In the Studio with Ghosthouse

The Chicago-based Electro-Funk outfit Ghosthouse is not afraid to put in some overtime. Consider the evidence: the single, “9.2.5,” from their recent self-titled album extends Dolly Parton’s workday blues to a whole new job market. It’s helped me more than a few times to keep on pushing through a long afternoon or a late night.

I was on something of a working vacation last month when I hit the studio with my younger brother, Chuck New, producer Jimmy Con, and drummer Dylan Hyde Castle. I watched the trio put some finishing touches on a new track, called “Look Around,” which they’re already featuring in their live set. The recording will be on their upcoming EP, slated for release this spring.

“Look Around” casts its gaze across the pond for inspiration. Drawing on New Wave and post-punk Brit-pop of the early 80s, the song partakes fully in the synthesized excesses of the New Romanticism. Ghosthouse indulges Duran Duran’s upbeat hooks, but with the same subtle sneer as Bowie’s sardonic celebration of “Fashion” and “Fame.”

Chuck’s lyrical delivery lends the song a sense of theatricality; Jimmy’s production is a throwback that sacrifices nothing in the way of relevance. Dylan holds four to the floor and turns out a nouveau-disco anthem. “Look Around” also features Katie Ablan, who takes the song from the East End to the West, from the street to the posh. Break out the skinny ties, pop your collar, and roll up your blazer’s sleeves, it’s time to dance like high-schoolers in a John Hughes film. This is synth-driven New Wave at its best.

Ghosthouse’s New Wave pedigree is certifiable, too. Another soon-to-be-released track, “Empty Bottles,” features Mars Williams on saxophone. Williams played with the  Psychedelic Furs in the mid-80s, but came through the ranks in Chicago playing jazz and experimental music; he studied with Anthony Braxton during his time with the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM).

Williams’ versatility syncs perfectly with Ghosthouse’s irreverence toward generic and stylistic boundaries. Their sets cover plenty of terrain, from earnest ballads to dance-floor motivators, and they do it all with a cheeky sense of humor (see “Virginia is for Lovers”).

Chuck w chest hair

“Stop Drop & Roll,” for instance, might be a safety dance for the new millenium. It combines the requisite immodesty of a song with its own choreography with the authentic funk that separates Ghosthouse from the mostly disposable pop that dominates the airwaves. Who else could transform a lesson on fire safety into the next dance craze?

Amidst the vintage compressors and road-weary P- and J-Basses, “Look Around” began to take shape in the capable hands of engineer Andy Shoemaker. During the mixing and playback, I couldn’t help but recall the legends who had preceded us in that studio: Buddy Guy, George Duke, Koko Taylor, and Magic Slim all worked there. Rax Trax is a Chicago institution.

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If you missed Ghosthouse when they headlined the Metro earlier this month, you have another chance to catch their act tonight as they support their fellow synth-scions, falsetto-freaks, and throwback-artists, the Nashville-based Cherub.

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Check them out at ghosthousechicago.com and keep your eyes and ears open this April for a new EP from Ghosthouse.