Ghosts on Tape is the alias of San Francisco-based Ryan Merry. He first came to our attention back in 2009, when Mary Anne Hobbs got him to do a mix for her (now, much missed) late night BBC radio show around about the time the Glasgow’s Wireblock dropped his Predator Mode EP. What caught our ears was his lo-fi approach to production, using an Yamaha sampler bought new in the nineties when he was still a teen.
Since then he’s clocked up remixes on labels as diverse as Planet Mu, True Panther and Friends of Friends, but we’ve been waiting three years for another release proper. Thankfully, the wait is nearly over as Nature’s Law/Logo drops on his very own Icee Hot label next week. That just about gives you enough time refresh your memory and to help you, we asked the straight-talking acolyte of rave ten all-important questions. In the words of the man himself: “Fuck that shit, LET’S RAVE.
1. Is any aspect of fame important?
Maybe not fame, but recognition for your hard work is certainly very nice. I’m not making the music that I make to get famous, I’m simply doing what I love to do, and it is an awesome feeling if other people love it too. I was definitely influenced by the generation of artists before me, and if I can have any impact on the next generation coming up, then I will be happy in knowing that I’ve fulfilled a crucial part of my job. We are all laying bricks on the foundation, and if we continue on a true, honest path of creativity, then what we are all building just becomes that much stronger in the future.
2. What goes in your coffee?
Sugar, cream, and sometimes shots of espresso. I require large amounts of caffeine just to function. I know I have a problem (admitting that is the first step, right?).
3. What does underground and mainstream mean to you?
To me, these words just signify an intention. If you are making music that is real to you, like what you honestly feel, that’s underground. If you are watering down your music just to gain mass appeal or trying to strike a chord with the lowest common denominator just to get famous, that’s mainstream. Degrees of popularity don’t really matter very much anymore in this day and age.
4. Should music be free?
For the most part, no. I understand that that’s the way things are these days, and it’s kinda futile to try to change it, but as a producer and now as a label owner, I know the hard work, dedication, and money that goes into putting out a record. It’s not just an MP3 to be rapidly devoured and discarded, it’s an actual labor of love that should have some value for generations to come, hopefully. I still buy lots of music. I may swap tracks with my close homies, but I still buy music pretty much every week. I also get promos and tracks from friends, which is different. I believe that everyone has to pay for quality products sometimes. If no one wants to pay for quality, then everything’s gonna go to shit. It’s a business just like anything else, and people that think that they are just entitled to free music without giving something in return are fucking spoiled brats. It’s like people that sneak into my club night. Yes, I can kinda understand that you don’t wanna pay, but the DJs that we bring out are not free. If you are going to illegally download, then you should make up for it by buying something too. Like for every 5 tracks you steal, pay for one. It’s better than nothing. I would imagine that almost every respectable DJ out there still pays for music sometimes. I’m not planning on getting rich off running a label and throwing parties, but I’m certainly not trying to lose money either. So if you like what I do, then help me not lose money to do it. This shit is not a charity and grown-ups understand that.
5. What defines your music-making process?
I construct my tracks mostly on my hardware sampler and drum machines. All the beats and rhythms and melodies come from me physically banging on the buttons. I like to put in work, re-arrange tracks, and re-do parts until it sounds right to me. There’s also a fair amount of improvisation and happy accidents that make their way into my tracks. I’ve been making music more or less the same way for many years now, and it’s been a process of figuring out what I can get out of working within some of the limitations that my gear has. That’s what I like: physically working, involving organic spontaneity, and having to work within limitations. I envy people that can just do all their music within their laptop and come up with something unique and soulful. It’s not my style at all; I really don’t understand it, so I think it’s impressive. If you just put me in front of a screen with infinite options, I’ll be lost. I’m like a caveman.
6. Do you believe in the paranormal?
You would think since my name has the word “ghosts” in it, I would be more into this stuff. The truth is that I just don’t know. I really don’t believe ghosts like in movies and TV shows and shit like that. But there are probably some kind of spirits around us, I’m sure that we just can’t see or feel or even comprehend them. So maybe?
7. Are you interested in politics?
I used to be, but I’m not too interested anymore. I still try to stay up on what’s happening, but politics in America are such a sad fucking joke that it’s just a waste of time and energy. It’s all “he said this,” “she said that,” hot air, bullshit, smoke and mirrors, manufactured outrage, and media manipulation to keep us divided and distracted. I’ve found that if you tune a lot of it out, and focus on what’s important to your life, what’s relevant to your actual reality, you will be a much happier and more productive person. Not saying that ignorance is bliss, because ignorance is just ignorance, but you can only pay attention to so much. These dickhead politicians don’t give a shit about us and never will. None of them. If one ever did, then they either get bought out or discredited real quick. It’s all a big game, and the only ones that get to play are the ones with lots and lots of money. The rest of us are just pawns. So fuck that shit, LET’S RAVE.
8. Raging or chilling out?
Both! I would say I do more chilling than raging, because if I didn’t, I think I would be dead. I do enjoy my downtime, and having alone time is very important to me. Sometimes I like to go out and stay up until 10 the next morning, because we are only alive once, so why not have some sketchy fun?
9. One thing you can’t live without?
God, this is the most cheesy and generic answer, but it would have to be music. I really can’t imagine my life without it. I have no idea what I would be doing if I wasn’t doing this. It’s given my life a purpose and function and I would probably be miserable without it. So yeah, either that or Netflix.
10. Together, or alone?
You cannot go it alone. With the right group of people you can accomplish so much more than you would be able to by yourself. That being said, having alone time is critical to figuring out what you want, who you are, and what you believe. Alone time equals introspection, which equals new ideas. You have to filter out other people’s opinions sometimes and find out what’s important to you.
Published September 13, 2012.