Ghost Key operate in a well of emotion, but the thing is — they’re not alone. They’ve situated themselves in a broader communal picture and tapped into intense streams flowing underneath so many of us. In so doing, they’ve opened up a common ground for listeners of all backgrounds to enjoy and be enriched by.
The band hangs on tight to this aspect of their work, maintaining a front and center focus — especially on their 2018 InVogue Records release See This Through. The musically and emotionally intense album’s final track opens with listeners telling their stories, grief and all, via a collection of audio clips. The feature drives home just how focused the band remains.
“People come out to the shows and they watch us play, and they’ll come up to the table and talk to me or talk to one of the guys and a lot of these people, they feel comfortable sharing parts of themselves with us,” vocalist Austin O’Brien explains. “I think that’s a huge blessing. I think that’s super important for us as a band because it reminds us that by us being vulnerable, we’re allowing other people to feel the same way. Over the past few years, I’ve realized that a lot of the people that come to talk with us deal with the same things I deal with and they’ve been through a lot of the same things that I’ve been through. At some point, probably late last year, I realized that all these lyrics I was writing, they weren’t my own. I’m the vessel for it, but I was realizing that these aren’t just my stories, and they’ve become so many other people’s stories at the same time they became mine. Those people are literally everything to us, and I don’t think they understand truly how much it means when they come up to us and tell us those stories.”
Transcribing The Stories
O’Brien says that the tone brought by the final track’s collection of audio clips guided essentially “the entire thing from start to finish.”
They’re an extremely dedicated band, to the point that during that process, Ghost Key went out to a family friend’s cabin outside Nashville for a week in winter to isolate themselves and focus on writing all day, every day. There was not even any apparent internet connection at the place they were staying.
“We literally picked that location specifically because it was in the middle of the woods,” O’Brien says. “It was far away from distractions, and jobs, and family members. We wanted to be as far away as possible and as far away from the internet as possible.”
Overall during the band’s intense endeavors, they’ve fine tuned their process in order to zero in on their aims. O’Brien explains, for instance, that they write via collectively plugging into computers instead of sitting around with amps turned up to full volume. The difference helps the band focus, he says, and not miss any of the nuances that underlie their songs.
O’Brien himself digs into those nuances when preparing the lyrics for the band’s releases, explaining that he writes after songs are essentially complete, shaping his emotions to match the sound.
“I think it works in my favor because it allows me to stretch my legs as a writer,” he says. “I have to sort of go into it open minded, and I have to go into it with the idea that this is done and this is how it’s going to sound, and so I have to adapt.”
“We also try to remember that the most important thing is that we like what we’re writing,” O’Brien adds. “Especially with this record, it’s pretty evident that we took a lot of chances, and we made a lot of choices that I’d say a couple years ago, we would have been afraid to make. We’re really proud of it — we’re really happy with it.”
Those choices incorporate some tight but intense melodic hardcore, to use a familiar stylistic description. The feel of the strictly musical side of their work underscores their whole focused presentation. The emotion inherent in their music — which anyone who’s listened to them no doubt remains well familiar with — isn’t an afterthought or an added gimmick. The concern, care, and meaning sit as the very core of the band. They’re not trying to accomplish some grand scheme.
Bringing The Care Home
To that end, O’Brien explains that his band goes so far as to take special care that listeners get quality shirts if they choose to buy some of the band’s merchandise. He doesn’t want to just slap a design on a low quality shirt and call it a day. They’re so focused on community — down to the letter — that they’ve even taken somewhat of a loss on merch at times, he says.
The steps figure into a greater aim for the band, though. They are working hard — to reach out. O’Brien stands with a personal stake in the process, too — he’s in the trenches, so to speak.
“I think what attaches us musically and emotionally pretty much boils down to — I have a lot of feelings,” he quips. “I’ve understood that I’ve had depression and anxiety since I was basically ten years old. I’ve just always had a lot going on in my head. I’ve always wanted to write, but I didn’t know how to do it, and I was afraid to show people anything I’d ever written. When we started the band, it seemed like this was the perfect time for me to just open my journal, per se and just let it out.”
Their music’s emotional pathfinding nature brings listeners together, and now, with their second full length album on the horizon, O’Brien’s proud of what he and his band mates have accomplished.
“Community — I think that’s the best word to use,” he says. “I always tell people I feel really weird when I say oh, we have fans or these are our fans. To me, everybody that comes to our shows and talks to me and shares their stories and everything — to me those are just my friends. Even if I don’t know their names or I don’t remember their names, those are my friends, because it’s a community. These are people that rally around each other. Even when we’re not there, they’re there for each other. It’s a community, and if there’s anything I want out of this band or anything that I can be proud of when it’s over it’s that I feel like we’ve cultivated a community instead of just a bunch of people who like a band.”
Listen to Ghost Key below via Spotify.