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Interview: James Marsters Gets Personal About Ghost of the Robot’s New Album ‘Tin Man’

In many ways, Ghost of the Robot’s new album Tin Man is getting back to basics. And according to lead singer James Marsters, it may just be their best album yet.

I recently spoke with Marsters about the work that went into the new album, its inspirations, and the song he wrote about his son while working on Buffy the Vampire Slayer years ago.

Marsters compared Tin Man to Ghost of the Robot’s first album. “I was really proud of our first album I produced. I am a demon when I produce because I used to produce theater, and I found that if you get really talented people in the same room and then deny them time and money, their creativity sparks,” Marsters said.

“Also, the first album I was just paying for out of pocket,” he said. “So the band was like, ‘We need another take.’ I’m like, ‘No, you don’t. That was great. Move on, move on.’ We got this ferocious, intense, polished album out of that process.”

“In our following albums, we really slowed it down and we really took advantage of Pro Tools, and overdubbing, and all the tricks and bells and whistles. We got some really glistening albums out of that. But in the back of our minds, we were like, ‘Man, I like the dirt too. I like that energy.'”

It may be our best album. I think you should probably feel that way about everything that you do, but man, I think maybe I’m right this time. It’s just really good.

For Tin Man, they wanted to get back to having that same kind of energy. “We rehearsed it, and then in the studio, we got in one take, we would get drums, rhythm guitar, bass, and lead vocal all at once,” he explained. “We recorded it in two days, three days, I think.”

“There’s something that happens when a band plays together that is lost when you cut it up too much. I don’t even know if I can find words to say what that is. It’s one experience that you’re listening to. It’s one organism that is expressing itself. There’s a power to that, and we got it. We captured it.”

“I was going for basement tapes. My favorite Stones album is the basement tapes where they just went into a basement and just threw it out, just barfed it out on the tape and done. It’s so dirty, it’s filthy. It’s just amazing. There’s a revolt, and an energy, and an anger and ferocity to that that you just can’t get any other way.”

“That’s what I was thinking, but our songs are not that angry,” Marsters continued. “Some of them are — mine probably are. But we got all the energy, but we also got a good gloss too.”

“It may be our best album. I think you should probably feel that way about everything that you do, but man, I think maybe I’m right this time. It’s just really good. Vocally, hands down, we’ve never been stronger.”

ghost of the robot tin man album James Marsters Interview

Leading up to the release of Tin Man, Marsters has been sharing the meaning behind some of its songs on Instagram. One of the songs he explained was “Don’t Worry Son,” which he wrote years ago while he was working on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Marsters was going through a divorce at the time, and he wanted to make sure he was always making plenty of time for his son, Sullivan. Even after working long hours on Buffy, he’d make the five-and-a-half-hour drive to see his son every other weekend, no matter how tired he was.

“What that looked like for me was just drinking an insane amount of energy drinks and coffee and just having faith that I would make it on that drive,” Marsters said.

Now, Sullivan is a key member of the band and is performing that very song with his father.

“It is one of the most amazing feelings to perform with Sullivan. When he joined Ghost, he was 13,” Marsters recalled. “We were playing Santa Monica and we needed a warmup act. So I said, ‘What about Sullivan?’ They were like, ‘Sure, whatever.’ He brought a guitar trio to Santa Monica and performed all original instrumentals. They weren’t doing vocals at that time. It was all instrumentals. But they were phenomenal, and the crowd loved them. And they were cute.”

“After the show, the band calls me over and they say, ‘We think we found our guitarist.’ Because we’d lost someone, frankly, to drugs, and we’d been looking for someone. And they said, ‘We think we finally found him.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, kick ass. Who is it?'”

Their response? “‘Your son.'”

Masters’ bandmates told him that as a father, he could veto the decision because they knew it would be a “weird life” they’d be inviting him into. But as a bandmate, he was already outvoted.

At this point, he’s absolutely taken over the band and no decision gets made [without him]. Everyone’s like, ‘And Sullivan, is that good?’

Marsters agreed to it, feeling that it could be a good thing for his teenage son at the time.  “At 13, I benefited from being good at something that I was doing publicly, which was stage acting, and it really fed my self-confidence and my self-esteem. When you’re 13, you need that,” he said.

“I thought, ‘If I could help Sullivan get some of that, that’s a good thing for me to do,’ and I thought I was being a good dad. He did a little background vocals and a little bit of lead guitar on our second album. By the third album, he had a song on it. By the fourth album, he was taking over the band and in between producing his own stuff. At this point, he’s absolutely taken over the band and no decision gets made [without him]. Everyone’s like, ‘And Sullivan, is that good?'”

“So what I thought was me being generous or a good dad or whatever, actually has turned around to be completely selfish. He is making the band enormously better and giving it new life.”

“On top of that, he’s 27 years old. He’s in law school, but I get to talk to him regularly because we share a project. We’re working together.”

Asking Marsters which song he was most excited about from the new album turned out to be a bit like asking him to choose a favorite child.

“I’m excited for different songs for different reasons,” he said. “I’m excited about “San Francisco” because Sullivan and I have been writing for the band for a while, and Kevin has just started giving material, and it’s amazing. He wrote the music for “Is Shoes,” it’s a play on ‘issues.’ He didn’t write the lyrics, but he wrote the music for that, and I think it’s one of our best songs. Now he’s dropped this song called “San Francisco” on it.”

“He may be mad at me for saying this, but it reminds me of Burt Bacharach. Just these really well-constructed songs, like a songsmith, some really tight stuff. Burt Bacharach rocks, by the way. His biggest fan is Elvis Costello. They did albums together,” Marsters said.  “If you listen to Elvis Costello, you can hear the influence.”

“I’m excited about “Steady Hand” from Sullivan, because I knew what that song was about, and his girlfriend didn’t even know. She didn’t know the specifics of his life well enough to know what he was referring to. But I knew right away what he was writing about,” he continued. “I love having that connection where I know him that well.”

He also noted “Civilized Man,” which he said he was excited about because he had always wanted a “blues-driven headbanger kind of song,” as well as “Over Now” which he wrote about finally waking up to the fact that he was over a relationship after having been hung up on it for a long time.

Then there is “Louise” which is inspired by the Sex Pistols. “I always wondered — I love the Sex Pistols, and can there be any throwback to that ’70s ferocity, I guess?” he said.

I hope that people take it right, because I have a feeling like some people might get offended by “White Hot Girls.”

“I’m excited about “White Hot Girls” for the same reason,” Marsters continued. “It’s a little bit towards Sex Pistols, and it’s this song that I hope that people take it right, because I have a feeling like some people might get offended by “White Hot Girls.” What I’m saying is, be careful of the incredibly beautiful, hot girls that might come across your path, guys. I have made that mistake, and there are problems inherent in that.”

“So the first two-thirds of the song are describing those problems. At the very end, I’m like, ‘If you want to find this lover, she’s not the girl in the micro mini. She wouldn’t need all that attention. She’s standing right next to you.'”

Speaking of the meaning behind some of the songs Marsters has written, Marsters noted that some of his early songs were about castmates from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. One of those songs, though, he said he doesn’t sing anymore.

“In hindsight, it probably wasn’t the wisest thing. It is not a horrible song, but it was probably not appropriate, and I wish I’d just kept that one private.”

“[The other] one is about one of my castmates who was incredibly beautiful and who was hitting on me,” Marsters explained. But he didn’t want to date someone he worked with on the set, because he knew that could get complicated. “I’ve never really dated people that I’m working with. So it was a no-go, and it was a song about that.”

For Marsters, performing with Ghost of the Robot is a cathartic, deeply personal experience.

“That’s one of the delicious things about performing, especially live,” Marsters said. “I write about things that I may not even tell my best friend about. Then I put it to a melody and I just sing it in front of people I’ve never met before, and they all go, ‘Yay!’ I’m like, ‘Wow, really? I just dumped on you.’ You say that stuff to a friend, and they’re like, ‘Oh, my God, you’re dumping. You’re dumping on me all your angst.’ But somehow it transforms into something that people enjoy. It’s just amazing.”

It’s the most amazing feeling of connection to have people create what I was hoping for, but don’t know how to get to by myself.

The way the entire band works together is also important to the process. Marsters said they work together organically and that there isn’t conflict within the band.

“I am in a situation where I can bring songs that I write, and then organically, the band makes it what I wanted in the first place. It’s the weirdest thing, when I’m writing a song, I feel like I’m chasing a ghost through fog. I know it’s there, I know what I want, but I got to find it.”

“Even though I haven’t planned out all the instruments, I know the feeling that I want the audience to be left with after the experience that I’m trying to convey. But I don’t know how to play bass, so I’m not going to tell Kevin how to do that. I don’t play drums, so I’m not going to tell the drummer what to do,” he continued.

“I just give the song, I play it, and then we start playing together. It happens pretty quickly, and it’s just magic. I feel like they see me, I guess. I feel like they understand me; I feel like they just get what I’m trying to do. It’s the most amazing feeling of connection to have people create what I was hoping for, but don’t know how to get to by myself.”

“I don’t know how else in life I could ever have that. It’s just amazing because it is very personal.”

Tin Man is available now. Find it here.

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Ashley is the Editor-in-Chief of Eulalie Magazine. Favorite Movies: Sunset Boulevard, Garden State, Modern Times. Favorite TV Shows: Gilmore Girls, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Grey's Anatomy. Favorite Books: Interview with the Vampire, Dracula, City of Glass.

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