The Strangest Colored Lights was recorded and mixed between summer 2006 and spring 2007 in Otterworks Studio in Birmingham, which was designed and built by 13ghosts for 13ghosts. Andrew Vernon records the sounds and Brad Armstrong mixes, with participation from the entire group. Vernon and Armstrong have been doing it this way since they started the studio with a 4 track cassette machine and a shotgun mic in the early nineties. The Strangest Colored Lights was mastered by Doug Van Sloun at Studio B, LTD in Omaha, NE. Van Sloun was a perfect fit for 13ghosts; his aesthetic is about purity and unobtrusiveness. Van Sloun’s mastering credits include Bright Eyes, Cursive, and Magnolia Electric Co.
The Strangest Colored Lights represents the first time since 2002 that 13ghosts’ recordings have involved a full and consistent line-up of musicians; the same five guys arranged and performed the material on every song, with the exception of the horn section in Riverside (Chad Fisher and Chip Crotts) and a female vocal passage in Photographs (Amber Quick). Like Cicada, this album spans a large and diverse cross-section of genres (electronica, grand Pink-Floydesque passages, country-sludge, psychedelic, spaghetti-western, hard- edged pop and dark acoustic), and like Cicada it is long and sprawling, clocking in at just over 55 minutes. The differences between Cicada and The Strangest Colored Lights lie in the band’s focus, their relentless attention to detail (though fans of 13ghosts’ lo-fi production aesthetic will not be disappointed; it was, after all, recorded in a basement), and a newfound harmony between Russell’s and Armstrong’s sometime disparate songwriting styles. With this new record, 13ghosts has finally united their many voices under one soaring and cinematic vision.
13ghosts live in Birmingham, Alabama.
1989: Brad Armstrong and his cousin Thomas Rhodes form a band with Buzz Russell and Mikey Williams. It is brash alt country punk rock. Armstrong is 16, Russell is 20. The band is called something unmentionable.
1992: Armstrong quits the band after graduation to go to school at Sarah Lawrence College in New York. He studies electronic music studio, poetry and drugs. Mainly drugs. He develops an artistic relationship with Andrew Vernon, a painter and filmmaker, who, as it turns out, went to high school in Birmingham with Armstrong. They barely knew each other, but learn that they share many of the same interests. Hallucinogens rank high on this list. Russell, Rhodes and Williams continue in Birmingham under many different names, punk rock that, had they ever managed to find a good publicist, would have undoubtedly ruled the world. Some of their band names include Pyrofish, Southern Cynic Tribe, and Wow and Flutter. Bob Pollard and Sebadoh are their Gods.
1996: Armstrong graduates with no particular honors and a lovely cocaine habit, gets a job as a bouncer at a country western bar in NYC. Russell, Williams and Rhodes break up, get back together, and break up again.
1997: Armstrong fakes a hernia so his girlfriend won’t leave him when he moves back to Alabama, to have “surgery” on his hernia. He puts the original lineup back together. It lasts two months. Armstrong and Vernon build a control room in Vernon’s basement in order to accommodate their new analog 8-track recording machine, purchased for 800 dollars. It is highly preferable to the cassette 4-track they’ve been using for the last 5 years. They record some stuff, then Armstrong, under girlfriend pressure, gets two opinions on his hernia. Neither doctor will agree to operate, so he moves to Syracuse, NY to pursue his Masters on a Poetry Fellowship.
1998: Rhodes kills himself. Armstrong, Russell and Williams attend the funeral then retreat into their separate holes for a number of months. During this time of concentrated alcohol abuse, Armstrong writes a number of songs about Rhodes. Russell does the same. Over Christmas holidays, they bring Williams in on drums to record their first actual full-length album about Rhodes’ suicide in the newly christened Otterworks Studio. Vernon is behind the controls. It is depressing, intensely personal, and almost completely unlistenable. They put it in a drawer.
1999: Over summer holidays, Armstrong and Russell decide they ought to name the project and make another record. A friend suggests 13ghosts, because it speaks to their birthplace (13 Alabama Ghosts plus Jeffery by Kathryn Windham Tucker is a staple of adolescent reading in AL), and because of the many ghosts they carry with them. Their first album under this moniker is called We are the Sun, recorded through winter 1999 and early 2000. Vernon is again behind the controls. It is self-released.
2000-2002: Armstrong graduates with his very nearly useless MFA and moves back to Alabama to focus on the band once again, much to the chagrin of his NY girlfriend. 13ghosts begins to hone their live performance, playing regionally with such acts as Drive-By Truckers, Blake Babies, Starlight Mints, James Hall, Verbena, Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ and the Woggles.
2002: Sammy Boggan joins on bass, which puts Russell back on guitar. 13ghosts release their second full- length, Your Window is Burning, named for the feeling that it might be. It is self-released and nominated for Best Album of the Year by Birmingham Weekly. They tour regionally.
2003-2006: 13ghosts begin recording Cicada. Williams, for personal reasons, leaves the band. Half done with the album, Russell and Armstrong decide to complete it with the aid of their many Birmingham musician friends. The album has guest appearances by Maria Taylor (Saddle Creek, Azure Ray), John P. Strohm (Blake Babies), Taylor Hollingsworth, and nineteen others. Travis Morgan, of the newly formed Skybucket Records (Dan Sartain, The Dexateens, Barton Carroll, etc.) wants to put it out. 13ghosts agree to a hand-numbered, limited edition of 100 copies. It is reviewed very favorably by Pitchfork, which leads to a slew of other national and international reviews. Though very much underground, there is a buzz about 13ghosts. Skybucket re-issues Cicada after inking a deal with Redeye Distribution.
2006: Jason Lucia joins on drums, after recording two of the songs on Cicada. 13ghosts embark on a national tour opening for Maria Taylor. They sell out of all the copies of Cicada that they brought with them, which is good, because shortly thereafter, Cicada is pulled after a Cease-and-Desist is issued by the Bob Marley Estate. Apparently, the heartbreakingly beautiful cover of Three Little Birds, sung by Maria Taylor, demonstrates willful copyright infringement because Armstrong added an original verse to the song. Ironically, it is Armstrong who brings it to their attention. Upon learning, after a casual conversation with 13ghosts’ lawyer, that they might be in copyright violation, he immediately contacts the estate to apologize and ask for permission to cover the song in this way. He is summarily denied. So, 13ghosts are left without a saleable album.
2006-2007: 13ghosts puts Cicada behind them. Though it is finally available electronically (iTunes, etc.), there are no plans to re-issue the album at this time. They begin recording songs for a new album. It is another try at the album they failed to complete in 1999, about Rhodes’ suicide. With almost ten years under their belt, Armstrong and Russell finally have enough distance to make the record. It is titled The Strangest Colored Lights, and will be released by Skybucket in March, 2008.