Smile Politely

Teenage Ghosts return with new EP, REVELATIONS

With members in Urbana, New York, and also Leeds, England, Teenage Ghosts is a transatlantic, shoegaze/drone trio, with a transgalactic sound. From the first, deep, synthesized notes of the 50 second intro track “Exile,”  Teenage Ghosts successfully creates an impression of celestial movement.

That impression of other-worldliness persists until the last notes of the EP. REVELATIONS is a masterclass in creating sonic texture and space. It’s virtually impossible to tell what is bass, synthesizer, or guitar. It’s even tough to tell what is a drum, a sample, or just a percussive noise. Still, each sound is separable. It isn’t simply the “wall of sound” typically associated with shoegaze/drone – it’s a deep cavern of sound. There are little sparkly bits up close, and there are primeval sounds coming up from way below. There’s the little voice a short ways away, and rich, warm, bassy notes coursing throughout every inch of the sonic real estate. There is an incredible sense of space created on these tracks.

Cover of Teenage Ghosts’ REVELATIONS

“Exile,” the synthesized, swirling, preamble blends seamlessly into “Darkout the Sky;” the ambient backdrop interrupted by a steady taptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptap that may be a drum, or may just be knuckles wrapped on a desk. The beat is laid back at a solid andante. Nothing about this album is in a hurry. Ghostly vocals emerge, cloaked in reverb and mild distortion, nestled into the lush soundscape. They are decidedly not front-and-center. Lyrics are only just barely discernible. Each song seems to evolve naturally, with no single element demanding your attention.

The third track, “Babylon,” is a short, peaceful reprieve before “Apocalypse Times.” There is a slight nod here towards more traditional elements–with slightly more pronounced guitar and bass sounds, for instance. In addition to “Darkout the Sky,” “Apocalypse Times” is the only other track on the album that has lyrics. The format was designed with purpose.

Michael Thies, vocalist and synth player, explains:

“We kind of tried to make this mirror the first EP. With the first, we basically had two songs we wanted to put on tape. The tapes we got were twenty minutes long. One song was like seven minutes, the other was like four minutes, so we had nine minutes of blank space. We realized we had to come up with nine more minutes of music. So that’s where the ambient vibe came from. We thought it would be cool to try to do the same thing this time around, so it’s kind of structured the same way.”

With regard to lyrical content, Thies states,

“I try to make the lyrics vague enough that anyone can read their own story into it. I will say that they kind of deal with this dialogue of dark and light…. A lot of the lyrics come out of discussions about the different roles that these forces can play in our lives, in both a deep existential sense, and in a totally mundane sense. Like, “This place can get so cold.” That can mean something on a deeply existential level, but it can also just mean that the heat is broken, and you’re cold. [laughs].”

The EP ends with a final ambient track, “Zion,” filled with whirring and fluttering sounds, and finally a sound reminiscent of receding footsteps. The track is at once very mechanical, but also somehow very organic.

The entire EP has a very natural feel. Each song feels like a place, and a place that really exists. It’s an extremely enjoyable listening experience, and coming in at twenty minutes, it is easily digestible. The production is truly part of the instrumentation, so turn up your speakers or put on your headphones, close your eyes, and enjoy the experience.



I caught up with the band via video chat to discuss REVELATIONS and how the band has evolved since their first EP.

Teenage Ghosts began in 2011. Brendan O’Connor (guitar, located in Leeds), Michael Thies (vocals, synths, bass, production, located in New York), and Chris Wahlfeldt (drums, located in Urbana) came together as a band while they were all attending UIUC. Brendan was studying abroad from Leeds that year. Thies recalls: “[Brendan] sort of wrote the songs at the end of this really intense period together where everyone was playing in a bunch of bands, and we got together for this one EP, and that was it. The year was over. It all just felt a little incomplete.”

Five years passed. No TG shows were played, no TG was recorded.

O’Connor: “So the strange thing was, I came to visit Mike because I was in America for an academic conference, and I had these 2 songs–2 riffs, really– that I was messing around with, and hadn’t really had the intention of showing to him, or recording them, or even if we did, having it under the moniker of Teenage Ghosts. But when I started playing them, Mike was just like, “Oh this is like Teenage Ghost kind of [stuff]!” So we just fleshed out together the two main songs–the two songs with vocals–on the EP,” says Brendan.

SP: What was the process like, getting Teenage Ghosts started again?

Thies: I’ve always been pulling Brendan’s leg to do more with the songs, and specifically put them under the Teenage Ghosts band name, because it’s probably the best band name of all the bands I’ve been in [laughs]. It started with Brendan laying down the guitar riffs, and then I added the basslines, or bass part, and a basic beat. Then we sent it over to Chris, and Chris laid down the drums, and then bounced his live drum tracks back to me, and I kind of mimicked it on the computer.

Wahlfeldt: All it was was a midi keyboard, a bass, and a snare, and I just played it over the track, just to see if it would sound good, and that’s all that I sent him.

Thies: For Chris to lay down a drum track, it breathed new life into the songs. That recording is still in the mix, I just added on top of it.

O’Connor: I have no idea what is in the mix [laughs].

Whalfeldt: We’re learning about this for the first time!

O’Connor: When I actually put the guitar down in New York with Mike, it was kind or more in my head like, “Oh, this is just a little demo-y thing, and then we can go back and record it properly,” because I think maybe a couple weeks after I got back to England, Mike sent me a preliminary version of the guitar and bass he added electronically, and some drums he did and…I was a bit worried because it sounded [really bad]. And he was a bit on this one track mind of, “Let’s do this as Teenage Ghosts,” and I was kind of like, “Yeeeaaaaah.” Without having the heart to tell him, “It sounds like shit, mate!” The recording quality was just really bad, and I was just like, “Ohhhhhhhhh. I had ideas for these songs! Happy songs! And they just turned out rubbish!” But Mike is pretty much a wizard with music software, and he was talking about tracking some drums with Chris, and I thought, “I’ll just kind of go along with it.” The next stuff he sent me was not too dissimilar from what we’re about to release, and I couldn’t believe it!

SP: How did the process differ from your first EP?

O’Connor: The first time, I had very specific ideas of what I wanted everything to sound like. I wrote the guitar with Mike, and I’d actually written some of the basslines, and when I started to jam with Chris, I was being that guy, who doesn’t play drums, but says, “you should do this,” and that’s a bit annoying.

Wahlfeldt: I guess we kind of understand what each other wants out of it, a little more than I thought, really.

Thies: I remember at the time, the style of Teenage Ghosts was a bit more abstract than some of the other stuff that I typically find myself writing, or trying to write. I found it was liberating to try to write songs in a new style.

Wahlfeldt: That was what was cool about it. We were in like ska and punk bands.

O’Connor: I think the first EP, I was the control freak, and wanted everything to sound like how I wanted it in my head. I think this time around we just recorded songs on a whim.

Thies: I was probably the control freak though, this time around. The next one is going to be Chris! [laughs].

SP: How has it been working with Heirship Records for this release?

Thies: Heirship is putting this out for us. Not only are we putting out this tape, but Isaac [Arms, Founder of Heirship Records] is having our first EP remastered, and it sounds a lot better than it used to. The point is, Heirship really helped us out. I think it’s just nice to know that, even if we never do another Teenage Ghosts record, that the two records we have done have a home, if you will. Heirship is the the home for so many great Champaign-Urbana bands, and it’s an honor to be included among them.

SP: Any hope of catching Teenage Ghosts live?

Thies: We may try to do a show around New Years, we will see!

Teenage Ghosts will release REVELATIONS tomorrow, August 12th. Check out their bandcamp for ordering and preordering. 

All photography by Fred Segovich.

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