Holy Ghost Tent Revival ponder new beginnings

by Ryan Snyder

Holy Ghost Tent Revival overcome and adapt despite a key loss. (photo by Ryan Snyder)

Spend enough time on the road and the experience can evoke any number of descriptors: It can be liberating, maturing or simply wearying. In the course of playing more than 200 dates in the past year and countless others since being founded in 2007, the members of Holy Ghost Tent Revival have known them all. As the Greensboro roots/rock sextet has slowed down their rigorous performance schedule to prepare for a slew of releases, the band is weathering changes in both their membership and their future direction.

Singer and guitarist Stephen Murray says the band could see it coming: Founding bassist Patrick Leslie notified his mates back in August that he’d be leaving to band to move to Wisconsin and settle down with his fiancée. In a band that prides itself on the buckets of sweat they leave on stage as much as their dynamic arrangements, his departure couldn’t have anything but a profound impact. Leslie was an integral cog to a band whose very essence is derived from its unflagging chemistry on stage, but with keyboardist Kevin Williams sliding over to handle the low end, Murray says there’s no rush to replace him right away.

“It’s too much pressure to find someone not only personality-wise to fit in, but with the talent and dedication as well. We’re open to having keys again, or vice versa,” Murray said before a recent performance at the Blind Tiger. “If someone comes up and says they want to play bass and Kevin might want to go back to keys, sure, but right now he’s killing it on bass. He’s really stepped it up and become an important part of our band.”

Preserving the band’s performance integrity in the face of the changing musical esthetic by way of Leslie’s departure, Murray says, is essential at this point. He says that they’ve come to realize that they’re perfectly comfortable as a six-piece and that reaching to add a seventh right now could throw off the synergy the band has worked to perfect for the last four years.

“You’ve got to get along with somebody. We have to be friends,” Murray said. “A lot of bands function where there are one or two main people and everyone else comes and goes like a business. This is a little more heartfelt.”

That’s an idea that will manifest in their first release with the new lineup as well. The band is planning an EP of brand new tunes that seasons their stew of Dixieland- and ragtime-inspired folk-rock with a decidedly more rock and roll slant, but not before getting a pair of dormant recordings off of their chests. The first is an analog recording created at the home of producer David “Driveway” Moore entitled The Living Room Sessions that features former keyboardist Mike O’Malley, and is available at shows and free digitally on their site. The second, a proper full-length release to be called The Blood Beneath will be the last recording with Leslie and features several songs known by fans that have yet to find their way on an album.

By the time they’ve both seen daylight, however, the Holy Ghost tent Revival heard therein might sound like a bit of a relic. Murray has already begun transitioning away from the banjo for now, playing his guitar full time, both live and in the creative process. He’s not giving it up by any means, but he says focusing on writing with the guitar his integral to the rock-driven sound for which the band is striving.

“Guitar was my first instrument; I feel much more comfortable on it and we want these songs to come from a genuine place,” Murray said. We just want to write good rock-and-roll pop. Pop gets such a bad rap these days because people do it so cheaply and horribly, but good pop actually means something to me.”