Band: The Ghost Inside
Label/Vertieb: Epitaph / 375 Media
The Ghost Inside make music for the outcasts. They’ve inspired audiences around the world to overcome obstacles, persevere, and find the strength to keep going when it feels like all is lost. Songs like “Out of Control”, “White Light” and “Mercy” are modern hardcore anthems. Passionate crowds have joined them in singalongs at major rock festivals, in theaters and clubs, brought together by the conviction of lyrics like, “Life’s swinging hard but, I’m swinging harder.”
On an early morning in November 2015, The Ghost Inside’s tour bus collided with a tractor trailer, killing the drivers of both vehicles on impact, and severely injuring the band and their crew. When The Ghost Inside returned to the stage for the first time, nearly four years later,Kerrang!called it “Rock’s Most Miraculous Comeback” in a detailed cover story about triumph over tragedy.
While the show in the group’s spiritual hometown of Los Angeles, California was something magical to behold (the historic Shrine Auditorium sold out so quickly, the gig had to be moved to the parking lot), it isn’t the accident, the recovery, nor the onstage return that will define them.
The ultimate victory for The Ghost Inside is their triumphant new self-titled album.
Created with producer Will Putney (Every Time I Die, The Amity Affliction, Knocked Loose) and longtime friend/collaborator Jeremy McKinnon of A Day To Remember, The Ghost Insideis 11 songs of determination, deep resolve, reflection, and newfound hope. The album cover is a montage of The Ghost Inside lyrics, logos, and imagery, tattooed on fans around the world.
Singer Jonathan Vigil suffered a broken back and two broken ankles, among other injuries. Guitarist Zach Johnson would need more than a dozen surgeries. Drummer Andrew Tkaczyk ultimately lost a leg. All three of them and two crew members were in the ICU in critical condition. Bassist Jim Riley, guitarist Chris Davis, and the rest of the crew were injured, ‘though stable.
“I had hit my head and was unconscious for a long time,” Vigil recalls. “When I awoke, I was very sedated. Once the severity of everything had set in, I told myself and I told my mom, who was in the hospital with me, that I didn’t want to do the band anymore. I wanted to be done.”
The future of the band was very much up in the air throughout 2016, as everyone struggled to recover. “I didn’t think we’d make a new record. I didn’t think we’d play shows,” Riley admits. “We wanted our legacy to be something other than the accident, to overcome it in some way. But for a long time, I didn’t think that would mean playing shows or writing new music.”
Vigil says that as his situation improved, his attitude began to change. “I spent so much time laying there wondering, ‘What’s next?’ Playing music, touring, meeting people – it’s been my life since I got out of high school. It’s the only thing I ever wanted to do. The thought of missing out on something like that was not something I wanted. My options were to stop and move on with my life or come back and prove all of the lyrics we’ve ever sang, everything I’ve ever said, right.”
The band had worked on material for their fifth album prior to the accident. Each person took their own time to come around to the idea of revisiting the demos and finishing the material. By all accounts, it was Tkaczyk who maintained the most positive outlook and determination to persevere, re-learning how to play drums with a prosthetic limb. “I was probably the last one to come around, to be honest,” Vigil says. “You would think it would be Andrew, who lost a leg. I thought, ‘If he wants to keep going, I don’t have any excuse not to. I can get up and scream.’”
The band collectively came to see the ordeal as a moment to put their inspirational lyrics to the test. Songs that were once more philosophical in origin had become autobiographical. “Our songs had done so much for so many people for so many years,” Vigil says, with humility. “The lyrics were written from a sincere place, but I had never really had to put my money where my mouth was, you know? I had to back up everything we’d said. I had to prove it right, or I’m a fraud. We set out to do at least one more show and one more record as the ultimate [defeat] of adversity.”
One look at song titles like “Still Alive”, “Make or Break”, “Phoenix Rise”, “Begin Again”, and “Aftermath” would lend the impression that all of the lyrics were written after the accident. But in truth, some of the songs already had lyrics in place that proved strangely prescient. “Some of Andrew’s working titles for the demos were like premonitions of what happened,” says Vigil. “I’d written about finding the love for something again and about the ‘aftermath’ of a major event.”
“It’s really eerie that he was writing those lyrics five years prior to the accident,” says Riley. “It became clear pretty quickly that a theme of the record would be, ‘What do we stand for?’ We said, ‘Life’s swinging hard, but I’m swinging harder.’ Well, now we have to put that to the test. The idea of living up to our own legacy, to our own standards, was a big part of this album.”
“Still Alive” is a particularly cathartic moment. The chorus features the voices of all five members of the band, as well as all five of the other survivors from the crash. It was actually the last song we wrote for the for the record and the newest music we’d written,” Vigil explains. “We didn't want to make an entire record about the accident. A lot of the stuff ties into, but ‘Still Alive’ is pretty much the song about the accident and how it didn’t defeat us. Our merch guy, sound guy, guitar tech, drum tech, and another friend, all ten of us who survived, are all on that song.”
“Pressure Point” is about the types of exploitative acquaintances who are quick to make someone else’s tragedy about themselves. “The Outcast” is a statement of courage meant for anyone blazing their own trail in life, following their dreams even when it defies what’s expected of them. The slower and more droning “Unseen” is about the hidden handicaps beneath the surface. “Aftermath” is about the wake of any traumatic experience and finding the strength to carry on.
The Ghost Inside was formed in El Segundo, California, comprised of Vigil and a group of friends who found inspiration in the long tradition of Southern California punk and hardcore subculture. An early lineup created their debut, Fury and the Fallen Ones(2008). Johnson joined a short while later, with Riley also onboard by the time they released Returners(2010). Tkaczyk became the band’s fulltime drummer before they signed with Epitaph Records to issue their breakthrough album, Get What You Give(2012). They were touring behind Dear Youth(2014) with Davis, but the incredibly collaborative The Ghost Inside(2020) marks his first official recorded appearance.
“I wouldn’t describe the band as having had a revolving door of members, but there has been a change of at least one person between albums,” notes Riley. “After everything we’ve been through, these five guys arethe band. The five of us will be remembered as the band. This isn’t to say that other people haven’t contributed, but going forward, this is who we are. We decided to make the album self-titled for that reason. Also, we aren’t trying to ‘find’ our sound. It’s our fifth album and we know exactly who we are and what we sound like. So, trying to put any other title on this album felt like a stretch. There is no phrase that could better encapsulate all of this.”
The accident will always be a defining moment for The Ghost Inside, but never what defines them. The album taps into the raw emotional things they’ve been through, but the songs are not about reliving the worst day of their lives. “This isn’t about what happened to us,” Riley insists. “We won’t get lost in that one day. This is about our journey, our growth, and who we are.”
by Ryan J. Downey