An Interview With JC Townsend
The new release from JC Townsend dubbed "GhOStS" is an almost angelic, acoustic drive singer songwriter track that keeps undertones of alternative rock beneath its skin.
Vocal harmonies fill the air and whirl around you as you listen like the ghosts for our pasts Townsend sings about.
At times the track feels like a drinking song passed down through the years. A group of men at a pub somewhere decades ago singing along in drunken embrace.
There is something very pure and fulfilling about the song as its progression and melodies begin to warm you. Almost like a story that comes to a close at the end, you feel satiated.
"GhOStS" is a wonderfully performed song that brings to mind Simon & Garfunkel or Elliot Smith at times as the track keeps you floating just above the ground.
There is something beautifully haunting about this song but I think that's part of the point of its existence.
With a powerful track like this one, we had to have a sit down with Townsend to talk shop. Here's what happened.
TSWS: Okay let's start with "GhOStS". This is a song that feels like it comes from a real place. I love the stripped-down singer songwriter feel but it also has alternative undertones. Where did this track come from?
Thank you for the kind words. The writing process has been going so amazing and this song was another one that just spilled out. The riffs generated when I was in a drop tuning playing a Face to Face song, the “GhOStS” chords just came together in a very haunting and seamless way. I love how the strings resonate to create harmonic vibe and (to be honest) I just found the chords on the fly; I am not even sure what they are (haha) I just love how they sound when strung together. The 3/4 signature created a nice waltz feel that provided a deeper and darker canvas to craft words to. The song is about loneliness and loss. It’s about loss of self “Ghost in your mirror all alone”, loss of love “you were what kept me alive”, loss of friends, loss of family, loss of time, loss of hope “on this ledge waiting for sign” and the GhOStS that can remain with us as we traverse our lives. I, like everyone, have a history and baggage that makes me who I am; we all live with GhOStS in one form or another. The song fell together very quickly and, coupled with the harmonies, creates a somber and emotional piece. I feel more at home writing about heavier things, it’s how my thoughts are wired right now. I connect more, in a more genuine way, to a raw and real message.
TSWS: The video was a very personal one on one feel as well. Did it come out how you expected?
The video far exceeded my expectations. Before the shoot my brain was going a million miles an hour with tonnes of ideas, but when I got to the studio all of those ideas went out the window and it became about being in the moment, the words, story, and the emotion. I have to give credit to my wonderful partner, who knows how my creative brain works; she kept me grounded and on the right track. Working with Jade Weekes and Katie Poch was also a great experience. We just focussed in on the song, creating a somber and stripped-down vibe and it all came together in a couple takes from a few angles. The simplicity of the metaphoric chair, black and white, with well-placed edits helped to create a video that does a great job translating what the song means to me, and potentially others. Huge thanks to Jade and Katie for the hard work and bringing the video to the surface. The edits are fantastic, they really set the tone.
TSWS: How did this all start for you?
If by “this” you mean my solo project, it has a few emotional layers. First being the passing of my parents in early 2019. They both passed within three weeks of each other which was jarring (to say the least). The first song I wrote, also the first song on my EP, is called “Angel”. It is about seeing my mom for the last time, vulnerable and afraid, in her hospital bed. As we lived in different Canadian provinces, I had not seen her or my dad in a number of months and it was a rapid decline for her. When I returned home for her memorial a few weeks after seeing her the last time, I wrote the song and released it on Bandcamp on her 89 th birthday (June 24, 2019). That was the first time I had picked up my acoustic guitar in a very long time. Fast forward to March 2020, and COVID19. I was (and am) doing vocals in a hardcore band and everything just stopped. I was like “what now?” so I picked up my acoustic guitar again and started playing and writing. It has helped me deal with the current state of the world and to heal from a pretty heavy couple years. Since March I have recorded and released two EP’s, (GhOStS and Solitary – Covid Covers) which I am very grateful for and proud of. Things have been happening really fast and the creative process is in full swing; I am even taking (virtual) vocal lessons again which is fun. In all honesty, I am still at the beginning and I thank you for including me on your website.
If you mean how did music start for me, that is a long and winding tale, for another day.
TSWS: Did you perform live before and will you be planning live shows when the time comes?
I live to perform and have been doing so since I was 9 years old. I have toured with various punk, hardcore, and metal bands (getting my start touring very young with a boy’s choir). Unfortunately, the solo thing has faced a number of setbacks. I played a show in the summer (outdoors) but have had to “Covid-postpone” three shows, the most recent being November 27 th . Being an optimist, I was booking shows thinking that the pandemic would be fading away… not the case. Now I am changing gears and looking at the idea of live streams, writing, recording, and releasing this (GhOStS) video. It has given me the chance to play catch up with content creation, which isn’t a bad thing, at the end of the day. My hardcore band also had our EP release show cancelled at the end of March. No one can say I didn’t try…haha!
TSWS: I'm hearing several influences on this track. What bands really influenced you. Who changed you?
Wow! That is a huge question. I have been changed throughout my life by music; it really is a blueprint of my existence/story. From getting my hands on Black Sabbath and the Ramones at the age of 5, The Dead Kennedys, SNFU, and Slayer at 14, to Helmet, Clutch and Quicksand at 23, and on and on. Over the past few years, I have been drawing most of my musical influence from Dustin Kensrue (Thrice), Refused, Social Distortion, Defeater, Glassjaw, At The Drive In, Pink Floyd, Hopesfall and other melodic writers. My favourite bands (outside the previous mentions) which helped me through some really dark times are Pennywise, Snapcase, Suicidal Tendencies, Sick of It All and Hatebreed. Haha… yup… I tend to listen to heavier stuff, but I am a sucker for good melody and song structure. At this point my music is pretty visceral and sad, or as I like to think…healing. My primary motivation for writing music is to speak to people that I can relate and empathize with. Life can be tough, but I hope my music helps someone, like it helped (helps) me.
TSWS: What's next for you as an artist? Anything in the works even now?
After the release of the video, I am looking doing some streaming performances (as a solo artist and with my band). I have 6 new songs complete and demoed that I will be going in to the studio record in January/February. My band and I are also doing what we can right now as well; it’s tough. I am putting a tonne of effort into this solo effort, which is inspiring me. I am waiting (patiently) on some Artist Grant stuff to go through (fingers crossed) then it will be full steam ahead. New record (I prefer to drop records rather than singles), another video, vinyl release, and hopefully some shows and touring. Once
I get the next record in the can I will also be speaking to labels and publicists about what the next step(s) should/could be. There are lots of pots in the fire right now that are keeping me on my toes.
TSWS: What are you doing when you're NOT working on music?
If you ask my partner, she will say I am always working on my music (even when I am not) and I love her for it. She helps keep me present and accountable. So, when I am not doing the music thing, I love the time I spend with her and my teenage son. I was a teenager once and know that (before I know it) he will be off doing his own thing and writing his own story; spending time with him is crucial. The one, two, or three of us get up to things like yoga, travelling, road tripping, chilling at the beach, Netflix binging, and going to shows to support local and touring artists. I am also a Social Worker for adults with disabilities and have been doing that for a long time; I love my job and the opportunity to help people realize their potential and live good lives.
I am super grateful to have people in my corner that allow me to nerd out on what I love. To this point it is all DIY, but that may change and that is very exciting.
TSWS: You've accomplished quite a lot musically. What advice would you give other aspiring artists trying to get heard out there?
In my experience nothing happens overnight, it’s about putting in the work, being patient, being strategic, and treating others with the same respect that you would expect. I am on a huge learning curve doing this solo stuff and navigating the world of social media and streaming platforms, but I love to learn new things, it inspires me. “Let learning motivate you.” You have to “be realistic with your expectations and discover why you are doing this in the first place”. My musical journey has seen many incarnations with various motivators (both good and bad). For me, music is about the art, it’s about sharing my art with others with the hope that it will inspire someone to pick up the phone, pick up a guitar or do whatever they need in that moment. It’s about growing and leaning. “It’s about supporting others to see their potential”. But (take it from me) “surround yourself with positive people that you can see yourself persevering with”, because (unless you somehow get that overnight gold ticket) you will need it, and them.
TSWS: Before we go, what would you like to say to fans?
Thank you for taking the time to read this interview, watch my video, and listen to my art, I appreciate all of the support. Music and art are created to be shared, enjoyed, and to help one each other celebrate, heal and face a new day. We all need each other, so when the time
comes get out there and support your local scenes and, whenever possible, buy the touring bands merch. Dig deeper than the single. In my experience it’s usually an artist’s more vulnerable works where the real rubber meets the road. Take care and stay safe…
(Save Me from Myself)