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Ghostkeeper: A northern anomaly

Posted by Chris / March 17, 2010

Having recently spent the past three years in northern Saskatchewan, I was immediately drawn to Ghostkeeper, a Calgary-based band claiming to represent the Métis communities of their home in High Level, Alberta - population 4200. The north is a part of Canada few dare to travel to, and ever fewer bother to understand. Yet these communities are rooted in the nature and isolation that we adhere to our national identity - whether the rest of Canada is willing to acknowledge them or not. With few other similar bands having tread the same path, Ghostkeeper may be one of the few links that northern folk have to modern indie rock.

Formed by Shane Ghostkeeper (vocals, guitar) and Sarah Houle (drums, vocals), Ghostkeeper the band play wickedly devious psych-folk with playful splashes of - believe it or not - Eagles of Death Metal mixed in with Devendra Banhart. So it's not surprising that their latest s/t album has found a home on Flemish Eye Records, home of likeminded pop contortionist Chad VanGaalen.

Often playing in traditional-looking masks, Ghostkeeper are already an underdog contender for album of the year and are, as Shane Ghostkeeper has declared, "representative of the north."

Midnight Poutine: What is your new album about?

Shane Ghostkeeper: The whole concept was to actually establish ourselves as musicians who could perform. The first album was done with computers so this time we wanted everything on tape and to be clear. We didn't care if everything was the perfect tempo or whatever but we wanted our honest playing, whether it wavered or not.

Is there a story behind it or do any of the songs tell a lyrical story?

Lyrically, this album is darker than the first one. It's about representing, glorifying and romanticizing the modern northern Métis way of living. We're just sharing our experiences, which are pretty unique - we live in Calgary now - but we are originally from a community 12 hours north of here. In our songs we are dedicated to representing the people that are from there, especially considering that not a lot of people live up there.

You have a lot of influences in your music, but how much of this northern influence has found its way into your own songs?

I grew up watching people play guitar and perform at house parties, which were always very animated. Sarah had an uncle that was an amazing singer/songwriter from up north and I was lucky enough to watch him play a handful of times before he passed away. He played in those party atmospheres and it was always amazing. There was always a lot of playing and sharing around campfires with elders and middle-aged folk and it was a big part of my musical education.

So this sort of style is something you bring to your own shows?

Absolutely, we have a priority to bring a party to our audiences. We do this with lots of characters and emotional dynamics. We represent dialogues and dialects representative of the north within our songs, which is not exactly sing-songy.

So what do the masks bring to the live show?

Sarah makes those masks - she's an amazing painter. And they are a part of the moods that we make with our music.

So how do people perceive you live? Are you blowing minds or freaking people out?

In Calgary we are very well taken care of and nurtured. A lot of people come out to see and know the songs well enough to dance. For people who aren't that familiar with the songs they can be pretty jarring on the first listen. But a lot of people have come away very intrigued.

Photo courtesy of Flemish Eye Records.



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