Between the notes
Ghost Shirt Society
Reno, NV 89502
Someone, and it might first have been the French composer Claude Debussy, once said that “music is the space between the notes.” In no genre is this truer than it is in hardcore. In hardcore, the notes are generally louder, and they come a lot faster, than in most kinds of music; this makes those spaces all the more important, no matter how miniscule they might be.
A lousy hardcore band is just a barrage of inarticulate sound, but a good hardcore band, one with members who pay attention to those infinitesimal cracks of silence, can provide just enough space and swing that an attentive listener can catch a hell of a ride.
Reno hardcore band Ghost Shirt Society provides a ride that’s equal parts rollercoaster, flight simulator and vibrating bed.
Guitarist Andrew Warbington plays with a heavy, teeth-shattering tone, but his riffs have some slipperiness. His guitar parts glide back and forth over the taut, blasting momentum of drummer Jeff Mitchell and bassist John Benson. Mitchell is especially adept at navigating the band’s nuanced tempo changes—driving ahead of the beat one minute and then riding behind it a moment later. Vocalist Jordan Garnee has a lean and hungry look and a thrilling caterwaul.
“We incorporate a lot of different kinds of hardcore,” says Benson.
The music shifts in unexpected directions, from grind beats to downbeat doom to brisk old-school hardcore to what Benson calls the “epic pop part.” But the band avoids the cliché breakdowns and build-ups that many hardcore bands rely on for a sense of dynamism. The band plays their sets straight through, not really pausing between songs, so it’s difficult to tell what’s a change within a song and what’s a transition between songs. A 20-minute set sounds like it could be 20 individual songs or one long epic.
“I like not knowing where one songs starts and the next begins,” says Warbington.
It’s nearly impossible to decipher most hardcore lyrics as the songs are played. Some hardcore vocalists attempt to remedy this with stage banter—“This next song is about the war in Iraq” type stuff—but the members of Ghost Shirt Society frown on this practice because it means a definite loss of momentum.
So what is Ghost Shirt Society’s lyrical content?
“It’s pretty much military strategy,” says Garnee. He says one notable exception is “Ezequiel,” a musical portrait of a friend, with lyrics taken from actual things the guy has said: “I can’t even count how many times I’ve been arrested/Can I still collect unemployment if I’m incarcerated?/If that building blew up, I could stop worrying.”
The band’s name, Ghost Shirt Society, comes from a resistance movement in the Kurt Vonnegut novel Player Piano and, before that, the teachings of Nevada Paiute leader Wovoka. Wovoka developed the Ghost Dance, a peaceful, religious dance. The dance inspired many in the Native American communities of the late 19th century, including the leaders of the Lakota Sioux, who believed their “Ghost Shirts” would protect them from bullets. Tragically, the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee Creek, S.D., proved that the shirts provided no such protection.
Reno’s Ghost Shirt Society is more offensive than defensive. The music is intensely physical, and so a listener either needs to run away, or strap in and enjoy the ride.