Singer-songwriter Jason Willmon makes time for his project Arrangement Ghost
I hated playing against Jason Willmon on the basketball court. The guy was the very definition of “tenacious d,” all elbows and body blows. Then there was the shot. An unorthodox blend of movement that spelled everything but two points, or so it seemed, until the ball ripped the net cleanly, perfectly.
Willmon’s game is comparable to his songwriting and current band, Arrangement Ghost.
Arrangement Ghost songs have everything that an enduring pop song should—smart lyrics, unpredictable passages, humor, warmth, grace—and, much like Willmon’s game, the end results are always winning.
Like most gifted musicians who have spent time in Chico, Willmon moved to the Bay Area in the late ‘90s. The beginnings of Arrangement Ghost stemmed from Willmon’s guitar, the gray bay skies and the influence he describes as “living in Oakland, not knowing anyone.” He explained: “Those songs that stuck, hung around or found their way back into my hands once I’d moved back to Chico to become the band.”
With the convenience of personal-computer recording programs, Willmon began casually piecing together AG’s introductory statement. Aided by Becky Anker (Royal Crown), Ken Lovgren (Deathstar) and Dan Greenfield (West By Swan), he assembled a six-song CD sketch with hardly a song surpassing the minute mark. The songs’ ramshackle charm, and shambling roll, may be due to the low-key spontaneity of the recording sessions in Willmon’s tiny apartment.
Recalled Lovgren: “Last time Jason and I recorded together it was, ‘Bring your drums over to my living room, here’s a beer, here’s how the song goes, hit “record” and call it good.’ Often the sounds we want to hear are the easiest to make.”
Willmon grew up playing music in Redding. One of his first bands, For Pete’s Sake (with Lovgren), regularly packed the Plumber’s Union Hall with its Violent Femmes-influenced ska pop. After a move to Chico in the early ‘90s, Willmon performed in Pep Rally and was beginning to display his subtle, yet effective knack for songwriting.
Early efforts were clearly a nod to his beloved Paul Westerberg and The Replacements, and while his writing currently may exhibit some of this, Arrangement Ghost songs are anything but a mere patchwork of influences.
Willmon and Lovgren spend the bulk of their waking hours as high school English teachers. Lovgren teaches in Oroville, and Willmon 70 miles south of Chico in Olivehurst. The job demands more than contract time, so being able to record at home proves a luxury.
“It is a blessing to record when the mood strikes,” Willmon said. “I get it out of me and onto the tape or computer. So recording the music allows me to hear my life pushed back at me. Then it’s not rattling in my head so much.”
The band isn’t something easy to leave behind merely because Willmon is standing in front of a dry-erase board, channeling Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.
“It haunts me all day,” he said.
The 40-second songs may be gone, as Arrangement Ghost has morphed into a full-fledged band. Arrangement Ghost in its current incantation includes drummer Aaron Markus (Birds of Fire), Lovgren (who recently moved to guitar) and bassist John Harrison (The Deer). Willmon and Lovgren had played in bands together for years (recently in Royal Crown with Becky Anker and Brad Nabors). A drummer was needed for a recent last-second Friday night show, hence the joining of Markus. Harrison was a more strategic addition.
“I acted like I wanted to start a Dinosaur Jr. cover band to get him to play,” Willmon said.
When asked of the challenges or advantages of the collaborative process versus one man alone in a room, Willmon gives credit to the creation. “You have to trust people. Nobody is ever right, but sometimes the song is.”