Every once in a while an opportunity will present itself that you just can’t pass up, no matter what peculiar circumstances you find yourself in. When I was offered the chance to fire some questions over to United Ghosts I gladly grasped at the challenge with both hands. Having already been heralded by Lauren Laverne and Steve Lamacq (possibly my favourite DJ/Presenter of all time), the two-piece outfit from LA are creating some wonderful music that should be heard by everyone. I sent a few questions over to the pair and, as Sha Sabi was busy travelling, got a fine set of responses from Axel Ray Steuerwald;
For anyone who has been living under a rock, who are you, where are you from and what do you do?
We are United Ghosts, Sha Sabi and Axel Ray Steuerwald. As a band we’re based in LA, though neither of us is from there. Sha is from the Bay Area, near SF. I grew up in Germany, then spent a large part of my life in London before finally moving to LA.
How would you best describe your sound?
Boy-girl vocals and psychedelic guitars colliding with futurist electronics.
What is your earliest musical memory?
My granddad playing an old upright piano, quite badly. As I got older I could hear the wrong notes more and more and asked my (very musical) mum what was going on. And she said, yeah, her dad was really quite rubbish on the piano, but none had ever told him or was going to. We all just sort of sang along and I’d run about and hit anything that made a sound. So they tried trumpet and piano lessons on me, which did not work out well…at all. Then my mum got a guitar when I was 10…that was it.
Who soundtracked your teenage years?
Again the German small town got in the way there. Nothing contemporary because it wasn’t in the shops. I mean the place is SMALL!! The only shops to go to sold fridges, lightbulbs or cigs and newspapers and had about 25 albums somewhere on a shelf..so it was Beatles, Stones, Bowie, even had an Elvis record which is not a bad thing really. There was one smart DJ on the radio, though, very late at night, and I did the classic “kid with transistor radio hiding under the covers” thing… that’s where I first heard Kraftwerk and it blew my mind.
What’s your most prized musical possession?
There’s a lot of guitars and pedals I could mention, definitely the 1979 Strat I’ve had forever. And I love all our new old-school synth gear… but honestly for inspiration I really dig my vintage vinyl set-up and my (not-so-vintage, mostly new) record collection.
What do you think the biggest differences are between being a musician in the UK and the USA?
There are lot less bloody stairs in LA! Seriously, I think it’s much harder over here, but in a good way. In LA you’re throwing the gear in the car then leisurely driving to some venue in the sunshine, radio on…which makes for a pretty big and thriving LA scene and a lot of fun, but also for a bit of laziness on part of the bands. The quality control suffers. And, although there’s really good stuff, they can quite easily miss a good thing when it’s right in front of their noses. I’m sure everyone is aware of all the US bands that had to break here first before anyone in America noticed.
Then over here all the new bands have to hop on trains, wheel their gear through the rain, take cabs etc.. I know because I did it when I lived here. Our drummer Glenn who did the UK shows with us, made a great point about it being a kind of filter. If you don’t mean it, you won’t last very long, especially in London or Manchester etc…which is kind of a good thing.
Which bands would make up your ideal gig/festival? Where would you fit in?
These questions are really good but quite hard. I’d love to be on a bill with Warpaint, TOY, The Stone Roses, Jag-war Ma, Mazzy Star and the Ravonettes, maybe Primal Scream with us as high up the bill as possible, but probably not too close to Mazzy Star because they will, very quietly, blow you away.
Tell us about the ‘Dear Electric Sun EP’ – what inspired you to make the EP and what is the message it holds?
We take a lot of care of our lyrics, not sure if we’re really a “message” kind of band, but it’s definitely about moving with the times and making something modern and good. Musically I hope we focused very far ahead with this and put our minds to the future. It’s sort of a primer for our next album (spring 2015) which will go even farther out.
What has been the highlight of your musical career so far?
Some of the shows on our last couple of tours were really amazing. London, New York, Berlin and Prague stick out in my mind. And absolutely I love that people like Steve Lamacq, Lauren Laverne, John Kennedy, Simon Raymonde and a lot of other DJs here pick up on our little self-released records. It’s really inspiring, and it keeps on happening, so you want to keep going and keep coming back here.
When did you decide to start taking the whole music thing seriously? Have you got any regrets?
No regrets, that’s just wasting time. I think it was early. One of my old mates came to a gig recently and he said I had this moment at as a teenager, where I got really serious and just went (quote) “Aaaargh, I’m going to do this”. I guess that was the moment. “Aaaargh”
What can we expect to hear from you in the coming months?
A new album in early 2015 and a spring tour to go with it.
What is it that makes United Ghosts unlike anybody else?
Probably the chemistry between Sha and I.
Who is your least favourite cartoon character?
That’s tough because I like a lot of cartoons, especially Pokemon. I have kind of a Pokemon problem, actually. Maybe Barney the Dinosaur, he’s sort of an idiot. And not sure if it counts as a cartoon character but I absolutely loathe Jar Jar Binks!!