In keeping with the theme during recording, Simon Lord (left) and Theo Keating are still not seeing or talking to each other.
The two members of The Black Ghosts have impressive resumes. Theo Keating, under The Wiseguys banner, is the creator behind such hits as “Ooh La La,” which decorated many an advertisement in the '90s. Simon Lord is the voice behind Simian's “We Are Your Friends,” which is enjoying a rebirth since Justice's revitalization of it. Joining forces as The Black Ghosts, Keating's electronically generated sounds and vast DJing experience comes together with Lord's psychedelic, downbeat lyricism. While this combination might sound too depressing to qualify as dance music, a futuristic blend that is part indie-chic, part übertrendy is the direction the two are taking with their debut, The Black Ghosts (I Am Sound, 2008).
For a notable portion of the time that Keating and Lord have been working together, neither of them had seen or spoken to the other. Their relationship started with the two sending each other bits of music and continued that way once they started officially writing songs. Each has his own home studio, with Keating relying on Logic for creating beats and bass using samples, while Lord is working on Ableton Live for recording and processing his vocals and creating arrangements.
For the vocals, Lord uses an SE Electronics Gemini tube microphone going through a Universal Audio LA-610 tube preamp into Digi 002 Factory and into Live. He uses a Universal Audio UAD-1 plug-in card for mixing, along with Fairchild compressors and a Roland Space Echo. Lord attributes the ease of use and quickness of getting ideas down as the reason he gravitated toward Live. “I like the way Ableton takes you away from conventional sequencer [methods] of chopping up and treats it in a different way,” Lord says.
In contrast, Keating is reliant on the chopping-up aesthetic of Logic. His background as a scratch DJ helps him to chop and make effects out of loops when the two perform their enhanced DJ sets as The Black Ghosts. For his part, Lord has his microphone going through one of the channels on Live, giving him the ability to record samples with vocals and add in delays while singing.
These samples come from Keating's vast library of old vinyl culled over many years of being a record collector. For tracks such as “Full Moon,” which features a noticeable string section, the initial sampled ideas were given to a string quartet along with an idea of what The Black Ghosts wanted. Then the duo arranged the quartet's parts around the samples.
“Using live players is amazing because they can put in variations you would never get using samples. They give it another dimension,” Lord says. “When we came to mix it, we made a balance between the new string sounds and the samples to get the best of both worlds. [But] the way we made the record, getting a good live sound was never part of the equation.”
This separate approach the two have developed as The Black Ghosts is a new one for Keating, who is used to working on his own, and Lord, who is used to writing with an entire band. The two only come together during the mixing stage, for which they enlisted Jim Abbiss (Kasabian, Arctic Monkeys).
“[Abbiss] had a different pair of ears to take what we had and give it a depth that was needed,” Lord says. “He has a massive old spring reverb and an old Gibson reverb that has a drum of radioactive oil with a magnet in it that sound gets passed through. These weird devices give the sound an extra something. It was good to put the record through that process, making it sound more live and roomier. He compressed some of the bass and drum tracks by putting them onto tape and then putting them back in. His thing was not sounding like it's all coming out of one box. Putting it through this big desk and processors separates each sound. With the analog reverbs and delays going on, it lets the sounds breathe, which, if anything, is what's lacking from the process we had. It's great for arranging and writing, but it isn't so good for the final mix.”