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Ghost Exits is a Brooklyn-based duo that on record has a grisly vibe. Live, the group is ferocious, all beats, bass, and noise. Christopher Exit and Ivan Sunshine work out of a basement apartment in Greenpoint; they perform regularly around New York. Ghost Exits have a twelve-inch record, Cincinnati Riot Blues, on Social Registry, and that label is soon releasing a second EP. A third record is forthcoming from Troubleman Unlimited. As an extension of the band, Exit and Sunshine have hosted an ongoing party, called Intervention, for about a year; it is currently held at Boogaloo in southside Williamsburg. Although its DIY spirit seems to overshadow any Situationist intent, Ghost Exits is creating strong, uncompromising music in the face of fickle fashion and in these times of political and social strife.
The past few times that I’ve seen a Ghost Exits performance, the band hasn’t gone on until three in the morning. Have you planned it this way? Do you guys like playing at that time?
Ivan: While it’s certainly true that we enjoy playing for our friends a little on the late side, it has become increasingly clear to us that we’ve been sentenced to this time slot. Whoever is in control of NYC-wide booking—be it Rupert Murdoch, Mike Wolf, or Robert Christgau—they’re doing a fantastic job of keeping us in the dark. What is everyone so afraid of?
Christopher: Again, the powers in control have decided that we are not allowed to play for anyone other than junkies and cracked-out pigeon-toes. I’m not not saying that it’s a conspiracy or even a concerted attack against Ghost Exits. People are just afraid of what we are willing to bring to the table. Uncertainty is the main character of any Ghost Exits performance, and a lot of promoters and clubs can’t jive with that.
Last December, at a show with ESG, they stuck you in the basement for the after-party. But then I caught the band a couple of weeks before at Boogaloo, also at three in the morning.
Ivan: Fuck three o’clock in the morning! It’s so taxing to be up that long.
But it may be the best time to blast people with very aggressive music. By then, barflys and clubbers have been drinking and partying for some time. They either hate your sound or love it.
Christopher: That may be true, but our music is perfect for any hour.
Ivan: We are currently entertaining the notion of an after-after-party that would cater mostly to the breakfast set. That way, the early risers can get a taste of truth with their hash browns before going to work. We’re looking for a venue.
When the group opened for Metal Urbain at Tonic last fall, you nearly blew out the club’s sound system. What happened?
Christopher: This has occurred several times, and not just at Tonic. It’s our amplifier. We bring a 10,000-watt amplifier to shows with us.
Ivan: Tonic’s house lights were dimming quite a bit that night. Every time we hit a severe bass note, they would automatically go dark. It was an automatic light show. Last October our label had a CMJ showcase at a place that used to be called the Cooler—it’s called Rare now. We blew a fuse during our final song. There was no power to be found on the floor; people had to use lighters to get to the bathroom. This amplifier—it’s the heart of our sound system; it’s the muscle of our music.
Christopher: For a long time we were playing without decent, if any, stage sound. For our first shows, we would bring several amplifiers and patch each drum machine through its own amp. But it became impossible to transport so much stuff, so we brought a mixer instead, mixing our sound onstage and giving it to the sound man. Even in the bigger clubs, the sound guys either don’t know what they’re doing or they just don’t care. Our current set-up drains the power sometimes, and that’s what happened at Tonic. It’s possible that Ghost Exits might be responsible for the blackout last year.
Several years ago, Ghost Exits was a three-piece “rock band,” for the lack of a better term. Now the group is a duo that uses synths, drum machines, and funky bass guitar, and you rehearse right here in the apartment.
Ivan: Living in New York is hard enough without risking eviction every week. Neighbors complain about drums banging—bang, bang, bang. Switching to electronics opens up this whole other world of music that you can make in your living room; we can still practice at a reasonable volume.
Christopher: It’s a lot more conducive to making proletariat music in the city.
Ivan: If you want to have a really loud rock band, you need a practice space, and you need that extra $500 a month to spend on that space.
Christopher: I don’t see how anyone does it.
Ivan: Yeah, it seems insane. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes that most people don’t know about. Half of the groups you see in clubs today have multi-million-dollar development deals with Sony and Warner Brothers. It’s too professional. It makes sense for people who want to dabble in the mass media and get their shit all over the magazine culture. It’s kind of like an investment: “If we put in the money at the studio, then we can crank out our songs, get these records sold, and get our faces all over the Bowery.” If that’s what you want to do, fine—I have no respect for you. We have no interest in providing background tracks for a thirteen-year-old shopping at the mall in San Diego. Our priority is to subvert first and play guitars second. It’s not even a choice: all we’re doing is creating out of our living situation. And we don’t work for Babylon.
Is Ghost Exits not interested in magazine culture?
Ivan: I’m pretty sure magazines are dead. They had their hip value for a little while, but there’s nothing left to sell. They’ve recycled so many of the same images over and over again—it’s over. I’m pretty sure it’s over. I hope it’s over.
Well, this interview is going to be published in a music magazine. Can the magazines do anything for you?
Christopher: I’m interested in getting our message across to as many people as possible. If we have to subvert this magazine to do so….
What’s your message, then?
Christopher: What’s our message? Our message is the music we create, and the politics of the necessity of the music we create. I wouldn’t condescend to you by going into the specifics of exactly what each song says. Isn’t it better to take in the music as a whole entity—and draw your own conclusions?
I see. Artists never want to reveal their “secrets.” Your music is pretty aggressive. I definitely see an attitude in your band that is lacking in others. You don’t write catchy pop songs, play garage rock, or wear matching suits—there’s more drive. What’s burning you, politics?
Christopher: I feel that we try to address politics in our own way. We’re not straightforward. We’re not addressing specific social issues directly, not yet, but they’re behind what we do in a more abstracted, timeless type of way.
You’re not writing protest songs.
Ivan: They’re not as obvious.
Christopher: They are a protest in a sense. As of yet, they haven’t really been direct statements.
Ivan: Ghost Exits promotes revolution. We want to open up ears and eyes to a different, more exciting kind of sound. We don’t play 4/4-time rock songs—that shit is so obvious it’s soulless sometimes. A lot of bands play into that and—wait, don’t you remember what happened years ago?