Self-sufficient Ghostland Observatory leads electro-rock resurgence

Mike Daniel
The Dallas Morning News (MCT)

Even during the holidays, Thomas Ross Turner didn't cease to tinker with music.

"Sorry," he said apologetically by phone from his in-laws' home in Uvalde, Texas, where he'd gotten carried away with a few gizmos that he'd given his wife's brother for Christmas the day before. "We were messing around with it all, and it got out of hand. We had some ridiculous noise coming out!"

As the introverted brainiac half of the ascendant Austin-based dance-rock duo Ghostland Observatory, he readily reverts to where he's comfortable. That's understandable, considering the success that comfort zone has provided.

With sultry and flamboyant guitarist-frontman Aaron Behrens, 25, Ghostland is poised to lead electro-rock's burgeoning national resurgence. The three-year-old act's uninhibited melding of club-worthy bass beats, funk-soul grooves, indie-rock inflections and arena-ready live presence has converted thousands into fans.

Unlike many support bases, though, those thousands have been gleaned from an impossibly broad swath of musical life. From shepherded frat brothers and hedonistic club kids to demonstrative metalheads and stuffy singer-songwriter snobs, all seek out Ghostland to rock out.

"Aaron and I are influenced by two different things," Turner, 28, said. "In the 1990s, you either liked rock or you were into techno. The rock people didn't embrace electronic music at all. Then Radiohead and others started to combine the two, and people started to think, `Oh, yeah, that's kind of cool. It's not just disco or whatever.'

"The younger generations are just viewing it as new music, as opposed to what's been done over and over in the past 50 years. I think that they don't care; they just want to go and bang it, and have fun for however many hours the show lasts."

Turner's theory falls in line with his band's business model as well. Those who dig Ghostland's vibrant laser-assisted live shows will seek its recordings out somewhere. These days the outlets are many, and Ghostland itself controls it all, from marketing and publicity to distribution and pricing.

"We listened to what some major labels offered us in the spring, and there wasn't much of a difference between what they could offer and what we can offer ourselves," he said. "On the road, we're self-sufficient. We're not interested in videos; people can type in Ghostland Observatory on YouTube and see videos that fans have made. We don't need a bus.

"Eleven- to 16-year-olds aren't asking their parents to take them to the record store at the mall anymore. They're going online to find whatever music that they want. That old-school apparatus - sign to a label, get a manager, a publicist, get a video on MTV, this and that - those things aren't so necessary anymore."

That Ghostland's drawn raves in such national music magazines as Spin and snagged an appearance on "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" in October prove the strategy right so far. Its potential breakout CD, "Robotique Majestique," will come out on Turner's Trashy Moped label on March 4 with no big boys involved.

And seeing the band live is believing: At the Austin City Limits Music Festival in September, its set made James Murphy's roughly comparable outfit, LCD Soundsystem, look like an amateur-talent-show contestant.

"At each show we want to give people the best, no matter if it's a hundred people out there or 80,000," Turner said. "Who knows what the future will bring. As long as we're honest and we try our hardest to put on the best show we can, I believe we'll always shine through."

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