With Gun Street Ghost, Mike Perfetti explores the everyday dark secrets of American life

See also: Gun Street Ghost EP release party at the hi-dive, 8/17/12

Gun Street Ghost is the latest project fronted by Mike Perfetti, perhaps better known from his stints in Ideal Fathers, Johnny Knows Karate and Raleigh. With bassist Tyler Campo (ex-Cowboy Curse, also in Port Au Prince), guitarist Daniel White (Bellowers), drummer Kim Baxter (ex-Le Divorce) and keyboard player Tiffany Meese (The Centennial), Perfetti has found an ideal team with which to tell stories of Americana from the perspective of his childhood in Carey, Illinois. There's a core of hope in Perfetti's dark tales; the music sounds like it's been written and played by people who have been put through the wringer but didn't come through the other side hardened cynics. We recently sat down with the band at Perfetti's west Denver home to talk about the everyday dark secrets of American life.

Westword: Why is One Home an especially apt title for your debut EP?

Daniel White: I think it was more my decision, but I think it fit, because a lot of Mike's lyrics are about his childhood or growing up. There are a lot of references to that kind of stuff. Plus it was simple. At that point, we had been recording for a full year.

Where did you grow up, Mike?

Mike Perfetti: Carey, Illinois, which is another weird coincidence for our band.

Tiffany Meese: We grew up in towns that were literally fifteen minutes from each other. We were at Sputnik one night, after talking to Kim Baxter, and I hadn't met him yet.

MP: When we met, I must have said three sentences...

TM: I asked, "Where are you from?" And I already knew the answer because I could tell by his accent.

MP: And I didn't think I talked weird.

So why do you write so many songs that are grounded in your childhood in Carey, Mike?

MP: I don't know. I grew up in a weird place, and a lot of weird shit happened.

Like what?

MP: All right. Let's get into it. It was a good place to grow up. We had a bunch of good friends. There was a valley next to a swamp, a forest and some power lines, a golf course -- plenty of places to get into trouble. There was an old farm we called Stone City. It was burnt down to its foundations. We used to go there and fuck around.

But here's this little neighborhood, and this is pretty much everywhere you go; there's these little fucked-up dark secrets everywhere. A lot of them are kept secret and a lot of them aren't. In my little neighborhood, my dad was really good at raising misfit kids.

One in particular, his dad was in prison for conspiracy to murder in Arizona. His mom worked nights, so my dad, like, raised this kid. The Kildeer thing was after his dad got out of prison; he was out for maybe eight months and trying to be a father to his four boys, one of which my dad helped raise since we were in fourth grade. He disappeared for ten years. Ten years later, to make a long story short, they found his body in a construction site, and he was shot twice in the head.

It was all tied in with the Mafia, and no one really knows the truth. He was supposed to testify for or against somebody that was involved. No one really knows, but he was pretty much whacked Casino-style. How else do you put it? The whole time, I was hanging out with Joe -- he was one of my best friends. I stood up at his wedding. He had no idea. He would always put his dad on a pedestal and make up excuses why he was in prison.

One of my brother's friends was into heroin, and he contracted AIDS and gave it to one of my sister's best friends, and they both died from it. My parents helped both of them.

Why did your dad do this?

Because my dad grew up really poor and didn't have anything. They had a stereo and a bike. He just had a huge heart. There's some Perfetti dark secrets, too. He didn't want any of these kids growing up around us not to have support or help if they needed it. That's just how he was. We didn't have a shit ton of money.

He worked for the First National Bank of Chicago, and we probably would have been a pretty wealthy family if he hadn't got laid off when I was in the seventh grade. He went to work in factories after that and worked six days a week. On his days off we worked on cars, chopped wood and mowed lawns. Any time he saw anyone struggling he wanted to help them the best he could.

There were five of us. My oldest brother is 52. My dad is eighty. I'm 37. They were out of the house when I was still in diapers. It was Brady Bunch-style. My dad had three kids with his previous marriage, and my mom had my sister Tracy in her previous marriage, and then they got married and had me.

My two older brothers hated my mom because they were into drugs. I was in diapers, and she didn't want that shit around. We actually had cops watching our house because they were selling coke and shit out of my house. She took me and my sister up to Wisconsin and left my dad until he remedied this shit. But my dad was in denial, so my brothers moved out.

That's the environment you grew up in?

MP: Yeah.

Tyler Campo: The moral of the story is that Perfetti actually has stories. This current generation isn't really great with the storytelling. There aren't many songwriters that write stories about actual shit. When I listen to these songs, it affects me.

MP: We could talk for a couple of hours about crazy stories. At the end of Johnny Knows Karate, I got tired of talking about relationships gone bad. It's dumb. It's stupid. Why sing more about that? There was a lot more going on in my childhood and the neighborhood I grew up with and my family, and it might be a little dark and confusing, and I might pull from a couple of different places to make a song, but there's plenty of other shit to write about. I think I just went back in time and pulled some material out from the old neighborhood, really.

When you talk about dark secrets in what some people might think are unexpected places, or darker secrets than most people are willing to talk about in mixed company, as it were, that resonates with some of the best aspects of Stephen King's fiction, like It. Oddly, "Dead Pets" seems to fit in with that in a perhaps completely accidental way.

Yeah, like taking the beat-up and abused and abandoned in. There's a child molester in that song, "The man on the hill is a dangerous one." He tried to molest two of my buddies in my neighborhood. He got them in his house and tried to give them some money and get them naked and take pictures. Had their shirts off. It was fucking weird.

He lived right behind my house. He told them he would pay them money for chores, and he tried to talk them into taking off their clothes and taking pictures. They might have been eight. They got smart and scared and ran the fuck out of there. He's the only one that didn't associate with anybody in the neighborhood, and he was fucking weird, dude. His name was actually Chester. Maybe it was just one of those things we called him, and I just made it real in my head. Maybe his name was Ken or something. It could be a false memory.

DW: There's always a resolve to all the songs, so they're not dark to me. I obviously don't know what you're referencing, specifically, but there's a solidity to all of them.

TC: "Dead Pets" is the perfect example. It's about the guy whose dad got clipped. The choruses of the song are about saving a little dog from getting abused, and it's a metaphor for [that recurring theme of Perfetti's helping out those kids in the neighborhood and other people he thought needed help.]

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.