I'm late. And not happy about it. I've had this day circled on my calendar for a week; a one-on-one with who I consider to be one of the most original composers out there. I actually got off the train and went out to the street to call Justin Stivers at Union Hall to let him know I was late, fully expecting him to reschedule. Lucky for me, he did not.
I set my stuff down, grabbed a beer, and within 10 minutes, the interview turned into a night out just talking to an incredibly humble Mr. Stivers about music, life, and future plans. The way his mind works and how he creates is nothing short of enthralling, and it's easy to see why Pet Ghost Project is being tagged by just about every local press as the band to watch.
From an early age, music is what Justin did. His grandfather was a jazz drummer, and this is how he started his path into creating. A self-taught instrumentalist (aside from a few loathed lessons on bass guitar) Justin grew up in eastern Washington, then spent time in Seattle and Portland crafting his first two albums pushing sonic barriers using everything from the traditional to a recording the chirping of a box of 500 crickets.
His move to New York, coincidentally, was under similar circumstances as my own. Arriving with a single backpack of clothes, he soon connected with Peter Silberman of the Antlers, who he recorded in studio and played with live, as well as The Stoics and Darby Cicci. But he wasn't done with Pet Ghost Project. A rolodex of influences, sounds, ideas, on tape, cd, vinyl and stored inside was ready to come out again. This time in his most recognized collection, "Cheer Up ~ It's Raining."
Justin Stivers is a one-man wrecking crew of sound and composition. Everything you hear from Pet Ghost is him: every sound played, sung, composed and written, then, with the utmost care, pieced together. He creates patterns, moods and waves of emotion through sound. He pushes barriers and knocks down the walls of traditional music. When he composes, he departs, isolates, and let's it all out. On stage, he employs the help of a few friends (Justin Gonzales and Jake More) to churn out a sound more raw, but nonetheless just as powerful, all of them taking turns playing percussion, guitar, bass, keyboards, and still including his trademark effects.
In his upcoming EP (Idiot Brain/Genius Heart, due out May 19), he explores a bit of a darker side. The lyrics flow seamlessly with the sound, filled with ebbs and flows, exploring cobwebbed corners and blinding light with a 5-song assault that feels like 9. It's raw, melodic, relaxed, grinding and reflective. It's the unique sound of Justin Stivers and his Pet Ghost Project.
You can catch Justin and company playing at various venues around New York and the CD release party for Idiot Brain/Genius Heart is May 29 at Fontanas. I'll be there with bells on.
Three Tracks From Justin
Pet Ghost Project - Of God and Science (The Great Satisfactory)
Pet Ghost Project - Age of Automatics (Cheer Up ~ It's Raining)
Pet Ghost Project - The Consequence of Thinking (forthcoming EP, Idiot Brain/Genius Heart)
Influences and Favorites (A Playlist from Justin Stivers)
Pedro the Lion - Rapture
Orchestre Baobab - Sibou Odia
High Places - Head Spins
Willie Nelson - Red Headed Stranger (Medley)
Orchestre Baobab - Sibou Odia
Tom Waits - Singapore
Art Blakey - Are You Real
Duke Ellington - Night Creatures
Pixies - Bone Machine
Fugazi - Full Disclosure
Youssou N'Dour - Tan Bi
Eureka Farm - Terraforming
Pterodactyl - Esses
Neutral Milk Hotel - Song Against Sex
Battles - Race (Out)
Charles Mingus - Better Git It In Your Soul
Brian Wilson - Wonderful
Animal Collective- Leaf House
Purchase Pet Ghost Project from CDBaby