As the week kicks off, it’s good to know you can rely on some good old fashioned rock n’ roll to soften the blow. Let us introduce you to a great source of the aforementioned analgesic…
I (John Merchant/guitars, vocals, co-writer) am from Northern Michigan and my partner Todd Long (drums, bass, vocals, co-writer) is also a Michigan native who now calls Alaska home.
How did you meet?
Todd and I met 30+ years ago. We both attended the same high school. Todd was known throughout our school as a top-notch musician. He played in our high school bands (marching band, jazz band, etc…). I’m a little older than Todd and made it my mission to play music with him. When we finally met we instantly bonded over our mutual love of 1980s hard rock. We both appreciated great songs and showmanship. Meeting someone with Todd’s level of talent totally changed the trajectory of my music career. Over the years any chance I got to make music with Todd Long I did it. We’re like brothers now. I love Todd like he’s my own blood.
How long have you been playing as a band?
Todd and I have been making music together across several genres for 30+ years. We launched Ghosts of Sunset a couple years back as a recording project, but we were so pleased with the songs and the concept we decided it demanded the attention we would put into a band. We’re assembling a live band for 2021 live dates as we speak.
Before you get sick of being asked… where does the band name come from?
Ghosts of Sunset is an homage to the music that we first bonded over; the 1980s “hair metal” scene on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles California. That being said, the name also reflects our love and appreciation of all the great music that sprung from that Westcoast scene; that includes bands like the Doors, the Byrds, and even back to stuff like Sammy Davis Jr.
What are your influences?
Certainly, all the 1980s Sunset Strip scene. Bands like RATT, Motley Crue, Quiet Riot, Faster Pussycat, LA Guns, etc…but truly everything from Dylan, Neil Young, Elvis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, the Byrds, the Band, 70s radio, 80s new wave and pop, and even current hit radio. A good song is a good song. We never discriminate.
Describe your music. What makes you unique?
Ghosts of Sunset is a rock n’ roll band. Our roots are in that 1980s hard rock scene, but stylistically we remain open to all our influences which allows our songs to go places typical “hard rock” doesn’t go.
Do you have any particular lyrical themes?
Human experience. Our full-length EP titled Headed West will be out in November on Golden Robot Records. That EP is a concept album based on a fictional hard rock band that moves from a small Midwestern town to “make it” on the Sunset Strip. We’re chronicling just what it took to make that move, what it took to “make it” and ultimately the impact it had upon the lives of those who had the guts to commit to it. It was really the last “goldrush” in the United States.
What’s your live show like? How many shows have you played?
Over the years Todd and I have played thousands of shows together and toured throughout the country. Our live show is heavily influenced by the artists we grew up on. We were weened on rock n roll bands that delivered a real SHOW. It’s always a mix of church confessional, circus big top, and old-time tent revival. We’re looking to connect at all points. There’s no time for shoe-gazing or anything less that 100%. If we’re not delivering an experience to the audience we’re failing to do what we believe we were put on Earth to do. We would never cheat an audience or deny them that release.
What’s the wildest thing you’ve seen or done at a live show?
The view from the stage is a really unique thing. After 30+ years we’ve seen it all. From nudity, to violence, to romance, to complete emotional release. Magic happens all the time. Just connecting with one person will change your life. We’ve been blessed to connect with thousands of people over the years. Each one of those people have left an imprint on our souls and affected us at a core level. It’s a gift.
What kit do you use / guitars do you play / etc.?
For me personally the joy in recording comes when you pair the right guitar with the right amps and effects. On “Headed West” I used tons of Gibson’s and Fenders along with my Reverend Roundhouse guitar. I have an endorsement with Reverend (Michigan-based) and they’ve been great to me. Amp-wise I have endorsements with Valvetrain Amps, and Rockitt Retro Amps. The Valvetrain would handle cleaner stuff and the Rockitt Retro is a 50 Watt hand-built Marshall Plexi. I would also mix in modelling stuff from Atomic Amplifiers and the Line 6 Helix line.
Effects were minimal and usually came via Line6 or some vintage pedals. When I got a sound in my head, I’d pair a guitar and amp to match it. It could be as simple as saying “I want a Johnny Thunders thing here” and then grabbing Les Paul JR and slamming the front end of the Plexi.
What are your plans for the next 12 months?
We will continue promoting our single “Miles In-Between” on Golden Robot Records, release a second single in October, then the full-length EP will come out in November. 2021 will HOPEFULLY see our industry recover from the Covid-19 pandemic and we’ll get out on the road a bit and bring this music directly to like-minded people.
If you were second on a three-band bill, which band would you love to be supporting and which band would you choose to open for you? A chance to plug someone you’ve toured with, or a mate’s band we’ve not heard of before!
Oh man, we’d love to support someone like a Def Leppard, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi or someone from that 1980s scene that shaped us and our band. A band to open? Hmmm? Golden Robot Records have a ton of great bands that it would be fun to play with. Too many to list!