RockStar Leandra Ghoulish talks about Angelus Novus first years and her choking moment in Lollapalooza as massive US tour of the band nearly over
Rockstar Leandra Ghoulish, lead singer and guitarist of Angelus Novus, we welcome and congratulate you here and now for joining us here in The Sewers!
Hi, hey, great. Thanks.
Thank you for finding the time. You’re on a massive tour.
Yeah, we’ve been on the road since uhm, April, with a little break in the middle. It’s cool and intense. And there’s something nomadic about it, in a way, something that keeps the Angelus where we should be. We have an RV and two vans for us and the crew, it’s like being on a journey. Not in the crappy spiritual way, but in the real sense of being on the way.
Right. So no crashing hotel rooms and such.
Heh no, not anymore, come on. That’s – you know.
Angelus Novus were quite known for it in the beginning.
Well yeah we were – we were so young, and to be honest not the smartest people. Nah, we were full of shit. I really prefer it the way it is now. And the driving really clears your mind between the venues.
You’re actually doing the driving between gigs?
Well we take turns, we need to sleep from time to time, but yeah, the long rides are great, it focuses you and relaxes you at the same time. Foculexing.
It’s a bit surprising to hear that a band as big as yours is responsible for these logistics between gigs. As it is surprising that you didn’t you go on an international tour this year.
How big we are doesn’t mean we lose the ability to drive a vehicle and do stuff. You gotta tone down your ego y’know? Same goes for the international tour, nah, this year it was important for us the stay in the US. You gotta tone it down. You said we’re big and all that, sure, that’s great. What does a band want? To be heard, of course. But we don’t want to be run by our egos. So yeah we do all the driving and all that. Lenny says it’s like we’re on a road trip and the gigs are like stopping for ego-fuel. And we have enough.
That’s Lenny Sinn, the bassist.
Yeah. Lenny is very quiet in interviews and stuff like that, she hates it, but when she opens her mouth she’s always spot on. That’s Lenny, she’s like that. What I’m saying is that gigs in these huge venues mess you up. Admit it or not, it does something to you, it changes you. Being on the road together is what grounds us back.
Trashing hotel rooms or not, the band and its crew are still known for your scandalous after parties –
Okay so –
In the context of driving –
Well none of us is gonna get behind the wheel of a huge van while drunk, we’re not stupid –
You’re in a fact a very intellectual band –
Not sure what that means exactly.
To begin with, the band’s name. Angelus Novus is a painting by Paul Klee, made known by the writings of German intellectual Walter Benjamin, who turned it into his “Angel of History”. It’s an exceptional choice of name.
I don’t think so. Think about The Doors for example, they’re referring to William Blake’s “Doors of Perception”, which was used by Huxley as a title for his book.
But nowadays –
Bands put a lot of thought into their names. I believe that even the stupidest band name you can think of has a deeper meaning. There’s a story behind every name.
What’s the Angelus Story?
It’s a weird story. We didn’t have a name when we got signed. It just happened so fast, and I think not having a name at the time was really symbolic.
Symbolic to what?
The entire situation. I mean we had no idea what’s going on around us. And I believe we could have very easily lost ourselves in the process. I mean we kinda did for a while. A name doesn’t necessarily give you an identity as a band, but it’s something to cling to. We didn’t even have that.
The long awaited documentary about Angelus Novus, titled “Why are they Shouting?” is premiering in two days. Director Jackson Tilt has followed your story for about four years. It’s meant to tell the band’s truly unbelievable story.
Yup, I think the conversations with Jackson and with his camera also helped us to stay sane during that period.
Could you talk a bit about the documentary, and why it took so long to be released?
Sure. Well Jackson had an idea for a documentary back in 2009, he wanted to follow unknown warm-up band. His idea was to make a small documentary about these bands that are in always the background; the bands, like us, that after their own gig go back to their tent in the festival to change their clothes before disappearing in the crowd, that doesn’t recognize them the second they get off stage. It was in Coachella 2009 when he approached us, along with three other warm up bands, and asked to join us during the two days we were warming up Over System.
Over System is of course one of the biggest international rock bands for nearly a decade now.
Yup. When Jackson approached us we were already totally living the dream. Just talking to Over System, just sharing a backstage with them, was insane.
The documentary doesn’t tell of how you got to become their warm up in Coachella 2009.
Yeah, no. We met Bryan Ax from Over System less than two months before Coachella. It’s a totally crazy story how and why we met and kinda too long to tell right now. The point is that when we met we had only one song, “Silence” –
“Silence” is one of Angelus’ favourite songs to this very day. It made it into the Passing Stones Magazine’s top 100 best rock songs in history list. I think it was number 25.
It’s 23 I think. But that’s all we had. One song and a missing drummer – our drummer and roommate at the time, Idris Raoul, went missing that week – that’s a long story too.
Right. Is that his real name by the way?
Yeah, what, why wouldn’t it be?
Anyway, long story short, we spent three hectic weeks writing another seven songs, not knowing we’re gonna play them in front of something like 40 thousand people in Coachella, not knowing they’re gonna become our first album, Dislocated, not knowing anything. Bryan Ax heard us doing “Silence” and just said: you’re fucking coming with us to Coachella.
But what about your drummer?
Oh yeah I didn’t mention that, Bryan introduced us to Jules in L.A. The click with Jules was immediate. I mean it was like we’ve been playing together for years.
Jules Progmhose is of course the Angelus’ drummer to this very day.
Of course, there would be no Angelus without Jules.
And you just went to Coachella without even telling Idris, you pretty much ditched him.
No, okay, the story with Idris is complicated, and it’s about his private life so I’m really uncomfortable talking about it.
What do you make of his band, Agesilaus Santander?
It’s great. It’s uhm – it’s really different from what we do.
Well it’s a lot heavier. I think they’re bordering heavy metal sometimes –
Same has been said about the Angelus’ second album, Isadora –
I don’t think that’s true. I mean I’m not into these definitions really, I’m talking about the vibe, the feel, I mean they have great songs but that’s not where the Angelus wanted to go.
Agesilaus Santander is an even blunter allusion to Walter Benjamin. The conceptual similarity between the band names is quite apparent.
Yup, it’s no secret I guess that we thought about naming our band Agesilaus Santander. To me, it’s like the darker, the darkest side of Benjamin. And in a way it makes sense that Idris’ band took this name and turned out to be heavier and darker.
What’s your fascination with Walter Benjamin?
I wouldn’t call it a fascination. I think at the time, I’m talking 2008-2009, we were kinda haunted by him –
When you say we –
Back then we were roommates, that’s Idris, Lenny, Marcus and myself –
Marcus Leary is the Angelus’ guitarist –
We were sharing a really tiny place back then, you could say we were four lost souls who somehow found each other and were in each other’s face all the time. For better or worse y’know. Lenny and Marcus were in college back then and they were bringing in all these stuff, I don’t know why we got stuck on Benjamin, there was something really mysterious about these texts that were like unwilling to be fully understood. There’s something nomadic about it all that we really relate to. Lenny was totally obsessed with Benjamin. She still is.
So Lenny started what we used to call the “drink ’till you think” nights, when we used to talk about all these big ideas and philosophies that made us feel like we’re taking a step back, or just stepping outside our boring ordinary lives.
Drink ’till you think?
Yeah, that’s how we called it, I know it’s lame, we were 19. But these nights became a thing, that’s how we met Robbie Clair from Rizla Manifesto and Jesse Black from Bees Extinct. That’s how we met Tammy Hists too, who eventually introduced us to Bryan Ax. It was an amazing time. Talking about stuff outside ourselves and playing music, it could have stayed like that forever in a way.
If we could return to the “Why are they Shouting?” documentary, it tells of Angelus Novus truly exceptional story. You got to warm up Over System in Coachella and went on tour with them. A few months later, in Lollapalooza, Over System’s huge crowd were calling for you to come back up stage. You were filmed backstage at that moment in total shock.
Well yeah, how can you not be in shock? We just didn’t get what’s going on. But the real shock was before that, when we did “Silence” that day and suddenly it hit me that the crowd is singing with me. I mean I thought I was hallucinating or that my hearing went wrong or I don’t know what.
There’s a clip of that gig where you just go silent –
And the crowd keeps singing. I just choked. I turned to Marcus who was behind me, playing the guitar and looking at me like, what the fuck’s going on?! I mean we just couldn’t get how it happened. Then I remembered that before this gig, we were in the crowd listening to Neon Waterfall, and some guys told me I’m awesome and that they saw me on YouTube. I really didn’t think too much about it, I thought they saw some of the stupid stuff we used to put on YouTube on our “drink ’till you think” nights. We used to do stupid covers back then. Like we did Paul Westerberg’s “Dyslexic Heart” Marilyn Manson style. Yeah, it’s as bad as it sounds. Or Mister Big’s “Be with You” with a change of lyrics that turned it into a really dirty song. Stuff like that. Only later I realized that there was a recording of our gigs in Coachella with over a 3 million views at the time, and that people actually came to see us.
How do you handle such a dazzling, overnight success?
Well, you don’t. The documentary took so long to come out coz it was really difficult for me to see myself going through this rollercoaster. The next day, when we were about to go upstage again, and were introduced as “the silence song band” coz we had no name, I kept asking “why are they shouting? Why are they shouting?” coz I just couldn’t get it that the crowd is calling for us. I was a total mess. I spent half the time in the festival’s stand-by ambulances, coz I was sure I was going to die. I mean I was one hundred percent sure that I’m dying.
Hardcore. It’s hard to see yourself, even years after, in that state. I mean there was this one time I asked Julian, the paramedic, to tell Jackson Tilt that I had died, so he’d go away. And later on, I tried to convince Jackson to lie that I had died, so he’d get a tragic documentary or something and I’d just go home, away from all of this. It was too much. You need to get the love of a 8000 people crowd before you get the love of a 80,000 people crowd. It was too much. It was awful and awesome and crazy and unbelievable.
Jackson Tilt has followed you for about 4 years since that moment. In that period of time you’ve released three albums, and became known as Angelus Novus.
And did a lot, a whole lot, of stupid stuff on the way. It’s not all the documentary, luckily. It was a difficult time but the need to be heard, that need is bigger and stronger than anything. It’s like the need to be loved in a way. And in a way it’s all too similar. You find yourself going through hell and back coz you just do, coz you just need to.
Is that need ever really fully satisfied?
Oh, wow, no, I guess not.
What are your plans for winter, once you’re back in San Francesco?
Oh just – I don’t know. Having a house on the ground, without wheels, that’s gonna be crazy and weird. I’m gonna have to get used to it. And I think I’m gonna eat a lot too.
Leandra Ghoulish, it was a delight talking to you. I congratulate you here and now. Drive safely.
Oh thanks, great. You too.