Thomas Turner of Ghostland Observatory
Austin's spaciest dance band does it for themselves
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If distant galaxies had a soundtrack, it could very well be written and played by Ghostland Observatory. Resting between the folds of unscrupulous funk and electro-disco, the Austin duo's spacey work combines Thomas Turner's synthetic melodies with Aaron Behrens’ sarcastic vocals to create a unique take on traditional dance music. Live, though, the band really shines: Ghostland Observatory shows teeter between a rave and a church service, with the braid-sporting Behrens leading packed floors in chants as Turner keeps the cyborg drumbeats running. Headlining 9:30 Club tonight in support of last year's aptly named full-length, Robotique Majestique, the drawling, cape-wearing Turner spoke with The A.V. Club.
The A.V. Club: Ghostland Observatory shows can sometimes take on rave-like qualities. You were involved in that scene in the early '90s as a party promoter. Why the change to making music?
Thomas Turner: I started throwing parties when I was 16, and I stopped when I was 19. It was just getting harder and harder to throw parties. A couple of years after I stopped, the whole scene was pretty much stamped out by city ordinances, at least in this area of the country. I guess I just got out of it at the right time, and I started focusing more on producing instead of promoting.
AVC: You put out your own music and take care of the booking and promoting through your label, Trashy Moped. Have you had any major-label offers?
TT: The thing that was really cool about my wife and I starting our own label was that we had room for experimentation. We ended up getting major-label distribution without actually being on a major label. We also had access to publicists, but we weren’t obligated to have them working for us all the time. We just worked our way around the major-label thing. When you sign a major-label deal, they will really get behind you, and there are lawyers, publicists, blah, blah, blah, all the way down the line. But the only thing we didn’t have was a big radio push, which major labels control. But we’ve been just fine without it.
AVC: Is the label just a vehicle for Ghostland’s work, or are you scouting other acts for the Trashy Moped roster?
TT: I wanted to. Originally, I wanted to start an experimental label where I could put out stuff that I liked: electronic, minimal, experimental rock stuff, maybe just a few acts I thought were cool. But then my time started to center around what Ghostland was doing. Eventually, I hope to settle down and work with some acts that really blow my hair back.
AVC: What is Ghostland’s relationship with the Austin music scene outside of the SXSW mania that occurs once a year?
TT: When we play a show in Austin, it’s definitely party time. Thousands of people come out to see Ghostland, and it's time for the city to get down, you know? We appreciate Austin and how nice everyone has been, as the city has sort of acted as a launching pad for us. We are so thankful for that, and thankful to come from such a great place. SXSW is a completely different deal for that week. Bands and industry people come down to Austin trying work out deals or have a little fun. But once it’s over, the city goes back to normal.
AVC: What’s up next for Ghostland Observatory after this tour ends?
TT: I don't know exactly what’s going to happen. I just had a studio built, and I've been working in there quite a bit on our off time. Every time you try to make a plan, like, after the tour is over we're going to get in the studio, make a record, and have it out by the summer. Somehow, though, it never works out that way. [Laughs.]