THE Casket Girls' debut album, Sleepwalking, romantically navigated life and death, wakefulness and sleep with spectral ambivalence. Their sophomore LP, True Love Kills the Fairytale, was a woozy, raw-yet-tender stare blurring the black-and-white of having love and love's absence.
The former felt like it had spent years locked inside a Victorian mansion, draped in cobwebs. It introduced the mood and M.O. of the band: enveloping synths backing Shangri-Las-style melodies to create a kind of pop music on barbiturates.
Now, on The Night Machines, Ryan Graveface and Elsa and Phaedra Greene welcome listeners to a future that feels too familiar.
“It’s a sci-fi story,” explains Graveface. “It’s kind of coincidental—I didn’t know there would be a Trump effect when I was writing the songs the girls eventually sang on. There’s a very large sci-fi story that goes with this, and the vinyl actually comes with one page from it.”
Each page is numbered; Graveface hopes that fans will trade pages of the story and piece it together, making the album a fascinatedly and quintessentially Graveface-ian release in its uniqueness and interactive quality.
Graveface has been working on the story for years now, but he’s not trying to bash people over the head with the concept; He’d rather listeners soak up Casket Girls’ shoegaze-soaked pop sound and let the Night Machines’ tale sink in naturally.
“Basically,” he explains, “we’re living in this future where people don’t die anymore. Modern medicine, so to speak, has cured everything. People will start to lose what the whole purpose of life is, because it’s actually rooted in death to a great degree. We don’t realize how much we love because of death and knowing death is around the corner makes us feel things.”
The narrative follows one girl’s journey into a fraternal order called The Night Machines.
“They reject this current no-death cycle,” Graveface continues. “So they actually start a rebellious colony against it...there are many facets of it, and this record goes through a lot of that, and then it’s kind of TBD. We have a lot of material in story terms and in song terms.”
Graveface’s fictional dystopia bears feels awfully familiar.
“America bleeds the tears of a clown,” the Greene sisters belt behind synths that feel like a dark centrifuge on the record’s lead single. “American blue bleeding red,” they observe. “Lose your mind before you lose your head.”
Despite being largely written during Graveface’s “Obama highs,” the record’s eerily timely in this election year.
“The Night Machines story parallels between certain people that are running and how they want to control various things, from religion and race and women’s rights,” says Graveface. “It’s just, coincidentally, entirely what the people were rebelling against in The Night Machines. It’s just so hitting me over the head in so many ways!”
Graveface projects that Casket Girls will do a Night Machines appendix at the end of the year to continue the story.
Much of the inspiration for Night Machines came from Graveface’s adoration of the Smashing Pumpkins classic Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.
“I remember being 15 when that album came out and I loved that there was a story arc to it and was hugely conceptual,” he recalls. “The packaging was really pretty, and the interviews at the time, I recall [Billy Corgan] talking about how ‘Zero’ was a person within a story, and you’ll start to see this person appear in other Smashing Pumpkins songs. I was intrigued by the whole layout of it. I was into creating something like that but in a much more subtle way.”
In the writing process, Graveface creates a sonic bed then sends the tracks off to the Greene sisters for lyrics and vocals. The separation works wonders for their creative flow.
“The girls have written 100% of the lyrics for this record, and they’re just so in tune,” he marvels. “It’s so bizarre how we can communicate so perfectly through songs; it’s the funnest project ever because of it.”
Musically, Night Machines is one of the sparest recordings in the Casket Girls’ discography (the exception being last year’s The Piano Album, renderings of Casket Girls songs with, you guessed it, just piano and vocals). True Love felt like the final heaving sob after an exhaustive, therapeutic cry, buzzing and affronting and all-encompassing. Here, Graveface felt driven to reel it all in, inspired by Low’s first recordings.
“It’s super-minimal,” he says. “I went beyond that, obviously, because I have a compulsion to add and add and add.”
The band tours this summer as a part of the annual Graveface Roadshow, joined by Flaming Lips side project Stardeath and White Dwarfs. The kick-off here in Savannah is an all-ages Stopover-Graveface team-up and the first Casket Girls hometown gig in a while. Revel in the opportunity to watch the mystery of The Night Machines unfold before your very eyes.
2016 Graveface Roadshow Kickoff
The Casket Girls, Stardeath and White Dwarfs, Hospital Ships, Marshmallow Ghosts, Wet Socks, more
Wednesday, June 8, 7 p.m., $15
Southern Pine Company