Ghosts on Tape – aka Ryan Merry – has been pushing off-kilter sample heavy sounds from outta San Francisco for close to a decade. Originally making waves with a live show that centred around Merry playing original Yamaha samplers running floppy discs, Merry has since refined his sound into a jerky house tempo shuffle, full of wild percussive ticks and sneak attack melodies. Back in 2012 he put out the first release on the Icee Hot label (which he runs alongside Shawn Reynaldo, Low Limit and DJ Will) , now he's back on the label with new 12" Only Now/ Snake Box – possibly his strongest yet. We fired him over some questions to find out where he's at, what's going on in San Francisco, and what actually happened to those Yamaha's…
R$N: Where are you right now?
GoT: I'm currently in a Portuguese cafe near my house in San Francisco. There are about 12 other patrons here and we are all on laptops. It always bums me out when 100% of customers are gazing into their screens, and right now I'm contributing to that. 🙁
R$N: How’s the San Francisco scene these days?
GoT: The underground music scene is pretty good here. There are fun events happening pretty much every weekend, a good amount of people who are passionate about the music and wanna go out and have fun. I think we have one of the better scenes in North America right now. Promoters are bringing interesting out-of-town talent, there are lots of good local DJs and producers, some cool new record shops and labels, clubs with good sound that care about having cool parties, and sketchy (in a fun way) underground events. There are still a lot of dickheads and posers and terrible events, but that's everywhere I imagine.
R$N: Does the city have much influence on your sound?
GoT: Environment always influences art, whether it's conscious or not. SF has such a stark contrast between dark and light, ugly and beautiful, comfy yuppie bullshit and total crackhead, knife-fight insanity. Right now, with the current economic situation, you're either doing really well, or you're pretty desperate. There's not a lot of in between. There's a lot of rage against corny-ass yuppie nerd motherfuckers who are taking over right now, which I think is good for art.
R$N: So about 5 years ago you were saying” I don't want to sound like I'm the shit or anything, but there's not really anybody doing what I do right now in San Francisco” Is that still the case?
GoT: I guess so. The type of music I was making five years ago was a bit different than what I'm making now. It was slower, I integrated different influences than I do now, and I performed strictly on the samplers. And I think with that quote, I didn't mean that I was doing anything better or worse than other people in SF. It was just different, and I still stand by that. Everyone should strive to have a unique sound—otherwise, what's the difference between you and everyone else?
R$N: Are you still using the old school samplers to write and perform on? And are the floppy discs getting harder to come by?
GoT: I still write on the samplers. I've integrated more computer stuff, but the Yamaha is still my main tool that I use and get inspiration from. I don't perform on them anymore. They're too fragile now and I just wanna keep them safe in their home. Plus, since I have a monthly party and DJ quite a bit locally, it would be completely unreasonable to do a live PA every time. Not doing the live sets has also helped me actually finish and record more tracks. And I really enjoy DJing—it's way more loose and less stressful.
The one store here in SF that used to carry floppy disks stopped carrying them like two years ago. I have an external hard drive now. It's way better. I can store more stuff and not worry as much about memory limitations.
R$N: Do you consider percussion to be the central element of your recent work?
GoT: No doubt. It is the essential element that everything else revolves around. I've always been a rhythmically minded person. Subtle changes through repetition can take the dancer to the promised land, I believe.
R$N: Whats the weirdest sample you’ve ever snuck onto a track?
GoT: I sample so many weird things. I can't name just one. The sounds from a lead smelting plant, street fights, houses on fire, YouTube street preachers, slave-era black spiritual hymns, various kinds of heavy machinery, old footage from community meetings where the public is really angry at a corrupt official or corporation, and lots more have made their way onto my tracks.
R$N: Has making dance music via computer lost its value by becoming too easy?
GoT: I don't necessarily think it's easy. The challenge is still to be original, so whatever gear someone needs to get to that point and express their individuality is unimportant. Maybe the massive overload of music that comes out makes it harder to notice to something special that deserves our attention, but the artists doing special, unique work usually rise above the monumental amount of bland, middle-of-the-road music out there. Ideally, anyways.
R$N: And finally, crucially – Are you scared of ghosts?
GoT: Nope. I'm not really even into paranormal stuff. It's just a name that I picked like seven or eight years ago that I thought fit the sounds I was making at the time. I've been considering changing it for a while now, but it seems pretty difficult at this point.
More on Ghosts on Tape on his facebook page here