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Star Ghost Dog's woman in front gets over her stage fright

by Brett Milano
photos by Eric Antoniou

Local female vocalist
Ginny Weaver
Star Ghost Dog's Ginny Weaver is one of local music's reluctant frontwomen. Unlike many lead singers, she wasn't practicing her moves in front of the mirror as a kid -- in fact, she had no intention of singing in a band until she first did it, by which time she was already in her 20s. Star Ghost Dog is her first and only band; she and guitarist/keyboardist Brendan Lynch, then college students, started it in Western Massachusetts as a songwriting project. (Defying the Fleetwood Mac-associated jinx on working with your romantic partner, she and Lynch have been happily coupled for as long as they've been bandmates; the two were married last summer.)

Ginny Weaver It seems appropriate that Weaver and Lynch initially set out to be novelists, since their lyrics often read like short stories. Their debut album, Happylove (Catapult), sports a bright and sparkly pop sound; but the lyrics of songs like the local hit "Heroin Face," a mock-celebration of junkie chic, suggest a seamy side under the surface. On the current The Great Indoors (also Catapult), the characters aren't any happier -- most are isolated or otherwise cut off from reality -- but the pop sparkle is even brighter, thanks largely to Weaver's increased confidence as a lead singer. Now handling all the leads, Weaver has developed a warm and natural voice, the kind that sounds inviting even when delivering a line like "You could never deal with my stupid problems."

Weaver is still easing out of her role as the band's quiet one (rounding out the group are bassist Owen Burkett and drummer Chris Foley), and she admits that stage fright was a major problem during her first few years with the band. When we met recently at the Snakebites bar in Porter Square, it was her first solo interview; she noted, "I'm not used to doing this without my bandmates for social support." Still, it took only a bit of chips and salsa to get the conversation flowing.

Q: Did you used to fantasize about being on stage?

A: When I was a kid, sure. I wanted to be Deborah Harry, Joan Jett, or Pat Benatar -- those were my idols at the time. But it wasn't until I was in my 20s that I started seriously wanting to do music; that was shortly before we formed the band. Brendan and I had been unsuccessfully trying to be novelists, and decided we'd been better at doing music. So we threw ourselves into it to see what happened.

Q: What did the first incarnation of the band sound like?

A: Pretty goofy. We'd been writing music for a year before we started the band. I have boxes of four-track demos we did at the time; a lot of jokey songs we wrote toward the end of college and in New York. Moving to the city was hard -- we were desperately poor, and I was pretty aimless at the time. Music was the only thing I did there that I enjoyed. We didn't play out until we moved to Northampton; the music scene there was pretty limited, so we thought we'd see what Boston had to offer.

Q: A lot of people were struck by the difference between the two albums -- for one thing, you've become more of an out-front lead singer, versus the harmony vocals that were mainly used on the first album.

A: It's funny, to me the band has been growing and transforming so gradually that I don't feel like anything's changed. I want it to get back to having both of us singing, because I think he writes really good harmonies. Certainly the production has been a lot more polished.

Q: I was working in an office with Brendan when you were making the album, and I remember how he'd come in every morning with a new mix of each song. I got the feeling that your discovery of ProTools and samplers was really transforming the band.

A: And continues to transform us. That was a big thing between Brendan and [co-producer] Pete Ducharme; they did a lot of work and production on the album, which I think added a lot. Now it's going even further, because he has a home studio set up. I could hear what they added on the computer, a lot of keyboards and samples that I think added a lot. But I wasn't there for it, so it all seems like magic to me.

Q: You used to be pretty reticent on stage, and I notice that's been changing lately.

A: That's definitely been happening. I've been feeling more confident. I was really uncomfortable for the first few years on stage, and now the difference comes across. Now people feel comfortable telling us how bad we were -- "You've come so far!" It was awful. I had terrible stage fright for years. I would drink too much for shows -- so I'd wind up having stage fright and being drunk at the same time, which was a horrible

Q: This was before you got to Boston?

A: Nooo! [Laughs] Not at all. We've had to grow up as a band in front of everyone here, and we're still trying to live it down. We'd hear things like, "God, you guys used to look so miserable up there." But you have to understand that it's the first band for both me and Brendan. It's a lot more fun now -- we're trying it step it up on stage, and to look more like we're expected to look. It is a performance, after all, and dressing up for it makes it more fun.

Q: But you at least knew you could sing before you knew you could be on stage, yes?

A: Yeah, I enjoyed doing the four-track recordings at home. I guess I realized I could sing decently after I started playing guitar and writing songs. I'd never tried before, so it was a nice thing to discover.

Q: Was there a turning point where being on stage became comfortable?

A: No, it was very gradual. Just doing it over and over again. After a certain point you've done it so many times that it's not scary anymore. And the fact that our draw has gotten better has made us better about being on stage. Really, it was hard to fake being excited in front of five people. I know that a good performer is able to perform with just one person in the audience, but we always had a hard time with that.

Q: You mentioned wanting to be a novelist -- do you still draw on those instincts when you're writing songs?

A: I suppose there is a crossover lyrically. The ideas you may have for a story may get translated into a lyric, so I get to satisfy both urges.

Q: I'm wondering if you're drawn to a certain type of character when you're writing -- for instance, there are a lot of screwed-up people in your songs, and you don't seem that way yourself.

A: Part of it is inventing characters -- trying to draw on the weirder things I've been through rather than the mundane things. It's not always me that's talking. Sometimes there'll be a specific point of view that I'm trying to relate, or sometimes they'll be atmospheric rather than literal. But I have a really hard time talking about my lyrics.

Q: Okay, to pull one example out of the hat -- can you say where "Heroin Face" came from?

A: That's one of the hard ones. It's based on personal experience, but I wouldn't want to reveal too much about it.

Q: But if something is hard to talk about, that must make it better suited to a lyric.

A: Exactly. That's probably why I find it so difficult explaining them.

Q: You got involved with a couple of promotions between albums -- you were sponsored by Mentos for a while, right?

A: That was really stupid, though. It just entailed playing a show on Long Island that was broadcast over the Internet. We got T-shirts and a few packs of free Mentos. We had to hold up the packs of candy and say Mentos slogans, and I hope that tape never surfaces. I don't know what we were expecting there, but it was a bit of a disappointment.

Q: And I know you had some major-label interest between albums, notably from Elton John's label, Rocket Records. So was Elton showing up at your gigs?

A: No, that went nowhere. The label folded; but the A&R guy, who I think was also the president, was in touch with us for a while. Then he wound up starting his own label, which also folded. So we never came that close or got to have much contact with the industry.

Q: You and Brendan got married while you were making the current album -- do you think that had any effect on the music?

A: Maybe, but I doubt you'd be able to find it. The main way it affected the record is that we got married two weeks before we went into the studio, which made it a really hectic month. Brendan and I were coupled for about a year before we started the band -- I know that bands don't usually work that way, but so far we haven't had a lot of problems with it. The whole experience has probably made us closer as a couple.

Q: So do you still think about Joan Jett and Debbie Harry when you're on stage?

A: No. [Laughs] That was more of a 13-year-old fantasy. And of course, in my fantasy I was playing to a giant stadium full of people. Which, I might add, is not my fantasy anymore.

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