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Ghosts of Tonic

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We’re just a few weeks away from one of my favorite events of the year -- the Tonic Ball. As a member of the team that puts on the show annually, I’m looking forward to the night of Nov. 20th for two reasons: 1.) six months’ worth of work will all be over as soon as the first note sounds in the Fountain Square Theatre; and 2.) I get to bounce between four clubs to see as many of the 61 local bands I can, as they play songs by Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner, Pink Floyd and Beck.

At last year’s Tonic, I ran across Prospect Street into Radio Radio and hurriedly pushed my way to the front to see a band full of old friends play their first show together. I’ve been watching the members of There Are Ghosts play in bands around Indianapolis for more than 20 years, performing in bands such as Pop Lolita, Endive, Lunar Event, Jaquay, Red Light Driver and Yuki, to name a few. They were great, and even though they were playing covers of Nirvana songs and not their own, I could tell how enmeshed they were as a band both musically and personally.

Performing Nirvana covers, There Are Ghosts played at last year's Tonic Ball, as seen here. - COURTESY THERE ARE GHOSTS
  • Courtesy There Are Ghosts
  • Performing Nirvana covers, There Are Ghosts played at last year's Tonic Ball, as seen here.

This year, I plan to run down Virginia Avenue and push my way to the front of the room in The Hi-Fi to watch them play a few songs by Beck. I caught up Tony, Gwynn, Mikey and Jon this week between practices to talk about how they came to be as a band and what their plans are for this year’s Tonic Ball.

SBW: You guys have been playing with and around each other for a long time. How did There Are Ghosts come to be? How did you all finally wind up in a band together?

TONY: I’ve known Andrew and Mikey for years through playing shows together in various bands. About three years ago we decided to start writing music together as a group. We did this for a couple of years before adding Jon on guitar and bringing in Gwynn on vocals. We’ve all known each other for decades, so we’re really happy to play music together.

JON: Tony and I were in a band in our late teens/early 20s called Endive, and Mikey, Andrew and I were in Pop Lolita. After that, I was in a band with Gwynn called Lunar Event. I knew Mikey, Andrew, and Tony had been getting together and playing for a while, and at some point Mikey suggested I come by and have a go. I had just moved to Irvington and was right around the corner. Right from the start I knew this was something special. There Are Ghosts is the culmination of 20-plus years of friendship and musical experience.

SBW: What’s with the name? What’s the story behind it?

TONY: I wrote a song called There Are Ghosts and liked the sound of the title, and with living in “the most haunted neighborhood in Indy” and having paranormal activity in my own house, it just kind of stuck. So, yes Ben… There Are Ghosts!

MIKEY: We have all been playing in bands for a really long time. Those times, experiences, successes and failures make us who we are now as a band. Those are our ghosts.

SBW: With such varied backgrounds and influences of everyone in the band, how does it all come together for a cohesive sound? Speaking of which, how would you describe that sound?

GWYNN: We Trust and admire each other’s talent and really enjoy playing together. The simplest answer is kismet. It’s our destiny!

JON: I don’t really think about the sound, honestly. This is the most natural musical experience I’ve ever had in my life. I would say that we’re informed by the music we’ve always loved, but I don’t think that would be completely honest. I know that Tony and I grew up in the punk and hardcore scenes, and there isn’t too much evidence of that in our music.

MIKEY: I think the spirit of those DIY punk and hardcore scenes we grew in and played in are always there in the background of what we do musically.

TONY: The music we’ve been playing the last couple of years is drastically different than the music we played in high school and early college at places like the Sitcom, India Community Center, and Rhinos. There Are Ghosts is more a culmination of our influences than it is a combination of our past sounds. We all love the same music and are able to easily reference the sounds we’re going for.

SBW: Most of you guys have been playing in bands around Indy for more than 20 years. What’s it like being in a band today vs 20 years ago? How have you changed and how has this city changed?

JON: Social Media and the wealth of good venues in Indy makes being in a band considerably easier now than it was 20 years ago. I think Tony would agree that back then we were confined to a certain scene, and no one outside that scene, aside from our parents, knew who we were. Indianapolis today is a world away from 20 years ago. It’s easy to forget how far Indianapolis has come.

MIKEY: Being in a band now vs. 20 years ago isn’t fundamentally that different. A band has to practice to get better and develop musical chemistry. That hasn’t changed. I think what has changed is we’re all 20 years older and don’t worry about things like accepting every show we are offered, or if we’ve been mentioned in NUVO. I can only speak for myself, but my musical priorities have changed.

SBW: You guys released an EP last year and have been in the studio recently. What do you have in the works?

MIKEY: We just finished recording five more songs at Azymyth Studios. We are really excited about this next release, and hope to have it available at Tonic Ball. A Small Studio Session at WFYI is also in the works. And then we’ll probably go back into the studio this winter and record another EP. This last bit of 2015 heading into 2016 you’ll possibly see us playing out a bit more … at least more than we are now.

JON: We’re fortunate we have an arsenal of songs we can pick and choose from when we go to record.

SBW: This is the second year you’re playing the Tonic Ball. You’re playing Beck songs in the Hi Fi. Why Beck? What songs will you be doing?

GWYNN: Tony and I love the album Sea Change and the two of us were already working on a cover from the album. We wanted to play Tonic Ball no matter the artist chosen, but we were really happy when we got to choose two of our favorite songs from Sea Change -- The Golden Age and Guess I’m Doing Fine.

SBW: Why give up a Friday night where you could be playing almost anywhere in town? What’s the draw to play Tonic?

MIKEY: Jon and I have been involved with Tonic from the start. Pop Lolita played the first Tonic Ball, and Jon has played nearly every year since. This will be my seventh Tonic Ball, and my second with There Are Ghosts.

Tonic Ball 13 was actually our first show together! You know, year after year Tonic Ball is the greatest single night of music that you can experience in Indianapolis. You see old friends, make new friends, spontaneously join a choir to sing backing vocals for your friend’s band; anything can happen … there is just something electric in the air that night. It’s such a positive event. It’s an easy way we can help Second Helpings and the hungry people of Indianapolis.

SBW: I normally ask individuals to name their top three life-changing albums. As a band, what are the three most important albums that influence the music of There are Ghosts?

TAG:

1. Throwing MusesThe Real Ramona

2. R.E.M. – Murmer

3. Velocity Girl – Copacetic

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