Daniel of the band Sorry Ghost is the only Daniel in music. Okay, so maybe that’s not true, but when I hop on the phone with him to catch up and discuss their latest singles, we both struggle to think of another one. Matthew, the other member of the band, eventually helps us out by reminding us of Daniel Powter (of “Bad Day” fame in 2005). And with a quick search on Wikipedia, while doing this write-up (partially for fact-checking purposes but also to redeem us both), I learned that the lead singer of Bastille is also named Daniel. (Sorry to both of these men!)
So at least by the record of Wikipedia, Daniel of the band Sorry Ghost is one of, at the very least, three or more Daniel’s in music. But the only Daniel in the band, which is a great power that requires great responsibility. (Shoutout to the fan whose question about what it was like being a Daniel/the Daniel of the group sparked this entire discussion in the first place!) Alongside Matthew as lead guitar and backing vocals, Daniel, his bass, and the two being besties for 8 years make up the “tallest band in the game,” although maybe don’t fact check that part.
The band first got on my radar last year when they reached out to me as they were gearing up to release their debut album The Morning After. In our first interview, I describe them as, “self-deprecating with a big sound, honest while witty, and disillusioned yet optimistic” which is still accurate, but the former trio turned duo now finds themselves figuring out how to grow past their debut and challenging the limits of their approach to music.
When catching me up to speed about life since then, Daniel reflects on how at the time, when the pandemic still felt new but was expected to magically end, they had the hopes of getting to tour, as most musicians were banking on. “I think really what we ended up doing this past year was just sitting down and kind of asking ourselves, what sound is it specifically [that] just kinda makes Sorry Ghost, Sorry Ghost? And I think it was really important for us to kind of go into this time of intensive writing because we recorded a batch of songs back in the fall.”
Songs including one of their latest singles, “Like a Thief” and the one out today, “Kites” were among the batch, but they’ve found themselves writing dozens of more songs as well as they head back to the studio. “So we pretty much just tried to take more risk, I think, with our sound and kind of break out of the mold of just like sorta another pop-punk band,” he explains. He gives credit to Tate of the band Happy. who also works as their manager for guiding them through their journey in the music industry.
The bands’ gratitude towards Tate goes past the small moment of appreciation we give towards him when we talk. “He’s just been super instrumental for us this past year,” Daniel says about working with him and learning the more “network-y” side of things. Their relationship starting is a shining example of the ways in which social media can be utilized as a beneficial space. They followed each other on Twitter, Daniel covered “Don’t Overdose and Drive” and posted it online, and a DM from Tate a few weeks later eventually led to him becoming their manager.
Everyone is essentially crossing uncharted territory currently. But for artists where live shows, online presence, and general traction can determine if their art gets to also be their main source of income, a pandemic that shut everything down and required a lot of indie artists to essentially start from scratch, has generated a demand for a complete reimagining of what the music industry needs to look like to be accessible.
I think really what we ended up doing this past year was just sitting down and kind of asking ourselves, what sound is it specifically [that] just kinda makes Sorry Ghost, Sorry Ghost?
I ask Daniel about comfort zones and navigating them now when last year he mentioned that it was important for him to get out of his to develop more as a songwriter and person. “I think the answer would be just I have tried to not say no to things. I think that has been a big thing, really, just for kind of every aspect of the music and the larger sense, just kind of out of the band,” he says noting that one of the things he’s noticing now is that the two find themselves open to letting other genres seep into their sound.
He describes the first attempts of this to be “pretty horrible” but that the key is to keep doing it. By continuing at it and practicing, he admits that they’ve found themselves learning new ways to incorporate different styles that they hadn’t before which comes out of their aim to keep an open approach.
The idea of bringing something new to a genre is always exciting, but for Daniel and Matthew, it’s also a necessity when playing around in a genre that is often boxed into one sound. “I think pop-punk, even more so than other genres, can have a tendency to kind of get stuck in its ways. I think what has been extremely valuable advice that we’ve gotten this past year was basically just take the parts that we all, like, grew up listening to,” he says about how they’re looking to carve their lane. For him, that features the likes of Arctic Monkeys and Red Hot Chili Peppers.
The two find themselves trusting not only their own instincts but each other as well by leaning into their approaches and backgrounds in music even when it’s outside of the genre they’ve been classified in. Daniel recalls a moment watching Top Chef a few months ago where he realized that the best dishes on the shows were the ones that took a risk and care into the execution. “But they, like tried something new and they put themselves out there. And I was like, ‘It’s just like music,'” he says.
To be moved by food is fitting for a band whose debut album sports a diner-esque breakfast on the cover–the impact of Matthew who used to work as a waiter in a restaurant. With food being so entwined with them and now their approach to music, Daniel jokes that the corner of music they should take on is food rock.
This leads us to discuss the band’s two new singles, “Like a Thief” which dropped a few weeks ago, and “Kites” which dropped today. He first classifies “Like a Thief” as beef, but since it doesn’t have beef energy, he changes it then to a bag of Pop Rocks. (I affirm that the song, especially with what I’m now labeling as the iconic Sorry Ghost jacket on the cover, very much gives Pop Rocks energy over anything.)
For “Like a Thief” the song came before the video concept. Stemming from their Song Graveyard, Daniel had been working on a riff for a while that became the main one. “I had been working on that like almost now for a year,” he explained. They had it in their back pocket, but kept forgetting about it until one day, he said, they decided to revisit it and see if they could make it into something bigger.
“The melody came to me kind of unrelated. I was just like strumming a guitar and just kind of humming along. I remember when I first, like, wrote the melody and I was playing it on an acoustic guitar, I was like, ‘Ok, I feel like this is definitely a song,'” Daniel continues remembering that he originally thought he was playing someone else’s song. They began building the song after confirming it was something he came up with. “I was a lot of times like, I don’t know if I was even the one that did this, [or] was able to do that and just kind of get that feeling of something kind of grabbing you and you feeling like you don’t have control over it.”
Then came the lyrics. “I kind of focused on sort of like basically that kind of anxiety about feeling like not being sure of yourself because it was kind of playing into that,” he says about figuring the song out. It was a meta approach: as he was going back and forth on his confidence about making the melody of the song, he was also writing about that anxiety.
The music video focuses on handling anxiety as well but in a more material sense. Daniel and Matthew spend the video going on a search for happiness and collecting items they hope will bring them happiness. Some of them are obvious, as a band, of course, guitars would be added to their bag. Others include the Sorry Ghost Pop Rocks jacket, a Build-A-Bear, and a change in location that leads to them closing out the video stranded on a beach.
“We were kind of like, well, you know, happiness is sunshine. Stress or anxiety is gray and cloudy. That’s where it started with just this idea of like, ‘Ok, well, maybe we’re kind of like going through the season, basically, where it’s like we started off in this frigid wasteland and we have an empty happiness bag. And then we’ve kind of gone into the next setting, which is like spring or summer and it’s looking better.'” Daniel explains the concept of the video. Alongside the things they collect, Sorry Ghost also grabs hold of kites which they fly at the end of the video leading them into the next single.
“Kites” he describes as something more smooth: polenta. It started as another breakup song focusing on a breakup he experienced a year ago and channeling in/reflecting on that sadness. It was another song that has been with them for almost a year, finding its start in August/September. The lyrics, he shares, were written a week and a half before they went into the studio.
“I just remember kind of sometimes still feeling just like we were kind of like a kite floating around,” he looks back. The feeling was confirmed during a moment when he was in Baton Rouge at a park and seeing a kite flying. “I was like, ok, sometimes, like, you know, the kite is just floating aimlessly and just kind of has no direction. And sometimes that’s how it kind of feels after a breakup if you’re just trying to get out of there again and find sort of where you’re grounded.”
In similar anxiety to making “Like a Thief,” Daniel shares that while reflecting on processing a breakup being similar to a kite floating, he also wanted to make sure he wasn’t ripping off Katy Perry and her question heard around the world about feeling like a plastic bag drifting through the wind.
I was like, ok, sometimes, like, you know, the kite is just floating aimlessly and just kind of has no direction. And sometimes that’s how it kind of feels after a breakup if you’re just trying to get out of there again and find sort of where you’re grounded.
The video, where they get to live their (very best? unhinged?) Tom Hanks in Castaway lives came about from them already being on the beach for “Like a Thief” and going from there.
It’s almost contradicting to look at emotions like anxiety and the pain of a breakup as positive, but Sorry Ghost does have a way of looking for optimistic, yet honest, viewpoints in negative experiences. It’s something that they’ve also been thinking about as a band and what they want to present to the world. “I spent kind of a period of this past winter just thinking about, like, you know it’s hard, it’s like I have this very kind of bubbly persona and I like to be very friendly and goofy. And I think there’s this whole side of me as well that also just has struggled with a lot of things like anxiety and depression and I just felt like I was worried,” Daniel admits.
“I remember being like, it just feels like there’s some dissonance between who I am and what maybe the band is portrayed as and I just felt like I remember Tate telling me, like, ‘Well, what if that just is what is who your band is? And why don’t you just lean into that?'” Meaning that while the lyrics will often showcase that vulnerability, sonically, they can also allow the music to be more aligned with their upbeat sides in the similar way that their videos get to have fun while also carrying something deeper.
“Kites” for example has an upbeat and bouncy feel to it based on the melody. He gives credit to Matthew for coming up with these emo-sounding chords and them figuring out how to take that idea while making the verses sound lighter. Something that they figured out with the help of listening to The Strokes and how they strike that balance.
“But it’s okay for your lyrics to reference things like that or things that you are struggling with or dealing with. And I felt like that was really helpful advice for me,” he says. “And I think that is kind of why it makes me glad to hear that you’re not like these are super downer songs. I don’t want them to be, but I also didn’t want them to be like the cutest, new bubblegum music.”
It became more about authenticity and being themselves both on social media and also in their music rather than trying to create either an extremely serious or extremely bubblegum persona to showcase their range.
And while “Like a Thief” as pop rocks and “Kites” as polenta are two different foods, as you can see, they’re also two sides of the same coin for Sorry Ghost moving forward after The Morning After. They’re their first releases since their acoustic Snowy Sessions. “I think we decided that we kind of need to do that distance ourselves. But I just think that it’s funny now, like listening back to The Morning After, you know, I’m like, ‘Ok, it’s a fine album, but it’s not now,” he says about using these songs to inject some new energy.
“I feel like the stuff that I’ve written [now] is much better than it, so it is kind of like, ‘Ok, moving on to the next song.'” Still, there is much to be said about the ways in which that album has given them songs that have created their fanbase and put people onto their music, one of them being “Nosedive” which he says seems to be their most known song.
There’s also much to be said about navigating releasing a debut album at a time when they couldn’t tour it considering how much of the live music circuit is tied to the run of an album and a band getting on more listeners’ radars. Daniel notes that one of the bizarre parts of it is that while the songs are still a part of you, you don’t feel the same way you did when you first wrote it and now you have to figure out how to express where the song takes you currently. A feeling that is common for artists in general, but usually, they’ve had time to let the live performances progress with that feeling.
Something else that Daniel notes is that touring and live shows also become a times game. Obviously, they have to play The Morning After because it’s their debut and the songs they’re most known for–the standard for any artist doing a live show–but where does that leave all of the newer stuff and striking that balance between the older hits and what can be the newer hits? And especially where does that leave the hidden gems that weren’t singles that fans often times get a stronger appreciation for when they hear how it sounds live.
So then what is their music leaning towards now? Especially as a band who, the last time we talked, said they were interested in creating a concept album? Daniel says that it feels like they’re leaning towards the idea of another album but at the same time figuring out if it’s effective to put out another album vs. prioritizing singles. For indie artists, the difference between the two is the way that marketing and traction works. An album’s campaign isn’t as long as releasing multiple singles during a certain period of time and campaigning for each one.
“I feel like it’s fun to do one or so and then you’re like, oh my gosh it’s such a huge time and money commitment to do another album without the funding of like a label. It just quickly becomes like, is it worth it to us?” Daniel admits. And while it’s a hard discussion to have, remaining independent is also an important thing for them to keep the rights to their work.
I think that inspiration for me comes from what I’m just sort of feeling like, ok today I’m feeling down, however, tomorrow I don’t know what’s going to happen and I think that’s really exciting.
For the time being, they’re looking at their ‘What’s Next?’ loosely in the sense of a concept EP with the songs they’re focusing on right now touching on searching, finding, and linking.
It also feels like reflecting is heavily at play. When I ask the fan question for his favorite lyric of theirs, he quotes one from The Morning After that goes, ‘Searching for a sweeter tone that rings out when we’re not alone.’ “I just really liked the imagery always of that and I remember the line kind of coming to me and just sort of that idea of like, yeah a sweeter song is sung when, you know, you are not feeling lonely,” he explains.
I give appreciation to what turns out to be Matthew’s favorite lyric of his which is heard in “Kites.” The lyric goes, “To pick myself up out of bed and face the mirror’s reflection, I’d rather face the sheets instead the creases lie with me again.” (Here is where I have to give a quick aside that Daniel notes that while ‘bed’ and ‘reflection’ manages to loosely rhyme in the song, he realizes when he’s reciting it to me it doesn’t actually rhyme when spoken.) That said, it’s a line that he’s incredibly proud of.
Another fan question asks what gives him inspiration or hope when he’s feeling down and what inspired him to write music. His response is something that he prefaces might not be a super, optimistic answer, but something that he feels a lot, it’s the inspiration to have, “a curiosity for how something will turn out, whether good or bad.”
“I think that inspiration for me comes from what I’m just sort of feeling like, ok today I’m feeling down, however, tomorrow I don’t know what’s going to happen and I think that’s really exciting,” he explains. “And I think that gives me a lot of inspiration to write music and to remember that ultimately anything I feel is temporary and I do want to capture that feeling and I want to give it validity and let it kind of take up space for a little bit. And I think that’s the real power of music to me is giving each emotion often a full song, or a full album, or even a full career.”
Which, even though it was set up to potentially be less than optimistic, it does what Sorry Ghost often does in toeing the line between being realistic of the situation while also trying to envision that what’s to come can be promising.
Leading towards the closeout of our phone call, he thanks the fans. “I try not to find my sense of who I am and how I am in other people’s opinion, but there have been a lot of dark days where it does mean so much to Matthew and me to see someone that is a fan of our band wanting to interact with us or wanting to just tell us to have a good day or even just kind of seeing what they’re up to and to give us that perspective of everyone else in the world,” he says. “And I think that yeah, honestly, that’s probably my biggest message is just thanks to them because it does mean more than I think they ever realize.”
Sorry Ghost’s Mini-Playlist for Readers:
‘Like a Thief’ and ‘Kites’ are available wherever you stream music.
(photo cred: Emily Uhrhammer)