Interview: The Ghost of Paul Revere Discuss Maine, Touring and New LP, ‘Monarch’
Sitting inside Beer Culture on 45th Street in the middle of New York City, the boys of the Ghost of Paul Revere seem right at home. It might be pouring rain outside, but inside, alternative rock is blasting on the speakers and guitarist Griffin Sherry, bassist Sean McCarthy and banjo player Max Davis are sipping on their libations of choice.
"We get to go home for the first time in eight weeks after this," McCarthy tells The Boot. "We're driving straight to Portland."
The Ghost of Paul Revere call Portland, Maine, home, but as usual, they find themselves on the road more than in the comfort of their own abodes.
"We've basically been touring since July," Sherry adds.
Taking a brief break from a few shows, the Ghost of Paul Revere — not quite bluegrass, not quite country, not quite rock 'n' roll, but kind of all three combined — hung out with The Boot ahead of their trip back to Maine to catch up about everything happening in their world, including celebrating the release of their sophomore studio record, Monarch.
It has to feel awesome to get Monarch out to your fans.
Griffin Sherry: It feels crazy. It feels great. We sat on it for so long, it's pretty surreal to have it out in the world and to have people listening to it, not to mention the incredible responses we've gotten.
Max Davis: We've never done so much planning around an album, either. That made it feel a little less daunting, but at the same time, it was hard to gauge because we had been working on it for so long.
How long has this been done?
Sherry: We finished it in August 2016.
What was the reason for the long wait to finally release it?
Sherry: We wanted to shop it to labels and see what we could do. We always shoot from the hip and just work real hard and release stuff on our own. This was the first time we wanted to see if we could release it on a broader platform and build a team around the record. At the same time, we got hooked up with Josh Knight, our booking agent, and that started to ramp up. So we had a team that all of a sudden started helping us make a national presence, instead of just focusing on New England.
You finished it a year ago, but now you're re-visiting Monarch as you celebrate its release and do interviews ... Does that feel weird?
Sean McCarthy: It doesn't really feel new anymore. We're not really finding our legs while we're playing the songs on the road, because we've been playing them for so long already. I'm excited for when we start to pick up some of the non-singles in our shows, because we'll get that "new" feeling again.
Besides the team that you had around you, what else was different about this record?
Davis: For the past five years, we've been pretty much independent. We did the releasing ourselves, we paid for the manufacturing, we paid for all the costs. This time we knew we wanted to do it different, and people we were working with helped orchestrate some of those bigger conversations. After that, we did some showcases here in New York City and in Nashville and connected with the record label Kobalt [Music Recordings]. They really liked the record. We've done everything ourselves for so long, so we still like to keep our hands on every step, you know? They gave us really reasonable funding to put it out, and gave us a really cool opportunity, and they helped us get our name out there. We had just started touring nationally, so this was really helpful.
What about the writing of the album? You might've been surrounded by a bigger team, but the heart of the group is still the same guys who have been doing it since the beginning.
Sherry: It's still the same core. It's the three of us. Going into this record, though, we made a conscious effort to try and make a record that we didn't necessarily know if we could play live. We always restricted ourselves in the past to create songs that we could do live ... that's how we recorded in the studio in fact. This album, we took time to arrange things and experiment with different instruments and different textures ... way more than we ever thought we could. And we never had that fear of, "Oh no, can we do this live," because that was never in our minds anyway. We catered to what the songs felt like they needed. That was the driving force. By the time we finished the record, we realized we could actually reproduce it live, or could rearrange the songs so that it could fit.
Prior to recording Monarch, you guys hadn't really been on a lot of national tours, right?
McCarthy: Yeah, but the first major tour we did, it was 55 shows in 45 days. It kind of blanketed the entire country. We did a couple two-a-day shows, we had one day where we did three days ...
Six in one day. Ten in another.
McCarthy: [Laughing] It was our idea that if we blanketed the country, we could see who "gets" us, you know? Unfortunately, when you do that, you're going to be playing on a Monday night or during a Game of Thrones episode.
Sherry: That was in Brooklyn, right? I think that venue shut down now.
McCarthy: Too many shows on Sunday nights, I guess. [Laughs]
Was it difficult to approach the writing of Monarch with the idea that you might not be able to play some of the songs live? Your live show is such a central part of the band, and you guys obviously are built to bust your asses on the road.
McCarthy: When you're writing the music, you've got a certain audience in mind. Whether it's your friends or somebody sitting at home with headphones on ... you structure the song around that. It just happens. For me, going into this, it was not as easy because in my head, I get more excited about performing live and having that energy. When Max and Griffin brought their songs to the table, it seemed like they could just be studio songs, and that was new to me. We're not professional musicians--
Sherry: We are now! [Laughs]
McCarthy: Yeah, but this was all new territory. But it was also fun and exciting.
Sherry: The songs we would bring to the table, we'd just perform as the three of us and then it would go into the studio ... that's how we did it. We didn't necessarily sit in the studio and then figure out how to write the bass line or that kind of thing. We still brought them in and tried to play them together, just the three of us.
Davis: It gets dangerous with how many things you can use in the studio, for sure. We had that reservation. We didn't go crazy, Brian Wilson-style on it. We wanted to keep it within the realm of what we could recreate.
Sherry: I mean, if we had the Wrecking Crew, we would have gone that crazy. [Laughs] That's coming.
You have two full-lengths under your belt, both with very different approaches to the writing, recording, and releasing. As you look ahead to the future of the Ghost of Paul Revere, do you think you'll lean one way over the other?
McCarthy: I think now that we've had a little bit of both worlds, we won't lean one way or the other. We'll just try to bring them together, and go along what I like to think is our own path. We want to bring the energy of our live show, but also not be afraid to take it down for a minute.
Sherry: Whatever serves the song the best. That's what is important.
Davis: The songwriting will always be key for us. That's what everything is hinged on, the three vocals and our writing craft.
The songwriting will always be key for us. That's what everything is hinged on, the three vocals and our writing craft.
What does that songwriting process look like?
McCarthy: Normally, the predominant songwriter will come to the group with a foundation of chords and lyrics and then everybody else picks out their own part within that initial foundation. When it gets to a point where everyone is comfortable, that's where the more intricate ideas and changes start to happen.
Are you guys already thinking about the next album?
Davis: Thinking about it, for sure!
Sherry: We never stop. We've been sitting on this album for so long, I'm ready to go for the next one. I know we're ready to do another Field Notes EP, a volume two. We want to go somewhere really remote and record it live, like old-school style with one microphone, and then come back with another full-length. The songs are all building now.
With such a strong live presence, it's easy to see your fans' reactions to certain songs. When you're writing new tunes, how do you keep yourself from just trying to write another song that sounds similar to the ones your fans love?
McCarthy: You have to be selfish. You have to write songs that you want to play. I mean, it's good to have those reactions in your head, but if you're catering toward that sound, then you're not writing for your own benefit. It seems like it'd just be more "manufactured." It almost stops being art at that point.
Davis: It's tricky. You have certain keys and have certain systems that you use to get that creative output going, and it's hard to shake out of that, and then you get nervous about shaking too far. It's a weird fine line between not using the comfortable things you know or the things you think work, and not going so far that your fans can't relate to you. With Monarch, we had that core sound ... I mean, when you get the three of us, you're always going to have that sound, and so we just try not to think too hard about it.
Sherry: For me, a lot of it comes down to trust with our audience. Our fanbase wasn't drawn to us based on one hit song on the radio. They believe in us because of all the songs we've written, and if we believe in what we're making, then we have to trust that our audience will believe in it, too. We didn't get success because of this one thing, we got success because we are who we are and we're doing what we love to do. That's the thing you have to do to keep moving forward.
Our fans believe in us because of all the songs we've written, and if we believe in what we're making, then we have to trust that our audience will believe in it, too.
Are all three of you from Maine?
McCarthy: We're all born and raised south of Portland. We grew up together since we were three years old.
I love Maine. I try to get to the Portland area once a year.
McCarthy: Portland is getting more and more popular. It's the Williamsburg story on a different scale.
Sherry: We love it, man. I can't bring myself to leave. We always come back. [Laughs]
Being born and raised in Maine, did you feel drawn to the style of music that you guys create? It certainly seems like it "fits" the scene.
Sherry: Not really. I grew up playing electric guitar and wanted to be a rock guitarist.
Like every kid.
Sherry: Yeah, you idolize those guitar heroes. But then I picked up my first acoustic guitar and I found out I was way more comfortable writing songs on the acoustic than the electric. It wasn't a conscious decision. I just found out I liked it better. Then when I got to college, I started listening to more acoustic music.
Davis: Once we formed the band, Griffin was doing the singer-songwriter thing, we'd jump in on his sets, and so we knew the vocals worked. That was natural, our voices always worked well together.
Do you guys ever feel too comfortable with one another?
Sherry: We're definitely pretty weird. [Laughs]
McCarthy: We'll say a certain word combination that means nothing to you but to us it's just a regular codeword.
Davis: There's no way I could personally do this lifestyle with anybody else. It's almost like brothers. We're brothers, just without the blood. If it didn't have those bonds that were built since we were babies, it would've shaken us apart. We can always get through life because of that foundation.
I'm always curious how bands find community when they're on the road so often, but it seems like your community is built right into what you do. So even when you're doing 55 shows in 45 days, you guys have that camaraderie.
McCarthy: The true loyalty lies with each other rather than the band as an entity. I don't think a lot of bands have that. Having the three of us in it together, it's nice because we have this responsibility to one another, not just to the band.
The true loyalty lies with each other rather than the band as an entity.
As you've blanketed the country and played so many cities and towns, do you see differences in the fans?
McCarthy: Everybody's scene is a little different. We always joke around that the most you'll get out of a crowd in Maine are some solid head bobs, just because we're kind of stoic up there. But you go down south, or out in Colorado, and people will holler back at you. And then you go to Portland, Oregon, or Seattle, and they have their own way of dealing with the performance. Our stage banter really gives people a good look into what we're like off-stage, too, and some places get that. Some places don't. [Laughs]
Sherry: I always kind of prefer to play in rural places. I think when people don't have the opportunity to go out and see a show every night—like New York City—but you have to drive out of you way for hours to see the show, those people are so much more appreciative. And that creates bonds that you can't fake. There's something about someone seeing you for the first time and they haven't seen music for a long time ... you can just tell they're hooked.
I can totally relate to that. I'm originally from an incredibly small town in the middle of nowhere Kansas, and I'd have to drive to Kansas City for music, and I'd do anything to see that show. You're committed. You're all in.
Sherry: Yes. Exactly.
I would feel like a horrible person if we're talking about Maine so much and I don't mention my favorite part about the state, and one of my favorite record stores in the entire country: Bull Moose.
McCarthy: Chris [Brown] and those guys have always been supportive. And just growing up there, seeing all the stuff they do with Record Store Day and how they started that ... it's so cool. They're putting these Bull Moose stores in towns all over Maine that might not have had any other way to buy new music or vinyl.
Sherry: I think we've been in the Top 10 selling local artists at Bull Moose for the last four years now. Believe was number one for 10 months. It's crazy to have a retailer that supports you, but also that lets you sell records even when you're not around.
Davis: When we first put out that record, we didn't know how to move it. Bull Moose was the first place that we went. When we first went there, we had five copies. And all those sold out, and we'd bring more back. That was the start of the relationship, and it was such a great way to get our name out there.
Well, it goes both ways, too. Not only are they helping you, but I think a strong local act like you guys actually helps build up the culture of a record store, too.
Sherry: And can we just remind everyone what Sean said: Chris Brown started Record Store Day. That's such a huge thing. It's crazy. For a long time, it was just a Maine thing. Now it's twice a year and it's huge. It's so cool they built that community in Maine. Bull Moose did so much to help jumpstart that resurgence.
Will Monarch be getting a vinyl pressing?
Sherry: Yes. We're hoping soon. They're working on it right now.
Davis: We're going through Burlington Record Plant. They've been awesome. And this album was heavily considered for vinyl, as far as our track list and the dynamics of recording. This was one we wanted to do right.
I'm very happy with being outspoken about a lot of the politics, but as a songwriter, I have a tough time actually writing it. It doesn't have the same feeling, it doesn't really resonate.
You sat on this record for a year, which means you wrapped it up a couple of months before the presidential election. Folk music, historically, responds to what happens in the world, and often that response is political. Do you find yourselves ever operating in that arena?
Sherry: Ah, I tend to take a step back.
McCarthy: You don't bring politics to the dinner table. That being said, coming off of this past year ... this past year, it's been the most politically active that we've been.
Sherry: We played a rally for Bernie [Sanders].
McCarthy: We made sure we had a day off for the caucus so we could do all that back home. I've been thinking more about it than I ever did.
Davis: As a songwriter, I'm more in the ambiguous, poetic space, where it's more open-ended and not so aggressive. But I do feel like it's important, and I think now is kind of the time to utilize this stage and this platform. I totally get that. It's not a conscious choice to not do it, but it's all about how I connect with things and how I communicate those things.
Sherry: I'm very happy with being outspoken about a lot of the politics, but as a songwriter, I have a tough time actually writing it. It doesn't have the same feeling, it doesn't really resonate, you know? I never want to write a protest song for the sake of writing a protest song. If it happens naturally, I'm all for it.
Well ... what's on the horizon for you?
McCarthy: A lot of work.
Sherry: And showers.
Davis: And sleep.
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