Earlier in July, I met up with Cool Ghouls after they opened the Phono del Sol Music and Food Festival, put up by locally loved San Francisco music website, The Bay Bridged. Ryan Wong (lead guitarist), Pat Thomas (bassist), Pat McDonald (guitar), and Alex Fleshman (drums) greeted me that day on July 13 at the artist’s tent, all as cool and laid-back as the music they had just played for us. I regarded their sartorial choices as I sat down with them: Pat T. and Alex were dressed in quintessential plaid, while Pat M. represented some classic hip tie-dye, and Ryan was rocking an old NASA t-shirt with a denim jacket. The band was clearly in high spirits going into the interview, having just come off a well-received set.
While their music immediately grabs adjectives like “retro,” “surfer,” and “garage,” there is a lot more to it than that. Under the layers of those ’60s sounds and soul wrapped harmonies is San Francisco youth today, and its innate modern glimmer. Their EP released last fall, Alright Cassette and their new self-titled debut – actually available on real cassette via Burger Records – have garnered plenty of great praise from critics, other musicians (particularly Tim Cohen of Fresh and Onlys/Magic Trick) and fans alike. Their live shows are worth seeing many a time as well. They seem unified in more than a musical way, though that one aspect is a huge part of who they are. Whatever is in the future, past or present, these four California free spirits are here to enjoy the ride and live in the moment, together.
“I listen to you guys,” but I don’t know much about you guys personally,” I offered while they replied, “Oh, that’s ok! You don’t want to know about us!” Their jokey attitudes put me to ease right away and it felt less like an interview and more like catching up with some friends you haven’t seen in awhile.
What have you guys been up to lately?
We just came off of a tour – we played Portland, Seattle, then down to Santa Rosa, then L.A. – a really quick West Coast tour a month ago.
So when did you guys play the cave? [Cool Ghouls had played a couple shows at the Sutro Baths ruins]
In January! It was pretty wild.
Whose idea was that?
Our friend Betsy, she just hit us up – she has a friend who plays in a band in Seattle and they were looking for a show out here, and instead of trying to book something she decided to a generator show in a cave.
What are your most memorable shows?
That one, and well I remember this one really well. The record release show was awesome. We played a really cool 4th of July show last year at my friend’s house in Ingleside. It was a super packed, rowdy, drunk time. I tend to remember the house shows and cool shit like this [Phono del Sol] more than club shows, though those are our bread and butter.
Speaking of clubs, what are your favorite venues?
Brick and Mortar! They’re big enough but small enough – good sound, good location. The people who work there have become really good friends of ours. Hemlock Tavern is also really cool, [and] Floyd there is a great guy. Those are our go-to venues, and then some things come our way like Phono del Sol, and this seems pretty rad. This will be one of the memorable ones for sure.
Definitely yeah. It’s such a beautiful day.
There’s something about playing out in the open under the sky.
How did you guys even get together?
We went to high school together in Benicia and knew about each other’s playing. [The two Pats] actually went to elementary school together.
You guys go way back!
Yeah we’re OG homies!
Where do you guys record usually?
We haven’t done much recording, but usually in our practice spots in our respective apartments. For our full length album we recorded it in Tim Cohen’s house. We recorded it in his apartment which is hands down the coolest apartment in SF. It’s the quintessential SF apartment … so we were in this spire which was his bedroom … 14 feet ceilings… exactly what you would imagine with a San Francisco apartment. It was probably an attic converted to a bedroom. That was the spot. We still may do more of that as well but whatever recording project we’ll have we’re just gonna figure it out every time.
Do you guys like to record playing live or do you prefer track by track?
We would prefer to play live which we are going to do with the next album but the other ones we do track by track just because of the parameters of the next album. Parameters, that’s a big word, ha ha. We want to get that live feeling and live sound. It gives you more freedom to go off and find things, whereas when you’re doing it track by track … you only have the freedom to jam over a prerecorded track. When we play together we just feel off of that and go with what’s right.
It really captures the synergy of the musicians too.
[On the topic of living in San Francisco:]
If we leave, Cool Ghouls is dead. So much of what I draw from comes from this place, which is where we grew up as well. This place plays into our foundation, the soul.
[On how Alex joined these schoolmates to complete Cool Ghouls:]
I was talking to Pat one day on a yacht. My friend was having a party on a yacht one day and I told Pat soon after I had seen them and initially I wanted to play keys but their drummer Cody was studying abroad in Amsterdam and they needed a replacement drummer and I was like, “Dude, pick me!”
And the rest is history.
And you guys have this amazing chemistry. A lot of people form a group together for the convenience of it but I feel that with Cool Ghouls it’s so well matched.
We’re a family. We’re really good friends, and we were before we formed the band.
I think that definitely helps, being friends.
Especially on long trips. [END]
Catch Cool Ghouls as soon as you can because it’s only a matter of time before fans outside of the West Coast will be demanding their share of them. Currently they are writing new material and prepping to record with Sonny Smith of Sonny & the Sunsets. They play:August 22, 2013 at Bottom of the Hill, San Francisco at 8 p.m. PST.