How do you feel about Johnny Cash? What about The Misfits? What about spaghetti westerns and horror movies? Somewhere between country western and punk rock at the point where ballads meet metal sits Ghoultown. Forming in 1999 they have left their mark on six CD’s, numerous compilations, movies, short films, a comic book and even a video game. Wikipedia says they are a “popular horrorpunk/gothabilly band from Texas, specializing in a mixture of classic garage punk and psychobilly music and dark, horrifying lyrics that is somewhat different than other gothabilly bands, due to a heavy spaghetti western influence.” which doesn’t really sum up their complete experience. Ghoultown is, far and away, one of my favorite bands and I’m going to tell you why after the break.
“The true tequila-guzzlin’ sounds of Texxxas!” exclaims Razorcake Magazine. Lets talk a bit about the history of Ghoultown, as presented via my own personal knowledge and www.Ghoultown.com‘s bio page. In 1999 vocalist Count Lyle formed Ghoultown and released a 5-song EP, Boots of Hell. A year later, the band debuted their first full-length disc, Tales from the Dead and began touring heavily in support. In the spring of 2002, not only did the band release their second full-length disc, Give ’em More Rope, but also signed a licensing deal with Netherlands-based Corazong Records to release the Ghoultown catalog in Europe and Canada. It was during the Tales from the Dead West tour that I got to meet the band.
Also in 2002, four of their tunes were chosen for the soundtrack of the horror-slasher, American Nightmare. American Nightmare also happened to be where I fist discovered the band. As a testament to their memorable live show, the movie script was altered to include a Ghoultown performance cameo after the director witnessed the band live. Ghoultown’s signature tune “Killer In Texas” also made an appearance in a short film called Headcheese, which was released on DVD with the movie Freak. Ghoultown has also contributed songs to other independent films such as Suburban Nightmare and Hallow’s End, and most recently Cannibal Flesh Riot, directed by the multi-talented artist and director, Gris Grimly. It was also during this time that the band managed to creep into the video game market where several of their actual gig posters were used in the Vampire Masquerade: Bloodlines game. Shortly after the release of Live from Texas! in 2004 which showcased their powerful live show on both audio CD and DVD the band went through some major changes. Disbanding for a short time while continuing to play under the name of Maltoro.
After signing with Zoviet Records in 2006, Ghoultown returned with fresh energy and a new release, Bury Them Deep. Produced by Chris Telkes (Nocturne) and mastered by Sara Lee Lucas (Marilyn Manson), Bury Them Deep featured seven new tracks that boasted sharp songwriting skills and top-notch production which helped to bring even more fans to the unique sounds of Ghoultown. 2008 saw the release of Ghoultown’s sixth album , Life After Sundown, which was described as “an uncharted crossroads between Johnny Cash and Rob Zombie,” Ghoultown delivers well-written songs which range from melancholy dirges of lost love ,to blood-pumping outlaw punk, to well-crafted anthems featuring trumpets reminiscent of an Ennio Morricone western soundtrack. Solid production by Chris Telkes (producer and guitarist for Nocturne), eye-catching artwork by Dan Brereton (who has also done cover art for Rob Zombie), and powerful songwriting make Life After Sundown a landmark release in the Ghoultown catalog. Recently, Ghoultown has just completed shooting a music video with legendary horror hostess, Elvira, directed by Gris Grimly (Cannibal Flesh Riot). Having been asked by Elvira herself to create a new theme song, Lyle and the boys were glad to indulge with a brand new tribute/theme song which will be packaged along with a DVD for release in early 2009.
Ok, that’s the history so now let me talk about my experience with Ghoultown. I’ve been a long time horror movie fan and in 2002 I saw a little obscure horror film in the new release section of my local video store and decided to check it out. American Nightmare was a terrible, terrible movie. I can’t stress enough about how absolutely bad it was, with one exception. There was a brief cameo by some weird Texas band that seemed to cross the boundaries between horror, western, punk, and country all without sounding cheesy. Luckily there was an extra feature on the DVD that was the video for their first single, Killer in Texas. I must have listened to that sound a hundred times before returning that movie. I quickly jumped on the internet and began my search, turning up Ghoultown’s homepage and information about an upcoming tour. Off to their message boards to beg them to play a show in my hometown of Minneapolis, MN!
It turns out the actual band haunts their own boards so I began talking with the band about playing a show in Minnesota. They had talked with First Ave and were signed to play there, then the deal fell through and it wasn’t until about a week or so before their tour started that they ended up getting booked at First Ave’s second stage, the 7th Street Entry. I eagerly agreed to street team for them, plastering flyers around Minneapolis and even handing them out at the Danzig concert the night before their show. There was one problem though; the show was 21+, since Ghoultown wasn’t a big name up in Minnesota the club needed to sell booze to ensure an audience. Why was this a problem? I was only 19 at the time. It was looking like I might not be able to see Ghoultown play live after all. Back to their message boards!
Lyle told me to show up at First Ave when they did, around 3pm for a show that didn’t start until 10pm. He said they would find a way to get me in. I got there a little before 3pm and took a seat on a garbage can. About twenty minutes later a van towing a moving wagon pulls up outside and a woman’s head pops out. “You the bandito Rob?” she asks me and my heart skips a beat. I’m prone to bouts of rapid fanboyism and I’m pretty sure my new favorite band is inside this van. I say yes and I see a cowboy had move behind the window tint towards the door. I hop off my trash can seat and walk over, trying to keep my cool. I swear that I saw someone getting out, but no head appeared on the other side of the van… second later Lyle steps around the front of the van and I’m shocked by how short he is. In the video he looked at least seven feet tall and I always expected these guys to loom over me. For some reason, seeing that he was near my height shocked me into realizing that these are just regular people like me. Sure, their in a band that I really like but at the end of the day we all strap on our spurs one boot at a time.
I joined the band for dinner and we ate across the street from the club. I talked with them and it was just like hanging out with any other group of people you just met. I was a little awkward, shy, and just a wee bit star struck still but I was really fun. Later Lyle goes into the club and tells the manager that his little cousin is here and really wants to see their show. The club draw big straight edger X’s on my hands and tells me I’ve gotta get out after Ghoultown plays. I hang out inside while they setup and the band apologizes to me that they couldn’t set off the big pyrotechnics because of the low ceiling. They play their show, including a dedication to me and a couple of the other street team banditos, and we say goodbye as I get into my car and drive off into what I’m sure was a sunset a couple hours ago.
After that I stayed in touch with the band marginally, an e-mail every couple years or so to ask about something or to compliment their work. They say they still remember me and while I’m sure they do I don’t buy that the show was anything super special to them. I’m willing to bet that I was just that awkward young kid up in Minnesota who won’t ever forget his day with Ghoultown. Someday I’d like to take a road trip down to Dallas and see them play on their home turf but for now I’ll just content myself with the memory of that one awesome show that out ranked Danzig’s performance the night before. Glenn Danzig might be hands down my favorite artist of all times but he doesn’t hold a candle to a little band outta Texas that took the time to hang out with a little fan from Minnesota.
My grandma raised me on Westerns and my friends got me into Horror. My parent’s listened to Country and my Brother showed me Metal. Finding a band that brings my childhood influences together into a seamless package is something I didn’t know I was missing until I found it. Crossing such radical genres like this is always a risky move, its easy to come off as to country or to horror, to loose an edge and just become another metal band or be a little to over the top to take serious. Yet, Ghoultown does all of it masterfully. Its hard for me to tell you if you’d like Ghoultown because there isn’t another band quite like them out there, yet I feel safe saying that everyone should give them a listen and be sure to check out a few different tracks. Their sound has range and if you don’t like Tekilla then maybe Hang Me High is more your style. If Train to Nowhere is to slow for you go check out Fistful of Demons. In the end, Ghoultown isn’t for everyone but for those of you that do appreciate what they do it’ll fill a musical void you didn’t know you had.