Interview: Songwriting Never Stops Haunting Ghostryder’s Gabe Reali

Ghostryder © Michael Arellano
Ghostryder © Michael Arellano
Atwood Magazine chats with Apple Music’s favorite indie alt boy Ghostryder about his songwriting process, being a drag queen on TikTok, and the upcoming folksy tricks he has up his sleeve.
by guest writer Blake McMillan
Stream: “What It Was” – Ghostryder

In spring 2022 while Conan Gray was on tour, Gabe Reali could be found promoting his upcoming song, “Indie Alt Boys.” Reali’s music was a best-kept secret, but burst across Apple Music’s talk shows and curated playlist under the stage name Ghostryder. Reali currently works as a songwriter for other artists, most prominently Peach Tree Rascals. In his free time, he writes and records for himself.

Based in Los Angeles, Reali has released dozens of songs under the Ghostryder moniker, the latest being the punchy, harmony-laden “What It Was” in October 2023.

With an upcoming genre shift from indie pop to indie folk, he sat down to talk with Atwood Magazine over FaceTime about songwriting.

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:: connect with Ghostryder here ::
Ghostryder © Michael Arellano
Ghostryder © Michael Arellano


What It Was - Ghostryder

Atwood Magazine: When did you begin writing?

Gabe Reali: I began writing poems when I was like 10. I would download YouTube instrumentals and rewrite songs that already existed. I’d take the same melody, and then post on SoundCloud. (laughs) And then in high school, I remember the first song that I wrote with intentional, original lyrics and melody, was when my school was having a “Say Nope to Dope” songwriting competition. It was county wide, and the grand prize was like, 3 grand, and so I was like, I could do that. So, I wrote a little ditty, just recorded record it on Voice Memos, on my piano and played it and sang it. And I ended up winning.

It’s so funny looking back, because at this point, I did not know that I was gonna be doing music. I was just like, “Oh, quick buck.” And it wasn’t until years later that I did it professionally.

Ghostryder isn't your first project, though. Right?

Reali: Yeah, I used to release stuff under my name, it was 2017 through 2019. Most of that music is down now. I think the only thing that’s left is a random dance feature. But yeah, this is the second go at an artist’s project, and it’s much more realized.

Why did you rebrand?

Reali: I grew a lot as a songwriter. I think early on, I was just taking any opportunity that I could to make a song using the minimal resources that I had to do any sort of visuals, mixing. I was broke, early 20s. So, I don’t think that I was able to properly bring my vision to life. I also just wasn’t writing good enough songs at the time.

I became a full-time songwriter in 2019. And the songs just got better. And I feel through writing for other people, writing for myself, I just kind of found my sound throughout that and the first one that I wrote for Ghostryder was “Dior Jeans.” And I think the moment that I wrote that, I was like, “Okay, this makes sense.” And then “Indie Alt Boys” was like, the next day, so I felt the momentum in that space and it just kind of made sense.

You are a “social media artist” – and there's a good, solid legion of artists who promote through Instagram and TikTok. Is there a formula for artists in that sphere?

Reali: I wish! I think early on, like with “Indie Alt Boys” trends, that was definitely working and there was momentum and then the second the song came out the algorithm completely did nothing for me. It was very interesting. I don’t know if that’s on the consumer side. Once it was out people weren’t as interested anymore, TikTok knew somehow, because I’ve noticed this a lot where people will be teasing a song, and it does super well in social media and the second it comes out all engagement goes to shit. (laughs)

Strategy really, I think consistency. I think I’ve always struggled to find a thing that I could do over and over again and on TikTok because I don’t think that it’s the thing anymore to just sing your song on camera and have the lyrics on the screen. But that’s definitely the most consistent thing that I did on there.

“Indie Alt Boys,” that was insane. It was literally my song of the summer in 2022. And like, every time like it comes down to shuffle, I'm transported back. You've talked about how it's about a guy who ended up being straight. Tell me about the songwriting process, like after, when you got home. Where do you even start with a song?

Reali: Well, before I wrote the song, I had that session. And it was just this songwriter in LA who I was like, oh my god, frickin… indie alt boy! He just comes into the sessions playing guitar, tatted up.

I was literally just home one night, and I just sang the chorus, acapella. I don’t think I had lyrics for that middle part. And it just started acapella. And then I put some chords under it. It sort of started as a Lo-Fi thing, like synth pop vibes. And I just knew that that wasn’t the essence of the song. I had my friend come and play guitar on it and it like came to life that day.

Your EP Why? dropped at the end of summer 2022. The production on that EP is very technically layered. Do your collaborators do songwriting with you? Or are they more on the production?

Reali: Definitely more on the production end. I feel like because I’m a songwriter by day, and heavily involved in like, you know, helping other people with their artists’ project. I feel like Ghostryder is the time where I kind of get to call the shots, which is not the case when I’m in other writing rooms. I prefer to write by myself. a couple of the songs.

I’ve had co-writers with, like “10 Roommates” was heavily co-written by Ryan Tutton, who produced that song. I remember I came in with the concept because I lived in a house in L.A. with ten roommates. He kind of spit out the melody and we kind of went from there. And then Lisa [Hickox], who produced “Indie Alt Boys,” “Dior Jeans,” and “Just Like That.” But it’s mostly me heavy lifting on the lyrics, and the concept and then bringing in production collaborators.

Each of the songs on that EP, I see different things flashed through my head when I play some of them. Like, “Go Get ‘Em” is on my main character playlists.

Reali: That was one that I fully produced and wrote alone. That was the first time that I did that. And then I brought it to a producer to finish it. That was Lisa and a guy named Erick Serna.

That project (the EP) looked very different before it turned into what it is now. It had three other songs on it. The only three songs that were still on it. It was more poppy, lo-fi songs. I remember I was driving up to this lake in California with one of my best friends. And I was just like, “I feel like I need like this just like slightly more organic vibe.” “Go Get ‘Em” is totally me speaking to me. I love that and we completely reworked that up on the drive and it turned into what it is now.

What was your deciding factor on changing it like that?

Reali: I wasn’t obsessed with the other songs. They were technically good. They had good hooks, but the sonics were not right. A song that I teased a lot early on was called “Know You Better.” It’s very BØRNS, electric guitar. I love that song, but it just didn’t fit with the project. So, I did actually like that song, but we needed more of a sonic cohesiveness. There were two other songs that I just kind of fell out of love with and was not confident on.

Apple Music has curated a lot of your songs. I know something is on their ‘Breakfast’ playlist still today. How did that happen? Do you know?

Reali: I don’t know. It must be a gay out there looking out for another gay.

They love you.

Reali: It’s so crazy. I’m so grateful to have gotten that support. I feel like Apple Music is a big reason I think that I’ve gotten exposure in other countries, especially in Asia and the Philippines. My friends have sent me videos of “Indie Alt Boys” playing on the radio there. Among all the streaming services, those demographics only show up on our Apple Music. I can only assume that it’s been because of that exposure that it’s being heard in those parts of the world, so that’s amazing.

Ghostryder © Michael Arellano
Ghostryder © Michael Arellano

You have written poetry on Instagram – I thought it was a verse you were teasing when I was reading it – and then you're like, “I literally just made that up, but it was cute.” You’re always writing?

Reali: Yeah, I have been. I have eight songs that I’ve written in the past month that I think are going to be the next project. It’s much more folky, still indie pop. I’m actually in the process of finding the right producer for it. But yeah, much more honest, organic, because I just started playing guitar last year. So that’s been fun to kind of explore that. But we’re always writing for Ghostryder and always writing for others, yes.

Your songbook must be huge.

Reali: (laughs) I just had to switch over to Google Drive because I have over 1000 songs. Most of them are for other people. I probably only have under 100 for myself. But I mean, I am in a session every single day writing for other people. So, you know, multiply that for over the course of a year. It adds up.

Ghostryder © Michael Arellano
Ghostryder © Michael Arellano

Who do you think you've written for besides yourself the most?

Gabe Reali: Definitely Peach Tree Rascals. I did a lot of their early stuff. This artist Carly Hanson, she’s in alternative. A lot of, like, non-binary alternative hype music. Gonna say those are the three ones that have the most songs out with right now.

Is there like a collaborator that you like, are drawn to the most someone who you think is just like, genius?

Reali: Oh my gosh, so many people. I mean, Lisa, who has done a bunch of music. I think that she’s amazing. An artist named Debbie Dawson. She’s new on the scene. She’s very like folk indie. We started working together over a year ago. And she’s about to blow up. She’s, like, the next Kacey Musgraves. I mean, there’s so many people.

Your latest release is “What It Was.” The intro to that song is so mysterious and creates such intrigue. And what was the initial idea for that song?

Reali: I wanted to make a festival song. I wanted to make something to come out on stage, Coachella-epic, just kind of big anthemic Arctic Monkeys vibe with a pop touch. I think I’d been sitting on that concept for a hot minute, and it just kind of came together in a writing session one day. The day one demo is pretty close to what ended up coming out.

I feel like that is like if there was like two sides to Ghostryder. It’s the cute boy next door, “10 Roommates,” “Indie Alt Boys.” Then there’s this like, dark festival vibe. It’s like “As It Was” and “Tootsie Rollin’.” Those darker energy vibes, which I have a lot of music in that vein that I have not released. But those are the two sides of Ghostryder that I’ve been figuring out how to bridge the gap between those two sounds, but those are my favorite vibes.

What I might do is put out this like, bulky indie, organic thing, and then circle back to the darker vibe for the EP after that and include “Tootsie Rollin’” and “What It Was” in that project because there’s no rules. So that’s what I’m already plotting.

Ghostryder © Michael Arellano
Ghostryder © Michael Arellano

So is that what you’re working on right now?

Reali: Definitely working on an indie folk project. That’s the main focus. I kind of am thinking about album, kind of not. I have two EPs in the works, that one and then the darker one. I have some other follow up songs that are “As It Was” and in similar veins. I’m just figuring out how to best release that so that they’re heard, because I’m banned on TikTok.

Are you serious?

Reali: I’m not banned.


Reali: Well, I wonder if my TikTok algorithm is messed up, because the only videos that have gone viral on it, coincidentally, are videos of drag queens. There was a video from way back in the day where it was a drag bit, and that got, like, 2 million views. And then I did another one of a girl wearing a rush bottle, and that went viral. So, I think the algorithm like thinks that I’m a drag queen TikTok account, which is amazing, but nothing music related ever does good.

I think that I need to start with content and just stick to content that works with the upcoming folk music. I’m just gonna experiment.

What are your hopes for this year musically?

Reali: Putting out more music, doing live shows. And putting out a song that I 100% produce, right? Just to just to say I did it.

Thank you for meeting with me.

Reali: Yeah, I got you!

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Blake McMillan is a music journalist from Mississippi, living in Jersey City and studying at The New School for Social Research in Manhattan. He is also the creator of the pop music-inspired audio drama “Cassette Tapes from August.” He can often be found talking way too much about pop music. McMillan can be contacted by email at blakemcmillan13[at]icloud[dot]com or Instagram at @ablakespace.

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What It Was - Ghostryder

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