Nick Moulds and Will Carman formed their modern-soul band Ghost Tapes with a single goal: They would produce one album, then call it quits.
Moulds and Carman met while playing with the Ruckus, a Manhattan, Kansas-based ska outfit, in 2011. They moved with the band to Denver that summer; two years later, they left the Ruckus and decided to narrow the scope of their sound.
“We wanted to build something around this art project — the art project being a record,” Moulds explains. “We just wanted to put together something that was on our terms, with our songs, but also focused…. We wanted to push ourselves as songwriters, and we wanted to make a record that we were going to be proud of in the future.”
In order to get a taste for the local scene and improve his own skills, Moulds attended jazz jam sessions around town with Aliyah Stephens, the Ruckus’s lead singer at the time. The two would go to El Chapultepec Too, formerly at 38th Avenue and Perry Street, to play Stephens’s own R&B songs.
“That’s kind of how I started playing R&B, by playing the songs she had been writing,” Moulds says. “I would go every week and just get my ass kicked. Those guys were amazing, just such amazing players, and I had no experience playing jazz at all. But I knew that I wanted to be better, and I knew I really liked the music they were playing, so if I just kept going and kept hanging around these guys, I’d at least improve.”
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Moulds and Carman decided that they wanted to shift their music toward R&B. They began to record jam sessions relentlessly on their phones and later on a field-recording stick. They also studied the production of albums from iconic R&B girl groups like TLC and Destiny’s Child, which Moulds calls “ground zero” of what Ghost Tapes has since become.
“We really liked the production of those records,” Moulds says, calling Destiny’s Child “the queens” of R&B. “When I was a kid, I was all about Destiny’s Child. Now, when I listen to those records, what really jumps out at me is the musicianship and songwriting.”
As Ghost Tapes continued to develop its R&B sound, new members joined the effort. By early 2014, the band had solidified, adding vocalist Ishka Phoenix, keys player Evan Ballinger and bassist Marco Garcia. The musicians finally felt ready to work on the album they had set out to create. They dubbed their sound “modern soul music” because they love classic soul and want to keep the genre fresh.
During the time that the group was recording, Moulds became invested in whether audiences were going to like the music. He began asking himself, “Is this a musical product that has the potential to go to the next level?”
Eventually, the bandmembers decided that the project was worth keeping together beyond this first, self-titled album which they’ll release on October 6 at Syntax Physic Opera.
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The group will celebrate the album with a concert spotlighting some of the local artists who inspire them: Fed Rez, Sur Ellz and DJ Soulrane. Attending these artists’ shows, Moulds realized the importance of stage presence and how to achieve it without elaborate set design. Others, like Joseph Lamar, inspired him to think about the full package that comes along with performing at a concert.
“I’ll never forget the first time I saw [Lamar],” Moulds says. “It wasn’t just a guy singing his songs or playing his songs. He had an entire one-man show built around him. And that included dancing, that included his outfit — it was everything. Every aspect of his performance, at least to me as a spectator, was really well thought out.”
Moulds and company hope that the upcoming performance is equally orchestrated, forming a bond between the performers and the audience.
“It becomes this mutual relationship, where the band feeds off the crowd and the crowd feeds off the band, just by them creating that space, which of course wouldn’t be complete without the audience,” Moulds explains. “We want people to feel good. We want to create a positive space for everybody, where anybody can come in and feel welcomed and loved.”