Luke Mossman, who has spent the past five years playing lead guitar for Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, hasn't always been drawn to the raucous neo-soul that brought that group worldwide acclaim. In his previous bands, Achille Lauro and Science Partner, Mossman has played indie rock, leaning into both experimental and pop sounds.
Now, after gigs with Rateliff have been canceled or rescheduled — including a 25-date Night Sweats tour with Bob Dylan that has been postponed — and an unknown amount of time off the road, Mossman is revisiting his long-shelved solo project, Ghost Gnotes.
Ghost Gnotes was born of the existential dregs of Mossman's terrible 2013, the year when Achille Lauro dissolved and his longtime girlfriend moved out of their shared apartment. Ghost Gnotes' self-titled debut album is an ode to love lost, to "the fear and the beauty of being alone, processing failure and questioning my place," Mossman explains.
At the time, he asked himself some hard questions: Was it time to stop chasing the dream of becoming a touring musician? Was it time to quit playing weddings, teaching music, and instead go back to school and get a day job? And, work aside, was he losing his longtime sweetheart, or were they simply making a mature decision to give each other space to grow?
He worked out the answers by writing songs.
And then in 2015, everything changed. He got an offer to go on tour with the Night Sweats, and it was clear that the opportunity was his long-sought break. He could finally quit teaching music lessons, quit gigging around town and quit playing weddings. He could make a living playing in a touring band. So Ghost Gnotes was put on the shelf, and Mossman hit the road.
In the five years since he joined the Night Sweats, the band has checked off several bucket-list items, including appearing on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, playing back-to-back nights at Red Rocks three years running, and opening for the Rolling Stones at Mile High Stadium in 2019.
Despite all that success, Mossman was more excited about a pre-Dylan tour for Rateliff's new solo album, And It's Still Alright, because it offered a welcome change from Night Sweats performances.
Already on the road with Rateliff when the pandemic hit, Mossman and the rest of the bandmembers were forced to return home.
"It's been a really hard adjustment to get over that, because we had invested so much time getting that ready and had just started to feel really good about it," he says.
Now, in the face of plans undone, Mossman has time to return to Ghost Gnotes.
"I probably kept it a little too precious and wanted it to be this perfect thing to get released perfectly," he says. But recognizing that his quest for perfection had already pushed the release of the album back seven years, he's decided that now is the time to put it out.
Ghost Gnotes includes Mossman on the guitar, with little more than synths, piano and an occasional assist on drums from his brother, Ben, to support him. The album was recorded by Brian Joseph, a former Denverite who now lives in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and has also recorded artists such as Bon Iver, Paul Simon and Sufjan Stevens.
The album, which is best listened to through headphones, shouldn't be mistaken for sleepy. Though hushed, the rolling waves of Mossman's sound fill the emptiness that comes when people face their ghosts. Mossman cites as influences the "slow, brooding" style of Max Richter, the emotionally dense music of Andy Shauf and the "scary folk" stylings of Timber Timbre — all of which he played heavily while writing the songs on Ghost Gnotes. Specifically, he hopes some of the "creepiness" from Timber Timbre's 2011 album, Creep On Creepin' On, shines through in his work.
The video for the album's first single, "Take Some Time," dropped on May 11, with the album release to follow on May 29. A vinyl release was originally planned, too, but production is temporarily on hold during the COVID-19 shutdowns.
Mossman says he's already written the second Ghost Gnotes album and is just waiting for time and circumstances to allow him to return to Eau Claire to record it with Joseph. But he's not just sitting around waiting for the next tour; he's been spending the downtime gardening and learning new instruments.
When it comes to what lies ahead, says Mossman, "We're prepared for the fact that live music may not be a thing until fall of 2021 — which is unimaginable to me, and shocking. We're just trying to survive on what we've got."
And that can be very scary: "Some days it's okay, and some days it's absolutely terrifying."
Until fans are back in the venues, it's hard to know what will keep artists and businesses afloat, he says. "Everyone has become so reliant on streaming, and the music industry has adapted to that and made it more of a touring model. But I would hope that now that we can't tour, people will be able to pay $10 for that album they love or go to the merch store and buy a T-shirt."
The band is looking at the possibilities presented by live-streaming concerts.
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"This is a new world. So we're trying to figure out how to make live concerts something that people would pay for, [to] make it a valuable enough thing and make the production value good enough that people would want to pay for it," he says of the future.
But he hasn't forgotten the past, either. During these hard times, watching small local venues close down has been a blow for the hometown musician. While he feels the AEGs and the Live Nations of the world will weather the storm, the small venues that give bands their start are in serious danger.
"I miss playing the small club shows. I miss going on at 11:30 at night at the hi-dive to a sloppy-drunk crowd. Those were always the days. Those will always be my fondest memories."
Pre-order Ghost Gnotes' debut album on May 15 and stay tuned for the vinyl edition, coming soon on ghostgnotes.com.