Snow Ghosts aren’t afraid of being thorough in their music making. The trio, comprised of Ross Tones, Hannah Cartwright, and Oliver Knowles, just released their new album A Quiet Ritual which has been over two years in the making. Written in a castle in Wiltshire, each song is carefully crafted with authentic sounds and topped off with a haunting and dark vibe. The attention to detail and dedication to perfection is remarkable.
I sat down with Snow Ghosts to get the inside scoop on A Quiet Ritual and the Easter eggs hidden within the music.
Ariel Zedric: Using three words, how would you describe your music style?
Snow Ghosts: Visceral, Haunting, Deathscape.
Tell me about the inspiration for the album A Quiet Ritual.
When we first started writing for the record we stumbled across a documentary on the Carnyx, which is the iron age boar-headed horn that’s used on the record. The instrument’s incredible appearance, its history of ritual, and its enormous dynamic range, seemed to be a parallel to what we were creating lyrically and musically.
What themes are most present in the album? What do you want listeners to take away?
The album is predominately centered around traditional, and the more intimate personal rituals of the individual that follow the shock and grief of bereavement.
In what ways is A Quiet Ritual different and similar to your previous releases?
The core of the music is consistent with other Snow Ghosts records but we’ve branched out with the instrumentation and worked alongside Toby Young, who arranged the orchestral score for the album, and John Kenny, who is one of the only players of the Carnyx in the world.
They’re not only both incredibly talented but genuinely lovely people who shared the same passion for music and were an absolute pleasure to work with. I think their personalities are clearly present on the album.
Walk me through your writing process for this album! About how long did it take to put together? Does each member have different roles? What do you collaborate on?
This album is the longest we’ve spent writing for a record and took about two years overall. It’s a very collaborative process. Ideas can come from any one of us and get developed in any way really. Heavy Heart started with an organ idea, Spinners came from a drone on the hurdy-gurdy. Ribcage was a produced idea of Ross’s that we transposed to organ. The time we took for A Quiet Ritual meant we were able to give the ideas space and come back to them objectively. The luxury of time was definitely beneficial to us.
Location was also an added luxury for this album. We wrote and recorded it in a castle, deep in the woods in Wiltshire, which made it easier for us to explore the timelessness of the subject of the album, being surrounded by a beautiful, unchanged and natural environment.
Do you have a favorite track on the album? Or would that be like asking you to choose a favorite child?
Oliver Knowles: It is a little bit! It’s hard to pick out one particular song above the others. I definitely have parts that I like to hear, others that are really satisfying to play. I really love how Wraith turned out. There ended up being so many elements and I love how it moves through each one. Black Widow is also up there because it’s just such beautiful vocal. It’s ok for me to say that because I didn’t sing or write it.
Hannah Cartwright: I’m with Oli on this one, it’s almost impossible to choose. They are all so close to my heart in completely different ways. One of my favorite parts to sing however is the ending of ‘Surrender’. It’s such an enjoyable and moving line to belt out.
Ross Tones: Again impossible to choose! Although I do enjoy how the dramatic shift from Keening to Rip set up the theme of the whole album.
If the album were to be the soundtrack for a movie, what movie would it be featured in?
That is a tricky one…probably something with swords and fire…
Talk a little about the use of the carnyx in your track “Keening”!
John played on a few tracks throughout the album. In Keening, we wanted to reflect the action of keening instrumentally. The word ‘keening’ comes from the Irish and Scottish Gaelic term caoineadh (“to cry, to weep”), and was a tradition at Celtic funerals. The Carnyx, an ancient Celtic instrument used in ritual, seemed like the perfect match.
What was the inspiration behind the music video for “Rip”? Can fans expect any more music videos coming soon?
The video for “Rip” is an abstract representation of the immediate shock of grief. It also acts as a prequel to another upcoming video. So yes, there
Explain the personal and professional struggles you’ve encountered in the music industry thus far. How have they molded you as a band?
We’re very fortunate to not only all have experience in some aspect of the music industry and other musical projects, we also have a hugely supportive label who go above and beyond for us. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t struggles.
One example is when we were due to play SXSW but were detained at Detroit airport for about 13 hours and sent home, despite following the exact instructions of our SXSW rep. Oli had only been in the band for a few months we hardly knew each other at all, but after spending that much time in a strip-lit room together with nothing to do, the band decided that their not going entirely mad was a good sign of future friendship.
Tell me about a moment in your career that has left you all extremely proud.
There have been many moments but a very recent one was recording and filming a live session at Real World studios. It’s one of the most incredible studio spaces we had ever been to. Ross put in countless hours of preparation using really interesting equipment, like an Onde acoustic resonator that amplifies electronic instruments, and PolyendPercs which take midi to play a live drum kit.
We had Toby Young write an arrangement for a string trio and he joined us in the performance, as well as John Kenny on the Carnyx. It was an incredible experience and felt like the perfect celebration of the album’s release.
Do you have any advice for aspiring artists in the field? How has your success story panned out?
Oliver Knowles: I’m not one for inspirational quotes. Look after yourself, do it because you love it, and don’t be a dick.
Any last thoughts?
Yes, we had the pleasure to work with an amazing artist, David Rooney, for this project. He managed to perfectly capture the essence of the album visually. The cover art and the two pieces he did for “Rip” and “Heavy Heart” are just stunning. We also worked with the incredibly talented photographer, Steve Gullick, who took our press shots, one of which is the album’s gatefold photo.
Feature image credit Steve Gullick, courtesy of Snow Ghosts