play all the way through three times. There was just something gripping about it that reflected both the oblivion and the possibilities of the open road. As the title suggests, there is a certain amount of anguish in the vocals, which are delivered like an abrasive scrape across the gut. Ghostwriter's dark Americana further proves the notion that the one-man band is the purest form of musical expression. His lyrics come off personal, compelling, and literate. It is definitely not easy listening as he almost pathologically rants and raves, exposing his skeletons and pulling you into the strange world of a perpetual outsider that embodies the American spirit at its most gritty, true, and vital. Part John Wayne, part Charles Bukowski, Ghostwriter is a storyteller who creates a solitary aura that reminds me of doing shots alone in a dark corner bar on a weeknight. He sets to music the subconscious of a nation, and it is good music at that - BLRRP: How did you arrive at the name Ghostwriter?
Ghostwriter:: I like the definition, anonymous or un-credited. Also, I like that it sounds dark and solitaire.
RRP: Can you talk about the progression of bands you’ve been in? What was the sound and feel of bands like Billy Swamp, The Standards, and End of the West, and what propelled the evolution towards a one-man band?
Ghostwriter:: The Standards was kind of a rockabilly thing and was around the longest. End Of The West formed out of the ashes of the Standards. It was still rootsy but with a little darker take, similar to the stuff I’m doing now but slicker. Billy Swamp was a drums and guitar duo predating both of them. For years I hated this band but now it might be my favorite. It was really raw and there’s a lot of similarities between Billy Swamp and Ghostwriter songs. Both use pretty simple instrumentation, not a lot of changes or solos, and can seem kind of ranty. If there was any one thing that drove me towards playing alone it was constant changes in line-ups. If five years the Standards went through five bass players and three lead guitar players plus a couple fill-ins. It was ridiculous. The first one-man tour I did was an accident really. It was booked for End Of The West and both the other guys flaked out with pretty short notice. At the time, I chose to play the shows solo instead of canceling the tour or looking for fill-ins. I felt really defeated and it was just something to do, but it ended up being a good thing.
RRP: Who is Cole Stephens?
Ghostwriter:: He’s an alter-ego singer-songwriter of mine. My full name is Stephen Coleman Lile Schecter. Cole Stephens is just the first half backwards. I used to play solo acoustic gigs under that name when the Standards and End Of The West were around. I guess I’ve always had an aversion to using my own name.
RRP: Your bio says that you hopped a train and left Portland at age 19 to arrive in Austin where you still reside. What made you want to leave Portland, and what made Austin seem more desirable? What were your ambitions then, and how have you achieved them to this point? (And did actually “hop” the train?)
Ghostwriter:: Austin looked like a good change and even then I was aware of a lot of great bands and songwriters from Texas. I only figuratively ‘hopped’ the train, I bought a ticket. I’d lived in Oregon my whole life and just wanted to try something new. Austin was my only destination. I didn’t plan to stay for nine years but it worked out that way and I still like it here. My ambitions have always centered around playing music so I think of it as a success. I’m playing music that I like right now and I‘m able to book tours and sell albums. I used to compare myself to other musicians and think that their success meant I hadn’t achieved something or that I should be thriving for a “next level.” Now I think just having gigs now and planning them for the future is as much as I could hope for.
RRP: Your bio also says that you have gone on six national tours, focusing on the East coast, Southeast, and Midwest. It seems like you avoid the West Coast where you came from. How come?
Ghostwriter:: It’s not intentional to avoid the West Coast. The Western half of the states is a lot more spread out than the Midwest and East. I started touring in the Midwest and then spread to the East Coast first. It’s a goal of mine to play some shows out West soon, but lately it’s just been easier to continue touring in places I’ve already been.
RRP: Let Them Eat Lead touts you as the “most punk rock motherfucker” in Austin. What’s your appraisal of the punk scene there, or the music scene in general?
Ghostwriter:: Austin has a lot of great bands. There’s always a thriving rock n’ roll scene here and a lot of country. As far as punk rock goes, I would think it’s a bit confused everywhere right now. There’s a lot of major label bands and pop radio music calling itself punk when it’s obviously a lot tamer than the original. I’m no expert, of course, because original punk rock was before my time. I first started going to shows in the early nineties. Even then there were more bands like the Cows and the Jesus Lizard who, although didn’t call themselves ’punk’, brought a lot of punk elements to the stage. Crowds and performers both seemed crazier back then and anything might happen in those little clubs. If it doesn’t make people uncomfortable it wouldn‘t be punk rock. Those element still exists in music, they‘re just displaced. That’s why guys like me get quotes like that.
Ghostwriter:: In theory, both punk or folk songs could be written and sang by anyone. Neither genre requires much musical training or knowledge. Also, both are used for social commentary or protest and don’t need an expensive production to get the point across. I think a lot of rock n’ roll could be considered an extension of folk music.
RRP: How did you meet Dexter Romweber, and how was the tour with him?
Ghostwriter:: I opened for Dex in Chapel Hill in May of ‘03 and he was really supportive of me. I’ve listened to Dexter’s music for a decade now so it was hard for me to believe that we would tour together. I thought opening one show was cool enough but we ended up doing ten nights up the East Coast that August and a month-long stretch together in the spring of ‘04. Those tours were a lot of fun and a real learning experience for me. Dex is a wealth of musical knowledge and a total pro on the road. I have nothing but respect for Dex and consider him a good friend. I’m sure we’ll play more shows together.
RRP: Speaking of touring, your songs carry the feel and imagery of the road. Do you do most of your writing on the road? Do you think being there helps you to see things differently? How so? What have been some of your most memorable moments while traveling? Do you usually travel alone on tour?
Ghostwriter:: Yes, I always travel alone except for the two tours with Dex. I keep a journal on the road so I‘m constantly writing when I travel. It’s all memorable because I love touring. I seldom write complete songs on the road but I get a lot of inspiration while I‘m out there. It definitely changes your perspective. The more you see, the more you become aware of. I’m glad to hear your comment about ‘Road Angels.‘ Making long drives in the middle of the night is one of my favorite things and I wanted to capture some of the emotions you can go through out there. It was definitely my attempt at a road album.
RRP: What happened recently to your truck?
Ghostwriter:: My truck got totaled last February. A guy ran a red light and there wasn’t much I could do about it. It was a good old truck, an 86 Nissan, and I’m sentimental because I had done a lot of touring in it. Really it was a pretty intense wreck and I’m lucky to have been unscathed. I’ll get another truck soon.
Ghostwriter:: I was invited to open for T-Model Ford in London as part of a series of shows called “Not The Same Old Blues Crap.” The guys who put it together also included me on a compilation called “This is Punk Rock Blues.“ It sounded like a great opportunity, so that instigated the trip. I ended up doing four shows in England, four in Germany and one in Holland. It was a short tour but a really good time. The crowds in England and Germany seemed really receptive and I’d like to keep going over there.
RRP: A lot of your songs have darker themes, painting bleak and desolate landscapes, both internally and externally, leading to critics to laud them as nearly post-apocalyptic. Where do you think that comes from? Life experience? What inspires your song writing? How much is autobiographical?
Ghostwriter:: It’s a combination really. Some of the songs are completely autobiographical and some have fictional elements. The emotions in the songs are all derived from life experiences but I‘ll use fictional characters and settings sometimes to express them. I‘m not sure why I do that. Sometimes I think my best songs already existed in the atmosphere and I didn’t really write them I just stumbled in to them. I get a lot of silly comments about how it’s my music is dark and I must be depressed or need psychiatric help. I think that’s just a sign of how watered down everything is. I thought discontent was a major ingredient in Rock n’ Roll. All the music I like has darker elements and can address personal topics. It’s true my songs can be bleak, but life can be bleak. Giving a voice to people who have gone through some hardships is one of the most important roles that music can play.
RRP: What about the Libertarian platform appeals to you most?
Ghostwriter:: Everything. I am very anti-government. I believe that people minding their own business, and making their own decisions is the answer to a lot of America's problems. Most laws in this country have no intention of solving anything. Gun control doesn't cut down on crime anymore than the war on drugs keeps them from being available. Non-violent criminals take up the majority our jail space. We keep guys in county jail for back alimony and child support. Now how could that be productive? There are hundreds of ways that our government is ineffective and tedious. They're aware of it, but by regulating illegal markets and various individual behavior, they're employing 30% of our population. I believe a non-regulated society could progressive and brilliant, and no less corrupt than America today. A lot of ideas I like are based in anarchy, which like libertarianism, requires the belief in humanity. The philosophy that if given the freedom, people will still act with good intentions. The notion of not having a government to rely on for everything from social security to censorship scares a lot of people. That's because we've been conditioned not to be responsible for ourselves or trust our own judgment. The truth is, there's a lot of Americans who are completely un-reliant on our government, and even more who are hindered by it is some way. One of the main Libertarian platforms that attracts me to them is this: The government should be extremely downsized and most of what it does could be done better by private organizations. I like making people aware of the Libertarian party because they've been around for over thirty years and their ideas are quite intelligent. Although they get little attention from the press, they're actually the largest third party in the States with the most people holding offices. Unfortunately, as much as I agree with what the Libertarians suggest, I don't spend much time on politics. I find it futile within our existing system. For the kind of changes I'd like to see we'll need a full-blown revolution. I'm hoping to see that within my lifetime.. and that's why I don't talk much politics.
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