The Ghost Inside: We Have More To Write About Than The Accident

Jonathan and Jim from The Ghost Inside discuss their upcoming self-titled album for the very first time

The Ghost Inside: We Have More To Write About Than The Accident
Header photo:
Jonathan Weiner
Studio photos:
James Hartley

The Ghost Inside have announced details of their highly anticipated new music, 1,617 days after the bus accident that cost two people their lives and forever changed the future of the Los Angeles band’s five members.

A brand new self-titled album – The Ghost Inside’s fifth, and their first since 2014’s Dear Youth – is due to arrive on June 5 on Epitaph Records. Produced by A Day To Remember frontman Jeremy McKinnon and Will Putney, the 11-track set’s closing song, Aftermath, has been released today as the album’s lead single – a song that has its origins prior to the fateful road traffic incident on the morning of November 19, 2015, when The Ghost Inside’s tour bus collided with a semi-truck outside of El Paso, Texas.

The drivers of both vehicles, Greg Hoke and Steven Cunningham, lost their lives in the accident, with vocalist Jonathan Vigil, bassist Jim Riley, guitarists Zach Johnson and Chris Davis, and drummer Andrew Tkaczyk, having each endured a lengthy recovery from their life-changing injuries ever since.

“There’s a really strange sense of… ‘foreshadowing’ might not be the right word, but almost a ‘premonition’ to having written a song called Aftermath, before all these things happened in our lives,” Jim tells Kerrang!. “A few things changed, but the core of that song was written prior to the accident. To have then gone through this whole process of almost a year and a half of writing the record, and for it to end up as the first song we’re going to put into the world be one that we wrote before this incident that has defined the past five years… That part feels crazy, that it sort of ends where it began or begins where it ended, or something like that.”

Speaking for the very first time about what Jonathan Vigil deems his band’s strongest ever work, the frontman and bassist take Kerrang! inside the record’s writing and recording, tackling the emotions of their experiences in song, and why it was important for The Ghost Inside to close one chapter of their lives and look to the future…

Adapting your live show for last year’s comeback show at Los Angeles’ Shrine to work within your physical constraints took a lot of planning. Did it also change the way you worked in the studio environment?
Jonathan Vigil (vocals): “Physically, absolutely – it changed so much about how we had to work. For Andrew, obviously he had to learn to record drums with only one leg, which in itself it something amazing to be proud of. Most people would have just programmed the drums, but he did what he needed to do to make it work so he was actually playing all the drums on this record. So, physically, yes, but in terms of the vibe of our working together? I think that was pretty similar.”
Jim Riley (bass): “This is the first time that all five people in the band, for the overwhelming majority of the actual studio time, were all together in the room. In the last two processes specifically, Aaron Brooks [founding guitarist, who departed in 2014] really took on a bulk of that responsibility for putting the songs together. Each of us was there for our portion of the record, but he was the guy that was in the room the entire time. And this time, as much as humanly possible, all five of us were in the room with Will [Putney] and Jeremy [McKinnon], actively participating in the process. It was real a team effort. And I think that that paid big dividends for us. It felt like we were supporting each other through stuff that was not always easy to like accomplish.”

Was it an important decision for you to go through this process together in such a manner?
Jonathan: “I think this record is not just a record we needed to do as the band, but for the five of us it became about overcoming an obstacle and that we all went through it together. In the past, it was like, ‘Cool, I can come do my part, and then I can kind of take off.’ But this was all of us doing it together, all a part of it, and I think that means so much to us, and the ethos behind the band. It means a lot.”

Do you think it also impacted the end result for the better?
Jim: “One hundred per cent. Believe it or not, Andrew sort of took on the role of, like, the ‘composer’ in the band. He is, if not the best guitar player in The Ghost Inside, then certainly only a little bit behind Chris and definitely on par with Zach. So he took on a lot of that responsibility of being the guy sitting in the chair with a guitar, and that like directly fit into the creative process – he would configure guitar riffs in a way that would complement how he would write his drum parts. And all of us were there to feed in ideas about different parts or riffs or lyrics. Will and Jeremy were also really great at pushing us to not accept stuff that wasn’t good enough. We sat in the room with Will on the first day and went through the 20 or so, and Will just went, ‘You’re better than that.’ ‘That’s not cool.’ ‘The idea you’re going for was cool, but the way you did it sucks, so let’s start again on that idea.’ This by far feels like the most collaborative effort we’ve ever put together. There are moments on the record where you can hear each one of us coming through, and parts that have the personality of each person in the band. I don’t think that that would have happened if we had not done this together.”

Did you find your own experiences emotionally or mentally challenging to approach in a creative environment?
Jim: “I think the whole process has been really cathartic for us. When we started it, the band was in a tough spot, with both our health and our mental health, which was starting to suffer from the uncertainty that surrounded the future of the band. Writing this record and spending all that time together, as the five of us again, really rekindled that brotherhood and that bond between us. Re-establishing that intimacy together was really healing, as I felt we were definitely starting to like drift apart because of the distance between us. Writing this record reconfirmed that we are five best friends, and it let us pour out a lot of the stuff that felt like it was just sitting there simmering away. There's some really poignant, honest, and vulnerable stuff on the record. There's a line in the song Unseen that asks, ‘Am I lucky to be alive?’ That's not a place that I think the band would have gone to before. It doesn’t have the positive, uplifting thing that is The Ghost Inside. There's a dark honesty to that which we've never delved into before. But it was important, I think, for us to heal, and to be able to close this chapter of our lives in the way that the record is done. This stuff is over. We let it all out. And we can move on now.”

Jonathan, when Kerrang! spoke to you at last year’s Los Angeles comeback show at The Shrine, you spoke at length about finding new meaning and strength in lyrics you had penned some years earlier – almost as if you had written words that you would yourself need in later life. To what extent do you think the lyrics you’ve written on this record are the words you yourself needed to hear right now?
Jonathan: “I don't know if ‘closure’ is the right word, but I think a lot of this is about being able to set things right. In the past, there were lyrics and songs that we wrote because we believed in them, but we didn't have to live them. We didn't have to live some of these experiences; how rough could we have it if we're ‘rock stars’ travelling the world, having a good time with our best friends? How much adversity and how much struggle could we have really gone through, you know? We wrote songs from this place of, like, a pedestal, and this new album and lyrics were written from a place of, ‘Okay, I've been on the top, and I've been at the bottom. I know what they both feel like, and I need to write this for me and for the people who feel the same way as me.’ It's opened my eyes up to a lot and really put a lot of things into perspective. I don't think we have that kind of clarity in the past.”

What can we read into the meaning behind the decision to self-title the album?
Jim: “When you listen to our back catalogue, you hear us take this winding path to end up where we are. We feel like this is where we were trying to get to all along, and that this is who we are – both in terms of the music, but also who we are as people. This record is the five of us. When you listen to this record, you are experiencing these five people, our lives, our struggles, our triumphs and our brotherhood. All of that is in there, this is who we are, and trying to put some other title on this record felt very contrived. How do you come up with one line that sums up all of the things that combined into this record existing? The idea of having the record be self-titled came up pretty early on and it seemed perfect.”

How long did it take you to settle on Aftermath as your first song – not only from this album, but since the accident – and what was behind that decision?
Jim: “To be honest, a little bit of it was the process of elimination. We were able to cross off maybe half of the record off the list of the first single for various reasons. Then we started thinking a lot about what people wanted to hear from us, and what we wanted people to hear from us. Aftermath is like the most important song on the record in a lot of ways. Like Vigil was saying, it bookends not just the record, but this whole experience. It puts a marker down – ‘Okay, we all know what has happened, and here it is. Now, come along with us; let's stop talking about that one thing, and let's move on.’ I think if we had come out with a different song – something that didn't directly address the elephant in the room – people would have still been asking about [the accident]. We would like for this incident to be a defining moment, but not the thing that defines us. It's not the only thing that we are as people and as a band. We don’t want people to talk about us being the ‘accident band’ band for the next 10 years.”

Or for this to be ‘the accident record’…
Jonathan: “Exactly! That's a big thing when it came time to writing about it, everything that I was writing that was directly about the accident felt so contrived. How do you do something like that justice? How do you write about the agony and the anguish and the uncertainty? That wasn't gonna do anything for anybody; that wasn't gonna do anything for the five of us. We needed the hope and the light, and to look ahead. That's always been what the band’s about, and as people we needed to address this, feel this, run the emotions and then to move on.”

Finally, it’d be remiss not to mention the current situation the world finds itself in, and your decision to still release this album as planned, rather than delaying it. Why?
Jim: “I mean, what are we gonna wait for? To me, this situation that everyone almost parallels what we went through, and some of the topics on the record, in ways that are uncanny. For all of us, it went from normal life to crisis life overnight. The uncertainty of how you’re going to pay your phone bill without a job. This isolation – each of us was alone. There's all this uncertainty over people’s health, which loomed over us for so long. But there is also this increasing sense of unity amongst the 10 of us [involved in the accident] that you’re starting to see develop through the current quarantine situation. We don't know when things are going to go back to normal, so if we just sit here and wait for things to go back to normal, we could be sitting on this record for six months or a year. And what do we have to lose? Life is gonna be fucked up enough. Why not do one thing that gives us a little taste of normal?”

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