Ghostkeeper’s return to the ocean

Culture Music
Photo by Jennifer Crighton
Photo by Jennifer Crighton

Calgary-based band Ghostkeeper is performing at the Copper Owl on Nov. 12. The band released a new album in late October called Sheer Buffalo that features the most refined yet experimental iteration of their ever-evolving sound to date.

Sheer Buffalo is a self-released concept album about two fictional characters called Buffalo Knox and Sheer Blouse, represented vocally by the band’s founding members: Shane Ghostkeeper (guitar, vocals, synth) and Sarah Houle (vocals, drums, drum synth). The story centers around issues of fossil fuel extraction and its effects on First Nations reserves in Alberta. Political themes are balanced by an atmosphere of romantic nostalgia throughout. Stylistically, the album combines psych rock, the randomness of free jazz, and a dreamy experimental ambience. The vocals are distant but maintain a feeling of cordiality, reminiscent of laying on the floor listening to an obscure old record. Each song features sharp transitions, performed with the passion of a cultural anthem.

Shane Ghostkeeper and Sarah Houle both originate from small communities in northern Alberta, and have been living in Calgary since they started the band about 10 years ago. Houle grew up in a Métis settlement called Paddle Prairie, while Ghostkeeper lived less than an hour’s drive away. “Paddle,” as Houle refers to it, functions lyrically as a representation of home for the couple as well as a political inspiration.

Ghostkeeper and Houle had only three songs when they first moved to Calgary, but their sound has attracted various contributing artists over the years. Two other band members currently perform onstage: Ryan Bourne, who’s an overall instrumental and sampling “wizard,” according to Houle, and Eric Hamelin, who plays drums and experiments with various mediums including scrap metal that he repurposes from thrift stores. Houle said the band formed effortlessly through local music connections; when she first moved to Calgary, she went to a show featuring Hamelin and Chad VanGaalen. “I actually asked [Hamelin] for drum lessons,” Houle laughed.

Before Sheer Buffalo graced the audio world, the band pre-released a track called “Oceans.” The song was written by Houle as an autobiographical retelling of the first time Shane saw the ocean — which happened to be during a trip to Victoria. When Houle was 18, the couple rebelliously drove from northern Alberta to the West Coast, sleeping in the back of Ghostkeeper’s pickup truck along the way. Houle wrote the song to pay tribute to the couple’s younger days when they could “just take off and drive places,” she said. “It’s pretty awesome we actually got a show [in Victoria].” The band has played in the city before, and was featured at Rifflandia in 2010.

Houle said the band’s sound has evolved so enormously that they have difficulty performing older songs live because the instruments they use are ever-changing. Ghostkeeper is working to become more adaptable at live shows, but for a band that’s unafraid to constantly experiment and push boundaries, the extra effort is worth it. Houle shared this advice for budding musicians: “Go out to a ton of shows and see what other people are doing . . . Don’t worry so much about trends and it’ll be more fun.”

Make sure to check out Ghostkeeper’s show at the Copper Owl, also featuring The Backhomes and Chairs, on Nov. 12 at 9 p.m. Tickets are $10 at the door.