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A chat with Ghost Bath

If one could draw upon that which resides where all light has been forsaken, to weave a melody from winter’s heart and harness the tides that wash over a soul shackled by its emptiness, then the result would be the entity that is Ghost Bath, a US Black Metal band who have recently released their fourth full length album, ‘Self Loather’. I was offered the opportunity to have a chat with the bands sole creator Dennis Mikula, or as some may know him as, ‘Nameless’. To you the reader, i do hope these words bring much enjoyment to you as it brought to me while preparing this as well as asking them, to those new to the realm of Ghost Bath, may this interview be the spark that sets you off in discovering the untapped vein of sorrow and despair and the creation that could be blossomed from such emotions.

Firstly, thank you for giving me the opportunity to have this interview, as this is the first time I have ever interviewed a band through video chat, when the chance arose for me to have this conversation with you I was completely stoked as I have been following your work for some years even dating back to my years in university, so my first question, how have you been during the pandemic?

You know, not too bad compared to a lot of people. I’ve been in a small town in North Dakota, so it’s kind of been a little easy to stay away from people, I’m usually working from home and on my own anyway. So the main effect of the pandemic honestly has been for me, is that we weren’t able to tour and it just extended the writing process of the current album as I couldn’t drive to Minneapolis, so it was a lot of sending files back and forth to the guys (bandmates), but luckily haven’t had anyone close to me get Covid… but it sucks that I can’t travel ahaha, I’m waiting for things to open back up

So what I wanted to know, correct me if I am wrong here, it’s been about four (4) years since your last album, ‘Starmourner’(2017), when did the inception of the newer album (Self loather) take place? Was it right after Star mourner or during COVID?

Well…we toured on ‘Starmourner’ for a while, which lasted up until 2019, so we weren’t writing during that period until touring finished,  we finished our first song (for the new album)in December of  2019, planning for a release in 2020, but that’s when the pandemic hit we realized that we could have taken our time with this, since touring was out of the question, so the writing happened during 2020, then we recorded fall of  2020, and we got the album mix in mastered in December 2020 and then in  January 2021 we  got the final mix back.

 So can one assume that you were pleased with the final result?

Yeah yeah, you never know what an album is going to sound like from your head to the actual release.

So this is a question I was most eager to ask, again, correct me if I may be wrong, but ‘Self Loather’ represented a different change to the band, sound wise, as before releases, the vocals were more shrieks and howls ( more akin to Depressive Black Metal), and the last time you all did discernable lyrics were from the first EP, but now on Self Loather it’s more audible where the lyrics are understandable as well as readable, also the second track featuring CJ (from Thy Art is Murder) there were several musical shifts when compared to previous releases on past album…so was this a natural conscious decision to take the music in that direction?

So yeah I had the whole trilogy (Funeral,Moonlover,Starmourner)planned out from around 2015 and then you know every album prior to ‘Self Loather’ was me writing and performing, all the parts and where ‘Starmourner’ is concerned I  wrote the parts  and the band performed them, where this album (Self Loather) there was more input where the band overall helped write the parts and performed them as well ( it was the first time where an album was written by all five members of the band) and I did that cause if I wrote the album, it would sound too similar(to the other releases) and I wanted to change the sound(so it was a conscious choice to do that). when I write  something it’s going to have my voice very heavily, so when I brought it these guys…we have 3 guitarist, 2 extra to me, and they have a unique writing style, different for me, we all on the same page, the idea was not to do the same thing over and over, because I didn’t want to write another record that sounds like ‘Starmourner’ or ‘Moonlover’, and that arrived with bringing in the other guys as well as shifting my vocals to fit the theme of hatred and doom( and to be the heaviest record we put out) , I took all this into consideration and thought that I should do lower vocals as it fit with the sound better, and I felt to do that it fit better with written lyrics as opposed to screaming low vocals without lyrics(which I think would sound kind of weird) whereas with high vocals ( like before) it could have worked without the lyrics cause you’re just screaming out.

When the first single came out I was actually shocked at the shift in the sound and how good in terms of quality and density it comes across and from my listening experience of the album, this to me in opinion is a truly great album, so congratulations on that feat!

So you all are currently signed onto Nuclear Blast, and to be honest, it’s quite rare where a big name like NB has a band whose genre is Depressive Black Metal (as there isn’t much DBM bands on these well-known labels) and this leads me to my next question, you all were signed onto Pest Productions(s Chinese Black Metal label) during the very beginning right?

Actually when I first started I put out the first EP independently and then there was a different Chinese label called Solitude Productions and then I went to Pest Productions.

Thank you for clarifying that, however what I am most curious about is, why the illusion from before stating you were a Chinese Black Metal band? What was the choice behind it? Was it that you wanted the music to be the main focus without a face?

At the time Ghost Bath was just a side project for me, and I actually had quit music to go back to school full time and I started Ghost Bath as a creative outlet to just keep creating music ( even though it wasn’t my main focus in life at that point in time), I had recorded an album(this was with a previous band) with Josh Schroeder ( the same guy who I recorded ‘Moonlover’ with)and it never really gained any traction, so I decided ‘If I am not going to make it with this, I’m just going to go back to school’ and so I started Ghost Bath, and the point was never to go on tour, it was just a creative outlet, a catharsis, a way of taking negativity and turning it sometime constructive and creative and when I first put it out( the music) , it may sound kind of weird but I didn’t want people asking me, ‘Are you ok?’,’Are you depressed? Why are you making depressive music’ or have people checking on me, I just wanted the music to exist on its own without realizing it was me….so I went to upload it on Bandcamp( where I upload all my music) and there was a field where I had to put in location ( it didn’t allow me to leave it blank) so I decided to choose somewhere on the other side of the word haha, and the only place that came to mind was China as I had a friend from Chongqing(China) and yeah, so I decided with that and entered it on Bandcamp then after some time the Chinese label(Solitude Productions) contacted me(probably cause they saw I was from China) for which they eventually put out I think around fifty(50) CDs for me, and the label recommended me to Pest Productions for my first full length (Funeral) and…I didn’t keep the identity super under wraps, I told some people, like my friends, but in general I kept quiet to the general public, that’s where I used the name, ‘Nameless’, also, Pest Productions helped out by designing the cover with the Chinese symbols and to me(at the time) it felt like a cool little project. It wasn’t until it started to gain attention and took off that I thought to myself, ‘Maybe I should actually try with this band because people really seem to be into it’ and that’s when I went to go record ‘Moonlover’…and that’s where things took off.

You mentioned previously with the inception of Ghost Bath, one of the reasons for being anonymous was people prying and asking why are you making depressive music, so my next question deals with this a bit, because one thing that always fascinated me with bands whose lyrics deals with the much darker and depressive themes is that they always say that when they are recording, they need to be in a certain mindset to evoke that organic feeling, otherwise it becomes forced. In regards to you, how exactly did you get into that mindset when recording with Ghost Bath, was it a hollow and bleak place or was it a release to you?

For the first two albums which I did at home, it was allot easier, as I didn’t have to ‘try’ to get into that mindset I would just wait for it, as it comes and goes….I would wait until I was having those kind of thoughts, or feeling down…or feeling depressed, then I would pick up my guitar or pick up my microphone and then work on the album…So that was easier than going in studio and performing on a designated time, however, I kind of took it to an extreme with the previous albums, where I would do it all in one take (the vocals) and I wouldn’t practice beforehand, it’s not like I knew what part was going to go where I just did the vocals last, I would have everything recorded, I’d go into the booth, do everything front to back and just leave everything as it was…I think it helped me especially with the style I was going for ( without lyrics) I just did what felt right to go with the music and for this album it was a completely different process, as I had lyrics and I had figured out where I want the different shifting vocals ( highs and lows). But to answer your question….simply, I just thought about certain things and that got me to that same place as good as I could get, and once I started thinking about it, I could bring myself back into the mindset where I was when I originally wrote the guitar parts or the lyrics.

Thank you so much for sharing that, as I was always enthralled with those emotional aspects with musicians where the music and performance is concerned. In your case, is it something where you don’t want to feel those emotions, but it’s a factor that helps the music, in that it pushes it?

No…actually, I kind of like it, I kind of dwell in that space in that…negative mindset, so it’s not that I don’t want to feel it, I mean sometimes I don’t( rarely), usually I like feeling that way, I know it’s weird…probably. Haha

So my next question leads to your live performance, from before, I know you stated that you need to be in a particular ‘zone’ when recording but to go to that same place when performing live do you usually put yourself into that negative space where you visualize the thoughts and that feeds the performance? Is it always like this every single time you perform?

Yeah, I don’t know….but stepping up on stage…like…it just happens, I feel like when I get up there I’m no longer Dennis I become the persona, ‘Nameless’ and it’s weird, cause all these people looking at me and it puts me in that mood, I honestly don’t know what it is…man, it’s hard to actually explain that feeling because it’s all just like…a feeling, you know what I mean? It’s hard to put into words

I know with every individual the realms of Black Metal may invoke numerous feelings and ideologies upon an individual whether negative or even positive to be used as an outlet for cathartic means, so my next question, for you, what does the genre and spirit of Black Metal mean to you? What drew you into it?

Hmmm….I think honestly, umm…it’s just the atmosphere and feeling when I put on the first Black Metal record, which was Agalloch’s ‘Marrow of The Spirit’, and it just made me think of the genre differently, as all the other bands in Black Metal to me were Satanic, which I didn’t have a problem with necessarily, but it just didn’t connect with me fully, like I don’t believe in a Satan, and also there’s the metaphorical Satan, but it just didn’t agree with me. Then with the Agalloch record, it inspired me. That’s exactly what happened when I started my Vaporwave record label(Geometric Lullaby), I always thought that Vaporwave was super shallow until I heard a record called ‘I’ll Try Living Like This’ by Death’s Dynamic Shroud and it made me realize that Vaporwave can be dark and artsy, and that’s what happened with Black Metal. The record comes in with a crazy drum solo then branches off into beautiful, melodic guitar portions, and that kind of clicked with me and that’s the first moment to me where it made sense…and with Depressive Black Metal it was just a slow burn type of thing, when I first heard it, I kind of laughed…hahaha, one of the first band for me that I listened to in the genre was Silencer, and I honestly thought it was funny at first listen, so much that I bought the record to show my friends how crazy it sounds and then slowly over time, there was something to it, I questioned ‘why did I enjoy it the more I listened to it?’, then I began to dive into more Depressive Suicidal Black Metal bands. There’s something about this genre where it’s like mid-tempo, slow-tempo compared to other Black Metal and I thought it would mix so perfectly with Agalloch’s beautiful melodies, and that was the spawn of what I was trying to do.

Going back to the first album till now, looking back on the early days of Ghost Bath, do you think you would have done anything differently if given the chance? Also, seeing as now you’re signed to a reputable label, did you ever see this chapter within your future? At any point did it ever occur to you that you were on to something?

Ummmm, there was some point where I did, to answer what were you saying at first, I would not have done anything differently, because with this band, it was always playing what I felt, what I liked and what I wanted to play, so there’s nothing to regret as I can always look back and say this is how I felt at this moment, and this is what I wanted to play.. I never had the ulterior motive to get recognized by a record label, and to be honest, I think that mindset helped me get signed to a record label…hahaha, because I wasn’t pushing myself in a specific direction, I just played what I wanted to listen to, and you asked ‘did I see it going this far?’ There was a point where I had ‘Funeral’ out, there was a lot of positive feedback that made me think if I recorded something like this but with studio recording quality, I could get somewhere with this. At the time my house had flooded and I didn’t have a place to live, so I was in a mattress at my parent’s basement, so I ended up taking a thousand dollars ( which was all I had at that time) and drove 24 hours to Michigan overnight to go to the studio where I recorded ‘Moonlover’, with that amount of money I only had three days, ahaha, so I finished it in three, I don’t know, something just compelled me to go into the studio to record this, I had this feeling that told me ‘ I got  something here’, coupled with the positive feedback from before, so that pushed me to go to the studio, and at that moment in pulling out of the driveway to go to the studio, I knew it would be worth it.

If I recall you said you had various influences when forming Ghost Bath, but where the newer album is concerned especially with the musical shifts, did any newer influences join the mix in order to influence this new direction? Since the previous albums leaned more towards the DSBM side where this one there exist a range of extremities.

Yeah, umm, I mean for my vocals, especially the lows, there’s definitely a Death metal influence, cause at the time I was listening to Tomb Mold, Witch Vomit and more modern Death metal with those low growls, and then also Uaral is a band who does super low vocals, with a depressive Black Metal sound…that was the influences for those. I think the reason you’re going to get allot of different influences on this new album is because of the other contributing members in Ghost Bath, as they all come from different backgrounds, you know…2 other different guitarists who have different ideas and voices, bringing in their influences from Stoner to Doom, to more Avant garde to Death metal, then there’s my vocals which comes out from a more post hardcore background that I grew up with, it’s just a melding of all those ideas.

Where Black Metal is concerned, and even Extreme Metal to a certain point, there are some bands who prefer a small stage setting for they believe that the energy created within that space is transferred between the crowd and band feeding off of each other as opposed to a large setting like a festival where its dissipated and lost, so what type of setting do you prefer when performing?

As for as the crowd feeding off of you, my previous band ‘I, Apparatus’ we would perform like that, we would set our amps up like a wall, we wouldn’t wear shoes and we would climb on top of stuff, over the audience, throw our guitars, roll around into people, that’s where I come from, and I do like that smaller club atmosphere. I think the perfect show is not a tiny tiny club but maybe a mid-sized one where you get good sound, because I like to be loud, and when I hit my guitar I like to feel the noise hitting me, and the people must be right up in front right by me. As far as festivals, we played some, but I don’t think we are a festival type band, we just play so fast, and you know, if you are in a big stadium, you may want to be a little slower, less nuanced, for us, I’m not sure how well it translates to a giant stage….but I still have fun on the big stages, but I do feel some of what we do gets lost at those big shows.

So How did the guest vocals with CJ (Thy Art is Murder) occur on the new album? It was a most welcomed surprise as both bands come from different extreme genres, so how did the collaboration come about?

We’re friends with CJ as we went on tour with them (TAIM) in the US for around 2 months, they’re really cool guys. Since for this new album, since I was bringing in the band members to write on it, I brought it new guests, like a pianist, a cello player, then I wanted a couple of vocal guest to see what I could do, I didn’t want someone who played the exact same genre as me for both guests, but I did get Graf from Psychonaut 4, he’s also in a DSBM band, I thought that would be interesting, but I also wanted something different, to mix influences again, I think TAIM music and theme is dark, and we had a connection that way even if it was a different genre and style of music. So yeah I just messaged CJ and he was completely down to do it right away.

Going back to the newer album, ‘Self Loather’, which songs stuck out to you more and left a memorable experience through the creation process?

The one that sticks out is ‘Unbearable’ that’s one where I pretty much wrote the whole thing myself, different tracks have varying level of who contribute more, it didn’t matter, some tracks were mostly like Tim’s songs or John’s ideas, but ‘Unbearable’ is one that I pretty much wrote from start to end, there’s something about those beginning chords and melody of the clean guitars that comes in and just like the themes of what I was writing about lyrically…I don’t know, it’s just a different song to me, that one even has ..what do you call it, a happy mistake, as I didn’t mean to do something, but it turned out cool, at the end of the song it has tapping slowly and chugging going on, and the part of the chugging and tapping are different times, so the tapping parts kinds of wraps around, and I just thought it sounded really cool, I didn’t mean to do that, I just kind of messed up the timing of the 2 riffs, and it sounded interesting to me.

Shifting topic to that of US Black Metal, throughout the years the scene has grown quite a lot with a lot of bigger names as well as influential bands to its league, Ghost Bath being one of them, but there have always been those comments that seem to view USBM as inferior as opposed to Scandinavian Black Metal, what are your particular views on this?

I never understood the whole looking down on a band just because where they are from, I also don’t think Black Metal needs to be from a certain place, I mean it started at a particular place, but then it grows and changes, I find it weird and off putting if a US band is trying to sound and make Scandinavian Black metal as it’s not where you’re from, or it’s not  where you grew up, it kind of comes off as forced and dishonest, as you’re trying to force a sound as apart of who you are as a person. To  me, I  just embrace it, in a past interview I stated that allot of USBM and Metal in general has allot of hardcore influences no matter how small  it  is, so maybe that’s what off put people, as they don’t particularly like the Hardcore influences. I realized this when we were touring in Europe, and I played a USBM band for our tour driver form Greece, and he asked who it was, and I told him it was a USBM band, and he said that over there they would think it’s a hardcore band. So I think that’s the underlying thing there, and it makes sense because Hardcore is so big in the US, and I think European Metal and Black Metal has more of a folk influence, and I think folk is more prevalent due to their history as opposed to the US, where we don’t have that extensive history of folk history to go back to.

Are there any bands in the USBM scene that interest you?

I think my favorite would be Agalloch (which I mentioned before), I like Wolves in a Throne Room, I like Uada, I wouldn’t even mind touring with them if they are up for it.

In the past, concerning the trilogy (Funeral, Moonlover, and Starmourner) the musical composition basically remained somewhat the same, whereas on the new album, as mentioned, it’s not a departure per say, but more of an evolution of the sound. Do you think you would ever return back to the sound of the trilogy? Or would you expand on the current sound that is ‘Self Loather’

From this record what we’re going to take is for the next record we are all going to write on it again it’s not going to go back just to me, so it would sound more similar to ‘Self Loather’ than our previous stuff moving forward. But I think we’re going to take things in a different direction, but it would still sound like Ghost Bath anyway. We are done with the trilogy, so now it leaves an open door to do whatever we want. We’ve been throwing out crazy ideas and I think whatever we land on we’ll do whatever we like, there’s no set direction yet.

Ghost Bath’s artwork always seemed to be rather striking and visceral to the point where you can just look at the cover and sense the music behind it, the trilogy that came before ‘Self Loather’ like the sound, the art also seemed similar in vein as opposed to the new album, while still really good, the art also seemed much different, would you care to elaborate on this decision where art is concerned?

My approach is always to have the music done completely and you know I try to make everything work to the singular focus or atmosphere that I’m going for with each album and so, I wait till it’s completely done then I search online until I find the perfect piece that represents what I created on the album. I have talked about this and I think I have come to the conclusion that I like artwork that is been done for the sake of the piece of artwork, and not something made for something else, like if I commission an artist to paint something for this album, it seems weird for me, I rather use something created for its own sake. The ‘Moonlover’ original art was created I believe 1989, and it had its own purpose , it was made for the sake of itself and then the second I saw it, I knew that it was going to be the album art and so…yeah, I have the album playing and I search and sometimes it takes a long time, I go through allot of different ones, but usually when I see the piece I know it and I contact the relevant person and be like ‘ hey I wanna use it’, most times I’ve been lucky where they are agreeable, like Luis Palma(artist of ‘La Luna’) was like ‘sure, you could just send a record for my son’hahah and Luciana Nedelea did the ‘Starmourner’ painting , while the artwork for ‘Funeral’ is a famous painting and with the new album, I was looking at a lot of  Zdzisław Beksiński’s work, as I felt his work was close to what we were trying to portray with our music and when I finally found this one, which is a lesser known piece of his, it just clicked and I thought it was perfect, for this one in particular ,I had to contact a Polish museum to get the license, as he was murdered, so I couldn’t contact him, it actually took a while, and I thought I wasn’t going to get it, cause they weren’t answering me, when they did , there was a language barrier which hindered the process, which made it seemed like it was taking forever, but we finally got it done, and I’m really happy about it.

So this is a question that i usually ask most bands which I have interviewed, and that’s simply, what exactly have you been listening to or reading? I always found that these little insight into the artists likes gives more layers to what he/she may create.

I don’t know if it would be considered Metal, but I’ve been listening to a Gothic Rock band,  Unto others, they remind me of Tribulation in terms of instrumentals with Type O Negative vocals, also Rivers of Nihil, ‘The work’, I really like that, I thought it was interesting record, and I was really digging that one and then I listened to allot of Vaporwave, it’s just such a hard genre to describe, just dark Vaporwave called Mall Soft, where it’s like you’re in an empty mall and it’s like in the background echoing, its atmospheric almost ambient type music. As far as books, it’s been a little bit since I’ve read, this year I’ve read like 6-7 giant fantasy books, I read a lot of adult fantasy, I read the Tower of Babel, where this guy loses his wife and has to climb this fabled tower of babel and every floor its own world.

I’d like to express my thanks for having this interview, as I was completely surprised talking to you here versus the on stage persona, so that was a shock hahah. You have been really kind and patient in taking the effort in answering my questions and for that I appreciate that! Best of Luck with the album!

Thank you! You take care! Awesome!

Links

https://ghostbath.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/blackghostbath

https://www.instagram.com/ghostbathofficial/

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