You can add Ghost Light bandmates Tom Hamilton and Holly Bowling to the list of musicians who will release some out of the box music because of covid. The guitarist and pianist are set to release Lacuna an almost hour-long improvisational journey that took place at Hamilton’s studio while the world was shut down for the pandemic.
The premise for the session was simple. Tom would have an acoustic guitar. Holly would play a grand piano. Hit record and go. The result is a space fueled odyssey that despite being created on the spot finds a beginning, middle, and end. It’s also shifts through beautiful stories and themes created only by the synergy of the duo at that moment.
The album title Lacuna which means a gap or intentional space in music perfectly captures what the duo uses perfectly throughout their voyage.
Slideandbanjo.com’s Marty Halpern caught up with Hamilton to discuss the new album, his health, and an update on Ghost Light’s immediate future.
Slideandbanjo: Hey Tom. Good to talk to you again. How are things going?
Tom Hamilton: Pretty good. I broke my collarbone the other day. That’s been a drag.
S&B: I know.
TH: Wait. Did you say you know? How do you know?
S&B: I know because despite breaking your collarbone, I saw you put on two insane concerts the last two nights at the Wellmont last weekend with JRAD.
TH: Oh, I didn’t tell anybody. I didn’t realize it’s out.
S&B: Yeah, It’s out. Were you playing street hockey?
TH: Ice Hockey.
S&B: You played so well at those shows, I was about to request an x-ray to confirm your collarbone was really broken
TH: (Laughs) Thanks. I try.
S&B: Tell me about “Lacuna.” It’s another great piece of art that came to life because of Covid. How did this project come to be?
TH: Holly and I have done things previously, where it was just an acoustic guitar and grand piano. It was heavy improvisation. When we first started playing together, I sat in with her when she would do one of her Grateful Dead solo projects. It was cool and out there. Some great shit happened. Then we did a show of acoustic interpretations of the Dead. We were offered a VIP set at a festival – just the two of us. We were getting where we didn’t want to only do Grateful Dead material.
S&B: Yeah, you’ve got a little more range than that.
TH: Exactly. We said, “let’s just go up there and improvise and see what happens.” It was weird, super cool, and interesting. We both liked it. Our manager at the time was going to put that set out on vinyl. Then Covid hit and that was put on the shelf.
S&B: So, what got the ball rolling again?
TH: A year into Covid, Holly came out to the east coast and to my studio. Mainly she came in to work with Ghost Light bandmate Raina Mullen. They were going to record something together. Ghost Light was also going to get together and record some stuff.
Holly and I had a free afternoon so we went into the live room. She sat down at the piano. I sat down at the guitar. The room was already wired for sound. We hit record on everything and just played for 50 minutes or so.
S&B: Was there any pre-planned direction, or anything specific you wanted to capture?
TH: No. We didn’t talk about if beforehand and we didn’t talk about it afterwards. We were like, that was fun and I’ll see you when Covid finally ends.
A few months later, I was bored at the studio so I started looking through hard drives. I found the recording we did and was like “holy shit, This is cool.” I sent it to her and said since the vinyl album never happened, maybe we should think about putting this thing out.
S&B: How did it take shape from there?
TH: I sat down and listened to it many times and put a real mix to it which sounded nice. I shot it over to Kevin Calabro from Royal Potato Family and he said “it’s really cool.” I think we can put it out and do something with it. So, here we are now, with an accidental album.
S&B: It’s funny it went that way. Your Billy and the Kids bandmate Reed Mathis just put out a huge collection of Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey material (through Royal Potato Family) that he found on a hard drive in a storage unit. I guess, thanks to Covid, lots of material is finally seeing the light of day?
TH: Yeah man. For sure. I got my old band together, called More, during Covid. It was one of the first bands I loved. Right before Covid hit, a friend from the band came by and gave me all these tapes from when we were young. He wanted me to digitize them.
I was going through these tapes from 1998 and 1999. It was a great band and the songs were great. I called up the guys in the band and said let’s get together and play. We all got together except for the original drummer (who doesn’t play drums anymore) and put More back together. That only happened because of Covid.
S&B: Back to “Lacuna,” what was the post production like? It didn’t seem like much needed to be done.
TH: The main thing for me was not to fuck it up. When things like that happen and it’s so organic, I tell myself just get the fuck out of the way. We both had a lot of effects on our instruments, so I didn’t need to add anything. I tried to reinforce things when it came to the mix and let what we did speak for itself.
S&B: I’ve listened to the album numerous times. It seems like there is a beginning, middle, and end to the piece. Since it was all spontaneous, it fell into place nicely.
TH: It turned out that way. We absolutely went into it without any preconceived notions. We just wanted to see what would happen. There was a real chance it turned into dog poop. That’s part of the gamble. There’s no launching points or changes. It’s just a conversation. It only works if both people are listening intently and caring about the outcome.
S&B: What are the challenges you faced with it being only you and Holly?
TH: The really important thing is you have to support each other’s musical ideas, no matter what they are. It’s the same rule with comedy improv. You have to say yes. Saying no is not how this thing works. You have to roll with what each other brings to the situation. It’s exciting being just the two of us. You can’t hide if something shits the bed.
S&B: It’s amazing the pace and themes that evolve from the beginning of the recording to the end – I guess that’s evidence things went well?
TH: Yeah. It just all made sense. Sections evolved…themes evolved…the whole thing made sense. Especially considering we hadn’t played together or even seen each other in over six months – the feelings of finally getting to play together shows up in the recording.
S&B: You and Holly are going to take this project on the road for a couple of dates. How do you perform an improvised album live?
TH: We are going to improvise at the shows. What we do – and how we do it – is the thing. You’re not coming to hear your favorite song. You’re coming for a unique experience. The audience and the musicians have no idea what’s going to happen. That’s the appeal.
S&B: What else is going on with Ghost Light?
TH: Everyone should be getting together in the studio soon; we are going to be working on the Ghost Light record we’ve had going since June. Right now, that’s the focus.
The “Lacuna” thing only made sense because of the timing. There was no conflict. We could put it out because it wouldn’t compete against a new Ghost Light record.
S&B: When can we expect to hear the new Ghost Light record?
TH: Everyone would like for it to be out by late summer…maybe August or September. But you never know. Just have to go with it and see what happens.
S&B: What about a Ghost Light tour? Will you go out before the new album is released?
TH: Definitely. We’ll get back to touring next year. This year we couldn’t because Holly just had a baby. Being a first-time parent, we needed to give her the space to figure it out. We’ll probably be announcing dates pretty soon and take it from there.
S&B:– Thanks Tom. Best of luck with the album and I hope your collarbone heals quickly.
“Lacuna” is out Friday, November 19, 2021 on Royalo Potato Family Records