One for the punters
Former Soccer Hooligans join a cult TV favorite in the band Ghost of the Robot
Actors who start bands as side projects get a bad rap.
Yes, Dogstar, which features one Keanu Reeves on bass, and 30 Seconds to Mars, with Requiem for a Dream star Jared Leto on vocals, range from reasonably awful to tragically pedestrian. But in the same power-pop vein is the fairly wonderful Phantom Planet, which features Donnie Darko villain Alex Greenwald on vocals and Rushmore übergeek Jason Schwartzman on drums. And there are plenty of other would-be music stars throughout the history of celebrity, from Robert Mitchum’s mid-1950s attempts at calypso through Edd “Kookie” Byrnes, Rick Nelson, Bruce Willis, David Soul and more to Jennifer Love Hewitt and Brandy. There are at least a few other examples.
Why? If you had a movie or television career you could parlay into a platform to launch your garage band’s career, wouldn’t you do it?
And when you’re featured weekly on a TV show such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, one with a huge cult following, the temptation to strap on a guitar and rock the house might be too tempting to ignore. Ergo, James Marsters, who plays the platinum-haired vampire Spike on Buffy, fronts a band called Ghost of the Robot.
Now, one big difference between Ghost of the Robot and those other actor-fronted bands is that most of these guys have legitimate Sacramento roots. Aside from Marsters, a onetime Modesto resident who, at 39, is the oldest of the bunch, the remainder of the band is made up of 20-somethings who grew up right here in River City. Drummer Aaron Anderson and lead guitarist Charlie DeMars, Ghost’s principal songwriter, played together for two-and-a-half years in a Sacramento geek-pop band called the Soccer Hooligans. “Weezeresque” was how Anderson described the sound.
Following the Hooligans’ demise, bassist Kevin McPherson hooked up with them in another band, a quartet called Power Animal, which is still a going concern. DeMars had moved to Los Angeles to stay with his stepbrother, Steve Sellers, a former local who was writing film scores. Sellers’ next-door neighbor happened to be Marsters, who also was a budding musician. The three started jamming—Sellers plays keyboards and guitars—and DeMars recommended McPherson and Anderson for a rhythm section.
The band has an inherent logistical problem; Marsters and Sellers live in L.A., DeMars moved back to Sacramento, and Anderson and McPherson still live here. Nevertheless, they still find time to practice. “Sometimes, it’s at my house,” Anderson said from his cell phone, while returning across the Nevada desert from Utah with DeMars earlier this week. “And sometimes, it’s in West Hollywood at a practice studio.” Anderson said Ghost of the Robot averages around one show a month, although it will be playing a lot more often this summer when the band goes to Europe to tour.
Contrary to Marsters’ image as a television vampire, the music Ghost of the Robot plays isn’t remotely gothic; it’s a lot closer to the hard-edged pop favored by any number of bands. Often, Marsters’ rasping vocals are underpinned by a shadowed unison vocal an octave higher; the banks of guitars that buttress the songs place the band firmly in the modern-rock camp. “It’s straight-ahead pop-punk” was how Anderson described it.
As for song lyrics, let’s just say that many of them slouch toward the kind of clever cuteness favored by adolescent girls, which may or may not be Ghost of the Robot’s target audience, but there it is. For example, in DeMars’ song “David Letterman,” the narrator wishes to be the late-night TV comic, not so that he can “el kabong” Paul Shaffer or make snarky asides to cluelessly drugged-out actors but because, well, his love interest kinda likes Dave, and if he could be Dave, then perhaps the girl might find him funny. Though the song isn’t brutally acerbic, it is sweet. Girls like that.
Ghost of the Robot has one CD, titled Mad Brilliant, which came out last February. It isn’t available in stores yet, but you can buy it when the band plays in Sacramento this Saturday at the Crest Theatre, or you can get it through the band’s Web site, www.ghostoftherobot.com.