Sun. Jun 16th, 2024

Haunting melodies on the Dead Horse Trail. An interview with Riley Bray of The Golden Ghosts.

goldenghostsuptopThe Golden Ghosts are a great band from the Los Angeles area, and I’m happy to have them join us on our site. With a modern classic sound, if that makes sense, the band has created one of the more unique rock records I’ve heard in a while. The album is titled Gleam and it is an infectious album with great song structure, great stories, and a rock and roll attitude. Elements of other genres certainly creep in, but those elements never invade the premise of this being a rock record. In true rock fashion, the Golden Ghosts deliver a great performance and deserve to be heard.

Joining the family today is Riley Bray. Riley is the guitarist and vocalist for The Golden Ghosts. First off, thanks for joining me today and welcome to the Unsung Melody family. For most, this is an introduction to your band. Let’s take a moment and get to know The Golden Ghosts. In your own words, how would you describe your sound?

It’s Rock and Roll music. Emphasis on and roll. It’s not a sub-genre, or this, that or the other thing. It’s just American Rock and Roll music.

The Golden Ghosts is an interesting name. Where does it come from?

You know, I just woke up one morning and it was in my head and that was it. It just popped into my head and then I woke up and realized, that this is the name. There’s a lot of other meanings behind it, some of which I just don’t want to divulge (laughter). It just relates to the spirit of Rock and Roll. It’s like those golden ghosts that have maybe been dormant for a little while, but never really goes away. It also kind of relates to your spirit. Your golden ghost. That’s kind of what it means to me.

After seeing a few of your performances on youtube, I thought maybe it had something to do with the way you across the dancefloor or stage there.

(laughter) I do definitely like to move around on the stage. I grew up watching James Brown, and Mick Jagger, and Chuck Berry, and just all the greats. You know just watching, and the way they move. The way they kind of internalize the music they’re making. How it’s just kind of coming out of their whole body. It’s very much a part of the performance for me. I can’t really play without dancing, it just doesn’t work. (laughter)

It’s awesome, I like it! Well, Gleam is the name of your new album. I would say it’s a throwback record. I feel it is full of infectious, well written songs that seem really tell their stories well and draw you in. As a songwriter, that is a very important trait. Where do you pull your inspiration from when writing?

Just from my life in general. Life on the road is a big part. I try to travel as much as I can, and tour as much as I can, because I just feel that is where all my songs are. I can’t write in a bubble. I need to get out into the world and go crash on people’s floors, and meet people, and feel the struggle of what it is to be a band in the modern world. To try to pull yourself up, one gig at a time. That’s where all the writing comes from. Just being out there and everything that just comes along with the lifestyle it takes to take a rock and roll band from sitting in a garage, to filling up rooms. That’s where the songs are for me, and it’s a whole self reflective thing then. The music just kind of starts creating itself. It’s just telling the story of creating the music almost. I really appreciate that you mentioned the story telling aspect. Because that has always been a big thing for me with songwriting. I think a really good song should tell a story. It shouldn’t just be kind of a sentiment or a hook. It needs an opening, and a middle, and a resolution one way or the other. I appreciate you saying that. Thank you.

Absolutely. Johnny Cash made his living telling stories, so I’m all about it.

No doubt! He’s definitely a hero of mine.

Let’s talk about a couple songs. Dead Horse Trail is one of the more haunting songs on the album. The lyrics are as compelling as the melody is haunting. What’s the story behind that song?

Dead Horse Trail is actually a bit of a historical piece. That’s a real thing. It was goldrush trail up through Alaska and it really did not work out very well for too many people. I got this old magazine from the 60’s, it was an Old West stories kind of magazine. I was reading a story about the dead horse trail, and there were just so many images in it, that just struck me so much. When they were talking about the bones that had piled up on the trail, and that the horses would just walk over the carcasses, and these people were so driven to just find this gold, that they just kept pushing. It was just such a compelling story to me, about the human drive to get out there and find these things. Even in the face of total peril. It seemed this funny analogy to touring for me. (laughter) Where it’s like, we’re all out there looking for the gold. It’s not quite so bad that we are freezing to death on the trails of Alaska, but it just kind of felt like a good analogy of where I was at, at that time. So, I read this story about the dead horse trail, and it just kind of happened real quick after that.

I can definitely see the comparisons you are drawing there, so it’s all good.

(laughter) Sometimes it feels like that! You know, you’ve finished a long day. You’ve driven 6 hours, played a gig, loaded up your stuff and then realize, you have nowhere to stay. It’s just like, “What am I going to do here?” But, it always works out. That’s where the adventure is. I meet so many people out on the road, I’m so amazed by the kindness of the people of my generation. Older, and younger, they’ve put us up for the night. It’s really an amazing experience being out on the road. We generally try not to book hotels and all of that stuff, we just kind of go for it and it always works out.

The one thing that I’ve always noticed over time. I used to be a talent buyer, and I’ve managed a couple of local bands, I’ve been involved in just about every aspect of music. One thing that you can say about the music community, is it is truly a community. On the local scenes, you have your rivalries with bands who think they have a better sound than the other guys, but when someone needs some help, a musician seems to always be there for each other. That’s a really cool thing about it.

Yeah. Those rivalries too, that can be a part of the community too. There’s a friendliness to it too. Where you are all pushing each other to be better. You are always going out to check out each other’s band. You’re like, well what are they doing, or what pedal are they using? I like the way you wrote that song. There is a little bit of competition, but to me it always feels friendly. We’re all in this together. We’re all on the same team. We’re all related in the fact, that we all just love music. We love playing, performing, and traveling. I have so many friends bands that will come to stay with me when they come through L.A., then I’ll go and stay with them when I’m in Oklahoma or whatever. It’s amazing, it’s a small community all over the country and the world really.

It really shrinks the size of the world sometimes, it really does. You guys do an amazing cover tune on this record. Willie The Weeper is a song written long ago and actually inspired Cab Calloway’s Minnie The Moocher. Your version reminds me of the stylings of Warren Zevon. Who are some of your personal influences as an artist?

Well, that’s a long list. It goes all the way back to the Delta Blues stuff. I love Mississippi John Hurt, like, a lot!! He’s one of my favorites. Then moving forward, I was really into Chuck Berry growing up. Then realizing how much he influenced The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, I started really getting into them. I’m heavily influenced by Neil Young and Johnny Cash. A lot of music that happened before I was born, honestly. (laughter) Then, I’m also very heavily influenced by Sonic Youth and Thurston Moore. Everything those guys do. I feel like I land in there funny place where I’m pulling on this old stuff. Where there’s some country elements, and there’s folk elements, some old blues elements, but I’m also into these kind of textural type guitars that I got from this whole late 80’s, early 90’s thing that happened. I think Sonic Youth, was kind of the head of that scene. They’re just a big inspiration to me. Then, into modern day, I really like Kurt Vile. I think he’s just really making some fantastic music. I really like the Gravellers. I think they kind of pull on this classic sound, but they totally make it their own, and it’s really unique. So, I have a really wide range of influences. I also, really, really love Elvis and Frank Sinatra. They’re just two of my favorites, and always have been since I was a kid. That’s kind of a bit of a spectrum. Then though, Iggy Pop. He is the frontmen of all frontmen. A lot of what he has done, I wouldn’t say I’ve modeled singing after, but I’d say I’ve learned from. He’s been a big inspiration. I kind of in the center. Rock and roll music to me, just has a wide spectrum. A lot of times, people will say, I should have a more specific sound, or you should do just this one thing, but to me, rock and roll is this middle ground between the blues, and folk, and country. It’s full of youthful aggression, you mix it all together and you get this awesome artform.

Your face may be familiar to some. You were featured in a Buick commercial with a special guest, Peter Frampton (included below). Tell us a bit about that whole experience and how it came about.

That’s true! That was a lot of fun. It was pretty wild actually. We were finishing up at rehearsal and we were poking around on Craigslist. We saw an ad that said, “Real rock and roll band wanted for national car commercial.” We were like, “Huh, that looks kind of funny. Why don’t we go check that out?” The audition was just a few blocks away from the studio. So, we just hopped over there and did the audition. It was really fun, then the next day, we got a call to come back and do another audition. We had them laughing. For us, we were just kind of going in there to just to see what was up. It was just something kind of fun to do. Then, they called us up the next day and they were like, “You guys are in this commercial and it’s with Peter Frampton.” (laughter) We were like, “You’re kidding! Come on?” (laughter) Yeah, it all just happened. Peter is the nicest guy. He is so cool. We got to jam with him a little bit. Just watching this guy play, you could see the years of experience in his hands. It was just amazing. You know, he was giving us some cool career advice about sticking to your guns, and being true to what you play and what you do. I mean the whole experience was just such a blast. It was so cool. Then, it allowed us to get ourselves a tour van. Which is great! (laughter) Cause up until that point, we had been touring in a mini-van. A Dodge Grand Caravan, that we drove into the ground. The head block finally cracked, and we were without a tour van, and we had a National tour booked. Then, we got that commercial, made some money, got ourselves a van and just kept on going. The whole thing was just, almost surreal. Just how smoothly it all fell into place and happened. It was a lot fun.

The one thing I noticed about that commercial, and some of your performances on youtube, is you are very tall. That has to be an inconvenience on the road at times. (laughter) How tall are you and do you have any strange stories from the road you could share?

Oh, I have lots of strange stories from the road that I can share. Let me think about one for my height though. On the road, I will always sleep on the floor. Because, couches are just like a weird torture device for me to try and sleep on. It just doesn’t work. (laughter) They just don’t make them long enough for me. I’ll just tour with a little yoga mat and I’ve learned to crash on the floor pretty well. That’s just the only way to deal with that.

One, actually kind of funny tour story that I can think of, that’s related to my height; We were opening for Leslie West from Mountain in Sayreville, PA. Leslie recently lost his leg, so he’s in a wheelchair. I have so much respect for him. He is such a badass for doing that. He just got back out there on the tour and said, “I don’t care.” He was making jokes about it, saying how he doesn’t have a leg to stand on and all this stuff. He’s just such an awesome guy. Anyways, so they built this ramp up to the stage for him. So, we are opening and we are about to go on, and I go to go, and it’s like a low overhang due to the ramp. They had left a nail sticking out of the top of the overhand, and it caught me right in the top of my head, and just sliced my head open. It was bad, really bad. There was a noise curfew on the venue, and we just had to go on. So, I grabbed a towel and some ice and walked up on stage. Blood just gushing down my face. (laughter) I just told everyone, “Hey, I just cut my head open really bad, so we are going to play. If I pass out, someone go ahead and call me an ambulance.” So, we played the show. I was also the front of house engineer for that tour, so we played our set and then I mixed their set. By then, I was feeling a little woozy, so I asked the lady who was the head of the venue, “Can you drive me to the hospital?” (laughter) She took me to the hospital and I got six staples in my head.

Wow. Now that Sir, is rock and roll. Alright, I always end on a random question. Who’s cooler; Snoopy or Scooby and why?

I think Scooby. (laughter) Because, you know, he’s got that whole gang of radical 70’s kids and that sweet van. Of course I’m going to go for the spooky ghost option. That works for me. Also, a lot of times a lot of people will call me Shaggy. Mainly because I have long hair and I drive around in a van. (laughter) So, I’m going to go with Scooby.

I want to thank you for joining me today. The site and myself wish you and the band absolutely nothing but the best.

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See The Golden Ghosts perform Heart Of Coal below:

See The Golden Ghosts perform Bandit below:

See Riley Bray with Peter Frampton in the Buick Verano commercial below: