The Ghost Inside needs no introduction but I’m going to give them one! A beloved act in the metalcore scene for the past decade, since their humble beginnings as A Dying Dream in 2004, the five-piece have consistently released fantastic material, without a single bad dud in their catalog. Albums like the fire-breathing ‘Fury Of The Fallen Ones,’ the monstrous ‘Get What You Give,’ the more melodic and hopeful ‘Dear Youth,’ and the chaotic classic ‘Returners’ have all helped to propel The Ghost Inside into heavy music stardom. Even in the years following the band’s tragic bus accident in 2015, an event that put the band onto a long, difficult path of recovery, the heavy music community didn’t lose hope that this band would come out on top, despite the near-insurmountable odds stacked against them. Nothing I write here could remotely highlight just how difficult of a period this was for The Ghost Inside, but if you know anything about this band, then you know that they were not going to let a disaster defeat them.
During the years since that fatal accident, The Ghost Inside has been pushing themselves to recover the best they can and to get back to doing what they do best. After years of physical therapy, surgeries, and hardship, they broke the hardcore and metalcore communities online by announcing that they’d entered the studio with Will Putney and A Day To Remember’s Jeremy McKinnon, following their return show in July of 2019. Since then, fans have been patiently awaiting their next triumphant return, counting the days until their highly anticipated new record surfaced. At long last, that day finally arrived. Last week, on April 22nd, 2020, The Ghost Inside released their first song in almost six years with the emotionally powerful single, ‘Aftermath,’ bringing with it an announcement for their self-titled full-length. This much-anticipated comeback record is expected to arrive on June 5th, 2020, and with the amazing opportunity to have a conversation with bassist Jim Riley (right) about it, we discuss all things TGI as they re-enter the chat.
Thank you for taking the time to do this interview with me, Jim. I’ve been a huge fan of The Ghost Inside for years now, so having the opportunity to talk to you, especially with the crazy amount of press that you guys are probably doing right now, means a lot. I wanted to start out by asking how you and the band are all doing during this pandemic that has sent shockwaves through the music industry?
To be honest, this hasn’t been a huge change for us. What’s crazy is we got used to being stuck inside over the last couple of years and had to adapt to doing stuff like group texts and hanging out on Facetime. The uncertainty for our three shows this summer has really been the biggest thing and that’s just totally out of our hands.
Hopefully those shows will end up happening, either this summer or down the road. Despite the current conditions of the music world, you guys have decided to persevere and keep your plans to release your highly-anticipated self-titled album in June. Did the COVID-19 outbreak have any effect on plans for this album over these last couple of months leading up to the grand reveal?
In March, we were supposed to go to LA for a week to film a couple of videos and do a bunch of press. As the lockdowns started to roll out we had to quickly get an alternate plan together. That meant not just starting from scratch on a concept for the Aftermath video but also figuring out how to actually get it done when Andrew and Chris are on the other side of the country. It ended up exceeding everyone’s expectations but it was a rollercoaster to have it ready to go on time.
Glad to hear it all pulled through. So let’s talk a bit about the album itself. It’s been six years since you guys made Dear Youth, and many people seemed to forget that you guys actually lost your main songwriter and lead guitarist, Aaron Brooks, way back in early 2015 shortly after the last album’s release. Did this have any noticeable effect on the overall sound and tone of the newer material? Is it that classic TGI sound that you guys have stuck with?
I don’t think the “sound” changed a lot. Aside from Chris, the rest of us have been in the band a long time and we know what has a TGI feel and what doesn’t. There were times where a riff or a song would start in one place and someone would say something like: “That’s good but it’s not us.” At the same time, we felt totally free to explore anything sonically that we wanted to, but we always gravitated back to what feels like the DNA of TGI. We have a lot of history to work from now and we definitely made some conscious choices to write things that sounded a little bit more like Returners era riffs, but we didn’t shy away from expanding a bit either.
I’m sure many will love the idea of a Returners era sound. You’ve mentioned before that drummer Andrew Tkaczyk (as well as combined efforts from all of the members) actually took over a lot of the songwriting duties for this new album, which isn’t surprising considering he’s been very vocal in interviews and podcasts about how much he loves playing the guitar and writing songs. Did this feel like a natural transition for the band, having Andrew now take the lead on composing the new songs?
It was totally seamless! We had never written a record like this before so everything was new. We did some demos at Chris’s studio and some in Andrew’s studio. They are both such talented musicians and engineers that a lot of times we were sitting around, one of them holding the guitar, and you could sing a part or whatever and they’d be able to play it. And a lot of that vibe carried over straight to the studio with Will [Putney] too.
Awesome to hear. It’s been quite a few years since the last release from The Ghost Inside, with many metalcore and hardcore trends coming and going throughout the years. The genre is in a much different place than it was back in 2014 when your last album came out. Did these changes in the genre affect the songwriting process this time around or have you all stuck to your guns, so to speak?
To be honest, I don’t think any of us are as immersed in metalcore as we used to be. Being out of the touring atmosphere you don’t hear about all the up and coming bands the same way, and as we’ve gotten older I think all of our musical tastes have evolved too. Personally, I usually check out our friends’ releases but I don’t actively seek out new bands in the genre. Once in a while, a band will pop up and I’ll be like “holy shit I must be a boomer now for sleeping on this band” [laughs]. But whatever directions the winds have blown in “metalcore” wasn’t even on our minds as we were writing. We were just confidently doing our own thing.
The Ghost Inside has always had a fairly consistent sound, with some tweaks and surprises being added in from album to album, since the beginning. Is there anything new on the album that might surprise long time fans?
I don’t want to give away too many things but I think we took the core of what TGI is and pushed the boundaries a little bit. I think every song sounds like us, even if it’s another step further in a direction we had already gone or maybe a step in a direction we had never really explored before. But we also looked backward in our own songwriting and in a few places we said “let’s find that Returners vibe for this part.” I’m so stoked on it and I think fans will be too. And if not, they can skip to the tracks they like [laughs.]
You’ve openly spoken about not wanting this next album to be heavily focused on your accident, instead, wanting it to usher in a new era of The Ghost Inside. Looking at some of the track titles from the album, a lot of the lyrical content sounds like it should be interesting. Can you share with me a little bit about some of the lyrical themes deeper explored on the album?
I think we took all these things that we experienced in the last three years and tried to see how they are relatable to everyone. In a way, everyone is experiencing some tragedy or difficulty in their own lives and trying to make the best of it. So you just say “yeah this thing sucks for me, how can I say that in a way that feels the same as someone that has lost their job or is going through a breakup?” One of the big things you’ll find on the record is how often we are calling ourselves out. You can’t just scream “what do you stand for?” for ten years and then fold when the pressure is on you, and that was something we had to confront. We had to look in the mirror and say “am I swinging harder?” Lyrically, the band almost always has been about finding the upside and about that feeling of turning things around, and that happens within every song. This time around we let the whole record go on that journey and let individual songs explore negative emotions like being pissed off and feeling despair. Those are natural and necessary things you have to fight through to allow yourself to heal.
Great points, Jim. Up until now, the band has recorded most of your albums with Andrew Wade. What made you guys choose to head to Belleville, NJ to record with Will Putney this time around, other than the fact that he is, of course, an incredible dude and engineer/producer?
So we’re in the studio one morning, pretty close to wrapping up the record, and Will tells us it’ll be a late start because he needs a couple of hours with another band… Body Count! So Ice T is in the studio with Will and on his way out he stops and says hi to us (he is straight up the coolest mf’er on the planet) and the last thing he says is: “You made the right choice. Will Putney is the Dr Dre of metal.” That’s the kind of reputation Will has in this community right now. I don’t think the record comes out the way it does with anyone else. Will was the single perfect producer to help us create this.
TGI last week released the lead single from the self-titled album, the incredibly emotional ‘Aftermath.’ This song has struck a major chord with the entire community, and I wasn’t surprised to see that given the context of the song and the band’s history. It’s incredible! As it’s about the aftermath of what the band’s gone through, it could also be for anyone overcoming their own struggles and losses. So does the song mean the same to you and the band now that it’s out in the wild then back when it was first written?
So I have to confess something that will sound insane. 90% of the music and most of the lyrics were written in 2015 before the accident happened. There were some tweaks and a few additions but overall that song pre-dates all the bullshit. It was always going to make the record and it was probably always going to be the last track but over time it just sort of rose to the top of the pile to become the perfect first single. But to answer your question, the meaning of this song has evolved so much over the last five years I couldn’t have imagined what it means to us and to everyone listening to it now. It is insane to write something and then have it come true the way that this song did, both good and bad.
So you actually directed the music video for ‘Aftermath,’ and I must say that you did a stellar job. What was it like taking on that role this time around? Would you consider returning as a director in future music videos?
We didn’t have a choice, really. All the coronavirus shit started happening and we just had to take control of our own destiny. I’ve been really fortunate in the time since the accident to work behind the scenes for some much bigger artists and it has really gotten the wheels turning for all the stuff that supports the actual music. Music has become such a multimedia thing now that you always have to think about what visuals are going to support the sound. I think I’ll continue to be on the “team” when it comes to this part of content creation but it’s also great to send a song to a director and let them work their own art and interpretation into it.
Speaking of the music video, throughout much of it, vocalist Jonathan Vigil can be seen performing near the side of a desert road. Is this the same stretch of highway in El Paso, where the accident actually happened?
It’s actually just up the road from where we both live in Las Vegas. We had really limited options for filming locations and I know that area from hiking. I thought it would look really epic to shoot him there with the mountains and snow in the background, and then we looked back at the footage and it does look exactly like where the accident happened. That became a great visual to complement the song and the story we were trying to tell with the video, so we went and shot a bunch of the cut scenes at other desert locations around town.
Let’s talk about the future. After this pandemic disaster is fully behind us, whenever that may actually be, are you guys planning on playing some release shows for the record, or maybe even a tour? If so, are there any bands that you guys would like to bring out to play these shows with you?
I think the live industry is on hold for a long time. Right now, we’re just waiting to find out what sort of events will be allowed to happen when and where and take it from there. I don’t think you’ll ever see a tour announcement from us that is something like 25 shows in 30 days playing every major city in America. Physically, I don’t think we’re ready to do back-to-back headlining sets and might not ever be, so it’s more likely that we continue to do selected festivals and big events of our own. Because we are playing so few shows it’s more important than ever to share them with our friends and people we want to be around. One of the first things we always do is say “what is Stray from the Path doing that weekend?” Those guys are like family to us and they’re always going to be at the top of our list. Same with Wage War. We think of them as the little brothers we would have spent all of the last couple of years touring with and gassing up if we hadn’t had the big interruption.
Lastly Jim, what is it like for you knowing that this is all finally happening? How does it feel knowing that all yours and the band’s hard work is going to pay off come this June?
Ironically, these next few weeks are the hardest work for me. Andrew and Vigil really torture themselves and go to a tough headspace when it comes to writing so when the songs are done and mixed and ready for the world, they can hand them off to me and that’s when I’m really able to contribute to the process. There are so many pieces of the puzzle behind the scenes that lead up to that actual release date. I love having my hands in all that and seeing what has happened with Aftermath makes me hopeful that these 11 songs will mean as much to listeners as they mean to us. When the album arrives in everyone’s hands on June 5th, I will breathe a huge sigh of relief and really try to soak up that accomplishment.
The Ghost Inside’s self-titled album is set to arrive June 5th via Epitaph Records.