Analogue Music | Handsome Ghost

Handsome Ghost

By Matt Conner

Tim Noyes knows it's a cliché, but he needed to go through it all the same.

Together with Eddie Byun, the members of Handsome Ghost found themselves facing a familiar opponent or pressure as they tried to record their second album. After early singles found major streaming success, the Massachusetts-based duo followed it up with a solid debut, Welcome Back. Then came the pressure.

At this point, the dark days of the making of their sophomore album, Some Still Morning, are behind them. But Noyes and Byun had to endure the familiar portal that stands before every experienced artist—one that requires the musician to stave off the pressure of performance, of metrics, of measurable success.

These days, Handsome Ghost's members are healthy and hopeful and ready to share a lovely new album with fans. Some Still Morning deserves to be heard by the masses, but we have a feeling both Noyes and Byun will be okay either way.

Analogue: I read about this dark period trying to record the new album, Some Still Morning. What was happening there and how did you work that out?

Eddie Byun: I think we just had a lot of different ways we were pulled, a lot of them by ourselves and some people around Handsome Ghost. I think we were trying to make something consistent with the records we'd done in the past while also pushing toward where our tastes are these days. I think it's just a natural thing to have your music evolve as you grow. On top of that, you're trying to figure out the professional or career side of it and make it a success to just keep going and try to survive at the end.

Because of all those different things pulling us in different ways, it took us a long time to figure out the sound on this record. It took honest questions about quitting before we realized like, 'If we're going to actually quit, what difference does it make how consistent we are with things from the past? What does it matter if people like it or if it resonates?' Having that struggle allowed us to make what became this record in a very clear sense.

So the first half year working on the record was a huge struggle, but once we reset, everything kind of fell together naturally. I think we're both in a much better place now as we try to do the band thing full time.

Handsome Ghost
Handsome Ghost

Tim Noyes: I think that's spot-on. That's essentially what happened. The only thing I would add is that this was the first time we allowed ourselves an open-ended timeline to make a record. In the past, we were touring so much that Welcome Back, our first period, there was a set period of time where we had to slot it into our schedule. On this record, we took some time off from touring and focused on every little detail of what the second album would be.

That sounded great on paper, but it ended up being challenging because we were picking away at this handful of songs. We were over-analyzing everything to our detriment. We were thinking too hard. Once we reset with a different mindset, as Eddie said, it's cliché, but it was a completely different experience. Once we got going, the record came together quickly. It all worked out, but that open-ended time frame, hurt us in the beginning.

Analogue: Are you able to identify some of those toxic voices that led to the pressure?

Tim: I think it was mostly internal. You're always going to have outside opinions, but to Eddie's point, for the most part, we were really hell-bent on making a big step forward sonically and we also wanted to keep growing as a band. WE learned, at least for us, we just don't work like that. If we're going in with that mindset, we're not making anything worthwhile.

We eventually identified that, but with anything, we had to learn it the hard way. I don't know if there was one moment where we both realized it, but it became apparent after banging our heads against the wall for months that we needed a change. That was a great, freeing experience just to talk about it and be honest with how unhappy we both were. Then we tried it again with fresh ears and it was like, 'Oh, yeah, this is why we enjoy this. This is how we make albums.'

Analogue: "Massachusetts" was the turning point, right?

Both: Yeah.

Analogue: Was that apparent at the time?

Eddie: I think it was pretty apparent. We had the early goings of this record—I think it was four songs—and "Massachusetts", while being one of my favorite songs Tim wrote for the album, didn't do it. We were just set on these four songs. I think when we decided to step back and return, having that in with the new songs was really helpful. The subject matter of the song, too, you can interpret it in a lot of ways, but it almost felt really fitting for it with that kind of first line. It felt like, 'All right, let's give it one more shot.' [Laughs]

"I have no concept what will be accessible or not. I've just accepted that." -Tim Noyes

Analogue: Was there discussion between the two of you about the lift provided by the song?

Tim: I think it was definitely the beginnings of that. We agreed, after having all these difficult conversations, which I'd really like to avoid in the future, that we would try "Massachusetts" fresh and see how it went and then reevaluate. It was a really fun, few days, like a nod to the very beginning of making music. The energy's good and you're staying up late and you don't want to quit. That was huge. I think we were both enjoying ourselves.

Sonically that's the first one that really came together where it's so simple and sparse, but ideally, if you're listening closely, you can hear the sneaky lush factor, if you will. [Laughs] It's the subtle layers. I think the sounds were coming together and, after "Massachusetts," we were both like, 'Let's do more like this. We would listen to this, so that's enough.' So yeah it was a big turning point, and I think soon thereafter we were like, 'All right, we're going to make this record. We're not done yet.'

Analogue: Did the tracks come quicky after that?

Tim: Yeah, almost all of them. Right, Eddie?

Eddie: I think it took a month or something super-fast after that point for the remaining 11 songs. I feel like everything clicked. It was the discovery of the world these songs were going to live in. It just flowed naturally from there. That type of thing, I think we experienced that with Welcome Back as well. It's one of those things of creating those definitions or sounds that are the base to build the songs off of. Once you have that, once you really understand what you're trying to do, it's hopefully natural from there.

Analogue: I'm curious about the marketplace side, because you've had a couple singles generate some really impressive totals via streaming. If I put myself in your shoes, I think it'd be difficult for me to not think about those things as I wrote.

Tim: At least for me. I've given up on trying to understand how that works. You're absolutely right that we've gotten lucky here and there with a handful of songs that seem to catch, but I don't know if those songs are necessarily better than others we've released.

I will say this is a small-scale version, but when I'm writing demos, I'll send Eddie a bunch of rough acoustic demos and, in my head, I'll think, 'I just wrote the song. There's no doubt this one will be his favorite and we'll record it and have a huge massive hit.' Then literally every time, he doesn't pick that song.

So I have no concept what will be accessible or not. I've just accepted that. On a greater scale, that's also true for the music we actually release. There's no logic to it, at least for me.

Eddie: I think that type of thing really loomed large at the beginning of this record, but after going through those rough patches and those conversations and really evaluating why we were doing this, it's hard to let that drive me. I'd love it if we'd get the streams that some of those earlier songs got, and we'll do what bands have to do in terms of promo and support, but that's an after-the-fact thing for me now. When we're in the studio, it's no longer like, 'Let's get there.' Now it's, 'Let's finish these songs and then figure out how to get there.' It's such a simple lesson but it's really hard to forget to make everything really honest.

Analogue: You sound like you're in a healthy place. Do you feel like the band is healthier than it has ever been?

Tim: I think we're a lot more thoughtful than we used to be. I feel like we have a better grasp on who we are as musicians, ideally who we are as people, too. Not to keep harping on it, but coming out the other side of that dark time... the fact that we made this album and we're going to do some more recording here soon, I can't say if we're the healthiest but we're definitely healthier than we were at this time last year. We're in a pretty good spot.

Eddie: Yeah, I feel like professionally that's true but also personally, I don't take things as personally in different parts of my life. That's allowed me to approach the music with a lot less ego than the past. There's a lot of things happening, obviously, in the world and our personal lives in the past year, so there's reason to reflect deeply about everything. Everything is connected in that sense so hopefully we're in a better place and hopefully that is reflected in the music.

Analogue: Does that make you more hopeful, then?

Tim: I think so. We're right where we're supposed to be as a band. The band's been around for five years now which is a really long time for a band. I can definitely think of those early days and get a little nostalgic about how little we know and how fun it was because we really had no idea what we were doing, but I wouldn't call that healthy necessarily. We were just a meteor hurling, just taking what came. Some of that was good and some of it was bad. Now, at the very least, we have a better understanding of where we're at.

VISIT: Handsome Ghost