I have had the pleasure of knowing Holy Ghost Tent Revival for a while. I have a lot of great memories of the guys in the band, but there is one that sticks out the most. It was 2009, it had been a hard semester of college and as a treat for passing I went to see Holy Ghost Tent Revival in Macon, Georgia. By this time, I’d known the band for a few years. As a precaution I called the venue in advance to make sure it was not a 21 and over show, and I was told they could put X’s on my hand and it would be fine. I drove about 2 and a half hours, from Savannah to Macon, only to be told by the door guy it was a 21 and over show. After letting him know I was told otherwise and had driven from Savannah he was still gave me a hard time. Well lucky for me there are not many people that look like a yeti walking around and Stephen and Matt spotted me. With no hesitation, they jump off the stage during setup and walk over and told the door guy, “He’s with the band.” And like that I was in and the reunion started. I have so many memories of these guys, and no matter where I see them they always take the time to come say hello and catch up.
Hey Matt, thanks for sitting down with Yeti Music on Monsters of Geek. Before we start, let the readers know who you are and what band you’re in.
Thanks for having me, Yeti. I’m Matt Martin and I play guitar in Holy Ghost Tent Revival.
You all have a new album coming out, what can you tell us about it?
It’s called Right State of Mind. We recorded it last summer in Philadelphia with Bill Moriarty (Man Man, Dr. Dog) over the course of three weeks. In it, we continue in the direction we left off in Sweat Like the Old Days, our last record, which is to say, we are exploring our soul/rock leanings more fully. Lot of harmonies, lot of groove; whatever made the head bob, we kept, whatever didn’t, made it to the Mac trash bin.
This is the band’s third studio album, what was your personal favorite that you played on? (Please correct me if I’m wrong on the number of albums released.)
You are correct, our third LP. I suppose my favorite song I played on was “If I Lie”, a laid-back country sounding number. I didn’t really have a fleshed out idea of what I wanted to play, so when I sat down and pulled the cans over my ears, I just surprised the hell out of myself. Literally, my fingers would slip up to a chord I hadn’t planned on making, it would work magically, and I visibly raised my eyebrows, pursed my lips together in satisfaction and surprise.
The Band’s had a few lineup changes. Does that make it hard to keep the same focus?
Sometimes you have to do a little spring cleaning to regain the focus. Certainly, there was some changes that took getting used to, but we’ve had the same lineup since Fall of 2011. Lot of time to become the band that we want to be. All it takes a little discipline, courage, and a lot of practice.
With the lineup changes, they always bring a new sound. From the time So Long I Screamed to now with Right State of Mind, how has the band matured its sound?
Well, we’re no longer a thrash/ragtime/bluegrass outfit that seemed more bent on showing you how out of breath we could get. We’re more concerned with listening to each other onstage, giving the song the respect that it deserves, while still maintaining a raw, infectious energy.
With the first album, you all had a very Roots/American feel to it. With Sweat Like the Old Days it was a very soulful rock approach to the sound. What does ‘Right State of Mind’ sound like?
RSOM is continuing in the same direction. When writing our music, gone are the stops and tempo changes that seemingly come from nowhere and without intention. We strive to make music that’s congruent, with changes that are purposeful and that seek to serve the song. Right now, we’re very groove oriented and real interested in soul/rock.
Soul Step Records put out So Long I Screamed on vinyl. What was it like hearing that album on vinyl for the first time?
We never did a vinyl master for this album, way back in 2008, so it’s a really quiet listen. For those folks who might not know about the process, when you’re mastering an album, you do one for CD/digital and a separate one for vinyl. If you play a vinyl that was only mastered for CD, it can sound really distorted on [explicit]record players. There wasn’t any distortion when I put my needle down on the groove (then again, I don’t have a [explicit] record player), though it was discernibly quieter than other records I spin. Other than that, it was real cool to take a walk through the past. I’d forgotten how many songs/interludes there were on SLIS and how good of a flow it has.
What is the craziest moment at a show?
Maybe when you look around and realize everyone is on a different page, not listening to one another on stage. These moments usually happen when we’re playing shows where the audience just isn’t paying attention, aren’t really responding. Mix in a little alcohol and a little marijuana, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a show that just doesn’t mean that much to yourself or to anybody watching.
You guys pretty much tour nonstop. What do you do to pass time on the trips to the next show?
A few of us have day jobs. I work at Barter Theatre selling tickets in my off-time. I also make customized shirts for the band.
What is the playlist for a HGTR tour?
We don’t listen to much music in the van because we’re good at making ourselves laugh, and because we don’t have good speakers.
Over the number of years you’ve been touring, what is you favorite place to play?
Chapel Hill is probably our strongest draw. Raleigh rocks. Interestingly, Dayton OH is always a fun time. There are a slew of random, small towns like Hammondsport, NY or Sherherdstown, WV that offer their own brand of charm and have been drawing us back year after year, not because they make us that much money, but because we just love the people [and] the atmosphere.
How did the name Holy Ghost Tent Revival come about?
It came about back when we were just starting out, still in college. Back then, we were just performing for school functions, nothing real serious. Hank went on a little road trip to Boone, NC with his girlfriend at the time and stopped on the side of the road for a photo-op in front of a sign that said “Holy Ghost Tent Revival with Cecil B. Hamby.” Trying to think of a name for the band later on, I saw this picture and suggested it to the rest of the guys.
How did the band come about?
Steve and myself had been writing music together for a few years as actors at Greensboro College under the name The Porches. It was around the time that we became seniors that we also began to get a little distracted with our acting studies and started writing the music that would become the entity Holy Ghost Tent Revival. Some early musical catalysts in that creation was the Avett Brother recordings, specifically Four Thieves Gone. Man, that record really pumped us up. Then The Format came out with Dog Problems and those two records really crystallized what we wanted to be: a rootsy, ragtime band that could scream and wail like the best. We jumped on any supporting bill that we could, our first being a terrible 20 minute set without a bass at Brew Balls in Burlington, NC.
Holy Ghost Tent Revival is back on the Bristol Rhythm and Roots lineup. Are you guys excited?
Terribly. We’ve missed being back and look forward to catching any of Tweedy’s* sweat.
*[Editor’s Note: Tweedy, as in Jeff Tweedy of the band Wilco. He will be performing solo at Bristol Rhythm and Roots!]
It’s a really good line up this year, who are some bands you are looking forward to seeing/meeting?
Love Tweedy. Love the rock sounds of J. Roddy and the Business. Enjoy St. Paul and the Broken Bones.
Lastly, how can the readers find your music and keep up with the shows?
All good readers of the internet can find out about us on our Wikipedia page. Check out our bandcamp page at hgtr.bandcamp.com. Learn about upcoming shows at holyghosttentrevival.com and laugh at us on Facebook.
Once again, thank you for sitting down with Yeti Music on Monsters of Geek. Can’t wait to catch you all in Bristol!