Ghostking is Dead (Long Live Ghostking)

Gemma Kent chats with Matt Corrigan following the release of his latest EP, Sweet Boy.

There’s a few golden rules when it comes to interviewing. Among them: ‘Don’t analyse the song lyrics’, ‘Don’t quote the song lyrics’, and, my personal favourite, ‘Don’t ask them where the name comes from’. Five o’clock on a murky Monday evening, however, rules go out the window, and I open my conversation with Matt Corrigan of Ghostking is Dead with a breach of law three, and a swiftly-retracted assurance that I wouldn’t publish the response.

“There are two answers,” he tells me. “The answer I give if I want to sound artsy and cool is that it’s from Hamlet. The ‘real’ answer is that my friends used to take the piss out of me for using too much reverb in my amp. They said it made it sound like a ghost was trapped inside, so I became the ‘Ghostking’.”

The setup of Ghostking is Dead mirrors this duality. Everything you hear on the records is written, recorded, produced, and released by Matt; to bring this sound to the stage, however, these records are then passed to a band of “very tolerant musicians” who “translate it into something that works in a live environment”.  

“The result is music that’s rather different from what I put on the recording,” he says, “as the band brings their own artistic edge to it.”

But Ghostking’s sound is multi-faceted ever before it’s reimagined for live performance. Sweet Boy is a psychedelic, guitar-fuelled trip through moody vocals and pearly rhythms. It’s bright but it’s mirthless, starry-eyed but disillusioned, laidback but unsettled. By the time ‘Cast Iron’ has eased its way out, you can’t quite say what you’ve experienced, only that it wasn’t (as Matt puts it) “balls-to-the-walls experimentalism” or, for that matter, any kind of straightforward, digestible pop, but a subtle mix of both. I ask if there is a pressure to reconcile these disparate influences for the sake of easy classification or appeal. Matt’s response is an adamant insistence on the merit of drawing from the best of both worlds:

“I think there’s a redundancy in making something already being made by someone else,” he explains. “If I’m going to pay attention to an artist, it’s because of their individuality, not because of the things they do that remind me of someone else. But I also don’t sit down and listen to music that I can’t get into, that I can’t show to other people or that I can’t remember a hook from. The greatest collision of these worlds is something you can listen to passively, that also has the potential for active listening.”

The self-admitted downside of this preference is its resistance to labelling. “The need for classification haunts me,” Matt says. “Not because I’m one of those ‘don’t-put-my-art-in-a-box’ people, but because I just can’t figure out how to do it. I’m especially scared of Indie Rock, because what the hell is it? It’s the most mundane classification. Not only does it do a terrible job of telling you what the music is, it also makes it sound seriously bland. Indie Rock is just four white guys with guitars singing about breakups. I mean, we are four white guys, but we’re not singing about breakups.”

Photo Credit: Bartek Gruba

To which I then ask: But what else is there? What do you sing about, if not the latest bludgeon to your heart? The answer is hardly surprising, given that it comes from someone who’s worried that his near-singular passion for music makes him one-dimensional. 

“You’re naturally drawn to write about conflict, and much of the conflict I experience is me looking at my guitar and yelling ‘Why won’t you work?!’. I’ve often sent a song off for mastering still not knowing what the hell I wrote it about. Like, I didn’t know what Sweet [one of the songs from Sweet Boy] meant until actualacid, who features on the song, explained it to me during production. It was only when I had to put his verse to lyrics that I realised what I was writing about.”

It’s also no surprise, then, that Matt speaks positively about his overall experience of collaboration, both with actualacid for this EP and with other musicians such as Alex Gough, with whom he released a new track at the end of last month. Such collaboration presents not only the unique opportunity to sample ‘All About That Bass’ in the style of David Bowie (still trying to imagine that), but also the chance to push beyond the lure of the comfort zone. “It stretches you. You can get into the habit of writing to yourself, especially when you do what I do.

For my next project I want to get a bunch of people together and start experiencing that ‘communal’ aspect of writing, instead of sitting alone in my room for two months and then churning out a new album.”

This image of a lively track turnover holds under scrutiny. Matt began performing back in October 2015 and was the first act to perform at the inaugural Cork Loves Music Fest two years later. Since then, he has put together what he calls a “healthy back catalogue” of music, of which Sweet Boy is the latest. “Most of it’s tripe,” he laughs, “but I do make a lot of it. Every now and again I’ll end up with a few songs that I like, and then it’s just a matter of making them coherent and combining them into something I can bring home to mom.”

A big part of Ghostking’s latest EP, Sweet Boy, is its role as the flagship release for Cork’s newest record label, Hausu. Taking its name from Nobuhiko’s Obayashi 1977 film, Hausu debuted the day after Sweet Boy’s January release, allowing both projects to “evolve symbiotically”, according to Matt. The label has “snowballed” since its unveiling, expanding at a rate unanticipated by any of those involved. A large part of this is due to the sheer volume of EPs the group are releasing, with most of the label’s members currently making music. The months ahead are to be especially busy as they “clear the vaults”. For Matt, who had always had an interest in setting up a label of his own, the advantages of Hausu and its unprecedented expansion cannot be overstated:

“The Hausu label is so important. In the Irish scene — and especially in the Cork scene — it’s impossible to thrive without the support of the other artists. If one of us could possibly achieve some modicum of success, then others could follow suit. At Hausu, we’re trying to get everyone in one place, supporting one another, and to surround it all with this air of legitimacy. Because people often perceive Irish music, especially independent Irish music, as a bunch of illegitimate teenagers just knocking around with guitars and getting nothing done. Having a label helps counteract that. And that’s a great thing for Ghostking is Dead.”

What lies ahead for the Ghostking? Along with a plethora of other gigs, the one to watch is their upcoming performance at the Trabolgan festival, It Takes a Village, where the band has been announced alongside other big names like Saint Sister and Shookrah. Unfazed by this, Matt is confident that his recent surge of gigs has seen the live set tighten, making it “a show I’m proud to put on and to ask people to attend”.

Perhaps the best part about the upcoming gig is the festival’s poster-presence around the city: “There’s something really cool about being on your bus to college in the morning and seeing the framed, A1 posters plastered on the walls. People actually recognise the name ‘Ghostking is Dead’ when it’s said to them, and I’d put my money on the fact that it’s because it’s on those posters.”

Or maybe it’s that artsy reference to Hamlet.