Southtowne Lanes released the killer ‘Give Up The Ghost’ recently and we just had to get the lowdown on one of the most interesting and thematically dense albums of the year so far.
Formed by four high-school friends (James Giles, Matt DeBellis, Matt Kupka and Tyler Giard) who reconnected a couple of years after graduation, and named after their local bowling alley in Eugene, Oregon, which kicked them out for smuggling in beer, Southtowne Lanes have delivered a genuine one-off with ‘Give Up The Ghost.’ Drawing in emo, screamo, indie and rock it’s an album that warrants and rewards repeated listens. To paraphrase The Hold Steady, “Southtowne Lanes’ll blow you away…”
AH: What’s the concept behind ‘Give Up The Ghost’? How/why did you hit on that as a concept?
Matt Kupka: ‘Give Up the Ghost’ is not a concept record – at least not in the traditional sense, however it does have a setting. The album takes place on a walk, most likely at night, with the narrator walking alone. Doesn’t matter where they’re going or where they came from, what matters is that they are going. Along this walk the narrator recalls past people and situations that imply a variety of emotions, and the narrator questions whether or not these apparitions are helping, confusing, or holding the narrator back.
I feel like the concept is fairly common amongst younger songwriters, as a lot of us are, for the first time, dealing with the concept of moving on and away from what we know. There are a lot of new experiences happening, and those new experiences force us to compare with the older experiences. We, or at least I, tend to romanticize and eulogize these concepts in songs. My questions were not why this was happening, but rather what effect it was having on us.
AH: How do you approach songwriting? ‘Give Up The Ghost’ is hugely complicated with many different parts so is it a laboured, trial and error process or do you approach it with a clear vision?
Matt: I feel like we come at it in a pretty traditional sense. We just put in A LOT of effort into really trying to let the song go where it needs to go. Usually someone has a skeleton for a song, they’ll post it in our private group online, then we come to practice and work.
In a more direct response to your question, I’d say we definitely come at more with a clear vision. That’s why we waited three years to even start a full=length record. We wanted to build the trust and solidarity or our relationship as a band and individual songwriters before embarking on something that could turn out to be inconsistent. We all wanted to be on the same page before writing the book.
AH: Lyrically, ‘Give Up The Ghost’ is so dense and cinematic. Do you find having a concept focuses the mind when it comes to lyric writing or is it a constraint? Ever thought of screenplays?
Matt: I have found so far that having a concept only helps if the concept is open and strong. I guess that’s not really saying much, but I guess I more mean that I’ve tried a few times to write multiple songs under an umbrella of a concept that was not open or too strong, and it did not work out well. Or rather it was really hard and felt a bit forced.
With ‘Give Up The Ghost,’ I was very confident in my message, and I always had a reference point to come back to when I was hitting a wall.
I haven’t put too much thought into screenplays, but that would be very interesting. I’m more of a long-essay person. If the record doesn’t show this, I’m very fascinated in the line between creative non-fiction and fiction. Working on this record also opened me up to writing more and more in an essay format about a lot of stuff I didn’t know I had in me, so I’m excited to explore that more.
AH: Stylistically, it’s really hard to place Southtowne Lanes – a bit of screamo, a bit of indie rock, some Midwest-emo – so how did you hit on that and what serves as your influences?
Matt: Well there are four of us in the band, and three of us write the skeletons of these songs. And we are all pretty different writers. What’s actually funny about your question is I would say one of us is more on the “screamo” side, one more indie rock, and one more Midwest-emo. So you kinda nailed it.
When one of us brings an idea to the table, the rest of us pull our influences and blend with the original idea. I feel like this is somewhat common… but we’re all just really stubborn about keeping our respective influences in play when we can, thus the kind of mishmash of genre. Also the only reason I didn’t mention our drummer, Matt (DeBellis), is that he’s kind of an anomaly of a drummer. He doesn’t just adapt to whatever style we throw at him, he somehow already gets a step in front of us starts beating us to the punch, which can sometimes really change the way the song ends up going.
AH: There’s a real connect with the artwork. I commented in my review that it feels really stark and adds to the grey mood. Who was responsible for that? Is it important that it all ties in for you?
Matt: Will Hayward primarily did the entire concept for the artwork, and he also had some help from Nickie Bina. They are both super talented and hardworking friends that live down in LA. It was incredibly important to me that the artwork, lyrics, and instrumentation all tied together to make a cohesive product. Will Hayward has been our guy for the past couple releases, and he is really able to see where we are going and create literally a single picture that represents all of it. It’s pretty amazing.
AH: ‘Give Up The Ghost’ isn’t your first release, but how have you changed or developed ahead of writing and recording of the record?
Matt: Well, we spent a few years figuring out how to do that. Demos, splits, and an EP were all kinda trial runs for what writing a record would feel like. After we were done with a release prior to ‘GUTG,“ we were definitely satisfied but also kinda like “this is really good, but it’s just not quite there yet.” We did build a lot of essential skills in recording those first releases, and the lessons we learned almost prepared us for a full length. We still learned a lot doing this release though.
AH: One of the things I was most surprised at was the length of the record. ‘Give Up The Ghost’ is 12 songs (13 including the bonus track) and about 40 minutes – it’s an investment of time, especially when albums seem to be getting shorter. Yet it goes at a canter so it never feels its length – so is there any reason for this? Was there much editing that took place and is there a ‘directors cut’ out there?
Matt: I specifically wanted the record to be longer for that reason. I mean it’s not like I disagree with or dislike with the shorter records out there. Length does not have an effect on quality in my opinion. But I was seeing so many shorter albums being released, and I was just more excited about doing a longer record, rather than shorter. There was not too much editing that took place, as early on we were able to determine which songs were not going to make the cut. The length of the record also kind of reflects that romanticizing and eulogizing I was talking about earlier. Usually those concepts are kind of stretched out and thoroughly dissected.
AH: What else does 2016 have in store for Southtowne Lanes?
Matt: Well we are playing Treefort Music Festival in about a month, and we will also be doing a lengthy tour that we are very excited to announce in the coming days. There should be a music video sometime in the future, but we are still ironing out the details there. We hope to spread our music, listen to a lot of other people’s music, and hopefully make some new friends and see some old friends. Should be a good year!
’Give Up The Ghost’ by Southtowne Lanes is out now on Dog Knights Productions.
Words by Rob Mair (@BobNightMair). Photo Credit: Sam Gehrke.