For 10 years Steve Schecter has performed as Ghostwriter, a solo act making use of guitar, harmonica, foot percussion and vocals. The Portland, Ore., based Schecter/Ghostwriter loathes the "one-man band" description, opting instead for "the original punk-folk troubadour."
Behind his latest release "Prayin' All the Time," Ghostwriter will play Knoxville for the second time in 2012, which has been a travel-heavy year for Schecter.
The origin of the Ghostwriter project has been subtly twisted over a decade. Schecter got his start playing with full bands between Austin and Portland that included The Standards, Billy Swamp and End of the West. And while it was the collapse of End of the West that inspired Schecter to pursue a solo career, the circumstances of its final tour, which was completed by a lone Schecter, have been misconstrued in past reports.
"I think the story has gotten confused over the years," he says. "End of the West had a Midwest tour booked for October and had just come off a little run in August. In its downtime the band demised due to the other guys having personal 'life stuff' to deal with — nothing music-related at all. It was really bad timing, but it was understandable, and both those guys are still close friends of mine. So it wasn't like we broke up on the road in some heated thing. I could have cancelled the tour, but instead I just decided to go for it. So I had at least two or three weeks to prepare the set and my truck. I even contacted the clubs and told them it wasn't going to be the whole band this time. I started using the foot (percussion) and harmonica, just to fill out the sound for the types of clubs we were playing at the time, loud rock 'n' roll places."
Ghostwriter's first jaunts consisted of restructured End of the West material, older writings and newer compositions written for the format in hand. Prior to this, Schecter had frequently played occasional solo sets and open mic gigs under the name Cole Stephens. He says little to address the perceived difficulty of coordinating three instruments and vocals by himself, but tells that his best works are the songs he writes almost instantaneously and later develops for the stage. According to Schecter, heaps of material are discarded altogether; a considerably smaller number get recorded; and a select few make it into the live set with any longevity. This seems to be primarily dictated by the songs' ability to translate to a multi-instrumental solo set, which would indicate some limitation in this live format; however, Schecter insists what keeps each song in live rotation is how it comes across.
"Finishing a song and getting it ready for the set are two different things completely," says Schecter. "Some come easier than others, but it's a process to get a song up to par. I've played some of the tunes on a Ghostwriter set for years now, and they have a real back-of-the-hand feel to me.
"I've got about half a record worth of new stuff right now, but I'm not playing any of it live yet. Sometimes if I try a new one live and it nosedives, I'll put it on the back burner. It might have been a good song, but it just wasn't ready yet. It's interesting to me to see which songs have legs for the live set and which don't. Of all the albums I've put out, I'd say only about half of those songs ever became a staple on the live set. So it's not the coordination as much as it is which ones convey well live."
Ghostwriter's punk-tinged take on bluesy roots music tends to veer lyrically toward the dark and gloomy. When asked if regularly performing such music leaves him with a dour psyche, his response presents a circular "chicken vs. egg" quandary.
"I hover around and revel in all kinds of roots music," Schecter says. "I love old country-blues, old rockabilly — I love it all, especially the real obscure stuff. But I grew up on post-punk, and although I derive a lot of guitar stuff from early American roots and blues, I never considered myself a blues player. I get labeled as punk-blues, which probably makes sense, because to me, the Ghostwriter stuff is angrier and edgier than most blues you hear. Blues is usually smooth and more reflective to me. ... As far as my personal mood, I do battle depression; I don't think that's a secret, and I get pretty manic at times, like on the road. No matter what, I'm usually (angry) about something whether I show it or not, and that keeps me going."
Wednesday Ghostwriter returns to Knoxville, playing a 10 p.m. gig at The Pilot Light. The show has a $5 cover.
Where: The Pilot Light
When: 10 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 21
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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