Portland’s Genders releases its new album Saturday at Mississippi Studios. In the month’s local feature, Maggie May Morris and Stephen Leisy discuss their developing process of culling albums, finding a sweet spot when touring and the social justice potential and blindspots of the Portland music community.
Author Milan Kundera has a book titled, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which is an especially relevant phrase when discussing The Ghost Ease’s music. The Portland-based grunge rock trio has such a dark sound that it can’t help but feel equally light. Recently they released a video for “Gemini Rise,” which features lead singer/guitarist Jem Marie threading a needle carefully through a jelly filled donut; it’s disturbingly artful. While the music itself is tenebrous, there is irony and lightness in the object being a donut. If you’ve ever seen them perform live, you know this goes for their performances also. They bring such a strong energy on stage that it feels like they are both releasing their intensity and holding on to it at the same time. ELEVEN was lucky enough to sit down with Jem Marie, bassist Laurence Vidal and drummer Nsayi Matingou on a dark Sunday evening to discuss their recent album RAW, talk of new work and the unbearably light intensity that is The Ghost Ease.
ELEVEN: You guys just dropped an album a couple months ago, how has that been performing it?
Jem Marie: It’s been fun, yeah what do you guys think?
Nsayi Matingou: I feel like we recorded it almost a year ago and we just had our CD release so we had to play some of the songs that we haven’t even been, and we’re continuing to move forward so it is interesting to release it after so much time, and it more kind of feels like a revisiting as opposed to playing the album.
11: How do you inspire each other?
JM: I don’t know, they are just my friends.
NM: Lots of comedy.
JM: Yeah lots of comedy, we laugh a lot. We make jokes all the time, and just imitate each other and just poking fun at each other sometimes.
Laurence Vidal: All the time.
11: You spend a lot of time together I’m sure.
JM: It’s also because we are siblings in a sense.
NM: I feel like we’re very intense individuals though.
JM: Intense individuals?
NM: Yeah I feel like a lot of the inspiration from the music comes from our deep intensity.
11: What do you mean by that?
LV: I mean I think we are all pretty dark in a lot of ways. I think we’re all pretty introspective and introverted. And a lot of the new songs seem really dark to me. Like Jem just sent a new song the other day and it’s pretty dark and it feels like that. I think maybe that’s one of the reasons that this is why there is kind of this juxtaposition of us being on stage and being really dark and intense and then off stage we have to just joke about things.
NM: We have to lighten that load, man.
LV: Yeah lighten it up. I mean we get to talking about some pretty depressing things a lot of the time and I think that kind of thing is a lot of the energy that we bring on stage. It’s a practice.
11: Before you came we were watching the video for “Gemini Rise” and it definitely has that feeling of being really dark but also it features a donut. Is that kind of a theme? Darkness and lightness?
JM: Definitely. Yeah, and I think that also is communicated through the music itself. How it’s so dynamic in a way where it will be a really intense, roaring volcano going on and then just in a split second like it’ll phase out and calm down a bit. Just to see if you are awake.
11: To see if you’re really paying attention?
JM: Well I guess I just feel like the reason why I play or I am drawn to play like that is naturally I am an easily startled person.
NM: It’s true.
JM: But then that also ties into a way that when a feeling is, when I am struck by them they are very immediate, and I don’t know how else to explain it.
11: I think that definitely emanates in the music.
JM: And I think when we play it’s kind of like exercising in emotions a little bit.
11: One thing I noticed too was in songs like “Gemini Rise,” or the “Scorpio” song, is astrology, very in tune I assume?
JM: Yeah I mean.. What is it Laurence?
LV: I have only been playing with them for about a year but we joke that my background check was them looking at my birth chart.
NM: No there were three prerequisites. Female, stoked about the bass, and scorpio.
JM: Had scorpionic energy.
NM: And we were hoping you’d be a mix if that was possible, and all of those came out.
11: Are you all scorpios?
JM: I am, she is, and she has scorpionic energy.
11: That’s a lot of scorpio energy.
NM: My moon is scorpio and my sign is aries.
JM: We all have fire in us. There is a lot of fire.
11: I also noticed on RAW you chose to end with an instrumental track. Why did you choose that?
JM: It’s sort of a reprise. A reprise to “PJM.”
LV: It’s funny, nobody has ever really asked us about that. It is connected to “PJM.”
JM: It is. It sounds like it has similar chords. So it was meant to be a reprise to that song. And there are no words because there are no words to that emotion, and it was an intense change in my life.
LV: It was actually an afterthought too because we didn’t record that when we recorded everything else. It was only after we signed with Cabin Games and we were like “We need to go back into the studio and do some stuff,” so she recorded some more guitar and we recorded that outro and I am glad we did.
11: What would you have ended with?
JM: “For Naught.” And yeah, that one is a playful song but it’s not ending on the right note. It was too happy.
NM: Yeah, I don’t know, the reprise is nice. I like the reprise because it makes you feel like there is more coming. And, “For Naught,” doesn’t have that vibe.
JM: Right. It’s exactly that. “For Naught” wasn’t inviting to listen to and it wasn’t an inviting track, even when you put it on repeat from the begin to the ending it didn’t seem to fit. But the last track, “Bye, Love,” the last note kind of phases out and then begins “RAW” on the same note.
11: So it’s circular?
JM: Yeah. It was done intentionally and it worked out.
11: Do you all write, or it is mostly just you Jem?
JM: I write the skeleton of the song and I bring it to practice and we all sort of add the meat… RAW was just a collection of songs from that period of time and we just threw it all together. A lot of it were songs about growing as an artist, as a musician as a person. Longing and pining for things.
NM: Love that… the sigh. I love the sigh on “Neptune Sun.”
JM: Okay, Nsayi. You know on “Neptune Sun?” There is a part where I sigh and Nsayi wanted me to do that and I really didn’t want to keep it.
11: That’s funny, I actually heard that and it stuck out in my head to me.
JM: She begged me.
NM: ‘Cause we had recorded kind of randomly with a friend before, a long time ago with a different bass player that same song and you sighed on that and I always loved it and I wanted to bring it to this new recording.
11: Why did you want to bring that in?
NM: I don’t know. As a person who is a big piner, longing type of individual, so I guess for most of my life doing that, that sigh just encapsulates so much of that feeling. Every time there is a rain covered window, or it’s overcast it reminds me of that sigh. I just like that feeling.
JM: Yeah, it’s just so funny because like she was saying it was so long ago it felt like we recorded that album and while we still play a couple of tracks off of it, well literally two, because we’re moving forward already.
NM: And getting darker too.
JM: Yeah it is. But again it’s gonna maintain, there’s gonna be light.
11: Lyrically darker or sound wise?
JM: Both. Maybe at the same time.
11: If The Ghost Ease were to be a drink on a menu, what would that drink be?
[all together]: Whiskey. »
– Erin Treat