Organic enters the world of Ghost Bike, where the memories evoke the future, where guitars are entertained in a palace of electronica, and where the cutting edge plays enthusiastically with styling reminiscent of Depeche Mode and New Order.
After his well-received, self-released debut LP “You Don’t Exist”, 2011 saw the unveiling of the Time’s Carcass on legendary electronica label n5MD. This saw his musical palette take in post-dubstep, drone and ethnobeats in his progression of the Ghost Bike sound. With an album in the works for n5MD, we talk to Vlad about his music.
While a lot of people may know you for the You Don't Exist LP and Carcass EP, you've been making music for some time. What was your musical journey to this point?
It may sound trivial, but I've been into music ever since I can remember. Playing piano and violin as a kid, moving on to rock and guitars as a teenager, discovering electronica and digital gear in my late teens, always playing in several bands at the same time, DJing, producing, writing for local magazines, releasing tapes and CDRs on small local imprints, always striving to find my own sound... So it's been quite a journey.
Where did the name Ghost Bike come from?
This project is about loss and memory in all their possible combinations, conceived as a sort of a monument to the loved ones now gone. A ghost bike is a makeshift monument, usually in the form of an old bycicle, painted all white, placed on the site of a bike accident by the friends of a victim. I always knew this was the perfect name for this music.
You're a classically trained pianist and violinist; how often do you use that skill in your work, and what additional benefits does that knowledge bring to your compositions?
I wouldn't say it brings much, actually. Classical training basically means hammering or sawing away at Liszt and Tchaikovsky while everyone else is out there having a happy childhood – at least as a happy one as you could have in the 1980s Soviet Union; so, naturally that is enough to put anyone off any kind of music for life. What I do now as Ghost Bike is mostly about mood and texture, the compositional basis is built on very simple and pure cadences; on the other hand, I use a lot of harmonic clusters and overtones, so that's when the classical ear and perfect pitch do come handy.
You've had a nomadic existence; how do you feel the different locations have influenced your work - ie, would you say you appropriate different pieces of musical inspiration to different locations, and how?
My father is a railroad engineer and used to work abroad a lot, so as a kid I traveled quite a bit around Europe (re-visiting it in my late 20s). This experience of uprooted-ness, along with being Jewish in then very anti-Semitic Russia and then "Russian" in very tribalistic Israel, is quite a profound influence. Still, I think what my work is mostly about is not so much travel and movement, as the longing for acceptance and home.
You formed Israel's first goth rock band - is that a style of music you'd like to revisit, as its influence can be heard through your current work?
I'll take that as a compliment, but what with The Sisters Of Mercy still being one of my favourite bands, I think I'm mostly influenced by the ethereal and neo-classical goth sub-genres, especially the Projekt roster. I'd love to do a purely piano-voice-and-strings project in that vein one day. I actually play guitar in a band (myspace.com/secretexpress - currently, unfortunately, on hold) that is sort of gothy synth rock, so I still get to practice my one-string three-note Cure-ish chops from time to time.
You've written music for a documentary - how do you feel producing music for this aim alters from purely musical projects?
It's quite different, because in this situation the filmmaker is the one in charge. Basically, our method of working was listening to various sketches I had laying around and discussing them in the film's context, and then I would develop the ones we chose for the specific scenes. Film music is all about mood-setting, and I've studied film and screenwriting myself, so we didn't have much to fight over... not physically, anyway, as the GB song goes.
Could you tell us more about the documentary, and what drew you to the project?
It's called In The Wrong Place and was directed by a very good friend of mine, Tamar Singer (who is also ¬– no pun intended – a singer and did the vocals on Time Everything, Man Nothing on the EP). It's actually a semi-documentary, sort of: she used the footage she shot over a year in the Amsterdam squatting scene, but re-edited it to tell a very personal story. It's about loss and uprooted-ness, and naturally these are the themes that attracted me.
Who would you say are your influences, both past and present, and why?
I'm a very eclectic listener, and have always been so. Growing up on jazz and classic rock as a kid, I guess I'll always have The Doors and Miles Davis lurking around the corner (along with Iron Maiden and early Depeche Mode and whatnot). The current genres that inspire me most are, unsurpringly, post-dubstep and ambient-leaning electronica in general; and perhaps more surprisingly, metal, especially modern black metal. Both place emphasis on mood and texture, both favour emotion and repetition for hypnotic effect, and both explore my favorite themes of loss, memory, mystery, alienation and mortality. It's telling that black metal and ambient are so actively drawing from each other in the past decade or so.
In a time where minimalism seems to be a predominant musical direction for electronic music, your music conjures many elements cohesively. Was this approach intentional, and what challenges does such an approach present?
It does present enormous technical challenge (just making a proper balance for a couple of hundred channels in a track can take a few months), but somehow I always wanted to make music that doesn't only feel but also sounds huge - maybe in the classical sense, indeed, as powerful and grandiose as a Beethoven opening, only with different instruments and sounds. As much as I love minimal music, from techno to drone to Philip Glass, I just never could bring myself to do something like that, I always have to pile up endless layers of stuff.
Actually, I think minimalism is more challenging as a means of artistic expression. Just try to convey the idea of the world shattering in front of your eyes with a single bow draw sample, as does Murcof, for instance. I need thirty channels of endlessly manipulated guitar to do that, and it still gets nowhere near.
Do you feel that dubstep, as an artistic artform, can have the mainstream appeal it once had, or do you feel that the genre, as a whole, has gone too far down the dancefloor route?
With all the latest news of Korn working with Skrillex and Justin Bieber announcing dubstep influences for his next album, it seems losing mainstream appeal is the last thing we could fear (or is that hope?) for. From what I see (brostep aside), ever since Burial's groundbreaking Untrue, dubstep is steadily moving in the more emotional, ambient-oriented direction. Last years's gorgeous releases by Swarms, Zomby, Kuedo, Holy Other and so on are an adorable proof.
You've covered Feist's "My Moon My Man". What challenges did this present?
That was one of my favorite albums of 2007, and it was back then when I first started toying with the sound that later became Ghost Bike. I chose that specific song because of its very upbeat nature – which seemed interesting to me to interpret as a downbeat, cavernous post-dubstep thingy. I usually start with a cover when I conceive a new project, so I called Ayala (Almog, vocalist and songwriter) and we just jammed on the few basic loops I've thrown around. Then I added more and more synths and distorted guitar. It was great fun, I wouldn't even call it a challenge. That song was a perfect choice.
How would you describe Israel's music scene, and who should we keep an eye on?
Israeli scene is as diverse and fractured as the Israeli society itself, there are literally hundreds of acts in any given genre. Some have enjoyed international success - Orphaned Land in metal, Monotonix in indie rock, Infected Mushroom in trance and so on. The local commercial radio mainstream is horrible, cheesy and tasteless and very obsolete-sounding. I can't really mention any names, it's a small country and we're all friends (and enemies) here, but then there are some very interesting acts in the folk, indie and electronic scenes.
Do you feel Israel receives a fair press in the rest of the world? In my view, Israel is wrongly simply referred to only in terms of a war, rather than a country that happens to be in conflict, if you catch my drift - is this something you agree with?
I try to get my news from international media, and yes, I would say there is some amount of bias. Still, having always been a supporter of the peace movement, I can't deny the actual occupation and injustice bordering on apartheid that is going on here. To me and all other liberal Israelis, this conflict is fuelled by reactionary parties, extremist groups and profiteers on both sides. It could and should have been ended decades ago. But then, had it been ended, a lot of big people would go out of business. You know.
What are your feelings on electronic music's future?
It looks like nearly all of the music released as of now is to some extent electronic (digital recording, editing, mixing etc). As to the future of electronica in the genre sense, it will always be as exciting to me as the first Kraftwerk LP my dad bought me when I was eight and the first ever CD I bought at 16, which was Prodigy's Music For The Jilted Generation. The tendency right now seems to fuse different subgenres, and that is always how the most interesting art is born.
You've recently released the Time's Carcass EP on N5md. Was there a concept behind the release? It took 11 months to complete - could you tell us more about the journey of the EP's creation?
It deals with my usual pet themes of memory and mortality, and is dedicated to my grandfather, who lost his battle with cancer in December 2010. I started writing the music around the time he was diagnosed and producing the tracks around the times he passed. I remembered a quote from Carl Marx: “Time is everything, man is nothing: he is at the most time's carcass.” I just couldn't shake it. This is basically what the EP is about – accepting mortality, dealing with the hugeness of loss, the value and indifference of time.
You've released music across several genres - do you feel this style of music defines you the most, and why?
This style of music makes it possible for me (at least in the technical sense) to bring my concepts to life as close to what I hear in my head as possible. So it's only natural that I save my bigger ideas for it. I will continue to work in other genres as well, though. There's a metal project in the works, and the aforementioned synth rock band.
What are your future plans in music, and what do you have coming up?
Right now I'm concentrating on the upcoming Ghost Bike album. It's really starting to take shape, but I'll admit I'm too superstitious to reveal more at this point.
What themes and concepts are you looking to express in your forthcoming album?
With both You Don't Exist and Time's Carcass being so rainy and stormy, the next album will have the sun as the main image and the focus for all my favorite themes. Musically, it shapes up as going to a more song-based direction, with actual lyrics and choruses, sung by an array of guest vocalists.
Your music is emotional on several levels. In a recent interview Organic did with BVdub the idea was discussed that melancholic music (and art in general) was looked down on these days; is this something you would agree with?
I'm a huge fan of BVdub (his Then album made my summer), but I hope he's wrong. I mean, isn't most great music and art melancholic? Maybe the tendency is to look down upon melancholic people and not the melancholic art they make - which is, of course, a very unjust and shallow one, but an artist should be prepared and used to face shallowness and injustice. It's a trivial thing to say, but personally I find making dark and melancholy art a great release - most of my friends and acquaintances look really surprised when they listen to Ghost Bike, as they know me as a quite upbeat and sunny person.
In the 90s, you were part of a big beat duo and performed live at various events – is this something you'd like to explore with the Ghost Bike project?
There was a wonderful dark and violent streak in 90s big beat, and this is one genre I really miss - DnB and French house are coming back in a big way, isn't it time to revive big beat as well? But of course, it's very hard to see Ghost Bike moving in that direction. It's just apples and oranges. I had great fun rocking warehouses with a Boss groovebox when I was 20, but I'm 33 now.
If you have a message for up-and-coming musicians, what would it be?
As an up-and-coming musician myself, I'll take the risk of sounding trivial again: just be yourself. Develop your own sound. Listen to as much music as possible, but find your own voice. And, of course, always keep a good day job.