Hospital Ships is Jordan Geiger. Jordan Geiger, as a man, is upbeat and introspective. He has been a stalwart of the Lawrence, Kan., music scene for the better part of 10 years. He writes songs about his cat and dead bodies, works his garden and walks through town.
It is the other Geiger that we see on stage, the one we hear on record via Graveface. He is the emissary, the diplomat. He relays messages for Geiger the man. Both have achieved a depersonalization that allows them to continue their existence free of the other's burden. It is this dissociative magic trick that fuels his second outing as a solo artist.
His most recent album under the Hospital Ships moniker, 'Lonely Twin,' is out now. While Geiger's voice retains the sweet melancholy that ran through the hermetic bedroom pop of his debut album, 'Oh, Ramona,' instrumentally the new record is a much denser exercise. An undertone of psychedelia, thumping bass lines, shuffling drums and squalls of noise streak through the songs on 'Lonely Twin.'
We spoke with Geiger, the man, about his career and 'Lonely Twin.'
How did Hospital Ships begin?
The thing about Hospital Ships is while the name and the band is certainly new, I've been playing in bands and touring for almost 10 years. The first record that I ever made was 10 years ago this month. I was in a band called Minus Story that made five records. We were on Jagjaguwar records.
Before that, I played in a band called Appleseed Cast from here in Lawrence. I toured with them after the 'Low Level Owls' record came out. They needed a keyboard player, a sort of noise guy. That was my introduction to serious touring and making records. I'd only done it as a hobby before that.
Minus Story sort of wound down in 2007 and I'd collected a bunch of songs that were personal home-recordings and decided to put that out. I reached out to Graveface Records because they did the Appleseed Cast vinyl. I knew that they did really great, cool packaging, colored vinyl and a lot of handmade stuff. For 'Oh, Ramona,' which was my last record, I wanted it to have a sort of homemade feel to it. In 2008, I joined Shearwater and I've spent the last three years touring and recording with Shearwater. The 'Oh, Ramona' record was sort of exactly how people perceived it: It was a home recording [of] a songwriter. I thought about calling it just Jordan Geiger or something but at the time I'd just moved back to Lawrence after a year in Kansas City, and after having been in a "band" band for a long time, I just wanted it to be this collective where I could just invite my friends to play, schedule shows and either play solo or get bands together. We've had 22 or 23 different people play over the years. That was kind of the concept and that's why I went with a band name. It was a tribute to a song called 'The Abandoned Hospital Ship' by the Flaming Lips, who are probably my favorite band.
I made 'Lonely Twin' during the course of when Shearwater was making our last record, 'The Golden Archipelago.' I sort of piggybacked a lot of recording sessions on there. The record is the result of that collective mindset. The Minus Story members are on three or four songs, Shearwater members are on four songs and there are a lot of people from Lawrence. I think there are four different drummers on the record. The record has been done for like 18 months now.
What forced you to sit on the record for so long?
I started in January 2009, it was mixed in December of 2009. In 2010. I spent so much time on the road with Shearwater that I didn't want to release it and not be able to fully support it. Ryan [Manon] from Graveface and I were like, "Let's do this right, let's pitch this and do a bunch of videos and have the full package." I lived kind of all over last year, but at the end of the year I was living in New York and I moved back to Lawrence specifically to get a stable band together to tour and do everything we could to promote the record.
I've done a lot of stuff with other bands that are more successful than my project. Hospital Ships has always been this fun side-project that we would do. I would often open for Shearwater and just play solo. Last year we did a whole tour -- it was Hospital Ships, Wye Oak, and Shearwater -- and Hospital Ships was just me and the members of Shearwater and Wye Oak, basically. We would just learn songs on the fly. I'd show them the chords and we'd play the song that night. This record is an effort to say this is a serious band. I've put a lot of thought into the record and which songs were on there and how they sounded.
The record certainly seems to have more meat on its bones than 'Oh, Ramona'
Absolutely. I think it has a little bit to do with the songs that I picked out of songs that I was writing at the time. This is the first batch of new songs that I have written since the last Minus Story record. The songs on 'Oh, Ramona' are really old. I'd done those songs over the past two years and decided to collect them on a record. And the other thing is 'Oh, Ramona' is almost 100 percent me playing and because I'm not a very good drummer that really limited what I could do.
Let's talk about the 'Reprise' video. Is that stock footage or are those personal videos?
Oh, its definitely not stock footage. Those are all home movies taken by my grandfather. He passed away in June of 2009, right in the middle of when I was making the record. My dad found them and said "Hey Jordan, you're going to love this. I found grandpa's old camera and all his old 8mm film," so we had them digitized. I have way more than just that.
The break-dancing kid, that's my brother. That video is so hilarious, he has a NASA jacket on which is totally awesome. So '80s. I started making cuts of that with his wife, my sister-in-law Amber. We would put Snoop Dogg 'Drop It Like It's Hot' under it, stuff like that. I thought it was really cool so I just started going through and there was all this great footage of dancing, and Santa Claus, and all that stuff. It just seemed to fit. That song is only two lines. I just wanted to have this really exuberant feel.
The twirling girl is my aunt, and there's a little 2-year-old boy that you see riding his trike, that's my dad. My dad was born in '45 so that's probably from 1947 or '48. My brother is doing the break-dancing so that's probably '88, or '86. I only show up at the end of the video, but it's all my family. I'm the very last shot, just a kid standing there. It's me with a Rocky Raccoon doll. I'm not really in those videos a lot because I was really young. Occasionally when you see me, I'm just chillin' with my mom.
Watch Hospital Ships' 'Reprise' Video:
What is going on in the 'Galaxies' music video?
That song is a rare occurrence. This is around the time when my grandpa died. He and my grandma on the other side died within a week of each other. I wrote that song on the piano and the lyrics just kind of came out, which is rare for me. It's nice when that happens. I recorded the song two or three days later with Lucas, who is sort of my main collaborator for Hospital Ships. He lives really near my parents. I was in town for funerals and stuff and I needed to go get away. So we went and just put that song down. He plays the drums.
The idea for the video just came because at that time I was touring and living this lazy Lawrence lifestyle that a lot of people do. There are a lot of musicians and artists and stuff and you can get by really cheaply. So I was just wandering around town all day and occasionally playing these sparsely attended solo shows. I don't want to talk too much about the dummy because everybody has their own weird different interpretation of whether it's a dead body, or whether it's me, or my twin, or whatever.
It's sort of a tribute to Lawrence. Katlyn [Conroy], who sings on the song, she's on the bus when I get on. I go to the coffee shop I hang out at. Spencer, who is sort of a former member of Hospital Ships -- she's the girl that walks by -- she shows up at the show later and she's working at her phone while I'm playing. Anybody who has played a show anywhere can relate to that. Love Garden is the record store, it's a really really great independent record store that I think we're really lucky to have. What else? The Replay Lounge, the bartender is Jeff Stoltz from this band Drakkar Sauna which I feel like is the one band that everybody can agree on as one of the best bands from Lawrence.
Watch Hospital Ships' 'Galaxies' Video:
What influenced the album title, 'Lonely Twin'?
The album title comes from the leadoff song, 'Love or Death.' As soon as I wrote it I imagined that it would be the perfect song to open the record. When I say "Open up the door and let me in," I'm literally speaking to the people who are listening, a sort of "Give me a chance." That song, in a very specific way, is about the difference between the Jordan Geiger who likes gardening and riding my bike, and the Jordan Geiger who expresses something of myself in music that I can't express any other way. I don't want to sound too pretentious but I think a lot of the record deals with a sort of depersonalization in different ways.
There's just something about the phrase that really captured me in the way I think a good album title should -- suggestive of other things without being too specific as to its meaning. There's a story by Borges, who is definitely one of my favorite writers, it's called 'Borges and I.' 'Love or Death' is basically my interpretation of that story in some way. I'm on stage and I'm playing but somehow I am this lonely twin of the person that you're seeing performing the song. For a long time I struggled with the whole concept of performing. I've had really bad performance anxiety my whole life, but then in the past couple years I've gotten really used to it just from all this touring. I was trying to reconcile the idea of going in front of people and presenting something that is very personal -- at least at the time you write it. You know, the value of being this person that is projecting to people. That's probably all I have to say about that.
Watch Hospital Ships' 'Lawrence Interviews' Video:
'Oh, Ramona' was named for your cat. Do you have an especially close relationship with this feline?
Yeah, and it's not just me. Many people have a deep and abiding love for Ramona. I never had pets when I was a kid really. I ended up adopting Ramona with my ex-girlfriend from her roommate. Her roommate was supposed to come back and get Ramona but after a couple months I was like "I'm sorry, but I'm keeping this cat." She's this really sweet old cat. Anybody who loves cats can understand why I would have this love for her. The song 'Oh, Ramona' was just written as sort of a country-ish song. She's real scared of everything. The song is: "Oh Ramona, where have you been? You left with my heart and hid under your bed." It's definitely not tongue-in-cheek; the feeling of that song just seemed to encompass the album in the best way. Minus Story was really like an art project between five best friends that all grew up together. 'Oh, Ramona' was just really me wanting to put this record of songs together that were sweet and honest. I may do songs at home, and it's about my cat. Every song on there is about my friends or my relationships without any sort of affect, at least consciously. It feels good to make that kind of record. I think 'Lonely Twin' is back to a little bit more of a conscious art project. It's kind of halfway in between 'Oh, Ramona' as far as being personal, and also being more general in its themes.