With only a shoestring budget and a head full of dreams, Melbourne songsmith Luke Yeoward adventured through the USA to lay down his soul-searching solo debut. Yeoward walks us through the journey that led to his definitive work. By Matt Doria. Photos by Mathew Coyte.
After the demise of major label rock outfit King Cannons, Luke Yeoward was burnt out, stung by the industry and looked to the mainstream rock sector with a sour eye. Blue collar jobs would then consume the Melbourne singer-songwriter, but after dipping his toes back in with small-time punk band the 131’s, Yeoward decided it was time to put the past behind him and embark on his most ambitious project yet: a solo album.
“I feel like it’s something I should have done a long time ago,” he says, “But the stars hadn’t quite aligned in my mind yet. I felt like I needed a flexible template that enabled me to still make music, but also pay the bills and hang out with my family. Venturing out and making a solo album enables me that flexibility because I can kind of do whatever I want, y’know? I’m not worrying about the schedules of four other people.”
As cohesive as Ghosts plays on wax, Yeoward refused to lay any solid plans down for the album, instead embracing his own fluctuating bursts of creativity and allowing it to come together one song at a time as he traversed the USA.
“Most songs tend to appear out of nowhere,” he muses. “You could be doing anything - moving the lawn, brushing your teeth, or just sitting around one Sunday afternoon and messing around with the guitar - but I’d never deliberately set out to make a record like this before. It’s a pretty f***ing crazy thing to do, because everywhere you go, you start all over again with a blank piece of paper. You start with nothing on tape and all of a sudden, you’ve made something. That’s absolutely mental. And putting yourself in different environments makes you feel different things. The weather, the smells, the sounds, the conversations - all of that stuff is really important for songwriting, I think.
“I knew it was going to be a mashup of vibes, but I didn’t really have any initial ideas of what I wanted this album to be,” he continues. “It’s one of those things where I kind of just wanted to let the magic unfold in whatever serendipitous sort of way that it’s meant to. I guess for some people that’s quite risky, but I always have faith in the process.”
Perhaps the only thing that remained consistent along Yeoward’s travels was the decision to record in methods as raw and unpolished as possible. Between takes with a mile-long list of collaborators, he would retreat to a garage studio manned by punk-turned-reggae legend J. Bonner (The Aggrolites), where the pair tracked the LP on all analogue equipment.
“Recording in that fashion, with that gear and with those old school vibes… I’ve always loved that kind of stuff,” he says. “Those were the records that I used to listen to, and that’s a concept that I resonate with the most - the idea of everybody playing together and having limitations on what you can do, forcing you to make decisions and stick to them, y’know, as opposed to recording in the digital realm where you’ve got 50,000 f***ing bells and whistles to choose from. It was like, ‘We’ve got eight tracks and we’re going to put the drums on two, all of the percussion on one, and the guitars and the hand claps on the other one.’ It’s all very simple, and it shows.”
In its short 11 tracks, Ghosts explores a lifetime of musical inspiration and exploration. From the smoky reggae hue of “Half Way” to the bright rockabilly edge on “Who Can Save Us Now?”, Yeoward taps into every weird and wonderful corner of his artistry.
“I think it comes from years of absorbing lots of different styles of music, and not just listening to it but thinking about what you can learn and take from it,” he explains. “Whether you’re making a country song, a reggae song or a rocksteady tune, you take all of your past intellect and channel that into something that incorporates everything. It’s a really simple analogy, but I don’t like having too many things on the pizza, y’know? Everyone knows that a good pizza is a pizza with minimal ingredients on it, and the trick is to have a few different pizzas instead of just one with everything on it.”
Still, Yeoward wanted Ghosts to stand on its own amongst his other projects. “When I’m in 131s mode, I’m transported back to 16-year-old me with a f***ing foot-high mohawk and a leather jacket,” he says. “I’m in that kind of ‘shit’s gonna get gnarly’ headspace, y’know? And then what I do with my solo stuff is everything else. It’s good to have a couple of outlets like that.”