Local Feature – The Ghost Ease

ELEVEN: So to start, how did music start for you?

Jem Marie: Music started for me through my parents. My parents are musicians and there was music throughout my life. It was more just the normalization of like, this is something that people can do. My parents were the founding members of Miami Sound Machine. Seeing how that went, with my dad having left the band, music wasn’t introduced to me as something that was encouraged to do to try and make a living.

On my mom’s side, which was the house that I grew up in, it was very much treated as a hobby. It’s sad how my mom had to turn that part of herself off because she had three kids. That was how it was introduced to me—we take music lessons or whatever, because it’s something that we do for fun on our off time. But I say no! Because it’s part of who I am, I do it all the time. I’m gonna do it no matter what.

11: How do you feel about it now, as a “career path” versus a hobby?

JM: I think that it should be that way. But it’s very difficult to do it. The industry in place, it’s so gate kept. Unless one has a lot of money, you’re not part of the club of getting ahead and that’s not fair. Because it’s not about money—it shouldn’t be—it’s about the quality of whatever it is you’re producing.

11: What do you think about the music scene in Portland in that regard? Is there flexibility to exist and also create?

JM: Once I started really doing it, I felt like I was welcomed. People would really be like, “Wow, that’s fun!” and it was embraced in a positive way. But as far as the business aspect of it, especially being a femme in this community, it just feels like I have to push extra hard to be like, “You know actually, I work really hard and I deserve more than what you’re offering here.”

11: The Ghost Ease is known as “queer witch rock.” Did you coin that, or has someone else referred to Ghost Ease in that way?

JM: I said that once and then I’m like, “I don’t know how I feel about it anymore.” Even though I do identify as a queer witch. I don’t know about putting a label on something anymore, ever. I do think it’s important to express queerness outwardly and openly, when it’s safe to. It’s not easy for everyone, and that’s exactly why I want to normalize that. 

It’s the same argument I have with myself, thinking about the aesthetic when people say “witchy—let’s get witchy.” I don’t know how I feel about that. Because I’m a straight up witch and if somebody’s using it as an aesthetic, that’s kind of offensive to me. Because it’s a practice. But to each their own. I’m just trying to be cautious how I present myself.

11: A lot of your song titles reference celestial objects—moon, stars, astrology. What role does that play in your art practice?

JM: I follow astrology so hard, especially Chani Nicholas. She’s rad because not only is she so poetic and beautiful about astrology and mysticism, but she’s also queer. Her organization employs and funds queer/trans folks.

I’m not an astrologer but I always implementing these key elements into my work, whatever it is. Whether it’s astrology, tarot, numerology, stuff like that. Because there’s power in these things. Using these symbols as sigils in these songs, it just kicks up a potency to it.

11: Moving towards this new upcoming album—Psyche Lifeline—what is your release looking like for this piece?

JM: There’s no set date because I’m self-releasing. It’s at Cascade right now and it’s set to press September 2022, but I definitely want to release a digital record before then. That’s the cool thing about self-releasing. I can integrate certain dates that work with astrology, that works for me. I’m still trying to wrap my head around when’s a good release date for the digital. I’m just going to put it on Bandcamp and see what happens, then from there put out a pre-order for the vinyl.

11: I know a lot of artists are experiencing these delays right now. It’s interesting, because so many people have been writing during lock-down and the pandemic. I think there’s a lot of recordings ready to be out in the world, but with the set-back of pressing we’re going to have a whole bunch of vinyl coming out at the same time!

JM: Covid albums! It’s a boom!

Photo: Eirinn Lou Riggs

11: Speaking of—how has Covid affected your music practice? Has is affected your music practice?

JM: It definitely has. I was in a very abusive relationship in my band and Covid actually was a little bit of a blessing—everyone might hate me when I say that. It’s not what it seems, it saved me from having to be in a band with this really messed up person. It was kind of a blessing in disguise that I was forced to (say), “No, we can’t see each other anymore, we can’t play music, actually. No one’s playing music right now.” 

It’s not like I just went right to writing. I’ve talked to others that were affected in a similar way, we were all stunned and dry cause we were like, “What the fuck is gonna happen? Oh, let’s see what happens in two weeks, let’s give it a month, let’s give it two months,” and we’re like two years in. 

I feel like what the pandemic has done for me personally is it forced me to realize I definitely need routine. Wake up, don’t feel guilt for taking your time, write your dreams down every morning.

I was really bummed out because we were supposed to play with Deerhoof in June of 2020. I’ve literally had dreams about being in Deerhoof when I was 22 years old. I was going to play that show and it had to get postponed. But then I tagged Deerhoof in a story and I was like, “This record’s helping me through!” and it was Ed that responded. Then we stayed in touch. That’s how we really started to become friends and working together, eventually.

11: And now, are you working on a project together?

JM: For Ghost Ease, yeah. I’m working on new music and also digging up past music I’ve had to trash from working with people that I don’t support. I was actually just there yesterday, we were recording in his basement and it was like, “Wow this is so easy, it’s so down to earth!” The working chemistry is totally there. 

Also, there was a breakdown that I had. I was in communication with very close friends. He was one of the people I was confiding in and saying, “This is what I’m going through. I can’t even so much as pick up a guitar because I just have no energy.” I said, “I really would love to work with you on stuff still, but I just don’t know if I can. I don’t even have the will to get out of my room and feel safe about it.”

I was like, “If we do work together, what can we do? How do we get started? Because I definitely want to do that, but I need some homework, I need some direction.” It was really just so hard. He said, “Just send me whatever, even if it’s as experimental as a voice memo.” So I was like okay, my floor fan was going because it was still hot out and it was creating this hum that I was harmonizing to. I sent him that. I was like, “This is what I’ve got.” Also, I was not sleeping so I was just like “jab jab jab jab jibber jabber la la la” and just put this trust in this person that I barely know but I experienced them to be a very kind and upfront person. Well, here’s to vulnerability!

So, to answer your question—if it’s for Ghost Ease or for our own thing—it’s actually both. Yesterday, we were working on Ghost Ease stuff and then that song that we wrote extremely collaboratively. 

11: I feel like that vulnerability is captured pretty well in your songs.

JM: People tell me that and I have no idea what they’re talking about! I’m like, “Good!”

11: Oh totally! All of it, but particularly your vocals are just like… something about it is gut wrenching in a beautiful way. It’s raw, it’s gritty, it’s beautiful and powerful and there’s a lot of feeling in it. Do you feel that way when you’re writing? Does it just pour out as emotions, or is it more processed and spit out?

JM: I feel like it’s different all the time. Sometimes when I write a song I’ll start with a melody that I’m hearing. And then I’ll be like, “Okay we’ve got to make some words happen here.” And then I’ll think about, “What are you feeling, what are you going through?” I’ll really sit in it and feel it deep. I just do whatever feels right in the moment, and it comes out the way that it does.

But the recordings of songs that are already released into the world—it’s interesting. When I was singing those—when I was recording those—I was in a completely different headspace. I was not as confident. I had so much more insecurity. We were working with Steve Fisk and supposedly he was this big deal—worked on songs from Nirvana’s “Insesticide” and he produced Soundgarden. But I felt more scared than I do now. Just not being sure, like “Is this okay, was this a good take?” Now it’s more like, “No, I wanna do it again.” 

11: Do you feel like that has to do with being a femme artist?

JM: Oh yes. A lot of the time, yes. Not just because of the space that I’m working in but because of what I’m bringing to the space, the conditioning of being femme in the music industry. (Being) looked at as an object to be sexualized. Especially coming from Miami, Florida which is a complete epicenter of sexualizing women and femmes. It’s something that I’m trying to undo still to this day.

But to answer your question, 100%. Because I identify and present as femme and I’m looked at as something to be devoured and eaten as if I’m going to satiate their craving and it’s like, “I’m a person, please do not dehumanize me.”

11: The empowerment that you feel now, do you think that has grown out of experience or out of a culture change, or both?

JM: I think both, actually. Even though it’s still rampant, it is still a thing—we’re lucky that we live in Portland, in a place that is a lot less likely to tolerate it. There’s less tolerance for that sort of thing, but it’s still here in pockets and throughout the world. I feel the empowerment comes from the encouragement of working with the right people and surrounding yourself with people that have the same mindset on certain things. At the same time, it comes from the internal processing of the work: “I know and I name that this is a conditioning that I have to feel insecure. This is what the man wants! The system at large wants me to crumble, and I’m not going to in spite of that.”

11: So, I am thinking about this upcoming album and I’m curious—because of the length of time that it’ll take before it comes out—do you still feel the messages and the feelings resonate with how you feel now, or has that morphed already?

JM: That’s a really good question, because that totally happens. These songs are actually—a lot of them—like 5 years old and I still feel like I can sing them and be like, “Yeah, I still feel this.”

But the interesting thing is that, throughout time, it becomes about different people or different things. I could have been talking to some other person when I was writing that, but there’s always a person I can think of to put me in the mood of like, “I’m singing to you!” Or if not to a person, then to a system that just doesn’t work for everyone. 

11: That’s beautiful that the meaning of it can change, but the heart is still present.

JM: Yeah. You know, being autistic it’s hard to be—I guess, a “normie.” There’s just been so much shoved down my throat of like, “You have to be this one way, you have to be this one way.” And it’s not something to be cured, it’s something to be embraced. It is a beautiful difference. Everybody is different.

The fact that I have more clarity surrounding that adds another layer. Who am I singing to now, you know what I mean? It’ll expand the heart in what I’m singing at or to or about or for. Even to encourage people to keep trying. We’re all here, we don’t know why, but there’s some kind of purpose. What queer folks experience a lot of the time, outside our safe bubble, is scary stuff. To have this safe zone of like… in this world that we create, we are safe. And here, we can kick and scream if we want, but in a safe way. 

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Local Feature – The Ghost Ease