the story behind The Ghosts On the Lake

31 Jan


“The Ghosts On the Lake” is the first song I’ve written, actually liked and felt like a song to me. I’ve been writing parts of lyrics for years and had written a few completed songs, none of which I liked. With “The Ghosts On the Lake”, it felt different and real. By this time I had finished writing, I knew I had a song.

August 2013

On the plane from Salt Lake City to Portland, I saw the Great Salt Lake and watched the landscape change from the Rocky Mountains to Mount Hood. Hoping to be inspired, I tried writing lyrics. Nothing. Then as the plane was landing in PDX, words came to me and I had the first line, “the ghosts on the lake”.

October 2013

I had been writing and writing, trying to finish this song. Two months later, I still had nothing. I had proposed my music video to a lot of people and no one had really asked, but I had no song.

Then one afternoon, I sat down, picked up my guitar, played 2 chords and wrote 3/4 of the lyrics. The first train of thought melody I hummed turned into the melody for “The Ghosts On the Lake”. Writing a melody by humming something cohesive had never happened before. I figured out the rest of the lyrics by the next morning. The song was finished on All Hallow’s Eve and looking back, it seems apropos writing a song about ghosts. I recorded a demo on my phone and sent the song to Catherine Vericolli at 513 Analog. I also sent the demo to the dancers for choreography. This was 9 days before filming the music video.


In cinematography, the idea for the final project was open ended, but we were asked to take a painting and use it as inspiration to turn it into a film. Inspired by album artwork and Bon Iver, I chose the Calgary painting for Bon Iver by the artist, Gregory Euclide.

My vision of the storyline was based off words and thoughts. I wrote, “double exposure, dreamlike, somewhat haunting and dark, yet light, feels raw, human, sense of space, time, ballerinas, dance-like”. I had this vision of ballerinas in the woods and dark, disturbing circus people.

Originally, this was going to be a large production of dancers and several actors. This wasn’t possible though and in the end, I had to cut back on production. I decided to redraw my focus on the dancers, which I liked a lot more than what I initially envisioned.


Using a Bolex H16 Reflex and 16mm film to film the music video, I wanted to stay true to the analog process and keep this project analog as much as possible. This meant recording using analog gear and 2” tape. I hardly knew anything about analog recording except being inspired by The Beatles and Nirvana documentary and everything I learned from Steve Pecchia-Bekkum in sound, watching Sound City at Sundance 2013 (Steve happened to be there as well.) and the Making of Rabbits On the Run by Vanessa Carlton. I looked up analog recording studios and found 513 Analog in Tempe, Arizona.


Saturday, November 9, 2013

I wore my Gregory Alan Isakov “The Weatherman” shirt that day, for good luck and in high hopes there would be no snow. We filmed at Sugar House and Liberty Park and I was most fortunate for the sunny weather and no snow. I was frantic the entire time. I didn’t know exactly how my music video should and would look like, but my entire crew helped me through it all. Before every shot, there was lots of Jill Pecchia-Bekkum taking light readings and measuring tape runs, Julia Dahdah, Antonio Garza Zertuche and Katie McDonald being the best production assistants by taking phone calls, random pinecone markers and saving the Bolex on the hill (I am embarrassed to admit this and can’t believe that almost happened. Thank you, Antonio.). Everyone from the film crew to the make-up team, Ryan Rose reminded me to “open the thing, wind the thing” before I filmed 30 seconds on the Bolex. The make-up artists from Paul Mitchell were incredible. The dancers were a dream to watch through a lens. All went well, even though I wasn’t completely convinced because I had no idea what the film would look like until a month later.


Arizona and Phoenix to me feel a bit sentimental and like a re-birth. My first time to Phoenix was in September 2013. I went there to see one of my favourite musicians of all time, Gregory Alan Isakov. I made new friends and met and hanged out with Gregory after his show. I told Gregory how he inspires me to work harder and to write songs. He encouraged me to keep writing. I would have never thought that two months later, I would be back in Phoenix and a few miles away from recording a song I wrote.

Saturday, November 30, 2013 and Sunday, December 1, 2013

Recording, mixing and being at 513 Analog in Tempe, Arizona was fully inspiring. I learned a lot from everyone there and loved working with talented people who truly love what they do. I played on a vintage Gibson and sang and repeated this process. Steve Dueck played kicks and swirly drums and sleigh bells. Robin Vining played almost all the instruments and added sparkles with the piano, Rhodes, electric guitar, slide guitar and bass. It felt magical hearing all these layers of instruments, especially on tape and in the studio. I sat next to a Neve console while I watched Mike Hissong and Dominic Armstrong work their magic with lots of fancy buttons. I sang the final vocals in front of lots of microphones. Megyn Neff added cinematic sounds with her violin. Mike and Dominic worked more magic, mixing with more fancy buttons. I had never seen real faders outside of a DAW before and watching the faders move on an actual console looked like the ghosts on the mixing board. The entire time, I had no idea how my song should sound like, but with the help of everyone in the studio, everything formed into this cohesive, ghostly soundscape.


The cover art was photographed on 35mm film. The day I got back from Phoenix, I drove to Antelope Island for the first time. In the distance, there was this mysterious fog surrounding the mountains and disappearing into the Great Salt Lake. It was there in that windy and desolate landscape I remembered how to take pictures on film again.

I hadn’t developed film since high school and I had no idea Costco stopped developing film years ago. While in search of a photo lab to develop film, I was saddened to discover that analog has become a dying art.


I learned more about analog. Filming on regular 16mm will not look widescreen. The tape machine is one of my favourite sounds. Being an artist means making decisions and creative decisions need to be made. PRE-PRODUCTION. PRODUCTION. POST-PRODUCTION. Over and over again, I have been continually reminded that art is a process. It’s a process of both madness and a love for the work by doing the work.

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