Interview by Ellen Donbeck
When you hear band Pet Ghost Project‘s newest album, Winter Variations, you will understand the buzz on Brooklyn’s newest musical treasure. The band, originally a west coast creation, has a sound so rich in layers upon layers of sound that you can’t help but be quite taken with it. Justin Stivers (original member and creator of PGP) creates these musical compositions with an intense amount of thought. What a concept right? An artist who creates his art with the utmost determination, consideration, and imagination. Whiskey Dregs had the opportunity to hear more about the band with the melodic architect himself…
Ellen Donbeck: What’s the history behind Pet Ghost Project? Was the band originally a solo project?
Justin Stivers: Well, it started as a recording project right after high school. I began experimenting with sounds, song structure, musical ideas, and things of that nature. I was always in other bands, so Pet Ghost was really something on the side at first. Over time, it slowly morphed into something I wanted to invest more and more time into, running with different ideas and concepts seemed endless.
EB: When did the other members become involved?
JS: Justin Gonzales and Jacob More joined the fray about 3 albums in, over 2 years ago. Chris Patin moved from Austin, Texas earlier this year and has been with us for about 6 months or so. Things have changed quite a bit over the last couple of years and definitely for the best. In the studio and on stage, these guys are tops. They push the songs in so many different directions, and our live show is a totally different beast. I got really lucky meeting these fellows…but that’s why I moved to Brooklyn, to meet folk like this.
EB: Your sound, undoubtedly developed with each move — from Seattle to Portland to now Brooklyn, does your music feel experimental in its composition or do you feel like Pet Ghost Project calls home to a particular sound?
JS: Yeah, Pet Ghost Project certainly changes things up on the listener an awful lot. But that’s something I really want in my “ideal band”, not to feel tied to anything. As I’ve moved to different cities, I’ve absorbed new influences and new sounds. I’m in a constant state of change (as we all are), and I guess the music reflects that side of me. Again, it’s just really nice to not be pinned down to a particular sound or style. It gives us more to work with and a lot more places to go musically. Sometimes not having a particular direction in mind is a good thing; it opens up many possibilities.
As a producer and recording engineer, I’m finding my sound a lot more, getting the science and math of the whole thing down pretty good. That’s always the struggle, capturing the sounds how you want them, though we’re also getting better on that front too. I wear many different masks in this band, as you can tell; I guess we all do.
EB: In your Bio you call Brooklyn the ‘promise land’, how was living in Brooklyn influenced your sound?
Brooklyn has been pretty kind to me. Lots of opportunity here, something I was not really accustomed to. Over the last couple of years, to be surrounded by the sheer amount of stimuli swirling around, it’s hard not to be inspired. Pretty awesome.
EB: The album is hard yet sentimental and very beautiful, you shift from such a diverse group of sounds over and over within a track, where does that inspiration come from?
JS: Hard to say exactly where. We are influenced by so many things, whether it’s all the madness shakin’ down in our lives, or just the bands and music we love. Combination of the two, I suppose.
EB: Your vocals are really good and used sparingly, do you feel too many vocals takes away from the music which is already so full and rich in its composition?
Thanks. This particular album was done in one session. We had to execute around 40 minutes of music as best we could, and having the least amount of vocals made sense to us. This started as a “live in the studio” session for BreakThru Radio and accidentally turned into an album. I took the tracks home, messed with them, and it morphed into what you hear before you.
EB: What’s your favorite track on the new album?
JS: I’m pretty happy with how “drunk and smiling at heaven” turned out. We took a 2 minute song I recorded way back and turned it into a 7 minute extravaganza.
EB: What has been your experience playing the album live?
JS: The tracks on winter variations are pretty much entirely live. The songs grew from the rehearsal room to the stage, and they happened to find a home on this album. It’s been fun seeing these songs progress and morph into something completely different, and I’m glad we captured some of that energy on these recordings. Believe it or not, this is more or less how we sound live.
EB: What’s next for the band?
JS: We have a lot on our plate, including our big record release show at Cameo Gallery Sept. 10th, with our good friends Quiet Loudly, MiniBoone, and Gunfight! We’re really looking forward to that. Shortly thereafter will be our little east coast tour (dates to be announced on our site very soon) occurring mid-September. We also have another tour plotted for mid-October. It looks like we will be pretty busy this fall. And we’d have it no other way.