IT'S A RECIPE for certain disaster: a five-member band that includes three songwriters—two of whom are brothers, one of which is married to the bass player. But World's Greatest Ghosts have made the closeness of their relationships work for them; the strength of their music comes from its interlocking, familial parts.
Naturally, it isn't easy. Of the band's songwriting process, guitarist Brandon Anderson deadpans, "It's mostly an argument over different calibers of bullets, which one can penetrate the temple first."
"Or somebody has a good riff, and then we take turns making each other angry," keyboardist/vocalist Jesse Laney jokes, then says, "When you work with your brother, the one comforting thing is that no matter how much we piss each other off, the next day it'll probably be okay. And I honestly feel that way about working with Brandon, too."
Jesse and his brother Casey, the sons of country songwriter Alan Laney (Shania Twain fans might recognize his work), grew up outside Nashville without much care for entering the family business. As Casey says, "We were actually anti-country music growing up quite a bit. I viewed it so much as a business, that it was a big turnoff to me."
"I never really thought I had a future in music," says Jesse, "because all my friends were in bands and I never got into it, so I always felt a step behind. And then Casey started playing music and I didn't. I was just like, it'd be fun, but I'm never going to be able to catch up, basically. That's what I've been trying to do the last three years," he adds, laughing.
After graduating from college, Jesse borrowed a Casio and began playing music with his brother for the first time. A stint in New Orleans was cut short by Hurricane Katrina, so along with Emily Onstott (now Jesse's wife and the band's bassist), the Laney brothers came to the Pacific Northwest to visit their friends in the band Here Comes a Big Black Cloud.
Seeing that band's lifestyle was pivotal, says Casey, "Because it made it seem like a reality, that you could have a DIY band and actually play and actually have a following and friends—that a scene existed for that." Anderson, a friend from college, joined them in Portland along with Eric Ambrosius, and World's Greatest Ghosts became a reality—getting their feet wet by playing house parties.
"There was always a certain level of ambition," Casey says of those early shows, "but it was also really cool because it was: Be as creative as you can be, because it's a party anyway."
Jesse adds, "It's funny, we used to hear it all the time: 'World's Greatest Ghosts is that house-show band.' But I feel like there are other bands that are way more deserving of that title."
They've outgrown their basement origins with their tautly satisfying debut full-length, No Magic. Led by the intertwined guitars of Casey and Anderson, the sound is state-of-the-art 21st-century indie rock, incorporating peppy, jumping-bean beats with vintage synth sounds and Dungeons & Dragons-influenced lyrics. After completing the record earlier this year, original drummer John Damiani departed to return to school. Eric Ambrosius was in the audience at his last show with the group, and having met the band before, Ambrosius contacted them through a mutual friend to see if he could be their new drummer. It worked out, and World’s Greatest Ghosts is now poised for a national tour.
"It was just an idea that we all had," says Jesse, looking back on the band's short history. "Let's all move into a house together and form a band. It was kind of an experiment. Thinking back on it now, it's kind of crazy that we all decided to do that."