In a town whose notoriety is soullessness itself, it comes as a surprise that Caught a Ghost is a Los Angeles-based band, best labeled as a modernized take on Motown with enough funk to move the hips of even the most jaded music critic. It's the most recent project of self-taught producer and songwriter Jesse Nolan, who unabashedly belies his sunny Southern Californian roots with his full-throated crooning.
While it's easy to draw conclusions between Nolan's direction and Stax Records greats, there's more to the mix itself than just paying homage. If anything, Nolan's list of influences alone, from Bob Dylan to Neil Young, emphasize that Caught a Ghost's brand of pop music is about storytelling.
"I've modeled myself lyrically after people who were really intelligent individuals and had a way with words, put a lot of thought into their lyrics to not necessarily overcomplicate them but to make them sound powerful," Nolan says.
Raised in Los Angeles' beach cities west of the 405 and having studied English at University of California Berkeley, Nolan's lyricism has the elements of social understanding. He discredits notions of consumerism on a song like "Sleeping At Night," where he croons "You're the kind of emotionless creature, bites at heels of the needless seekers, mouth moves along with the meaningless speaker," yet he's careful to exclude political motives from his songs.
"I'm wary of the idea of using your music as an mouthpiece for your political voice -- on some level I believe that music is a unifier, and a lot of what happens in American political discourse is centered around specific, polarizing issues," he says. "At the very least people I think people should resist apathy and inform themselves, and then make [up] their mind about issues."
Nolan is just as calculating on an aesthetic level, donning tailored, GQ-ready suits for both press shoots and live performances. Such wardrobe choices help Caught a Ghost to stand out that much more. While we are in the era of "Suit & Tie," Nolan's rationale leans more toward hearkening to yesterday rather than a newfound Tom Ford obsession. "Fashion is really fluid and it's very reactive as a medium, and fashion and music are really integrated, and that's definitely influenced me a lot, pushing in different directions," he says. "I try to be open-minded about it, but I love wearing suits because I like that, I yearn for a day where people would dress up to travel and things like that, and not show up in their sweatpants."
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Add these visceral and visual components together and it seems that Caught a Ghost really isn't like most current touring acts, without any amount of cliche in that turn of phrase. Striking out alone in a creative medium does require some kind of balancing act, however, and Nolan is acutely aware of this. Thus far, he's navigated those heady waters quite well, and looks to continue to do so.
"It's obviously a double-edged sword on some level because it's a little easier to package music that sounds exactly like other things that are appropriate for whatever demographic you're trying to appeal to," Nolan explains. "I try to let other people label my music and avoid doing it myself, but if I need to explain to somebody what it sounds like I'll try to figure out something that makes sense. I think it's funny to be like 'Strap yourself in, man, and let it happen.'"
Caught a Ghost is scheduled to play the Rhythm Room on Tuesday, Oct. 1.
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