One can tell a lot about a band by how it interacts during an interview. Sting and Stewart Copeland of the Police, for instance, famously used to playfully (or not-so-playfully) beat each other up even while on camera, betraying the strains that eventually fractured the trio. But a group such as U2 still seems like a unified front, a force inextricably bound by its comfortable-old-shoe camaraderie and Bono's magnetic charisma.
Like the latter band, what's immediately obvious from talking with three-fourths of Ghost in Light is just how well their personalities mesh. Even though he's recovering from a cold, vocalist-guitarist Jason House talks a mile a minute and can't seem to sit still a fidgety demeanor balanced out by the quieter nature of drummer-keyboardist Shae Moseley and guitarist Chan Evans. (Bassist Elshua Evans couldn't make the interview.)
Still, thoughtful ideas tumble from each man with ease and blur together with jokes and laughter much of the time. In other words, Ghost in Light is just an easygoing, unpretentious band that happens to take its music seriously (even if pigeonholing its sound is difficult; the band's inspired by but not beholden to slo-core noodling, post-rock throttling and a bit of shoegaze drone).
But perhaps most important, it's clear that each member of Ghost in Light greatly admires the talents of his bandmates.
"I'm playing the music now with the guys that I've wanted to play with for a long time," Moseley says.
Adds House: "I am known for going to jam with other people. I do that all the time. But the people you actually start a band with, I'm very picky about it. It's not because I think I'm awesome or anything, but I know instantly when I'm playing with someone if it's going to work out. I knew as soon as we started playing with these guys."
The quartet knew of each other both socially and from playing (together and separately) in previous bands; their impressive résumés include Pave the Rocket (House), Bibowats (Moseley, Elshua Evans) and Railers of Kiev (Chan Evans, House again). In fact, Ghost in Light itself originally started as a side project; House asked then-Bibowats members Moseley and Elshua Evans to back him up on songs he had already written. Things became more serious after Bibowats broke up in early 2005, around the same time that Chan Evans joined the group.
The subsequent two years that Ghost in Light has spent playing together as a quartet only start to explain the musical evolution found on its new EP, After Fox Meadow. Like the debut CD, Dead Eyes and a Traveling Mind, the disc was recorded with Will Jones. But Moseley says the band tracked the "meat and potatoes" of the new tunes at SmithLee studios in Maplewood unlike Mind, which they recorded in a home studio and this time around, the process was very much a collaborative effort. While there are plenty of atmospheric, lost-in-space tunes in the vein of Mind (think quieter Smashing Pumpkins crossed with Hum's skyscraping chords), the opening track "Faces" is indicative of some new-found force: It's a strident sucker-punch of a song featuring multi-layered harmonies, distressed guitar squiggles and a propulsive beat that stomps forward like a rumbling marching band yet one that still drifts off now and then into some dreamy interludes.
"The sound just started broadening," Chan Evans says. "We started utilizing all of our talents. We wanted to take the sound to the next level, still maintain a little tone of the first one, but add some peaks and valleys."
Adds Moseley: "We never really sat there and talked about, like, 'We're going to be more aggressive now.'"
"We had talked about it, though, 'cause the whole standing-up thing..." House interjects. (Moseley and Evans concede this point.) "But it was no big deal," House continues. "The main thing was the music, like, 'Faces' it's more of a pop, but it goes down to the quiet parts on the verses."
House's allusion to "that whole standing-up thing" refers to Ghost in Light's stage configuration, which until recently involved them all remaining seated throughout the set a move that naturally meant the band's live show tended toward the mellow side of things. But ditching the chairs has brought new emotional intensity to Ghost in Light's gigs, an intangible electricity that matches its newer material.
Yet despite these changes, the band continues to excel at creating evocative, dynamic music that says a lot without necessarily depending on verbal cues for guidance. The best comparison is perhaps that the music on Meadow is a series of snapshots that captures vivid emotions. The twinkling percussion and ebb-and-flow chords on "Demonolith" is the desolate soundtrack to driving aimlessly on pitch-black freeways at night; "The Snow Is Soaking My Shoes" is just as its title implies, a melancholy trudge with wintry chords that causes chills; and Andy Colligan's muted trumpet on "Walls of Jericho" aches with romantic longing and anguish.
"I've been through a lot of changes in the past two, three years," House says. "Going into the flames of Hell and coming back, a lot of things happening in my life, in everybody's lives. This EP has a lot to say. 'Faces' is a very powerful statement. It has something to say about my life, and about all of our lives, stuff we've been through, struggles."
This honesty is starting to resonate well beyond St. Louis: The band plays semi-regular out-of-town gigs and has landed opening slots for Jeremy Enigk, the Life and Times and Asobi Seksu locally in recent months. Where the members of Ghost in Light will travel in the future is unknown although one can bet that wherever they go, they'll get there together.
"No rules is the most important thing," House says. "We try everything at least once. Pretty much everybody in the band has their own ideas and creativity. If someone's got something, you let them use all their talents.
"Like, Shae started playing the keyboards and then started singing, then we all started singing. There's no holding back, no one's saying no and pointing fingers like, 'No, you can't try that, no, you can't do that.' That's how it's ended up."
8 p.m. Saturday, January 20. Lucas School House, 1220 Allen Avenue. $8. 314-621-6565.