Handsome Ghost find the beauty in the cracks on their comforting and cathartic new EP ‘To the Place Where We Met Last,’ an intimate, cinematic journey through the dirt, the grit, and the slush of life.
“Heaven Isn’t Long for You” – Handsome Ghost
“And in the evening glow, the day is slow to end,” Handsome Ghost sing not too far into their brand-new EP, soaking up one of life’s rare idyllic moments of halcyon bliss. “Not a cloud for a miles, and what a time it has been… but now I wanna feel the rain. I wanna feel the rain again.” No sooner did that sense of perfection come, than it was replaced by a new feeling: One of discomfort in paradise – of a deep yearning and inner longing for life’s perfect imperfection.
Handsome Ghost have long had a knack for finding the beauty in the cracks, and in their new record, they dwell in the familiar, turbulent depths of raw emotion and experience. Comforting and cathartic, To the Place Where We Met Last is an intense, intimate journey through the dirt, the grit, and the slush of life. Embracing ethereal high highs and heavy, haunting lows, Handsome Ghost create a cinematic, moody journey that taps the core of our shared, perfectly imperfect humanity.
Sky true blue, time doesn’t move
I’ve been living this way for a while
Five star meals and baseball fields
Well pour a drink and we’ll kill some time
Down to the river bend
Down there I couldn’t swim for my life
Dive deep the highest height
Look now I’m swimming the butterfly
And in the evening glow, the day is slow to end
Not a cloud for a miles and what a time it has been
But now I wanna feel the rain
I wanna feel the rain again
Released March 7, 2023 via Nettwerk Music Group, To the Place Where We Met Last is a gorgeous addition to Handsome Ghost’s soul-stirring, heartrending catalog. The Massachusetts duo of singer/songwriter Tim Noyes and multi-instrumentalist and producer Eddie Byun, Handsome Ghost have cast a long, striking shadow over the indie music world for the past nine years; ever since 2014’s achingly beautiful song “Blood Stutter” and 2015’s equally stunning debut EP Steps, the band has found their voice in-between the acoustic and electronic worlds, balancing “the ethereal and the real,” as I once wrote several years ago.
To the Place Where We Met Last arrives in the wake of 2018’s debut album Welcome Back and 2020’s sophomore LP Some Still Morning, and follows a string of singles teased out over the past six months. For Noyes and Byun, this new EP is a beautiful tribute to their band’s history, with its five songs, each inspired by true events, indelibly influenced by both of their experiences playing in bands for well over a decade. Noyes describes it as more of a book of short stories than a novel, adding, “It’s a body of work that finally embraces how much of an impact playing in bands has had on my life.”
And while it also marks the beginning of what will eventually become the band’s third full-length album, this EP stands on its own two feet as a compelling record full of raw passion, pain, heart, and depth.
“If I’m remembering correctly (which I am), we were planning initially to record a couple songs after our last record to release as singles. Something to kind of extend Some Still Morning while we figured out our next move,” Tim Noyes tells Atwood Magazine. “I had made a bunch of demos while we were making that record (in between recording sessions), so there were a bunch of songs to choose from. I think once we got working in the studio, Eddie and I knew that these were different songs with their own life, and we were excited to take them in their own direction. So we pressed pause, reset, and then got a plan for making what became this EP.”
“I think we wanted it to be ‘bigger’ than our last record – to try and experiment a bit with different sounds and approaches. Some Still Morning has a really tight scope. The arrangements are basically essentials only, which was by design. For these songs, we opened things up a bit and allowed ourselves to explore, and that was really exciting. Also, we haven’t toured in a while – so this was a way to capture some of the live elements that we were really missing. We wanted the listener to hear the room and the performances as if they were there with us in the studio. Hopefully that comes across.”
For Eddie Byun, these songs were shaped by time, space, and distance.
“This was the first time we didn’t live together while making music,” he explains. “I think that really affected things. We were on a schedule where we would record for one week, then take one or two or three weeks off. That obviously made the process slower and made the recordings span over multiple seasons. I think some of that is pretty obvious. ‘Neptune’ was the first track we worked on, and I remember walking through the snowy, slushy streets of Brooklyn while listening to ‘Neptune’, thinking of where to take the song. A lot of that dirt and grit and slush made its way into the sound. In a similar way, we recorded ‘Heaven Isn’t Long for You’ in April as the season changed and there was a little bit more optimism in the air. I think you can hear that too.”
“In the lead-up to the release of Some Still Morning, I had been thinking a lot about context and how it affects songs. Where you are physically, but also what state of mind, where you are emotionally, all that stuff that makes us human. That record was so much about sitting with your thoughts, a pensive thing, and I was supremely excited about re-imagining those songs for a live show. Which songs should stay really tight and intimate, which songs could get anthemic, how playing with a drummer would affect things… And then when the pandemic happened, and touring came to a halt, I think a lot of those ambitions kinda lingered. Not intentionally, but I think that unfulfilled itch to imagine things a little bigger carried over when we got into our ‘studio.’ As far as a vision going into recording, I think a lot of how we approached this record was with the lessons we learned from Some Still Morning. That record was, at first, a struggle of struggles to record. We went into that one with our own approaches that, (at least personally) were too rigid, and forced the songs to feel really forced. So with this one, we really went in just kinda letting the songs come together as they did.”
To the Place Where We Met Last‘s five songs are cohesive, insofar as they’re all Handsome Ghost songs, but there is no denying how distinct and differentiable they all are from one another.
“These songs are all heavy on location/setting,” Noyes says on the topic of through-lines. “Some of them started with a location and I built the story around that. Or put a story I wanted to tell into a location it didn’t belong. There aren’t any traditional love songs, for example, that can just exist in the ether. They all are grounded in some place, whether or not the lyrics are explicit in defining what place that is. So ‘To The Place Where We Met Last,’ a line from ‘Birch Trees,’ felt like a fitting title.”
It’s certainly a dramatic sounding title, and it has the desired effect of provoking a nonlinear series of thoughts and associated images. “I like to think it’s one of those EPs that will get better each time you listen to it,” Noyes smiles. “Like watching a movie you love over and over and noticing different little things on each watch.”
This EP also succeeds at capturing where Handsome Ghost have been, and how far they’ve come over the past decade. “I think it’s been an interesting journey for the two of us over the years,” Noyes reflects. “We’ve never made the same record twice, so that keeps things exciting. I think our artistic relationship continues to evolve, and this EP just captures where we were at for those months recording it. We’ve been making music together forever now, so there’s a comfort and familiarity anytime we step into the studio. But I like to think that we can still challenge and push each other, and I think there were moments recording this EP where we did just that.”
“We’re really just a couple of regular dudes doing what we like,” Byun asserts. “Tim found a banjo, so we added that to our sound arsenal. Back before Handsome Ghost, I experimented a lot with electric guitar tones. Now I’m exploring how that fits into the music we make more.”
Fun fact: The one rule of Handsome Ghost used to be, NO ELECTRIC GUITAR. Noyes and Byun abandoned that limitation sometime before recording their debut album – a move that proved (and continues to prove) freeing for them, allowing them to pursue all creative and artistic avenues with few, if any, guardrails.
That freedom has resulted in the most eclectic and enchanting five-track collection of their career.
The record opens with a high bar on the achingly expressive, enchantingly ethereal “Neptune,” a driving indie folk song that can’t help but remind one of Phoebe Bridgers’ Punisher, Julien Baker’s Little Oblivions, and some early aughts Death Cab for Cutie: Heavy, atmospheric, and smoldering, the lyrics unveil a moving story of intimate connection, uncertainty, and disconnect, whilst its musical accompaniment creates an equally intimate world with a visceral weight and haunting, melodically charged sound. It’s turbulent, disruptive, and utterly enthralling: A heartfelt and heated experience for the mind and body alike.
“I remember a very nice moment in the beginning, when we were recording ‘Neptune,'” Noyes recalls. “That was the first track we worked on for the EP, I believe. We were just up in the studio, having a good time, getting excited about the track, etc. It was very innocent, it reminded me of the old, old, old days when there were zero expectations and it was just for the love of the game. Not that it isn’t still for the love of the game, but things change as music becomes more serious (for the good and the bad) and it’s always nice to realize when you’re in one of those perfect moments where you’re just working on a tune and nothing else matters.”
You said isn’t that better rising up from my sink
Hair down to your shoulders show me bright blue streaks
One and then another and some blue on the ground
Well all of this color and it’s so dark out
In the world
May we hold on to the pretty stuff
Showed me your tattoo of Neptune
And told me that nowhere’s ever far enough
Then I was driving you home
I was driving you home
That weight is immediately lifted, at least in one sense, with “Heaven Isn’t Long for You,” which, on a personal level, is both one of the happiest and one of the saddest songs I’ve ever heard. Heartfelt and hauntingly beautiful, the track gently picks apart the concept of heaven, or some kind of perfect paradisiacal place, through a smile-inducing soundtrack of warm, spirited, harmony-rich acoustic folk complete with banjo, mandolin, tambourines, acoustic and electric guitars. It’s an undeniably infectious singalong blending the sweet with the bittersweet, the delicate with the tender – which has admittedly been (and remains) one of Handsome Ghost’s strongest qualities.
Wake up late, sun on my face
How could any man ask for more
It might sound strange, I might be deranged
But I think I miss the pain from before
And in the evening glow the day is slow to end
Not a cloud for a miles and what a time it has been
But now I wanna feel the rain
I wanna feel the rain again
That notion of heaven as a utopia does feel a bit eerie and unsettling; that version of perfection might work for a while, but like Noyes sings in the song’s gut-wrenching chorus, “Now I wanna feel the rain. I wanna feel the rain again.” Life isn’t fun if it’s one straight line. Between Handsome Ghost’s intimate, vulnerably lyricism and their utterly enchanting, achingly beautiful performance, “Heaven Isn’t Long For You” is downright perfection in the best way possible: It’s thought-provoking and philosophical, catchy and cleansing all at once.
At once radiant and hazy, the EP’s middle track “Call Me When You’re Pulling Up” is something of a continuation of Handsome Ghost’s debut single, “Blood Stutter.” “It’s a song about going out for one last ride to feel something again, even if it’s a mistake,” Noyes explains. “… About making that (maybe regrettable?) call to somebody from a past life.”
The heavy, angst and overdrive-fueled “Figure 8” is billed as “a day out with Elliott Smith.” Like a watched pot of water, the song yearns to spill, yet never quite does; the tension rises, rises, and rises, leaving us with an ache in our hearts and a pit in our stomachs.
Tell me how I’m supposed to be
Am I old enough to learn…
It’s like I’m always up just pacing
’til the morning comes
I guess my mind well always run well listen
I just wanna slow it some
I’m coming through you
take the lead I’ll follow you
We’re entering a crowded room be patient
Now we’re gonna feel it soon
And I can’t see straight
We’re moving in a true
– “Figure 8,” Handsome Ghost
That pit is relieved with “Birch Trees,” a fitting finale that spreads itself over the ears like a great big, comforting hug. Byun cites this song as one of his personal favorites.
“There are [actually] a lot of little moments that I like,” he says. “I like the electric in the second verse of ‘Figure 8’ – it makes me feel real rock n roll. Caitlin Bell’s voice adds a really nice dimension to these songs, especially how she sings ‘now‘ in ‘Birch Trees.’ It’s spooky. My favorite [lyric] right now is from ‘Birch Trees’: ‘Then your mother shouting out, I can swear I hear her now.’ I had a friend growing up whose mom had a super thick Boston accent… she’d scream from miles away, ‘JASON, GET OVER HERE.’ And whenever I hear that line, I think about Jason’s mom, hear her say, ‘hea,’ and chuckle a little bit.”
Noyes respectfully opts out of choosing favorites from his own writing, but is quite to add a caveat. “I made an effort for these songs not to overthink things too much,” he says. “If it felt right, I went with it. When I started writing songs I was just so amazed that I was actually writing that I never really critiqued my own stuff. I just wrote what I felt. I wasn’t quite that loose with these ones, but I did try and capture a little bit of that feeling, or that rawness that comes with just spitting it out.”
Remember early innocence
You and I in those twin beds
Soft footsteps to sneak outside
Then your mother shouting out
I could swear I hear her now
But she’s been gone since last July
In these dusty corners the papers torn up
The dead birch trees coming down
And it all feels empty but you still know me
And we can figure it out
I don’t know why
You still make me try so hard
What if now
We give it one more chance and start
To the Place Where We Met Last is certainly the rawest Handsome Ghost have ever felt – and they’ve felt pretty raw before.
The band’s EP aches with vulnerability and intent; from the intimate overhaul of “Neptune” to the cathartic nostalgia and release in “Birch Trees,” Handsome Ghost create a space for us to dwell, reflect, reminisce, and let go. This music is cleansing and comforting, emotional and evocative; it’s human.
“This is a lot to ask, I know, but I hope people listen to it, and then listen to it again,” Noyes shares. “And then again!” he laughs. “I think there’s a lot here. There’s the song itself, and then the arrangement and the production have quite a bit in there as well. There’s a lot to take away from this EP, I think. Some of it is right up front, and then some of it is more subtle. That said, if someone just listens to it once, that is quite alright by me too. We will take it! But in other words, if you’re the kind of person who wants to hear the lyrics and the melody and that’s what you focus on, I think we have something here for you. If you’re a music nerd like us and you want to zero in on every little part of the arrangement…we’ve got you covered there, too.”
As for his takeaways, Byun finds himself lost in reflection of how where Handsome Ghost has been, how far they’ve come, and where they’re going next. “This January was the five-year anniversary of [our debut album] Welcome Back,” he notes. “I was surprised by how many people reached out to us to tell us what the record meant to them so many years ago, and the memories it brings back. I hope in five years somebody messages us on whatever new social media platform we’re being forced to learn to tell us how they always think about their drive to Oklahoma (or something) when they hear ‘Neptune.’”
Experience the full record via our below stream, and peek inside Handsome Ghost’s To the Place Where We Met Last EP with Atwood Magazine as Tim Noyes and Eddie Byun take us track-by-track through the music and lyrics of their latest effort!
‘To the Place Where We Met Last’ – Handsome Ghost
:: Inside To the Place Where We Met Last ::
Neptune is a character sketch within a song. There’s a little action to it, two people are making their way through the day together – but it’s really meant to show the listener who this unique woman is. I actually built this one around the last verse – a karaoke scene that really happened, basically word for word – and then wrote backwards from there, knowing where I wanted the two characters to end up at the end.
Heaven Isn’t Long For You
The beginnings of this one came to me when I was walking my dog. There’s a big open field that leads to a hilly trail not far from my house, and when the light hits it right as the sun is going down it looks so beautiful – heavenly, even. The song itself is straightforward: Is it better to live where everything is perfect all the time? Or do we, as humans, crave the imperfectness of life?
Call Me When You’re Pulling Up
Our first song that we released as Handsome Ghost is called “Blood Stutter.” I’ve always seen “Call Me When You’re Pulling Up” as a continuation of that song. There are some parallels – cars, stars, etc. But while Blood Stutter has a certain confidence to it, Call Me is more desperate, more broken.
I wrote “Figure 8” about a day out with Elliott Smith, my favorite singer/songwriter and a big influence of mine over the years. It’s a pretty unfair song – I never met him and I really have no idea what he was like beyond what I’ve read and watched, and what I can gather from his songs. So the song is really just a guess, I guess.
This one was inspired by a small town on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I visited once to play a small acoustic show and then went out afterwards with some of the folks who lived there. It was a gorgeous place – but I learned over the course of the night that it was a difficult place to live. It must have made an impression on me, because I chose that as the setting for this one and just went where it took me.
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© Seb Keefe
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