Long-Distance Relationship

The Former Ghosts trio makes beautiful music together, even though they all live in different places

Although some of us may recall a time when e-mail did not exist, many 21st-century world citizens simply couldn't get by without it.

And the forthcoming debut album by Former Ghosts probably couldn't have been made without e-mail.

The songs on Fleurs primarily were created by its three members while they lived and worked in different cities. These experimental electronic compositions were created by digital collaboration, said singer, songwriter and synthesizer player Freddy Ruppert.

Ruppert, formerly of the project This Song Is a Mess but So Am I, fronts the trio. He has teamed up with Jamie Stewart (of Xiu Xiu), who lives in Durham, N.C., and singer Nika Roza (of Zola Jesus), who's located in Madison, Wis.

"It's been tough, because we all have conflicting schedules and stuff," Ruppert said during a phone interview from his home in Los Angeles. "But we basically use the Internet to communicate and to write songs together, sending sound files and e-mails back and forth. It's really made everything work out well."

Fleurs is scheduled to be released Oct. 20, and Former Ghosts are taking to the road to promote it. The second performance of their first tour is Saturday, Oct. 3, at Solar Culture Gallery.

"With Nika, I'm just a really huge fan of her project Zola Jesus," Ruppert said. "And I had contacted her to sing one song on this record. So when she sent the song back to me, I was blown away, and I just had to ask her to be in the band."

Ruppert's known Stewart for several years, and This Song Is a Mess but So Am I released a split 7-inch single with Xiu Xiu. This Song Is a Mess also has toured with Xiu Xiu, he said.

"We played Tucson on that tour. I remember it was at Solar Culture. ... That's a good place, too, but the biggest thing I remember about it was the train going by outside, and sort of interrupting but sort of punctuating the music. I definitely like playing that venue."

After moving away from the noisy catharsis of This Song Is a Mess, through which Ruppert vented the pain of his mother's death from cancer, he was thinking about a new project. Something in a synth-pop vein appealed to his sensibilities, and he knew Stewart shared his passion for music.

"We are both really into the early OMD (Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark) records and the first couple of New Order records. For me and Jamie, OMD is probably the biggest influence, and especially their records Architecture and Morality and Dazzle Ships are big inspirations. Those two have always blown me away."

The songs on Fleurs do not, however, sound much like OMD or New Order. Vacillating between melody and dissonance, the tunes are definitely contemporary—lulling and dark, both assaultive and hypnotic, focusing on percussion and a hazy mood. Ruppert's low vocals slouch, rattle and crawl through the mix. It's an unsettling aesthetic, but lovely all the same.

"We definitely did not want to make it sound too much like a retro synth-pop project. We wanted to keep it sounding like it comes from today," Ruppert said.

Some listeners, when they let their guard down, may end up thinking of acts such as This Mortal Coil, Nurse With Wound or Current 93 when they hear Fleurs.

"I love those bands! In fact, I just did an interview with an online zine, and the interviewer asked me what my favorite sad record was, and I said This Mortal Coil's It'll End in Tears. Jamie's also a big fan of those bands."

Some of Ruppert's songs are sad as well. He explores lyrical themes such as heartbreak, death, love, need and desire. But there is also a sense of hopefulness.

"It's true to say a lot of Fleurs is personal and autobiographical. As a whole, the songs come out of the fear of losing love, and hope for how to make it last in spite of the pain and heartache.

"At the time of writing those songs, the hopefulness came from the fact that I was going through a very tumultuous period in a relationship, so it had to have some hope for the future. They are love songs, but not in the traditional sense that they are happy and carefree-sounding. They are love songs in the fact that they reflect the ups and downs of love, and the hope that it becomes better."

The current tour will feature Ruppert and Stewart, but unfortunately, Roza will not be performing at most of the gigs. Roza is in college, he explained. "She's taking like 18 units or something outrageous like that this semester, so she won't be on this tour. But she might take a break to play a few dates with us when we go through the Midwest."

A couple of the songs on which Roza sings lead will be left out of the live sets, and Stewart will take on her parts on others in which she sings backup vocals, Ruppert said.

While only Ruppert and Stewart will take the stage, don't expect much in the way of canned music. They like to keep it live and immediate.

"There will be a drum machine, and we'll also be playing beats on our synthesizers. We will both be playing live synth stuff rather than having things that are pre-recorded. Jamie also plays snare drums and a little percussion. You know how technology is these days—we can still make it sound pretty full in a live setting even with just a couple of musicians."

The trio is already making plans for a second album, Ruppert added.

"Basically, I am at home recording demos all the time, so already, I am starting to gather material. Right now, the three of us are trying to work out a time when we can get together and work on songs and record in the same room at the same time."