By Jordan Reisman
Photo courtesy of This Old Ghost
In rock n’ roll, family is what it’s all about. Be it the family you were born into or the one held together by chords and harmonies, we all want to be part of something that is greater than the efforts of one person. This Old Ghost from Westchester County, New York is a family comprised of the latter two elements, creating a self-described brand of “folk n’roll.”
Their newest release, Family Room, is a testament to the family they have created amongst themselves and their peers. The band was born out of the Peekskill/Yorktown Heights area, two of the county’s many “river towns.”
The beginning of This Old Ghost started when the lead singer and acoustic guitarist, Ian McGuinness, was living in California and started a to-do list for when he got back home to New York. Starting a band was at the top of the list so he rang up Karri and asked her if she would like to sing.
“He asked, ‘Do you play? Do you sing? What do you do?’ I was like, ‘Well, I don’t really sing. I kind of sing harmony, that’s my thing, and I play flute,’ so it was kind of perfect,” said singer and flutist Karri Diomede about the initial member search.
Basically, the band was formed out of a bucket list. Their first show, as described by Diomede was a “no pressure situation, instead of playing in New York, let’s just throw an awesome house party and get some friends over, get some feedback.”
Guitarist Ryan Sniffen painted a more illustrative picture of the room they played — “We played in a basement so the ceilings were really low and we had lyrics on the ceiling to remember them,” says Sniffen.
They said they wrote the lyrics in Sharpie so somewhere in a basement in Yorktown, the early days of the band are cemented in time along with a one word reminder: Party.
As with most families, there are physical attributes that define those in it like curly hair or an upturned nose. For This Old Ghost, it’s the beards. Four of the five members are gifted with exceptional facial hair.
“Everyone just grows a gnarly beard except for me,” says Sniffen on the band’s glaring similarity.
Diomede states that it was not an aesthetic decision to all grow beards, unlike ZZ Top, “I think they all just look really great with beards.”
As if This Old Ghost needed another example of the solidarity within their folk family, they also have myths that shroud understanding the band’s realistic origins. For some reason, it got in my head that the entire band worked at the Peekskill Brewery in their hometown and used the Brewery as a front to promote the band’s albums.
In reality, only Karri previously worked there and bassist Brendan Coughlin currently manages the joint. Not quite a “Paul is dead”-sized rumor but misinformation nonetheless.
The cover of Family Room is a photograph of rolling plains of a non-descript location. This seems to go along with the art direction of the other material they put out on the Internet. They seem to have a firm grasp on creating a persona through image and sound, as orchestrated by drummer Rob Pizzolato, a graphic designer by trade.
Take one look through their Tumblr blog and you’ll find that they strive to put the listener in a place of nature and serenity.
“We get this comparison a lot and everybody says it’s a very organic sound because honestly, the way we write and the way the records have come out is very organic. We don’t use a bunch of synthesizers and layer it with all this crazy stuff. It’s like, guitar, bass drums, vocals, flute,” explains Sniffen.
They also attributed the band’s imagery to the not present but much talked about singer McGuinness and his past with working on a farm, inspiring the sound.
About the graphic designer in the band Diomede says, “I think [Pizzolato] does a good job in encompassing our image. Our graphics and photos are through his eyes which I think he does a really good job of taking our sound and putting it into tangible form.”
Aside from how they present themselves, one of TOG’s most defining characteristics is their use of lush harmonies split between McGuinness, Sniffen, and Diomede. With the knowledge that their sound is not created by synths or auto-tuned layered vocals, it really is quite astounding to hear the rich culmination of just three voices.
“I kind of always forced myself to never sing the melodies of the songs I was listening to, I would always force myself to sing harmonies because I knew at some point in time I would need to be creating something that wasn’t already there so I just developed this knack for constantly singing in harmony. I think that first practice when [McGuinness] and I sang together, we were like, ‘Okay, this is gonna work. We’ve definitely got something here,’” says Diomede about the musical magic between the two.
Speaking candidly, Diomede and Sniffen both cite early 2000s pop-punk bands as being major influences for their musical evolution, along with Philadelphia’s Good Old War. Though sonically This Old Ghost couldn’t be further away from bands like Blink-182 and New Found Glory, they say that the energy of those bands resonated with them in TOG’s live shows and recordings.
The title of the new album is in reference to the house that they so lovingly call “HQ.” Both members had some words to share about this one particular house.
“Being based in Yorktown, we kind of grew up a lot in that house as far as a band and writing these songs from start to finish, they were pretty much all hashed out in the ‘family room.’ I think that was the definition of where that album was born and raised,” says Diomede.
“With the writing process, like the EP [2011’s The Island of Violent Lovers, we all definitely contributed a little but they were, like, Ian’s songs at first and then we just built on those. With Family Room, again it was Ian’s songs, but we all hashed out the bridges in the family room. It felt like we became a family during that process,” Sniffen says, employing some of Karri’s phrases in the brotherliest way imaginable.
That last sentiment prompted Diomede to coo, “Aw, Ryan…”
To see what’s going on in the Family Room, click here.
Check out TOG’s music and interview on the latest episode of Discovery Corner on BTR.