Good Bison interviewed about “Ghost on Mulholland”

Photo by Estefania Krol/KRÖLHAUS

In following up his 2021 Scattered Storms EP, Good Bison’s Pablo Alvarez returned to Miami for intensive collaborative sessions with longtime friend Abe Mendez. Refined through long-distance work and further Miami visits, the results comprise the newly released Good Bison EP Ghost on Mulholland EP. Good Bison continue to mesh a variety of styles into a breezy, highly catchy style driven by Alvarez’s clever lyrics.  Over a Zoom interview, Alvarez discussed the making of the new EP.

Could you talk about how the making of Ghost On Mulholland differed from your previous Scattered Storms EP?

Pablo Alvarez: Yeah, so for this one, I actually flew out to Miami to link up with Abe Mendez, who is a longtime friend of mine. We’ve worked on a bunch of Good Bison songs in the past, but most of our collaborations were long-distance. So going into this one, the big thing for us was for us to just get together in the same room, in the same space and see what comes out. So that was the main difference. It was like a week where we were just in his home studio every day writing these songs, and then over the following year really kept workshopping and refining these songs, which was also new to me. I tend to get really attached to early versions of my music or art, and this is one that we kept refining and changing over the year.

How is it different collaborating with Abe, in terms of what he brings to the project?

Pablo Alvarez: Abe is one of the most creative people I know. His mind is everywhere all at once, and so he has the ability to pull from his very extensive musical knowledge. He’s been playing music since he was a little kid. He went to Berkeley on a scholarship. He’s just a very, very talented musician who can hop on any instrument. And so it was very fluid and dynamic in the sense that there was no structured way to write the songs. It was just like whatever we were feeling, and hopping around from instruments. It was just very organic in that sense.

Did you go into it with any musical ideas or did all the writing purely come out of that time you were together?

Pablo Alvarez: All of the writing came from that time that we were together, and we went into it with no preconceived notions of what we wanted to make, which in certain ways might have been a mistake because it kind of made those initial sessions a little challenging. Whenever we get together and jam and freestyle, it flows very well, and it just comes out. But all of a sudden you’re in the room, and it’s like, we’re trying to write a song for a project, and what are we doing, you know? And so it was really kind of hard to get that in motion at the start because we had no sense of what we wanted to do. And then once we had those first couple of songs going, it all clicked and became a lot more fluid after that.

Does the EP represent all the material you worked on together? Was anything cut, or any ideas not fully developed?

Pablo Alvarez: Some ideas were cut for sure. There’s definitely an entire song that we cut and sections of songs that we cut. A lot of what was in those initial sessions made it to the final version, but they went through a ton of transformations and there were a lot of ideas that were kind of left on the cutting room floor.

Since you had a limited amount of time together, when those sessions ended did you have a sense as to what you wanted the final result to be? Or was it really just a matter of going back and forth after the fact?

Pablo Alvarez: Not quite. It was after that first week we had the songs written and fleshed out, but we weren’t even a hundred percent sure of how we wanted them to actually sound. So I went back to Miami a bunch of times over the year to rerecord vocals and be in the studio when we were bringing in some other musicians. And I think it wasn’t until we were pretty deep into the project that we were like, “All right, this is what we’re trying to do and what it’s gonna be.” But by that point we were it was fully in motion.

Do you feel any particular songs really evolved or changed more than others, in terms of production work after the initial session?

Pablo Alvarez: Definitely. Yeah, I would say “I’m Tired of Waiting, Come On Home” is the song that underwent the most transformative change over the course of working on the EP. That’s a song that started on the acoustic guitar. I just wrote that initial hook, even before we started working on this project. That’s the only bit of music that we had prior to going into this project. And it just spoke to me in a really special way. So I told Abe, maybe we can find a place for it in the EP. And at first, it was just an interlude where it was that half of the song. And then the second half of the song, like the “Come On Home” part of it was produced entirely differently. We were going for a more electronic sound at certain times, just kind of wanted to create a dichotomy between those two halves of the song.

But ultimately we ended up going back to just jamming it in a room with Abe on drums and my buddy on bass, and it felt like this is what this song is supposed to be. And in that time, I also wrote several verses that we discarded for that second half of the song. So, it went through a ton of different changes, and they were two separate songs up until the very end. Once Abe added that sax solo, it was like, “Oh, no, these are two sections of the same song and this is the glue that holds them together.”

Given that you could continue to work on this long distance, was it obvious when it was done?

Pablo Alvarez: There was a moment when Abe and I were very much like, this is what the EP will be structurally and, for the most part, sonically then we sent it off to George Spitz, who handled additional production, mixing, and mastering. And after we settled on what the final versions of the songs were, which was pretty quick, I would say there was definitely a moment where we were like, these are the songs. This is done. The mixing and mastering are something that George is very meticulous about. So, I almost feel like I had to put a stop to it at a certain point and just be like, no, these are finished. These sound great. Because if not, George can just kind of keep going and keep working on it, and it’s a never-ending project. So, at a certain point, I was just like, dude, this sounds great. Let’s bounce it.

When you write, do you have a general approach in terms of lyrics versus music?

Pablo Alvarez: Music always comes first. Even before I was actively contributing to the music, I have never been able to write lyrics without there being something for me to listen to or play along to. I think it’s because I don’t ever set out with a topic in mind to write a song about, like I’m gonna write a song about this and this experience, and I wanna talk about these feelings and emotions. It’s very stream of consciousness, whatever comes out. And so, I like to say that I am plucking the words out of the music rather than thinking of them on my own. So, the music always comes first, but I would say the lyrics are what shape the song and give it structure.

Is EP your format of choice these days, or did it just happen that you did another EP? Are you looking to do another full-length album?

Pablo Alvarez: I love EPs because I love projects. I love the idea of telling a story and having a cohesive body of work. But also, it takes a lot of resources to make a cohesive project and fully bring that vision to life. So, I would love to make a full-length album, but I want to make sure that I have all the resources in place so that when that happens, we’re not cutting any corners or doing anything just because that’s the way it had to happen. Obviously, right now, with streaming culture, it’s really all about singles and releasing constant music. For me, the EP seems like a happy middle ground. It’s not that I don’t like singles, but it’s hard for me to get attached to a single song. When I work on music, it’s usually on a longer project that encompasses a reflection on a certain part of my life or something like that. So, that’s why I really like EPs right now. I don’t know what’s next. I would say I’ll probably do some singles to follow this up, because I want to have the opportunity to work on an album before too long on a full-length album.

What’s in the immediate future for you? Are you planning on doing live shows? Touring?

Pablo Alvarez: Yeah, definitely. I spent the past couple of months in Miami, again with Abe, and we were building out the live set. We’re working with a bunch of talented musicians from the area, from Miami. And we’re hoping to start announcing some shows pretty soon, probably a show in Miami, and then figure it out from there. Other than that, we have a ton of content around the EP that we’re gonna be dropping just in the following months and some new music not too far around the corner.

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Be sure to also check out our 2021 interview with Good Bison about Scattered Storms.