Casting Umbra on Daylight Ghosts – The Interview

We here at Onyx, decided that since Brisbane band, Daylight Ghosts, have released their first length album, Urban Umbra, that if might be prudent to talk to Karl O’Shea and Adam Dawe about the album and things that have brought them to this moment. No vorpal bunnies were hurt in the asking of any questions.

Welcome to the dark side of Onyx, which may or may not be as dark as my soul.

Karl O’Shea: Not my first dalliance with the dark side, I can assure you of that.

Adam Dawe:  Hello darkness my old friend…

The new album, Urban Umbra, is your debut full release and before that, you had brought out 5 singles, two remixes by the talented Matt Dodds and a live recording. Was it a natural progression to bring out the album? What impact has COVID had on all this?

Karl O’Shea: I annoyingly kept changing my mind on how we were going to do this. The original idea was to release all the songs as singles and compile them as a playlist but then decided that was probably not super smart for a very small band so we decided to make this group of songs an album instead. COVID has definitely slowed things down but it did afford me a lot of time to work on the rough demo arrangements. The main impact for us was we didn’t end up doing a live “in person” gig until the tail end of 2020 and a few postponements and cancellations in 2021. That being said, that lovely folk at Live On Mars helped facilitate our first performance as a livestream. To help with the nerves, we had a few friends (COVID-distanced of course) in my living room to help it feel a little bit more “normal”. And it was pretty nerve-wracking for me as that was the first time I had played guitar live! I think I did okay.

What is the meaning behind calling the album Urban Umbra, as an umbra is a shadow or darkness?

Karl O’Shea: Put simply – moody, melancholic music made from the perspective of people who live in cities and have experienced the darker side of city living (as well as the good). Where you live definitely has an influence on the art you create, whether that’s overt or subtle. The acoustic elements mixed with the synthetic and electronic in our music are a vague reflection of the cultural melting pot that is city living.

Adam Dawe: And we also thought it would be really hard for people to say the phrase “album Urban Umbra” quickly without falling over their words.  

I particularly like Before The Fall. What is the significance of this song as I am intrigued by the last line about going back into the sea where you left her buried?

Adam Dawe: Thank you. That song is a personal favourite of mine and seems to be one that a lot of people are taking a liking to, which is great. I don’t really want to go into the lyrics too much due to the personal nature of them, but I will say the “buried” part is more metaphorical than literal. I haven’t buried any women at any beaches yet. It’s really about how certain places can invoke certain memories of certain people, and I chose the sea because of its metaphorical relation to emotions and wild, untamed spirit. A powerful force of nature under the right circumstances, or also a quiet, contemplative place of tranquility and peace.  

Both of you are in or have been in a number of bands in the Brisbane scene. Adam in Lunar Seasons & Novus Wild and Karl in Balloons Kill Babies, inovo, Sarah Stockholm & Ghostwoods. How did you both end up playing together?

Karl O’Shea: Nothing too exciting to be honest. I posted an ad on a Facebook music group looking for a vocalist/collaborator for a little dark-folk project I was working on and Adam was the only person that I felt projected fragility and melancholy with his voice and actually got the brief. The dude’s got a great work ethic and is up for anything which are excellent qualities in a collaborator. Plus, he’s a really lovely guy and that’s an especially important quality in a human being, creative or not.

Adam Dawe: After the initial contact on Facebook, Karl sent me 4 or 5 of his song ideas. Once I heard the caliber of the music Karl was coming up with, I was hooked. I’d been wanting to create music in this style for a very long time and felt like I had something I could add to these songs. When we met up in real life, we bonded over shared musical tastes and a love of all things that take a turn off the beaten path.  It also doesn’t hurt that Karl is an absolute champion of a person too.

The other bands you are involved in are a lot heavier or noisier for want of a better word, whilst Daylight Ghosts is far more organic and folky in feel. Was this the sound you were striving for or is this how the project has evolved naturally?

Karl O’Shea: My original vision for Daylight Ghosts was to create more intimate dark-folk in the vein of artists like Death In June, Chelsea Wolfe, King Dude among others. It was only when we started work on After The Flood with Matt and introduced drum loops and more synthetic sounds that I was inspired to push the music in a more “dark-folktronica” direction and incorporate other styles like indie music, post-punk, goth, hip-hop and electronica. We’ve basically been working this out as we go along and honestly, it’s much more exciting to me to try and blend a lot of these styles together than just ape the artists that originally inspired the project.

Adam Dawe:  As Karl said, the original idea was simply an acoustic duo. But once we started introducing other instruments in our recordings the project evolved into what it is now. Which I think is something even more interesting.   

Both of you are involved in the writing of songs, so who comes up with what?

Karl O’Shea: I generally compose and arrange the musical side of things. The process normally is: I write a really basic structure on acoustic guitar, send a demo to Adam, then slowly come up with an arrangement, go back and forth with Adam to refine the structure and arrangement and then work with Matt to record and get the right sounds.

Adam Dawe: I’m the lyrics guy and it’s my job to translate the mood of the music into stories. The only standard I set for myself is that the lyrics and vocal parts need to complement and potentially elevate the music.  

A lot of the imagery for Daylight Ghost has to do with nature, even the original images you sent with your singles In The Glow and Golden Hour could be you but all filmy and light distorted outside. What influences your artwork for the band?

Karl O’Shea: This isn’t a very artistic answer. I have, over the course of the last 5 or so years, taken various “artistic” (or pretentious) photos on my iPhone and messed around with them with never much of a plan for using them. I’ve always wanted Daylight Ghosts to be as DIY as possible and when we started to require imagery for releases, I decided to go through these images and there was a decent handful that I felt matched the vibe of the music. Even though a lot of these images are from nature, the images are distorted and doctored which kinda works with our whole “acoustic-mixed-with-electronic” style.

Do you sometimes feel like ghosts that walk in the daylight hours?

Karl O’Shea: Not really a proper answer to your question but the inspiration for the band name comes from the book “Junky” by William S. Burroughs. The line is talking about drug addicts who had metaphorically withdrawn from the world but still walked around in daylight as a former shadow of themselves. Without going into my history too much, I do have a past with substance abuse, bad relationships and have generally struggled to feel like I fit in with most groups of people. Something about that line resonated with me and I felt it fit the band.

Adam Dawe: I’m a night person by nature, so any time I’m awake during the day I feel a bit ghost-like.  Or maybe more zombie-like? Daylight Zombies doesn’t quite have the same ring to it though.  

There seems to be a certain amount of darkness in the lyrics and music. Which one of you is this coming from?

Karl O’Shea: I think we’re both responsible for the darkness. I bring it to the music and Adam brings it to the lyrics. I’m not especially interested in writing happy music and if I did, it wouldn’t be genuine.

Adam Dawe: The lyrics are 9 times out of 10 a reflection of what I’m getting from the music.  So we’re definitely both responsible for it.  

Will there be live shows to support the album, especially with venues being allowed to open to full capacity again?

Karl O’Shea: We are planning a launch at It’s Still A Secret on the 6th of May with Reverb Springs (more details to be announced). This will also be the first show where we FINALLY incorporate the rest of the sounds that you hear on the recordings. Outside of that, we’re just going to see what happens. I’m a big believer in doing a handful of decent shows instead of plenty of middling ones and I’m personally not too interested in wasting thousands of dollars on touring. If something decent comes along in another city, I’ll definitely make the time and effort to travel. But touring up and down the coast off our own backs with such a small fanbase to possibly play to 5-10 people a night? There are much easier ways to waste money and a lot of them are more fun too.

Adam Dawe:  There certainly will, and it will be our first show in nearly six months and with our new instrumentation set up. Previously we’ve played only as an acoustic duo so it will be great to play the songs in a manner much closer to their recorded counterparts.  

What bands and music did you grow up with that influenced your tastes?

Karl O’Shea: There’s quite a lot of music I love but I would say that bands that most influenced my current tastes whilst growing up were Something For Kate, The Cure, Joy Division, New Order, Nine Inch Nails, Porcupine Tree, David Bowie, Radiohead, Helmet….the list keeps going.

Adam Dawe:  Definitely David Bowie, The Cure, Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails for me as well.  Then also singer/songwriters like Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young and Nick Cave.  

Who or what do you listen to now?

Karl O’Shea: I’m always all over the place but the artists I’m currently listening to the most are GGGOLDDD, Nilüfer Yanya, The Body, Ethel Cain, Bring Me The Horizon, Enter Shikari, Julia Jacklin, Soccer Mommy, Einstürzende Neubauten and probably dozens more. I’m also currently obsessed with a couple of podcasts which are Not Another D&D Podcast and Tanis.

Adam Dawe: I’ve been getting into Jack Ladder and the Dreamlanders and Beth Hart of late. And a lot of the Rolling Stones. On the heavier end of the spectrum, Zeal and Ardor and The Ocean Collective are getting a pretty solid spin too.  

As the reincarnation of Wizard Tim, I will ask what is your quest, favourite colour and what will be happening in the future with Daylight Ghosts?

Karl O’Shea: I’ll go for the basic goth answer and say black is my favourite colour though I’m quite partial to grey, red and blue. As for the future of Daylight Ghosts? Simple – keep creating and releasing music. We’ll figure out the rest as we go along.

Adam Dawe: I seek the holy grail. My favourite colour is blue. And I hope Daylight Ghosts continues to soar with the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow!

Thanks heaps for playing and congratulations on the album Urban Umbra!

Karl O’Shea: Why, thank you very much!

Adam Dawe: Thank you!

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