Being honest and vulnerable as an artist can be a double-edged sword – too closed off and your audience can’t relate to you, too open and you’re left worrying about oversharing. However, when an artist does bare their soul and wear their heart on their sleeve it can bring a unparalleled sense of release.
For Kalee Beals, the artist behind dungeon synth project Mors Certa and now goth-folk outlet Ghostwriter, the idea of showing vulnerability in a new project was something that took the songwriter many years to get to grips with. After taking time to process these feelings and figure out how to portray them through music, the results of years of work manifested in the full-length record Burial Grounds, which is sombre yet beautiful all in the same breath.
On Burial Grounds, Beals puts the struggle of self-sense under the microscope, but there is an ethereal sense of hope that runs through the record and in places an almost triumphant atmosphere shines through on what are, on the surface, quite haunting and bleak songs (read our full review here).
This project is as much about taking back self-control as it is about the catharsis it portrays for its creator, and it feels like this is just touching the surface of what Beals is willing to reveal to the listener – but if you are willing to dig a little deeper there is more to be uncovered.
To go a little bit further under the surface we got in touch with the mastermind behind Ghostwriter to discover what this project was all about. Read on to find out more, and hear the album in full below exclusively at Astral Noize!
Where did the whole Ghostwriter idea stem from?
I came up with the name Ghostwriter in high school. I had recorded some acoustic demos on GarageBand and needed a name for the project. The current Ghostwriter is definitely a departure from those demos, but the name stuck. As for the idea of the project as a whole, it came about pretty organically. I was writing these songs and they started to fit together thematically and musically.
How did you approach this project differently to Mors Certa?
My approach to Ghostwriter is completely different from the way I approach writing for Mors Certa. Mors Certa is pure fun for me. It’s a way for me to experiment musically without the pressure that I put on myself when writing songs for Ghostwriter. The songs I write for Ghostwriter are much more personal and honest. I worry about them being too honest sometimes. There were so many times when writing the record where I was like, “Is this too much? Am I oversharing?” I think that’s common for a lot of artists, to sort of experience shame for maybe putting too much truth or feeling into their work. With Mors Certa, I don’t really have to worry about that. There’s this separation from the music because of the narrative elements that go into it. I get to hide behind the story and the Fortuna character.
Do you view Ghostwriter as an extension of Mors Certa or did you always want it to be a completely separate thing?
I view it as a separate thing. Ghostwriter actually came before Mors Certa. I’ve always enjoyed listening to soundtracks and Mors Certa is basically me getting to write the score for this fantasy story that I have in my head. Maybe someday I’ll actually write it down. I’d love to release a novella or something similar with the final album, since it was meant to be a trilogy. Ghostwriter is… closer to the essence of who I am, if that makes any sense.
You have previously said that this record took some time to work through. Was there a point where you thought it would never see the light of day?
Definitely. One of the songs on the album, ‘Routine Surgery’, is about two years old. Most of them were written throughout the course of last year. I didn’t start writing with the intention of making or releasing an album. It was a way for me to work through things, process, and express all of these ideas and feelings that I didn’t really know how to let go of. As the songwriting progressed, I noticed definite themes and imagery that kept reappearing in songs, and it was just like, “Okay, I guess this could be an album.”
There is a lot of religious imagery and themes running through the new record. What is your relationship with religion and why did you want to use this theme heavily?
My relationship with religion is… complicated. I was raised as a member of a particular church and that definitely had a huge and lasting impact on how I move through the world. I’ve had to work on the feelings that come with growing up, trying to break and bend myself to fit a certain mould, and realising that maybe I don’t really have a place there. I wouldn’t say I’m anti-religion at all and spirituality is something that’s really interesting to me. I think it’s really brave to believe in something, and if it works for you, then that’s great. But when it leads to bigotry, shame, hurting others… it contradicts itself.
What were the themes and influences you are pulling from for this record?
There are a lot of layers to this record, but looking at it as a whole, to me it’s about relationships – specifically, me in the context of relationships that are particularly important or impactful. Writing the record involved a lot of self reflection, and looking back I noticed certain patterns, a common thread. I wanted to examine that commonality. It’s about my connections to family, romantic partners, a god that I may or may not believe in, my self, my body… It just involved a lot of digging and sifting through past experiences that I felt had a role in shaping who I am.
When listening to the record there is a sense of self discovery running throughout it. Do you feel that you have found a different side of yourself through producing this record?
For sure. I mentioned the bulk of the album was written last year, and at the beginning of last year, I had recently moved back to my home town after the end of a pretty long and impactful relationship. Before then, I hadn’t spent a good portion of time at home in about three years, and suddenly I was back. It was jarring, seeing all of these places that were the same, but so different. The friends I grew up with were gone, or we had grown apart, maybe they were married or had kids. And it’s a really small, really religious town, so I was confronted with that for the first time in a while. It sort of forced me to reflect on how I fit into it all, if I did anymore, or if I ever did.
There are going to be obvious comparisons made to your music and the likes of Chelsea Wolfe and Emma Ruth Rundle. Did you take any inspiration from these types of artists or did you just view this project as a new way to put out music?
Chelsea Wolfe and Emma Ruth Rundle are incredible artists, and I’d take any comparison to them as a huge compliment. Artists like them, that obviously put so much of themselves into a record, definitely have influenced me musically.
For me there is an ethereal sense of hope throughout the record. Was it intentional for the record to feel hopeful despite its often dark and sombre atmosphere?
I’m not sure if it was intentional, but I think hope naturally worked its way into the songs. ‘Lampshade’, in particular, touches on trauma and how it can effect you throughout your life. That song, for me, has the feeling of trying to move through that, processing, searching for a way to overcome and change patterns that can develop as a result of experiences. I think that hope can be really powerful and beautiful. It can be transformative.
In parts the record is very minimal but there is a grand feeling to it as a whole. Did you want this record to feel stripped back to give it a raw feeling?
To be honest, it was just a matter of me making it work with what I had. It was just me writing and recording everything in my apartment. I did want it to feel genuine and I think that the rawness of it helps with that, for sure. There is one track that I did in one take, piano and vocals, because I felt that would better capture the feelings conveyed in that particular song.
Was there a sense of catharsis to this record at all?
Very much so! I think I needed to write it.
What do you hope that the listener takes away from Burial Grounds?
Anything that feels meaningful to them. I’m extremely grateful that anyone would take the time to listen, including Astral Noize. Thank you for the interest in the record and this incredibly thoughtful interview.
Burial Grounds is out 21st November on Tridroid Records. Order here.
Words: Tim Birkbeck