It's amazing that a lot of bands manage to stay together as long as they do. It's hard to deal with all those diverse personalities in a creative situation after a while. It's happened to the greatest of them ... and sometimes streamlining is the only option. Economically speaking, it makes a lot of sense as well, and there seems to be a plethora of musical units operating as duos everywhere these days.
Silverghost recently whittled itself down from a quartet to a two-piece, which the members say is working much better, thank you very much. The Ferndale-based band is made up of Deleano Acevedo and former Von Bondies guitarist Marcie Bolen, her first major project since leaving that band.
"I had my own ideas outside the band," she says, "and I wanted to start something new. The band was going in a direction I wasn't really into anymore. After leaving, I was playing with different people in different states, traveling all over the place. And then it just struck me that it works the best with him. Why was I traveling around playing with all these other people?"
Not that they have anything against old-school band lineups. The pair still plays together in another local band, F'ke Blood — he plays drums; she's on bass. And they say the split with their earlier Silverghost partners (that band performed six or seven shows, including opening one for the Detroit Cobras last year) was amicable. The bass player, Kip Donlon, remains Acevedo's best friend, after all, and Donlon's 6-year-old son came up with the band's great name (which sounds like a comic book protagonist ... and Bolen says there are indeed plans to make Silverghost into a character — a World War I jet fighter, to be exact).
"He's really into music," Acevedo says of the 6-year-old ideas man. "He'd play drums and sing into the mic. We said, 'Brandon, you have to come up with a name.' So after a couple of weeks of thinking, he said, 'I think you should be something silver.' So we're kidding him, saying things like 'Silver Pizza.' And he said, 'No. Silverghost.'"
The band uses guitar, an "old analog" synthesizer and a drum machine, but what they're creating really can't be termed synth-pop or the '80s new wave derivative one might expect from such musical parts.
"It's still all pretty upbeat and rock-based," explains Acevedo. "The synth provides a crunchy, low and heavy rhythm. There's sometimes a Moog effect as well. So that fills out the low end."
"And then I add a dirty guitar," adds Bolen. "A lot of fuzz."
"In many ways, we're a clash between the rock 'n' roll that she grew up with and the drum machines and synthesizers that I've always been drawn to," says Acevedo, adding, "although we didn't have that in mind when we started."
"We're really not intentionally trying to sound like anything," says the guitarist who was in one of the bands that got Detroit labeled the "garage rock" capital of the world several years ago. "We obviously have influences that make us write the way we do. But we're not trying to do a '60s rock or '80s new wave thing. As a four-piece, it was always, 'What is our sound? What kind of band are we?' But now, we don't even ask those kinds of questions."
The duo has only played one show, at the Magic Bag, opening for their friends Dutch Pink. It was the most nervous the two have ever been before a gig — but the response was tremendously positive. Their second gig as a duo at this year's Blowout will feature all new material — a stated goal is to write at least one new song a week, and as partners who live together, they can work nearly every day, if they so desire. But don't be surprised if a Klaus Nomi cover shows up in their repertoire in the near future, with Acevedo's sister suddenly appearing onstage to sing the operatic parts.
The Nomi admiration shows the two are on a similar wavelength and, indeed, everything they do is an equal collaboration.
"I like to work fast," he says. "But we occasionally challenge each other on certain parts, which makes for better songs."
"We will critique each other," she agrees.
"And we're trying to mess around with song structure a little bit, as far as getting away from verse-chorus-verse, although we have some of those as well," he adds.
They both come from musical backgrounds. Acevedo's parents "made" him learn piano before he switched to guitar; Bolen was second-chair trumpet player in junior high. Acevedo played drums and synths in 800 Beloved, a local shoegaze/synth-pop/slightly Goth unit, while Bolen's background was, of course, punk rock — which is one of several reasons she admires Patti Smith so greatly.
"I pretty much learned to play guitar playing with Jason," she says, referring to Von Bondies leader Jason Stollsteimer "The Baby Killers was our first band and that turned into the Von Bondies when a new member just hated that name. And we weren't really punk rock anymore because we were learning how to play our instruments."
Harking back to that punk ethos, however, Acevedo claims there's a lot of anger in Silverghost's music, although the pair seems quite happy in person.
"Maybe it's because we're able to work things out in our songs, so in regular life, we can be more happy," Bolen suggests. "I've found, though, that I'm always most creative when I'm depressed. I need to do something to get me out of it."
"It's always just been easier for me to write about negative subjects or something that makes me angry," says her partner. "It's much easier than doing a happy love song and making it not come off as pretentious."
As for the foreseeable future?
"I would first and foremost love to travel." That's Bolen. "I just want to have fun and play music."
"It would be good to be on an indie label to get some tour support," says Acevedo, "although it's a lot easier to tour as a two-piece."
"I don't think I'd want to be on a major label again and have all that pressure," says the member who's actually been on one. "In the Von Bondies, it had such an effect on all of us. In many ways, leaving them is kind of like a breakup. It's my past and I'm glad I did what I did. I have no regrets or anything. It was a great thing for me. I had lots of fun. But it just got to the point where I wanted to do my own thing. So I quit to do it."
And as a two-piece, it looks like that thing seems to be bringing perfect harmony from a creative standpoint, whether they're being influenced at the time by Suicide or the classic Kinks.
"It's weird," suggests Acevedo, "because we will sometimes write a song and realize it sounds reminiscent of something after we've finished. The other day, she said, 'That sounds like Gary Numan.'"
"And I went through a period of being in love with Gary Numan!" Bolen continues. "It only hit me afterwards, though. So yesterday, I was listening to Sparks, thinking maybe some of their stuff will rub off on us. They had keyboards and very interesting harmonies. Because we're all about harmonies now — which I've never done in a band before. I was afraid to do them. In fact, I always thought there's no way I could do them! I had enough trouble playing and just singing in unison in the Von Bondies. I could never hear myself onstage and when I hear myself on tape, I was always like, 'Omigod, I sound terrible!' So even thinking about singing harmonies scares me. And yet, we somehow are managing to do it."
Silverghost - Saturday, March 8 at Knights of Columbus (Lounge), 9632 Conant; 313-871-8888. With Electric Fire Babies, Woodman, Serenity Court and the Drinking Problem.Bill Holdship is Metro Times music editor. Send comments to [email protected]