There are worse things in life than being called the Pink Floyd of gothic rock. I can certainly live with that.
Whispers In The Shadow has made another excellent album with ‘Ghosts’, one full of tormented guitars, dark synths, and distinctively harder than usual. A ‘combination of psychedlic post-rock with gothic bombast’, colleague Kurt called it in his review. We thought the CD was so intriguing that we went to frontman Ashley Dayour with a number of questions.
Hi Ashley. Congratulations for your new album ‘Ghosts’. I think it is an outstanding work, maybe even your best work to date. You have announced it as the heaviest sounding Whisper In The Shadow album ever, but I beg to disagree. I think it is more psychedelic than ever, reminding me of the ‘goth floyd’ monic you earned in the past. What are your thoughts on that?
Thanks a lot for the kind words. It seems we hit a nail with this album. People really seem to appreciate what we created. I’m not sure if it is our best. After 11 albums, it’s impossible to say which one is the best, at least for me. They differ a lot and are hard to compare anyway. But it might be among the better albums indeed, yes. Certainly, the most interesting in terms of sound and atmosphere. That fills me with a certain satisfaction especially this late in our career. People calling the latest album the best is not something you hear very often, when a band is around for 27 years.
But I have to disagree with your main point. ‘Ghosts’ certainly is our heaviest album to date, because which one of the other albums is heavier than it? About the psychedelic atmosphere, you are not wrong. Almost all the music I ever created has a certain psychedelic undertone. Sometimes more sometimes less. But I try to explore different kinds of psychedelics. That ‘goth floyd’ tag came around the time of our fourth Album ‘Permanent Illusion’, and it was very fitting at the time, but I don’t hear a lot of Floyd in Ghosts to be honest. But it’s fine, there are worse things in life than being called the Pink Floyd of gothic rock. I can certainly live with that.
Guitars have always been prominent in your work. But here, the guitars sound deeper and more tormented, a bit grungier, than in the past. The keyboards by your co-producer Martin ‘Acid’ Gutmann add a sinister touch. Was there a conscious decision to focus on this sound for the album?
Yes, it was a conscious decision pretty much from the start. The guitars are down tuned to drop C to make it sound deeper and heavier, and we used some pretty rough sounding distortion pedals which were the key to this kind of guitar tones. Combined with this ‘dark wave’ meets ‘hauntology’ synth sounds it creates the sound design of the new album. It took some time and experimentation until we found the right balance though. But I think it works pretty well.
‘Ghosts’ is the first new album after the ‘Gilding The Lily’-compilation that provided us with an overview of your entire career, lasting for over 25 years. How do you start composing again after such a milestone?
Simple, I sit down and start to write until I have ideas that sound and feel good enough to develop them further. The hardest part is always to have an overall idea where to go, and to find out what sounds, effects etc. are needed to get there. The actual writing is not the hardest part, because once the gates are open and the vision is set, the ideas usually come floating in. To open these gates is sometimes hard, especially after all this time. But again, in the end I just have to sit down and write until it works. It is as simple as that. I know there are writers who need to be in a certain mood or even need to have the right environment. Fortunately, I don’t need all that to be creative. It makes it all easier. The only thing I need is a vision and a plan of how to fulfill it.
Should we talk about the lyrics? They seem to be particularly deep, even by your standards. I noticed many references to ghosts, which makes me think that it is about several types of illusions that people use to be able to live, or illusions that they struggle with. Is there an overarching theme again, as on many of your earlier records?
Thanks again. The album is not a concept album as such. There is no story, but of course there are main themes. Thematically, ‘Ghosts’ is a journey into the Abyss, a trip through human and inhuman abysses. A communion with shadows and spirits. Both social and personal. Demons such as addiction (‘A Haunting’), paranoia (‘Ghost Loop Remedy’), self-righteous ignorance (‘Totems Of Decline’) and chauvinism (‘Harpies’) are summoned.
At the end there is the journey into and through the Abyss (‘Majesty & Torment’), the confrontation with fear of fear and finally the realization that the ghosts are a part of oneself (‘Poltergeist’), one's own ego, which has to be destroyed in order to overcome it all.
You have said repeatedly that ‘Ghosts’ is the darkest and most personal record you have ever made. The lyrics are very dark indeed. How much of it is based on personal experiences? And how do you research the themes you want to write about?
I have to set things straight. I did not say it is the darkest, I said it’s the darkest in a while, and might be among our darkest records. But then again, which one is the darkest? I really don’t know. For some this one might be the darkest indeed.
Yes, indeed there are some personal experiences which had some influence on some of the lyrics. But I will keep all that under the shroud so to speak. People can make up their own minds about the lyrics and go on their own journey.
Inspiration can come from everything: a movie, something someone said, something I read in a newspaper, something I experienced, a book, everything. It is part of my job to go through this world with open eyes and an open mind to recognize inspiration when it shouts at me. And research? Well, like everyone else researches these days, I turn on the computer and go online. This way I will find out which books to read etc.
‘Majesty & Torment’ lasts for almost for 13 minutes. If I’m correct, that’s the longest song you have ever composed. It consists of several segments, and also contains spoken word samples. Can you explain what the intention was of all these elements?
Yes, it is a monster of a song, and I’m very happy with that one. We call it the Opera for a reason. Actually, it is not our longest track. ‘Down By The Sea’ from ‘Into The Arms Of Chaos’ from 2008 was a bit longer, 15 minutes I think. But the longest was ‘Permanent Illusions Part 1-3’. We divided that song into 3 separate tracks on the CD, but it is one song of more than 20 minutes.
‘Majesty & Torment’ really just happened and turned into the monster it is now. We started somewhere and ended up with this weird Opera. I can’t really describe how it happened though, it just grew and grew. Certainly, it took the longest to write and a lot of effort went into it. It is a journey into the Abyss and beyond.
I really appreciate the artwork for ‘Ghosts’. It has a distinctive feel that fits perfectly with the music. What can you tell us about the artist who did the artwork and the way he worked on the sleeve and booklet?
It is created by Billy Phobia, a graphic designer based in Madrid. He already did the last couple of album covers for us. He also designed stuff for my other band The Devil & The Universe. It’s safe to say this time he created his best artwork for us so far. I’m very happy with the result. It fits the music perfectly. He resorted to the magical technique of automatic drawing and was inspired by the spirits of the actual music, which made their way right into the artwork. He created the artwork while listening to the songs. The sound guided his hand, so to speak.
You are now making music for 27 years. When you look at the road you have travelled from the early beginnings up to this excellent new album ‘Ghosts’, what are your reflections?
I’m still amazed about how lucky we were at the beginning. The band was not even in business for one year, and we already had a proper record deal. They even let us record the kind of music we wanted. Back in the day when studio time was necessary and you had to book a recording studio with a lot of money, that wasn’t common practice. Just to make it clear how long ago it is: we still recorded on analog. No computers. It was all pre-pro tools times. It’s unbelievable that we got away with it though. I still like our debut album ‘Laudanum’ (1996) a lot. There’re songs from it we perform live to this very day.
But of course, there were difficult times as well, especially the period from 2003 until 2008 when we didn’t release a new album for years. It just wasn’t the right time for us, for several reasons. But we soldiered on and prevailed.
I’m very happy that we are still able to create and perform. And I’m very thankful to everyone who listens to our music, some for as long as these 27 odd years. I do not take that for granted. Music wise we came a long way and we had quite a few lineup and sound changes. I’m thankful to everyone who contributed to the saga in one way or another.
When the retrospective ‘Gilding The Lily’-album appeared, you said the work of Whispers In The Shadow could be divided into four phases: the Cure-phase, the psychedelic and experimental phase, the alchemic phase, and then the new turn you took since ‘The Urgency Of Now’. Still, it is not evident for me what would bind ‘The Urgency Of Now’, ‘Yesterday Is Forever’ and ‘Ghosts’ together. Do you have a clue?
You know, I have to confess I actually do not. What I meant is there the first three phases are clear, but you are not wrong when you say the last 3 albums are so different to one another that you could even say each album is actually a phase in itself. But that would be a bit too self-indulgent even for me. So, let’s call it the ‘we really don’t give a fuck anymore and do as we please’ phase? I think with these three albums we found our own identity and we clearly showed that there are a lot of things this band is able to pull off. Maybe that is the main motivator to go on anyway, I don’t know.
I suppose Whispers In The Shadow is your main project these days, but I can’t help asking a question about your other great project: The Devil & The Universe. What is the actuality about the trancerock goats?
The Devil & The Universe is actually growing bigger and bigger yes. But neither Whispers In The Shadows nor The Devil & The Universe are my ‘main’ Project. There is room for both being my ‘main’ projects because they are so different from one another. Even my stage persona is very different, I’m not the same person when performing with The Devil & The Universe or Whispers In The Shadow.
With The Devil & The Universe, we will go on a UK tour in November and we started working on a new album which will see the light of day sometime in 2024. But that’s about all I want to say about that now.
Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. Any last words?
Thanks for the support over the years! It is indeed very much appreciated! Always a pleasure and I dare say, until next time.