Featured Music: Wednesday, June 06, 2002
Spaghetti Nocturnes

Ghoultown blends horror and western gothic into big-time success.

By Paula Felps

The standard formula of “making it” in the music industry has changed very little through the years: A band forms, gigs constantly, records a few demos or indie releases, and prays to someday land a record deal. Except in Ghoultown. There, these rules don’t apply.

This three-year-old band landed on several national compilation discs before ever releasing a full-length, and writers at magazines like Razorcake and Harder Beat are among those who openly adore the grisly punked-out rockabilly served up by this six-piece posse.

Frontman “Count Lyle” Steadham always dreamed about blending spaghetti westerns, horror flicks, and punk into a wholesome rock experience, even as he played in local hardcore-punk outfit The Killcreeps.

“I was searching for something different,” said the Fort Worth native, “so I started playing some heavy western swing-based music with kind of a punk feel to it. Count Lyle began penning the hardcore dirges that would become Ghoultown’s calling cards; as chief songwriter, he crafted dark and haunting rockers that are Clint Eastwood by way of Alice Cooper. He eventually added J. Luis, a mariachi-style trumpet player, to the traditional band lineup — for the full Fistful of Dollars effect.

Boots of Hell, a three-song EP, was recorded in late 1999 and almost immediately created a national buzz. But that wasn’t a matter of sheer luck; Count Lyle was following a strategy he had seen work with his former band, Solitude Aeturnus, a doom metal group that had landed a deal with Roadrunner Records.

“I sent out demos to underground fanzines and to sites that would review us” he said. “I’d hook up with bands that were even remotely like us, and get the word out that way. Instead of suffering on the road, we put our money into sending out promos and getting them reviewed.”

Before the band had ever played a live show, it was ending up on comps like Gothabilly 2: Rockin’ Necropolis and was even being invited to share the spotlight with outfits from Rob Zombie’s label, Zombie A-Go-Go, at New York’s renowned CBGB’s. Instead of playing an endless list of nameless clubs, Ghoultown was suddenly sharing the bill with such bands as Flametrick Subs, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Rocket from the Crypt, and The Misfits. They were featured at last year’s Dragon*Con, a huge media festival for horror lovers, and will return there again this year.

Among those who noticed was Jon Keeyes, writer, producer, and director for Highland Myst Entertainment, a Fort Worth-based film company. Keeyes had happened upon the Ghoultown site one day and was taken with both the sound and imagery of the band. Watching a live show sold him on their theatrical bent, and he rewrote a movie script he was working on to include a live Ghoultown performance in the film.

American Nightmare, a slasher flick set on Halloween night, seemed the ideal vehicle for the cowpunk horror band. Pop culture references, black comedy, and a healthy dose of horror all get thrown into the blender, then come pouring out in a chilling concoction. Ghoultown’s over-the-top stage presence was a perfect fit for the movie.

“I knew the moment I heard them that they were needed for American Nightmare,” Keeyes said. “In putting together American Nightmare’s music, I wanted to follow a very strict feeling for the movie. I wanted something that incorporated a very unique Texas feel, blending rock, blues, surf, and mariachi-action. Ghoultown became the epitome of this feeling.”

The band got a further boost when Keeyes included a video for Ghoultown’s song “Killer in Texas” as a bonus on the DVD version of American Nightmare, which was released in late January. The video gives a good idea of the band’s Old West horror vibe, something that immediately appeals to fans of movies like Near Dark and From Dusk ’til Dawn.

“That has given us an audience that we couldn’t ever reach [playing live],” said Count Lyle. “We’ve been able to get to horror fans who really like the music. The image they see on the videos is exactly what they see live.”

Live you can see Count Lyle get hanged (not for real, of course), cow skulls atop poles spitting fire, and fire-breathers dancing around the stage with flames shooting out of their mouths. Tombstones are as abundant as monitors and instruments.

Horror fans who are warming up to Ghoultown are part of an eclectic audience that is every bit as nontraditional as the men on the stage. Count Lyle initially thought the music would draw in the rockabilly and alt.country crowd, but was surprised to discover only a handful of rockabilly followers.

In fact, Count Lyle expected relatively little from Ghoultown and has been pleasantly surprised at every turn. He launched a record label, Angry Planet Records, for the band’s recordings and has already signed a licensing deal with a label in the Netherlands to release Ghoultown’s music in Europe and Canada. Bad Moon Studios is publishing a Ghoultown comic book written by Count Lyle — naturally, it’s a horror western. This summer, Ghoultown embarks on its first U.S. tour; it kicks off in Illinois opening for Insane Clown Posse.

“I think the fact that we are more experienced, that we’re not kids anymore, makes a big difference,” he said. “All of us have played different types of music, and we’re open-minded, and we have a lot more influences in our music than we would’ve 10 years ago.

While that makes it impossible for Ghoultown to find a comfortable fit in an industry fond of neatly categorizing music in plastic bins, it definitely has its upside.

“People remember the name,” Count Lyle said. “And if you see us live, you won’t forget us. That’s something I hear from people everywhere we go.”

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