Holy Ghost Tent Revival on new album, maturity and movement
After a three-year studio hiatus, Greensboro’s Holy Ghost Tent Revival released its third full-length Sweat Like The Old Days Sept. 4. The record marked a stylistic shift for the raucous six-piece known largely for its frenetic and perspiration-slicked stage show. With these 11 new tracks, Holy Ghost moves away from the more traditional bluegrass song structures of their earlier recordings, building solid arrangements that conjure another classic era. You’ll hear more Byrds than Old Crow and more Band than Avetts, in other words.
Genre-shifting aside, SLTOD displays the band’s growth since their last studio stint. The sextet used the late 2011 departure of founding bassist Patrick Leslie as a tool to renew and refocus the songwriting as well as the unit’s overall synergy. Both adjustments are tangible on the new record but come across as thoughtful maturation rather than growing pains: signature horns and banjo are kept intact for aficionados while song structures are reshaped and tightened. Production quality’s increased and highlights both instrumental and lyrical nuances. SLTOD showcases the outfit’s evolution in all the right ways. It’ll make you appreciate the wait when you finally indulge.
Shuffle’s Hannah Levinson caught up with HGTR guitarist Matt Martin to talk a bit more about SLTOD and the band’s plans for the road.
Shuffle: Sweat Like The Old Days — you’re a bunch of strapping young fellas. What eras or feelings are you hearkening back to with the album’s title and sound?
Matt Martin: The title of the album is something I said a few months ago after a show in Bristol, Tenn. I looked down and, my shirt having become matted to myself, commented, “Well, I’m starting to sweat like the old days.” We’ve always had one foot stuck in the past and one in the new; with this album, our foot’s kind of stuck in late 60s/early 70s rock.
Shuffle: You’ve moved over from So Long I Screamed-style bluegrass into a more rootsy Americana with this record. Have your influences shifted or has it just been the direction of the band’s organic growth? If the former, could you elaborate on a couple of them and why they’ve proven influential?
MM: Given that we’ve always viewed ourselves as a rock band, I’d been wanting to make the transition from acoustic to electric guitar for a while. I don’t think any of us really listened to that much Dixieland to begin with, but that style sort of suffused our sound for years anyway. Then we read Levon Helm’s book and started to listen to everything The Band ever laid to tape and just got downright obsessed. You can hear these strains in songs like “Telephone Wire” or “Po Jenny.”
Shuffle: It’s been a couple of years since the last HGTR record release, but you guys are and have always been touring nonstop. How do you balance a full calendar of gigs with studio time and writing?
MM: Your answer is in the question: we weren’t really able to. Couple that with the personalities of six very different gentlemen not being able to agree on the recordings (we tried to record this record, although with completely different songs, four times) and you don’t put an album out for three years.
Shuffle: Your rambunctious live show is a helluva hoopla. Most of the tracks on SLTOD are less frenetic than the content of your earlier albums — do they pace differently live or is your stage presence evolving with the music?
MM: Yes, the tunes are more mellow, more attentive to structure and melody than an excuse to scream and headbang to bluegrass, which seemed popular to do in the early days. Our live show is tighter and dare I say better, although many mourn the fact that there’s two electric guitars onstage now. I think we’re getting better and better; our stage presence is still strong and I still dance about the same.
Shuffle: Any plans to take the tour further out West in the future? I’m sure many fans would like your singular N.C. sound shared with as many places and earholes as possible.
MM: We’ll probably be taking our act out West this time next year. We’ve just never been able to make it past Austin for one reason or another (money or van problems), but there are plans laid. It’s a big old country!