Living with band mates: the highs and lows of music becoming your entire life

By Alex Jones

20 May 2024

There’s an ancient Chinese proverb to describe bandmates who live together. Roughly translating to ‘Rabbits don’t eat the grass near their burrow’, it’s better understood in English as ‘Don’t bring your work home with you’ or more directly ‘Don’t sh*t where you eat’

Now meet frontman Joe and drummer Dan, who make up half of the York-based band, Ghostship. House mates, band mates and best mates, the pair have got an immense understanding of the pros and cons of living a life which rarely allows you time to switch off from music. 

21/3/24. York, UK. As the clock strikes midnight, Ghostship band crack open a bottle of Tesco’s finest three pound prosecco, ready to spray it about like formula one drivers in celebration of the release of their third single, Milly. The four-piece band have joined a crowded market, playing indie-rock and alternative covers as well as their own funkier tunes. The band reflect on how they got to be up and coming performers on the York music scene. Joe’s answer is simple: “Just being ruddy good mates.” 

Joe and Wriggey, performing in The Finsbury Pub, London

Chemistry seems to be the band’s proudest attribute. Musical chemistry both onstage and in the studio, was born from a solid, existing friendship at the start of their university courses. Joe, Dan, Wriggey and Joel live together in the suburbs of York and rarely spend a day not thinking about the band. 

“Me and Wriggey (guitarist) met on the bus. I saw he was listening to Jimmy Hendrix and I thought well this guy probably plays guitar.” Joe explained. 

“I also met Dan on the bus but he never said he could play drums.” Who knew the buses of York would be such a shop window for budding musicians? 

“Me, Wriggey and Dan would put a song and he’d say ‘oh I can drum to this’ and we’d just be like what the fuck are you on about?

“One day we just sort of pulled him up on the idea, went to the studio and Dan played drums, I played bass and Wriggey played guitar.” 

And so once Dan decided he could drum, the project got underway.  

Advancing through York University’s battle of the bands, Ghostship won the opportunity to play after Scouting for Girls at an end of year University ball. Organising band practice is as simple as knocking on each other’s rooms and plugging in, the only barrier being an unlikely complaint from equally noisy student neighbours. Enthusiasm from the members soon snowballed into a real hunger for success. 

It was this kind of total immersion in their music that turned the boys’ attention to a full album, ‘Freshly squeezed for every last drop’. Of course with this approach to song-writing, they do sometimes argue. 

“Day one was when we first tried to record our song Milly, probably about May last year. So we’re coming on to almost a year of the entire process. That was just together us three trying our hand at mixing. We thought the recording was not doing the song justice and thought we could do better basically.” Dan’s retelling of the original album work sums up the perfectionist attitude the band have carried throughout the album making process. “Getting 60% of an album to a finished album is way more work than you’d think. When we felt we’d done 60% of it it suddenly became clear we’d actually only done about a quarter.”

Ghostship booked out York University studios and continued the album, Joe explained “We started on a different song called overdue, maybe about a week later. That was the first thing we did that ended up on the final album… that’s actually probably our least favourite song now.

“We then got drums for Milly again, decided to have another crack at that.” 

It turns out having a studio is quite an essential tool to making an album. Cutting costs and using the tools available to them meant Joe and the rest of the Ghostship had to exploit loopholes to make the most of studio time: “We would book it at times where nobody would have it after and just go long into the night and stay there for long after.” 

By a long time after, Joe meant regularly finishing up in the early hours of the morning, really exhausting their musical reserves: “Driving back at like 4am, just cracking the most unhinged bits because we were just sleep deprived and working for like ten hours.

“It was realistically just very good fun, working on into the night it felt like we were achieving a lot at times.” 

Unsurprisingly, this pattern of working led to some wacky decisions and rising tensions as well as a great deal of success. Dan describes the fading in and fading at the end of their track, Milly, as one of these sleep deprived moments of madness: “We’d just finished recording MIlly and had this mad idea to fade it out and fade it in again. And there was a goofy twenty minutes where we were just working on that and had a few beers.

Ghostship play live in North London

“The idea of a song fading out, and then you think its finished and then it fades back up again. For some reason after like 4 beers at the height of summer that was the funniest thing.”

The boys resorted to what Dan described as a ‘feast and famine’ approach to making the album after some hairy patches in production. 

Joe and Dan have seemingly cracked how to push Wriggey’s buttons and revealed a time where a pesky section of rhythm guitar ate away at their friendship for a couple of hours. 

“Wriggey was trying to do this part where every take was a bit rushed. On the 28th time he attempted it and Dan chimed in with ‘that was a bit rushed’ he just lost the plot. A moment where it all felt like it might reach breaking point.” Joe explained. 

Joe reiterated that they do largely get on regardless of the odd sweary outbreak. This just seems to be part and parcel of living with bandmates. 

Joe announced a change of strategy to combat such freak circumstances: “There were moments in the studio where we just weren’t getting anything done. Slowly starting to hate each other and hate what we’d created and just think the whole thing was a complete waste of time. We decided just to do it in bursts. We would do it for like 5 or 6 days in a row and then have a massive break where we didn’t see each other.

“You just write yourself off for that week, you’re not going to see the world for that week.” 

The studios closed briefly for the summer in a situation which offered the boys a potentially crucial break from the album work – one which they obviously did not take. Joe recalls the period where they attempted to transform their home into a DIY studio: “We managed to borrow some equipment and lived in our house. We recorded guitars, vocals and bass parts all in our own house and another song called Helping Hand.” 

Cables ran through the house in an effort to avoid what Dan referred to as ‘ugly acoustics’. Total immersion in the music really peaked at this point with the lads climbing over amps and microphone stands to make a coffee in the morning. Joe explained: “It was just the loosest recording process ever, literally just have a few beers and do a vocal take.”  

“I was playing guitar and singing in a completely different room to where Dan and Wriggey were standing.

“Dan just came out of the room and was like ‘that was the one, that was the take, we’re using that one.” 

The final pieces in ‘Freshly squeezed for every last drop’ came together at the height of summer 2023. The boys described a beautiful week of glorious rays of British summer, playing headers and volleys in studio breaks where Joe discovered: “Wriggey is very decent, he’s got a very good strike on him” and a sweet streak where everything musically just seemed to click together. 

During satisfying post-studio beers in the sun, the boys had the chance to reflect on their roles. Joe saw it as a balanced writing process: “It is kind of a split. Pure writing wise the original ideas for the songs is kind of Wriggey or me. Lyrics is a combination. Very much team effort, even creatively.”  

Playing gigs alongside this workload, Ghostship are steadily growing their name in the York music scene much to Joe’s delight: “Our best performing moment was at The Roses, which is the York and Lancaster university varsity event. We were asked to play the opening ceremony. 

“There were probably two or three thousand people and they had like eight to ten massive speakers lined up. We were just playing and echoing through those speakers. I remember being at the soundcheck to that and just singing and hearing my voice reverberate around what felt like this arena.  

“It felt insane to hear my voice projected that loud and that far.” 

“When you are playing to a lot of people the individuality of people sort of gets blurred and so it doesn’t actually feel like you are playing to anybody. A crowd of 100 is almost worse, then you can see people’s faces.” 

Graduation from York university is looming over the Ghostship. It seems studying has given them a lifestyle that enables chasing musical ambition, but the real world is about to come knocking. The lads plan to relocate to Leeds and break onto the musical scene in a brand new city, still living together, still making music together. Joe is thoroughly looking forward to the opportunity: “Leeds is a no brainer, we couldn’t not do this. We owe it to the work we’ve put in so far to just really give it a go.”

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