By Nikki DeMartini //
This past Saturday was a picture-perfect day to catch some rays, see local bands and grub on fare from food trucks at the third annual Phono del Sol Music and Food Festival. The festivities started at noon, and by the time Bay Area natives Cool Ghouls hit The Potrero Stage at 12:50 p.m. a small, yet-good sized crowd had gathered to catch their act. Though most people who went to watch Cool Ghouls enjoyed the set from afar atop one of the grassy knolls in Phono del Sol Park, a handful of fans got right up front where the sound quality was way better.
Coll Ghouls’ usual four-piece ensemble had an additional three-piece horn section, and after all the guys got situated, bassist Pat Thomas, lead guitarist Ryan Wong and Pat McDonald each said hello to the crowd before opening with the track most likely to be found on a summertime playlist, “Natural Life”.
The guys of Cool Ghouls are young and they look it, which is sort of surprising since their sound in is undeniably retro with a modern surf-rock twist. Within the first three songs of their set, Thomas, McDonald and Wong each took over lead vocals while their sweet harmonies highlighted every song.
Cool Ghouls filled the afternoon air with seven cool tracks off their self-titled debut EP, including “Grace” and “Queen Sophie”, in their own youthful retro fashion. Their performance paired perfectly with the unseasonably warm SF weather while their laid-back, inviting vibe created that sought-after feel festivalgoers appreciate at the beginning of a long day of music. Well played, Cool Ghouls.
Nikki de Martini spoke with Pat Thomas, bassist and singer for Cool Ghouls before their Phono del Sol set.
Showbams: I understand that the name Cool Ghouls is derived from George Clinton’s funky banter. Can you elaborate on why you chose the name Cool Ghouls and what the name means to you collectively as a band?
Thomas: Well, Pat McDonald came up with the idea. I dunno. We thought it had a nice ring to it. It rhymes. It’s ghastly. I like ghosts. I wrote a song called “Ghost Song”.
Showbams: Do you consider yourselves ghouls? Do you consider yourselves cool?
Thomas: Yes and yes.
Showbams: Are you fans of George Clinton? His music? Fashion sense? What he stands for?
Thomas: I don’t have a lot of George Clinton knowledge really. I like the whole far-out vibe that Parliament had/has. Maggot Brain is a killer album. On every road trip “Can You Get to That” gets bumped at least once.
Showbams: Congratulations on releasing your self-titled debut EP this past April. Some reviews that I’ve come across consider your sound as rather retro circa a 60’s psychedelic sound. I personally picked up on a throwback to old-school surf-rock with a modern twist. How would you say you perceive the sound of Cool Ghouls and why?
Thomas: Well, it’s pretty much impossible to imagine what other people’s ears are gonna hear when your music hits them. We just play the kind of music we’ve always played. When I’m writing or playing a Cool Ghouls song, I’m not thinking within a framework like “garage” or “60’s.” I’m just trying to channel the sounds and vibes in my brain. Certainly 60’s-type shit finds its way into what I do because all that shit is somewhere in there, in my brain. Especially with bass, Motown subconsciously finds its way into my fingers.
Showbams: I dig the cover artwork on the LP — it looks part hand-drawn/painted with a some photography up in there…who’s the artist who did the work?
Thomas: Thanks! I did the cover art myself! Yeah, it’s a canvas that I painted with watercolors. Then I taped all the other images on top. They’re all found pieces, except the rooster, which I painted. Oh, and the picture of us up in the clouds was taken by my friend Matt at one of our shows.
Showbams: Did all three of you grow up in San Francisco? If so what area of SF, and how did you meet each other?
Thomas: Well, there are four of us. None of us grew up in SF. Both Pats and Ryan grew up in Benicia, which is in the East Bay, about 40 minutes outside the city. Alex is from Sacramento. We met Alex through SF State. The other Pat, Ryan and Alex all went to SF State.
Showbams: Were your parents hippies?
Thomas: Definitely not! My parents were born about 15 years too late to be a part of the proper baby-boomer hippy generation. They went to college in the 80’s and were into Reagan. Suburban family folk. I don’t think any of our parents were what you’d call hippies. Pat McDonald’s dad probably comes the closest. He fought in Vietnam. But I don’t think he was a long-hair or anything. He had and has a passion for rock ‘n’ roll, though.
Showbams: Do you consider yourself hippies?
Thomas: I don’t think so. Although I could imagine someone might look at us and call us hippies. I like the Grateful Dead. But no, I wouldn’t call myself a hippie. I don’t really use the word “hippie” at all actually.
Showbams: What is your favorite album of 2013 so far?
Thomas: Finding the Meaning in Deference by The Mallard!
Showbams: How stoked, on a scale from 1 -10, are you guys to be on a bill with the likes of YACHT, Thee Oh Sees, K-Flay and a bunch of other independent local acts at the 3rd Annual Phono del Sol Music Festival this Saturday? Is this the first music festival Cool Ghouls has played?
Thomas: 10! Just to play a festival of this caliber … is definitely a first for us. Totally stoked. We will have a lot of family and friends there.
Showbams: If you could play with one band/artist who would it be?
Thomas: Can I choose four? Wyatt Blair, Meat Market, Corners and Froth. And if I could play with them at Brick & Mortar Music Hall, it would be a dream come true!