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Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Midnight Ghost Train: The Heavy Planet Interview

Earlier we shared our thoughts on what already promises to be one of the year's best releases from America's hardest-working band, Cold Was The Ground by The Midnight Ghost Train. Just two days shy of kicking off a European tour celebrating the album's release, we checked in with frontman Steve Moss. He shares what drives his writing, what drives his band, and what drives him crazy. He's also got plenty to say on why this new album is, somehow, even better than what Heavy Planet felt was 2012's best album.

Heavy Planet: I didn't think anything would top Buffalo. When you promised it would be better, I thought "He has to say that." But it's true. It's true with this album, it's fucking incredible. It's being released in less than in a month. Do you think fans are ready for Buffalo to become their second-favorite album?

Steve Moss: Fuck yeah. Oh God, yeah. We're always focused on just moving forward, pushing more and getting more out of things. We wanna keep pushing to the brink. We wanna get better and better on every album and I would hate to always be remembered for one record we did in 2012. I wanna keep pushing it forward and giving fans the next next new thing. We're changing. This record's a lot different than Buffalo, the next record will be even more different. We just wanna keep using different things to get people more interested in us and see that we're not one-trick ponies. It's heavier, it's faster, it's more fun to play. I think it's more fun to listen to... the new album's just bad-ass.

HP: Buffalo was my favorite record of 2012. I heard the new album in 2014, but I honestly don't see anything trumping this as my favorite of 2015.

SM: Thanks! Another big reason why we're ready to move on to the next album is because the musicianship is a lot better, but the bass is just phenomenal. Working with Mike (Boyne) just totally changed everything.

HP: I've seen him live with you and Brandon (Burghart), but I know he wasn't on Buffalo. How is it working with him as a band member? Not even as a bassist... how does that change the chemistry of you guys as a trio?

SM: It's completely changed. 180 degrees. He's really made the band whole. It shows on the album. He's just a monster on the album. We connect really well on stage. We wrote the whole album together, the three of us. Having him, having his input was a huge part on making this album sound different and better. He's a gigantic part of the progress this band has made. We're very thankful for finding him and being able to hone in with him. He's definitely the right fit, y'know? He believes in this like we do.

HP: He's jumpin' in with both feet just like you and Brandon. You can see it onstage. I thought his presence was perfect for you guys.

SM: He's awesome. We love working with him and it shows on the album. The craftsmanship on it has so much more to it, and a lot of it comes from his push. His technique is so much better. Brandon and I wrote all the basslines for Buffalo, and I don't even fuckin' know how to play bass, y'know? They were just simple. The basslines on this album are just so intricate and so beautiful. He really just plowed through on this album. We're happy with him, we'll keep him around.

HP: I think you should! You guys have toured with some of this stuff. I've heard the studio versions. How's it being received on the road?

SM: That's how we wrote the album, on the road. We would just come up with an idea, we'd play it live, see how it was received and change it accordingly. In the van at at night we'd be like "Eh, this kinda sucks. Let's try and do this tomorrow, something different." We like to road-test the songs. That's how we wrote Buffalo. On that Truckfighters tour you saw us on, we were playing the songs off Buffalo before it came out, before we recorded it. We like honing-in things live and then working it to the studio.

HP: You're not just doing this for you. This is you, this is your life... but at the same time, I know your last record was dedicated to your dad. You also lost a friend in John. Getting heavy on you, what would they say if they heard this new stuff?

SM: John would love it. John was a metalhead. He was into heavy music. Even though that's not what I really listen to, he was really into it. My dad was just so unbelievably proud of me. He's not into this kind of music, but he'd go to every show we'd play when we were in town. He was just proud of the hard work I was doing. I didn't really understand why he was so proud of me playing rock-n-roll. I dropped out of college, I used to be a teacher... I dropped out of college to play rock-n-roll. But he was so fucking proud of me all the time for this. He was always pushing me with the band. Telling me "You can't quit, you have to keep going." When things got really tough and I just wanted to throw in the towel, he had the words of inspiration to keep going and I didn't really understand why. He just saw that hard work and perseverance I had for this. My mom is the same way. She's exactly like my dad, just so supportive of me doing this. They're just really supportive and proud. We might not be making as much money as I would teaching, I might not be the quintessential star child, but what they saw in me is a thousand-times more hard work than I would have put into teaching or anything else. Just based on the love and passion I have for this. That was undeniable for them, just doing what I was meant to do. My whole family's really supportive and proud. Megan's the same way.

HP: She'd have to be!

SM: I'm so lucky to have that, the people that are there for me. Shit gets tough sometimes and gets really draining. To have them, it's really important.

HP: Bless your wife for letting you go on the road and for being cool with you pursuing this. You guys sound like you were born on the road. How do you keep up the energy to flatten everything night after night?

SM: It's all about the time we spend onstage. All the bullshit, all the hell we go through, the physical pain, the tiredness... It's all worth that hour, hour-and-a-half we're onstage. I have arthritis in my back, I have degenerate disc disease. Sometimes I get up before a show in so much fucking pain I can't even move, I can't even hold my guitar right. I get onstage and it goes away. I'm ready to do what we do. Maybe that's not the best thing for me, health-wise. But it wipes everything away, that time onstage. That's the reason we do this. We'll go through some really shitty times, it's really tough, we'll be really stressed out on tour. And then we'll be onstage and have this magic moment and I'll go over to Mike while we're playing and I'll just yell in his ear "This is what we do this for." He'll smile back. Those moments on stage keep pushing us to keep with it.

HP: You pull away from the mic and you guys are both just jamming. It's almost like the two of you are dancing. This'll sound strange, but it's intimate and awesome to watch the chemistry onstage. Brandon right behind you guys, you're all on the same page. I've never seen a live band like you guys...

SM: People ask me in interviews "You seem so crazy and intense onstage. Do you get all your anger our while you're onstage?" No. Nowhere near. I'm not angry at all, I'm happy as can be. That intensity you see onstage is love. All of us, that's the love of doing this. I can never be angry onstage, I love it. I love to perform.

HP: People who wouldn't know you as well, they're probably surprised when they meet you. They're probably stunned by your down-to-Earth, polite disposition. Your stage presence is just massive. I don't wanna call it a duality, but it's night and day for people who don't know you.

SM: I really feel for fans. You've seen us when it's just you and two other dudes. We'll still fuckin' push as hard as we can. I never wanna give the audience less than we should. I wouldn't wanna be treated shitty just because I'm not paying as much for certain service. We don't want people to be cheated. You came to see us play. Even if there aren't a thousand people there, you still deserve to see us play the way we should play. I never wanna disappoint anyone. I love performing, and those moments onstage, connecting with the fans... It's really important to give it our all. I wouldn't feel right if I didn't.

HP: When I saw you guys at Abbey Pub (Chicago), I think there were five of us in the audience. I compared it to the Truckfighters show at Ultra Lounge, which was just packed. You guys brought in people from the next room, they're walking in asking "Who are these guys?" They were blown away, buddies of mine at the show are saying "Holy shit, man."

SM: You didn't know us then, right?

HP: No! I bought that ticket thinking I'd see Karma To Burn. They had to pull out and I thought "Well, fuck." The Truckfighters' merch guy was like "You gotta check out this band." God, I was leveled, and we all were. That's what brought you guys to Heavy Planet.

SM: And if my back was hurting that night, or all the other tour bullshit... If I let it affect us that night and we didn't give it our all, we would never have had that effect on you. That, to me, is a tragedy. We always make sure to give everything. You never know who's watching! We've made really amazing fans. We played Des Moines, Iowa for one person. That one person drove two hours to come see us. That was literally the only person there and we still did what we do. He bought all of our merch and loved us and he's always in touch with us. If we had been like "Yeah, there's one person here, let's take it easy," we wouldn't have been able to give him what he came for.

HP: And you made his night.

SM: Yeah. We have a duty. They come to see us or another band. They pay to get in, it's our job to give 'em our all every time.

HP: You never talk about Sabbath or Deep Purple or the heavy bands. It's Muddy Waters, it's gospel. Jesus, your dogs are named after Muddy Waters and Junior Wells. It's so cool to hear such a different take on inspiration and influence instead of Sabbath, Kyuss, St. Vitus...

SM: I haven't even heard St. Vitus. A lot of times at shows people will come to me and ask "Do you guys listen to Mastodon?" I'm like "Yeah, dude!" I have NO idea what the fuck they're talking about. I've never heard a Sleep record. But every show we play, there's a Sleep t-shirt. St. Vitus and... I don't know anything about them, I'm clueless. I don't wanna get wrapped into a discussion with people about it because I wouldn't know a thing.

HP: Part of that comes from people being into a label or genre, a tag that doesn't universally apply. But you guys transcend those labels...

SM: I'm just happy for people to love our music. I don't care what label they apply. If we're stoner-rock or metal or whatever. We just love to play. When we first started out, I just wanted us to be a straight-up blues band. We started touring and I wanted to give the crowd more, more, more. I wanted them to have the best show I could possibly give them. Organically and naturally, it became heavier and faster, more intense. I became more intense onstage. But everything we do is based off blues, it just has an overdrive pedal on it. We just play it really fast.

HP: And it sounds incredible. You guys have an energy that's unmatched and that's what people are starting to recognize.

SM: I completely respect metal and stoner-rock. I totally respect the people doing it. Anyone doing this and putting their heart into it, I really respect it. I don't wanna sound like I write that shit off. It's just not what I'm into, it's not what I listen to. But it's so much fun to play heavy. I've heard the Sky Valley record and I think it's cool. It's not like a Bible that other people make it out to be, for me. A Muddy Waters record is something I go to. Or jazz albums. I don't even know what they're doing on that kind o' stuff. I've listened and don't even know the guitar stuff they're doing. To me, the blues makes sense. Metal never makes sense to me. Those crazy, insane thrash solos that are a million miles a minute... I have no idea how to do that shit! I listen to the blues. BB King is a huge influence for me and for the way I solo. I like to use the space, I like to breathe, take breaths in solos, use dynamics and things like that. That's what sounds good to me and what fits with me. But I don't wanna sound like I don't respect all of them, though. Because I do.

HP: Any tour hijinks? You guys are on the road so much. Fans may not know about Fish Time and stealing from Wal-Mart...

SM: [laughs] We go to movies on our days off. I'm a movie addict. We're always super-busy. We do go fishing a lot, we bring our poles and tackle boxes on tour with us. On days off we'll fish and go to movies. On this U.S. tour we're about to do after the European tour, we've got tickets to a few baseball games. I'm a gigantic baseball fan. Just different cities... We'll have a day off in San Francisco, we're gonna go to a Giants game. We have a day off in Cincinnati, we'll go to a Reds game. Another in Minnesota.

HP: I'm a big Braves fan...

SM: We're goin' to a Braves game, yeah! It's kinda hard, though. In Europe, there's a lot to see there that we haven't. Our first tour, we went and saw a lot of stuff. But for the most part, we're so busy all the damn time, we don't have time for anything. This is gonna be Mike's third tour with us in Europe. He's played Paris each time and never even seen the Eiffel Tower. We go to the venue, we do what we do, we leave, we go to the next place. There's not a lot of sightseeing. But we try to keep sane, we watch movies.

HP: You guys ever wanna strangle each other?

SM: Oh, fuck yeah! All the time. I can be a real asshole, I can be really pushy. I always want things to go perfect, to do well, everyone to be pushing as hard as possible. I can be a workaholic and be a real asshole to people.

HP: Which is hard to believe.

SM: I'll be the first to admit it. At the same time, it's things we need and I just don't know how to voice things the correct way. We're all on the same mission and believe in the same thing. We're all trying to get to the same spot, we're fighting for it. We're in a battle. We've got a long way to go, though. It's a long way to the top if you wanna rock-n-roll, y'know? [laughs] We've got a lot more we wanna do. We don't wanna be just an underground band forever. We wanna spread our music to as many people as possible.

HP: My dad's nearly 61 and retired, a big Allman Brothers fan. I played some of your stuff for him and he digs it. If you can get his ear, you guys can get anyone.

SM: The absolute best thing we can hear at a show is someone who comes up to us and says "I'm not into this music at all. My boyfriend drags me to these shows and I hate this kind of music. But you guys fuckin' rule." That's the greatest thing we can hear. People who aren't into heavy music fall in love with what we're doing because they can see the difference, the intensity on the stage... We wanna affect as many as people as possible. I don't wanna just have the stoner rock fans like our music. I want everyone to fuckin' listen to our music! I wanna put an artistic impression on as many people as we can. We're not just tryin' to do one certain thing. I think this record is completely different than Buffalo and the next album's gonna be even more different. I mean, I wanna come out with a fuckin' JAZZ album. We don't wanna have just one thing. A lot bands nowadays, especially in this style of music, every album is the exact same thing. We play with a lot of bands on tour and it seems so regurgitated, the exact same thing everyone else is doing. We're trying to do something different, do things a different way.

HP: You guys are doing a damn-fine job of it.

SM: We're just regular dudes, doing what we do. We're so appreciative of fans. We struggle so Goddamn hard, but it'll pay off in the end. That's what I keep telling myself. And when we do get to that point where we experience more success, we'll know how to handle it. We've been there, we know how to work our asses off. But there are so many fads. We're just trying to keep evolving. I'm sure we'll get to a plateau at some point, but then we'll just have to push again. I can't stand still, I gotta keep evolving, I gotta keep working, I gotta keep doing it.

HP: Cold Was The Ground is more aggressive, the musicianship is better. I thought Buffalo captured you guys live in a great way. And now I'm like "No, THIS. This is it."

SM: We're just gonna keep workin' our asses off until we can be more successful. I feel we deserve it. We work ridiculously hard and we kick ass live, our new album kicks ass. We've earned it. We've fought tooth-and-nail for every single bit of it. We'll keep at it. We ain't stoppin'!

Pre-order the new album HERE.

Cold Was The Ground release dates:

2-28-15 - GSA / EUR / AUS
3-2-15 - UK / NO / FR / DK / IT
3-4-15 - SE / ESP
3-10-15 - USA / CAN

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