Every band has its musical core, it’s sole driving force, and for Chasing Ghosts, that entity is front man Jimmy Kyle. He marked his return recently with a bigger lineup and a wondrous new album, ‘I Am Jimmy Kyle’, which climbed to #12 on iTunes and reached #8 on the Unearthed punk charts upon release and is quite simply leaps and bounds ahead of 2011’s debut record, the predominantly acoustic ‘Conversations From A Phone Booth’. The release of this new record also saw a strong, positive response from audiences on the band’s recent headline tour and their album launch show in Melbourne last week. As such, I spoke to Kyle at length this week about recruiting a full band, taking the time and effort to create what you really want musically, on never doing an EP, reflecting upon that 2011 debut, sounding human, creating life-long friendships, on getting really bad tattoos, and on continuing this musical journey to its next chapter.
With the new album being called ‘I Am Jimmy Kyle’, this band, this music is all about you, Jimmy. And in saying that, that must place more pressure on your shoulders for the successes and the failures of Chasing Ghosts?
Yeah, it does, in a way. Success and failure aren’t finite things; their interpretive things. Some would say I’ve already succeeded and some would say that I’ve already failed. But really, neither is true. It’s all about the journey that you go and you go make music, make connections and let it do what it’s meant to do. But there are definitely times when I feel pressure because you’re backing just yourself. The hardest part is that you don’t have the process where you have three or four other guys to help work out whether something is worth keeping or not.
By the time I got in the studio with Andrew (Neufeld, producer) I was craving feedback and I was craving criticism; I wasn’t scared of it. That’s something that maybe a lot of people don’t realize is that when you go from a band where you love your parts, as a soloist you lose your bearings and you have to trust your own intuition. You have to trust that if it gets stuck in your head, that it’ll probably get stuck in someone else’s; that if the story is authentic and you feel it, then they’ll hopefully feel it too.
For sure, you have to go with your gut a lot of the time. One thing I’ve noticed about you, and this comes up in that recent studio documentary as well, and that’s your referring to Chasing Ghosts as a ‘journey’. I almost get the impression that you’re in this for the long haul, when your old and gray.
Well, I think when I was younger I was really fixated on an idea of what I thought success looked like. I thought that looked like playing really big rooms to lots of people. In my head, that was the yardstick of touring and playing big shows around the world. Now, I’ve been able to tour around the world and play to big rooms, but things change. Enjoying music is one of the measuring sticks that I didn’t really consider. Not being able to enjoy music was like being in a relationship with someone that you didn’t love. It’s horrible, and that’s something people don’t tell you. So with this journey, I realized it wasn’t about the destination, it wasn’t about being constantly hyped on; it was about all the relationships I made over the years.
But in my 20’s I couldn’t see that was going to be important down the track. When I was in 20’s, I was a wanker man, and I was just a complete tosser. So over the years, music has helped me to learn to love myself and to make fun of myself, and now I know all of these people who feel the same and we’re all going on this journey together. That’s just something that I couldn’t expect, as I was so focused on the outcome, rather than the relationships made. So that’s where I am at now.
Right on. I think that the relationships that you’ve made over the years are all really felt and made present here with having Marcel, Millie, Andrew and Doyle (D At Sea) all singing on the record.
Yeah, see the first record I did that had a cameo feature was Tyrone Ross from Mourning Tide, and it was super fun. That track was probably the highest selling track we had and the closest thing to the leading single off that first album. For me, I got to create something with someone else and we will get to share that forever. You can get really lonely as a soloist. When I was in bands as the singer, I was very head strong and wanted things my way, I’m now looking to collaborate with others and to be pushed out of my comfort zone. I’m almost spoilt as a soloist to do whatever I want, and it’s great to spring-board off others.
I had Mille [Tizzard] in mind for that song [‘Death’], and we’ve had a great friendship for years now. Before playing shows together, she and I would sing Jonny Cash and June Carter songs together, as we had a strong old-school Western influence from our families, the kind of songs that you’d hear in country pubs and we’d play those together. As for Doyle, he and I have toured so much together over the years and there’s so much history there. With Andrew, I remember with Comeback Kid’s early Australian tours, when I was booking some shows and there was so many memories tied up there. Even with Marcel, who I’ve only known for the last few years, he and I just became friends really well. I’m just so sick of people trying to make all of these rules for music in how you sound and act, like, fuck off! When did punk, rock, and this whole alternative genre, become so obsessed with cloning one another? Anyone in this broad scene that’s worth listening to and enjoying usually has figured that out many years ago; that it’s alright to be yourself.
Yeah, that’s so true man! But on those vocalists, it was kinda funny as it took me a while to pick them out on the songs. As their parts are quite different from their usual vocal timbres. And what you said about bands cloning one another, those two guys didn’t just come in and scream like they would in their main bands; they adapted it and created something interesting for Chasing Ghosts. It was very cool.
Yeah! You know, I think with Marcel when he came into the studio, I think he was thinking about singing clean and smooth, as Zach [DO,D, bass/cleans] has been that voice predominantly in Dream On, Dreamer’s sound. But when we got into it, it took on its own life and it’s own characteristic, and Andrew pushed Marcel to this really cool place. It came together very well and also in a very organic way. It was an absolute ball, and Marcel tried something different and most people seem very excited about it.
Well, it’s interesting you mention it coming about organically because that’s how this whole album feels to me; organic. From the lyrics, the vocals, the music, and the instrumentation, it all feels natural and even in its mix and production, it’s very…human sounding.
The pros and cons of the way I do music is that if you wait five years, I had to deliver something that was worth waiting five years for. If you gave a band five years, and they didn’t kill each other in the process, they would release something amazing as well. I’m not saying that my music is amazing by any means, but you have the time to fine-tune your craft. If you give a band 18 months, and they’re constantly touring, it’s going to be hard. There are many Australian bands that do that and I think they’re amazing for it, but for me, five years meant I had more flexibility to do what I wanted and there was less pressure as any momentum the first record had, wasn’t on my shoulders anymore. It gave me some space to make something new.
Sonically, I always do things my way, and that’s using real instruments. I’m not big on beat detectors and I’m not a fan of autotune, and with the other singers, it’s like ‘No, you’ve got great voices, come here and just sing’, and they did that wonderfully. So there are real pianos, real cellos, and real violins here. But the catch 22 of that is if there’s a younger band pushing to write good songs, to come up with the money to make that record. As it’s expensive to get a real grand piano in, to get a nice studio, to get real strings, so I can see the draw there for a band with a label pressuring them for a record within 18 months, I can understand why someone would go grab a keyboard for their strings and their pianos. And most people won’t be able to tell the difference. But where I’m at now, I’m not writing records most people, I’m writing music for the 10% people that still wanna hear real instruments. I’m not trying to be arrogant, I just miss that authenticity and I like leaving in the stuff ups. So much of what we’re doing today is just being edited out, as you can have six different singers from six different bands all sound the fucking same. That’s just not me, though.
Yes, when we all start using the same plug-ins, the same tones and the same presets, you get cookie-cutter bands and sounds. I really do dig the approach that you took on this record, though.
And the point is to be made is that it isn’t really the band’s fault, it’s just an economical way to help bands and artists take off so that one day, they can maybe have the luxury of spending more time or money. It’s just the way things have gone. Maybe I am just an arrogant wanker who is just still loyal to all of that? [Laughs]. I do think many would do it like this if they had the money and it’s detrimental to your career to wait five years – I can’t do that again!
[Laughs]. I was gonna ask about that actually; that the next record probably won’t take another five years to make!
No, it’s definitely not! We’re already talking about the next one. I had someone message me a few minutes ago saying that it was doing well on Unearthed and on the iTunes, that there are all of these new and old fans, and they asked if I’d wait another five years. I said ‘Fuck, I hope not!’.
I hope not too! I must say that the wider instrumentation and rock elements on this album are all for the better I think. Now, obviously, you are the focal point of this band, but you’re not the only member in it now, so how is that relationship working now? Are the other guys cool to let you take the spotlight and back you up?
It’s an… interesting topic, and there’s no definitive answer to that. The main point is that I wrote the record and it became abundantly clear that it was going to be hard to recreate this as an acoustic band in comparison to the first record. So it was gonna lose a lot in that process. But I thought it was time to do something different. I wanted it to be bigger, I wanted to answer people’s questions of ‘Wow, I wonder what it would sound like live with a full band?’. This doesn’t mean I won’t do acoustic shows where I strip things back from time to time, though.
So when I rang up some guys to see who was interested, there were some basic rules. One was it had to be fun, and we joked that you had to be washed up, cynical and jaded and that you could laugh at yourself. I called up Jake, the old drummer from Confession, and after that band, he got asked to be in so many heavy bands but he just wanted something fun. And I was really fortunate that he came on board. The next one was Aaron, the guitarist, and he used to be in Behind Crimson Eyes, who have got something coming up in the works. BCE was a band I toured with back in the Bell View days. The other guitarist, Josh, was in a band called In Fiction, and then there’s Rohan, our bassist, who was in The Mission In Motion and we toured together heaps. Chris is the only one that I met in this Chasing Ghosts era. He’s the keys and piano player and he’s a real talent. I told all of these guys that if I was going to ever have a band, you were the ones that I’d want in the band and would you like to join me? The whole ethos of this band, as everyone else has had some form of success, is that you need to love the journey and want to get something different out of it.
But really, this whole thing is us just taking the piss out of each other while in the van, talking about the old days, the new days and getting drunk all the time. Plus, the guys all love the music too, which was really flattering to hear, as they love the album and our actual fans and aren’t just my mates.
Oh, that’s awesome to hear! Those are the members that you want; ones who are your friends but who also truly love your music. Now, with the title, ‘I am Jimmy Kyle’, that’s a pretty big statement and I think that this marks a definitive moment sound for the sound in a lot of ways.
For sure, as the idea for me is that this is me. Even the name – I Am Jimmy Kyle – is an introduction, it’s ‘Hi, I am Jimmy Kyle, who are you?’. It’s about getting rid of that egotistical stuff, it says that this is me so let’s get to know one another. It stops me from hiding away from Chasing Ghosts in a way. But… now there are six dudes in this band so it may be a redundant point [laughs]. I’ve actually heard a few people just referring to it as simply ‘I Am’, which is cute – I like that. And there here was one point where we talked about naming it just ‘Jimmy Kyle’ and there were all these variations and it just kept coming back to this less is more approach. To just be honest, be genuine and keep it simple. I feel that now it was a really good choice.
No, I would agree on that, man. Finally, Jimmy, I saw that you’re hosting the Australian International Tattoo Expo, and as you have a fair few tattoos yourself, I was wondering if you have any favourites?
My favourite tattoo isn’t by any of my favourite artists. I have this really horrible stick drawing tattoo – half on my thigh, half on my hip – and it’s a bulldog’s head that says ‘Big Dog’s Gotta Eat’ around it. I was staying with a buddy and we went out on a wild night just before I went on my first tour to South East Australia, and he had that same tattoo on his leg and it became this stupid boys mantra in the house. Anyway, I woke up after this night in the kitchen with this tattoo on me and a very proud friend of mine with this big smile on his face. That’s probably my favourite one.
I’ve also got a really bad one on the back of my thigh, which says BKK, which means ‘BangKok Knights’. That may have been the same Asian tour too, but there was this young tattoo apprentice who was playing in a band touring with us, and we’d just played a big hardcore festival and I was the only acoustic artist. They loved it and this guy asked to tattoo me, I said no worries, he goes to work on my leg, and six hours later he was still not finished. It’s not even that big! And I was in absolute agony but I managed to get through it. I have some really nice tattoos but I’ve mainly just got pieces of shit on me.
Well, the bad ones have a certain character to them I think and they have some really funny stories behind them too. Also, with that apprentice, did you know he was gonna tattoo that on you?
[Laughs] I was in Thailand and I asked what’s a really Thai thing to get, which turned out to be the old Zippo lighter with the flames around it, like the old Americana ones, but instead with a BIC lighter. So I thought ‘Yeah, definitely put that on me’. This expo will be a great opportunity for friends to come together and to tell shit stories, which I am notoriously known for.
[Laughs] Oh, I have no doubt. We’ve been on the phone for a huge amount of time now, Jimmy, so I think we’ll have to leave it there. Thanks so much for chatting with me tonight and I’ll hopefully catch you and the rest of Chasing Ghosts at your next Melbourne show!
Hey, my pleasure man! Thank you very much for taking the time tonight, it’s greatly appreciated.