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Members include Masaki Batoh (b. Tokyo, Japan), vocals, guitar; Michio Kurihara (bandmember c. 1997), guitar; Kohji Nishino, bass, oral holler, and spiritual shout; Kazuo Ogino, recorders, Celtic harp, lute, piano; Taishi Takizawa, 12 string guitar, mandolin, bouzouki, cello, flute, vibes, piano, and holly talking;Iwao Yamazaki, drums and mantra tangging. Addresses: Record company--Drag City, P. O. Box 476867, Chicago, IL 60647.

The Japanese rock group Ghost has been mystifying audiences with its invigorating brew of exotic sounds emanating from The Ghost House in Tokyo, as well as temples and other open-air locations. As a youth at a private junior high school, bandleader Masaki Batoh was exposed to rock music during field trips with his music teachers. He reminisces to Wire, "One of these places was Jazz Kizza, a small coffee shop that used to play jazz records. Through them [his teachers] I was awakened to the music of Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, Velvet Underground, Beatles, and Rolling Stones." Batoh also listened to English folk-rockers The Third Ear Band, German rock groups Can, Amon Düül, Popol Vuh, and traditional Japanese folk music.

Batoh founded Ghost with several of his college friends in Tokyo during the early 1980s. From the beginning, the band's lineup was in a state of flux. Batoh explains to Ptolemaic Terrascope, "In the beginning, we used to play far-out long freak-outs in small college gigs. But the members of Ghost were always so changeable, mainly because the ideas of each one's methods had always swayed between materialism amd spirituality ... some wanted to express themselves through ordinary rock music while others wanted to make music through the philosphical, idealist way."

Ghost had a different name for the first several years of its existence. However, in 1989, prior to the release of its first album, the band was asked by its record company to change its name. Batoh told Ongaku Otaku, "The boss of P.S.F. said our previous name, from 1983, was not suitable for our sound then. `How do you feel about changing the name?" he asked. Okay.... So I was thinking, thinking, and one time when I took the train, I saw a poster for the movie Ghost. And I arrived, then, at our name. It sounded nice, it's cool."

Ghost's self-titled first album was released in 1991. The material on the album was more song-oriented than the band's live performances, which bandmembers called sokyo, or improvisations. Batoh explained the changes in Ghost's style to Ongaku Otaku, "When we thought to make an album, we played many sokyo. But when we listened to it, the sound was not interesting.... At first we played the same ways, then we tried to make some tunes. Easy ones, two chords or three chords, using our instruments and sometimes banjo or Japanese instruments.... Finally, we cut the songs up with long improvisations."

The band's next album, Second Time Around, was more folk and folk-rock influenced. Ghost began to attract attention around the world, and critics began describing its music using other bands as reference points. This did not bother Batoh, as he told Ongaku Otaku, "We don't make music, it's born from inside us. If our music sounds like some other bands Quicksilver, Amon Düül it's all right. We don't care at all. It was born from our inside, naturally and gradually constructed in its production."

Ghost first toured the United States in 1995. Following the live album Temple Stone, the band released its American debut album, Lama Rabi Rabi, on the Drag City label. In underground rock circles, Ghost was regarded as a major new player. The Wire said of the group, "It is [the] diversity of musical influences (many of which are stirred into the same song) that give Ghost their charm and individuality. It seems that anything that can be adapted to fit into their complex musical tapestry so long as it is strange or interesting enough to attract their imagination."

Soon after Lama Rabi Rabi, Batoh released a solo album Collected Works, of unreleased demos and other material. Batoh did not originally intend to release the material, but was persuaded to by friends. He elucidates to The Wire, "One day I went into the studio and gathered up all the material I had for songs that had been left there for several years. At the same time I found odd demos with fragments of songwriting, singing, sound effects, and field recordings from various places. I edited together a tape for myself, for my secret joy. When I played it for some friends at Ghost House they suddenly stopped talking, and I thought they must have been disturbed by this rough, ominous sounding music. But as soon as I moved to stop the tape they asked me to leave it playing, they liked it [and] urged me to release the tapes as soon as possible. I never used to listen to other people's advice about my own music but this time I obeyed."

Another Ghost-related side project is Cosmic Invention, featuring a varying line-up of members of various Japanese underground rock groups. Batoh is very supportive of the underground rock scene in Japan, but never enjoyed pop music from his homeland. He told Ptolemaic Terrascope, "The situation regarding popular music in Japan just makes me feel sadness. I never say it's hopeless, but almost all Japanese popular music has never produced any impression on my mind except for traditional folk. Although there has been a great number of groups, I have found none of them to be unique or interesting. They're content on following on from American and European movements."

In 1997, Ghost played a concert featuring a surprise appearance by Damo Suzuki, the Japanese vocalist for the German band Can during the 1970s, a major influence on Ghost. The following year, members of Ghost toured America with the folk-rock duo Damon and Naomi and Tom Rapp, leader of the 1960s folk-rock group Pearls Before Swine, another of the band members' favorite performers. Those three performers shared the stage at the Terrastock West Festival, sponsored by the U.K. magazine Ptolemaic Terrascope. The set ventured from gentle ballads to avant-garde noise, and was a highlight of the three-day event.Ghost continues to amaze and delight a growing number of fans worldwide, mixing disparate musical traditions and influences into an earthbound yet otherworldly musical stew.

by Jim Powers

Ghost's Career

Formed 1982 in Tokyo, Japan; recorded for PSF Records, c. 1989; debut album, Ghost, released on PSF, 1991; recorded for Drag City Records c. 1995; American debut album, Labi Rabi Rabi, on Drag City, 1997; toured United States c. 1995; appeared at Terrastock West Festival, San Francisco c. 1998.

Famous Works

Further Reading



Ghost Lyrics

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