Must Be The Holy Ghost to play at Monstercade
One person can make a lot of sounds. Crank up an electric guitar, and you’re halfway — maybe all the way — to generating some ear-splitting volume. Or bang on a drum kit and the decibel levels can hit the red. Add the assistance of digital technology, looping pedals, and harmonizers, and the sound spectrum can get densely filled. Must Be The Holy Ghost is a one-man band, at least in terms of the sound. Winston-Salem based multi-instrumentalist and singer Jared Draughon layers his guitar parts over spartan beats and then piles vocal harmonies and counterlines.
The music is psychedelic, with hypnotic repetitions and elaborate cross-patterns that weave through the songs. It’s trippy, post-punk, with tolling guitars, rippling guitars, bent and drooping guitars, abstract backward guitars and occasionally assertive riffs. The songs have a romantic pop arc to them with melodies that climb and dart, with all of it building to intricately braided peaks and cathedral choirs of carefully harmonized vocal lines stacked on each other. But the music isn’t the whole creation. Draughon works with light artist/creative projectionist Evan Hawkins who adds a far-out acid-tinged visual aspect to the shows, with hypnotic liquid projections that pulse and swirl and blossom along with the music.
I spoke with Draughon by phone last week from Winston-Salem in advance of a string of shows that will bring him and Hawkins, who lives in California, back to town when Must Be the Holy Ghost plays Monstercade on Jan. 29 before heading up the East Coast.
Draughon said that from his vantage point on the stage all he sees is bright white light glaring at him, but for the audience, the light show can be dramatic.
“It’s fairly psychedelic. I think a lot of people don’t even realize what’s going on,” Draughon said of the visual aspect that Hawkins adds to the performances. “He’s using an overhead projector. He uses different dyes and concoctions of mineral oils that he’s figured out how to use. Sometimes he’ll use Alka seltzer. He’s got a bunch of different tricks. His color combinations are pretty amazing — they’re pretty vibrant.”
Warm blobs, concentric rings, spattered surfaces, throbbing globes, amoeboid swirls, amniotic ooze, dark eddies, astral radiations, rushing squirts, and anthropomorphic drips churn across the screen behind Draughon while he plays live, all ushered and propelled by Hawkins. The visuals can bring to mind a Technicolor vision-quest version of microscope slides from high-school science. The colors and shapes go with the music, playing into the organic patterns, the hypnotic vibe, and the slow morphing of it all. And the live music is assembled in much the same way that Draughon works while creating the songs in a studio context, with elaborate structures built upon durable beats.
“I do a lot of looping, so basically I create drum tracks, and I pump them out through speakers, and I’ll record that. I’ll layer one guitar track and change to a different pickup or amp and layer another,” Draughon said of his process. “I just try to find a little niche for each layer. I’m kind of trying to build and layer a song almost like a mixer or live production. It’s a fun challenge for me. I like to work within that box of limitations.”
Draughon, 38, does an admirable job of balancing minimalist and maximalist impulses. The guitar and vocal parts get spun together and cross-hatched, but the relatively stripped-down architecture of the drum parts and the virtual absence of bass clears the way for complexity without clutter. The end result might have a natural feel to it, but Draughon tinkers with the component parts to get there.
“There definitely is a lot of work that goes into them, and I’m not terribly prolific,” Draughon said of his recording. He says he’s been working loosely on a new set of material that could turn into an album or EP.
Must Be the Holy Ghost doesn’t immediately make one think of other bands, but there are points of connection between artists like Yeasayer, Portishead, Depeche Mode and My Bloody Valentine, artists with a taste for texture, repetition and mood. The gleaming refracted guitar lines of the Smiths’ Johnny Marr and U2’s the Edge might sound like they’re baked into the DNA of Draughon’s playing. On the two recordings that Draughon has made, the Overflow EP from 2016, and Get Off from 2014, the vocals can take on a life of their own. Listen to “Melt Down,” off of the most recent release; the near-seven-minute track ends with almost a solid minute of just wordless vocals, airbrushed in a heaving, semi-ambient fashion as the song winds down.
There are places where it’s clear what Draughon is singing, like on “Might Crack,” for instance, where he sings “Don’t look at me the wrong way/I might crack.” But there are other spots where the vocals are treated like the guitar lines, getting pushed and stretched.
“It matters less to me that the lyric is understood because it’s kind of just a loop going with a counter-rhythm or a counter-melody,” Draughon said. “It can almost be like a choir or an orchestral arrangement.”
Draughon has to exercise restraint since the technology and his musical skills allow him to drape the loops into big heaps, which could become too dense. His sparing application of the low-end frequencies helps. When he wants to construct a dizzying sonic hall of mirrors, the option is there.
“It is fun to just go at it and create an army of me.”
John Adamian lives in Winston-Salem, and his writing has appeared in Wired, The Believer, Relix, Arthur, Modern Farmer, the Hartford Courant and numerous other publications.