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Interview with Ghostland Observatory: Laser Beams, Dance Parties, Alter Egos and Codename: Rondo

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Ghostland Observatory, the two-man band from Austin, TX is known for their fantastic live shows and when they came rolling through their hometown last week on tour for the new record Codename: Rondo, they delivered everything we have come to love and expect from the duo: a contagious case of electro-pop-rock fever, a giant dance party, unstoppable energy, trademark getups of capes and fringe, and a rainbow laser lightshow bonanza. At the show, Aaron Behrens, the over-the-top, wildly expressive front man strutted around with uninhibited gyrations, tight pants and flowing locks; his partner Thomas Turner - the low-key, composed half - donned his signature cape and provided hook after hook while lurking like a musical mad scientist inside the synthesizer/drum station. Among others they played "Codename: Rondo," the quirky title track off the new album, where Behrens talks almost the entire song about a convenience store trip, a man named Jim and some "dranks"; later, he shouted out to the audience "It's time to get your roller skates on!" before busting into perennial favorite "Silver City" during the encore. They ended the show with "Kick Clap Speaker", a lyrically lighthearted yet dramatic, heavy beat laden track that incited a full on rave experience replete with prisms of light in every direction. Per usual, GLO were true showmen.

Earlier in the day, however, I met a different duo: their offstage, everyday personalities. Behrens, outgoing and talkative, appeared in a blue plaid shirt and sideways baseball cap, while Turner, tall and soft-spoken, sported a black zip-up hoodie from the 9:30 Club in DC. Both are Texas boys, with endearing drawls and laid-back personas, and five hours before their big show at the Cedar Park Center we had a chance to chat some about Codename: Rondo, alter egos, live performances and their dedication to keeping it fun.

SK: Four years ago you guys were all the buzz, playing small Austin venues like Emo's and soon filling the Hogg Auditorium, onto ACL and beyond. How it has been for you in this growth process, when in a few years you go from playing these great, relatively little shows to the headlining ACL with the UT Marching Band?

TT: Oh man, we just have fun with the whole thing, we were having fun doing the smaller shows...when there was like five people in the audience. Now we just get to have more and just get to play. More toys to look at and to have fun with on stage.

SK: And so you guys have these really funny, fun characters on stage; the "Pocahontas and the Wizard" nickname makes me laugh every time. When did those characters become what felt right and evolve into what they are now?

TT: I don't know, I'm a low-key dude. I like my cape and my little station. I have fun with that. That's kind of natural for me.

AB: And I think mine just developed... well, the whole reason why it started was (because) I like Willie Nelson. There was not a lot of thought going into it... it just kind of happened and it felt right. That's the main reason why we do a lot of stuff...we don't put too much thought into it. It just goes and won't stop going, until I change my look... like I have for this album.

SK: How would you describe that change? It went from what to what?

AB: I had a funny term for it: (now) it's "Personal Jesus meets Skinny Meat Loaf." It's that whole attire kind of thing. I didn't really think about it. My wife actually had a pair of sunglasses sitting there and I walked by and put them on and they were these different kind of shades and I was like " Oh, I like this!"... The old (look) was...I have no idea what that was. A very androgynous, Pocahontas vibe. Very strange, pushin' different buttons.

SK: I love it, it's a thrill to see you in the clothes you'd wear every day in contrast to the stage character.

AB: Oh definitely, and all three go, ya know.

SK: I have done a lot of listening to Codename: Rondo and it's fun, really quirky, especially the track "Codename: Rondo." What was the inspiration for choosing that as the title track?

TT: That whole thing with Jim is about people you see at the convenience store that stick out. And also there was something that happened in Newark, New Jersey that was pretty prolific.

SK: What was it?

TT: I think Aaron and I are the only people that know! Maybe Alex (Tour Manager) knows about it a little bit.

SK: High level view? No?

TT: (Laughs) Well, it's just that state of mind of observing everything as opposed to just like the bigger things. Like checking out Jim with his socks pulled up high, and his Velcro shoes, getting into his little truck, you know, and his friend bringing him a Slurpee.

AB: The people that the majority would overlook or stay away from...we like those people. You know the ones that don't even like attention either.

SK: You could tell there was a great story behind it. And from listening to all the things that you put out, it's so much fun to hear and dance to and take in at the live shows. Do you guys have that kind of fun when you are recording and creating it? I picture something really lighthearted at times; what I like so much about your music is that it doesn't seem to take itself too seriously.

AB: I think this album more than anything has been like that. I mean we had FUN on this, we had a good time. And that's why I think it did come across so quirky and fun. Because WE had fun. I mean, we go in there and pump it out, the stuff we liked and it wasn't too hard and heavy...we needed something refreshing, something not carrying a load and I think that's what we did on this album.

SK: Totally. And so, in talking about some of the older songs, like "Sad Sad City" is one, like a breakthrough song, do you guys look forward to playing old favorites too, or does it get a little tiring to have people sort of waiting for a single that was really popular?

TT: I don't, personally. I think that you know what it's like to see your favorite band and you want them to play that one song, you know. You're not with them playing it 100 nights of the year or whatever, so you paid your money and you want to see that and hear that one song. So we twist that up and change it up and try to play all the crowd favorites...and that's all the stuff we like too.

SK: That's nice that you have a respect for the favorite song moment. So you guys play at awesome, not always traditional venues big and small like Whitewater Amphitheater out in New Braunfels. Do you have any favorites that come to mind in Austin or elsewhere?

TT: 9:30 Club is cool. There's a bunch out there.

AB: Yeah, 9:30 Club in DC is awesome. I like Cain's Ballroom. Just size wise, it's a real old honkey tonk. Crystal Ballroom in Portland is really nice. There's tons. That's what fun about it, you get to play in these neat little places.

SK: When I've gone to shows I feel like people just go crazy and it's always a party. Are their any certain performance experiences that you both really remember or stand out as special in your mind?

AB: I think the time we brought the marching band on stage for the first time. That was really, really cool. Just getting excited and doing that. And then ACL, definitely. So I mean, those moments where you just felt the key turn. It was really cool. ACL was a lot like that for us.

SK: You guys manage yourselves on almost all levels, what are the best parts about that and do you think that as you continue to grow and become even bigger that you'd like to maintain that?

TT: I just think that you don't really have any outside forces directing what you do or look like or where you it's on your shoulders as far as what we want to do, how we want to do it. I know there's a lot of big artists that don't even have that kind of control. They kind of still have to stand and compromise on things like that.

SK: Is there anything you'd see as something you like to do next or include as your show evolves, you have the marching band and these awesome lasers, and there's this new album. Is there something else you're cooking up?

AB: Oh man, we just take it as it comes. Some idea will pop up and we'll think let's put that into effect. The main thing right now is to continue having fun, especially on this tour, and continue seeing people's faces when we do "Codename: Rondo."

SK: Can you actually see the audience?

TT: Aaron sees them all the time and he tells me exactly what's happening. (Ed note: Laughter ensues and for the next few minutes Turner can't stop giggling about it.)

AB: I mean... good ones. I've actually been honestly really surprised to the reaction live. I think they really like it and want something like that. And it's been really cool. Because at first they don't get it, and they're like (gives confused look). And then by the time it kicks into the 4th chorus people are like "yeahhh!" It's just fun to see people slowly lock in there.

For more info on where to catch Ghostland Observatory on tour and sample favorite tracks new and old, check out