Talking to Axel Steuerwald of United Ghosts, you get the sense of a man with the wise aura of a seasoned nomad. Born and raised in Germany, United Ghost's lead spokesperson has also lived in London before arriving in Los Angeles and you can hear that richness in his difficult to pin down accent. His band's music also seems to reflect this, a transatlantic collision of vintage valve amps and futurist electronics. Of living in LA, he is keen to dispel any outward perceptions of the city: “We see it a bit differently to some people. It's not really that glamorous in everyday life.” This tension between the opposing forces of glamour and grit is central to the United Ghosts sound, a band with a sleek, vogueish stage presence underpinned by the authentic dirt of The Brian Jonestown Massacre.
There is, it seems, a healthy supply of new US bands who cross-reference the hypnotic swirl of early 1990's Creation record's bands. There are significant swathes of Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine in A Place to Bury Strangers and A Grave With No Name for instance. At the suggestion that United Ghosts may be part of some new US shoegaze invasion, Steurewald says, “There's a lot of Factory and Creation stuff that we like a lot and there's a lot of American bands who are also playing that but we don't want to be pigeon-holed as a shoegaze band, we do a lot more than that. We've got this electro thing creeping in.”
Since the release of their debut 7 inch, Holes Into The Night, the band have been steadily generating a slow-burning hype that rather mirrors the effortless crescendo of their live sound. Witnessing the pro-delivery of their show in London's Hoxton Bar & Grill tonight, it's apparent that this band has cut their teeth and has now reached a point of real authority. At the centre of the stage is bassist and vocalist Sha Sabi, the co-frontwoman who possesses an ice-cool aura reminiscent of Nico. Songs from their eponymous debut sit neatly alongside newer cuts and they share a similarly cosmic ambition to Spiritualized, the dual vocal hooks weaving in hypnotic unity. Tonight, they're on stellar form, the excellent Unhypnotized is a claustrophobic affair, the drums seemingly sourced from the Martin Hannett production handbook: “We worked with a producer called Scott Gilman, he's a bit of a jazz guy. He likes big open sounds and also he's very musical. We make a big mess and Scott ties it all together,” says Steurewald of their recording process. New single Sparks from a Cold Flame in contrast finds them in more carefree mode, a jangly affair with the pop sensibility of The Byrds, showing there is songcraft to match the experimentation.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, their stall is rising faster here than the US. How does playing over here compare to back home? Axel claims, “It's a huge difference. In our case it's positive because people respond a bit more over here. We got airplay on Lamacq and we got a break over here, so we're coming back to try and keep on the road.” Sha adds: “It's spreading a bit on the BBC, a couple of djs picked up our new single so it's pretty exciting. Generally people here seem to be a little more fanatical about music than Americans.”
The band wear the DIY ethic with pride, having initially self-released their debut album in the US, it eventually got picked up by Cargo on these shores. This extended tour is all about elbow grease and self-sufficiency as Axel testifies: “We've had a lot of problems over the last few days with the equipment because we've just come over and we're doing it all ourselves so there's no roadies to sort it out when something breaks.”
After the show they seem like a band content with where they are right now, fully at ease and with a clear idea of where they're going to be heading next. “We're thinking of releasing an EP next, almost like a snapshot of where we are right now” says Sha. “We're always working on multiple songs but we have a few that we're really excited about that we want to release pretty soon, maybe in the next six months.”
The missing duo of Sean and Jason arrive for a well-earned cigarette after negotiating the post-gig pack down ritual. It's time for these ghosts of the future to move on to their next port of call, Europe. As they leave, you get the impression of a band fully united and comfortable with how they work with one another, confident that each night is only going to get better.
Words: Jody Prewett Photos: Robin Pope