In 2022, between the middle of June and the day after Christmas, Aaron Liu released six full-length albums and an eight-track tribute to Taiwanese singer Teresa Teng—all under the name Ghost Pop.
“I started writing,” Liu told the Mercury from his home in Tigard, where he grew up, “and the songs just kept coming.”
Liu's albums (the ones that weren't tributes) are unnamed and cataloged as volumes: Ghost Pop Vol. 6, Ghost Pop Vol. 7, and so on through Vol. 11. He’s not done, either.
Tonight, Liu celebrates the release of his new double album, Dream Life I & II, which was released February 10 on local cassette label Bud Tapes. Like all of Liu’s work, the new collection spills over with gorgeous, gauzy indie-pop songs whose lush arrangements belie their lo-fi origins.
Ghost Pop's story stretches back to the mid-2010s, when Liu recorded the first three volumes very quickly before shifting his focus to his indie-rock trio Two Moons. That band ended after the 2017 passing of drummer Andrew Massett, which Liu says altered his perspective on making music.
“I had this idea that what we were doing was what mattered, and when you lose a friend, you realize that none of it really mattered in the grand scheme of things,” he said. “What matters is your personal connections, and these dreams we were chasing were almost ephemeral.”
It was then that Liu dove deep into home-recording, making Ghost Pop Vols. 4 and 5 in 2019, before shifting focus again to some of his other projects. Then came the creative torrent of late 2022, which Liu attributes to a bit more free time and his general mindset when he’s writing and recording.
“I just get so enamored with the idea of creating something, and then I don’t ever feel like it reaches what I have in my mind, but that’s OK because it’s its own thing, and so I move on,” he said. “Creating the thing inspires the creation of other things.”
As long as he can remember, Liu’s brain has been wired to consume and create music. Born in Texas to Chinese parents, he remembers hearing Tchaicovsky’s 1812 Overture during a Fourth of July celebration, then going home and banging on the piano with the sound of an orchestra playing in his head. He took piano lessons for 10 years, picked up the guitar as a pre-teen, started writing and teaching himself to record in high school, and discovered DIY culture and American pop music in college.
In a 45-minute conversation, Liu talks about Beethoven and the Dances With Wolves soundtrack, Brazilian and French pop music, jazz standards and Tin Pan Alley songs, '60s and '70s Motown, Chinese folk tunes, the Beach Boys, instrumental hip-hop, and the Velvet Underground.
Most listeners probably won’t hear all of those sounds in Ghost Pop songs, though the Beach Boys, old soul music, and Liu’s classical background do surface regularly—as do singer-songwriter influences like Paul Simon and Elliott Smith. But listening to Liu talk about his music and his methods, it’s clear he hears his whole sonic world echoing through his Ghost Pop songs.
“That’s why I make music, because I’m taken aback by the impact of the music I love,” Liu said. “Any semblance of being able to create something like that gives me happiness.”
Ghost Pop plays a release show to celebrate his new double album, Dream Life I & II at No Fun Bar, 1709 SE Hawthorne, Fri Feb 17, 7 pm, $10 cash at the door, 21+