The band Ghosty has undergone least a dozen lineup changes since its founding in 1999, but one thing has remained constant: Andrew Connor has been at the helm for every recording and at every show.
This weekend Ghosty is celebrating the release of its third full-length album (it has also released several EPs), but its first as a trio: Connor on guitars and vocals, Mike Nolte on bass and Bill Belzer on drums.
Despite all the changes within the band and in the music industry over those 13 years, Connor has remained faithful to his primary intentions: Write and record catchy pop songs and then play them live. Beyond that, his expectations, he said, are as sensible as they are hopeful.
“I’m looking into maybe some publishing opportunities,” he said, “but at this point, we just want to break even on this new record.”
The album “Ghosty” is filled with the kind of songs that ought to slake the thirsts of music fans who like uptown-pop songs rich with melodies, harmonies and sleek, shifting grooves. It’s filled with the traits of Connor’s varied inspirations, starting with the Beatles and the Beach Boys as heard in tracks like the ethereal “From Behind a White Cloud.”
It also bears the sounds of some long-time influences, such as the Flaming Lips, Elliott Smith, Pavement and Built to Spill, as heard in tracks like “You Saved Me” and “This Wolf.”
But it also varies from previous Ghosty albums in a few ways, Connor said.
“There’s a certain sound and sensibility that remains in our music,” he said. “We like old records. We like the way they sound. We would like our records to sound classic, with the ’60s-sounding guitars, bass, drums. The Beatles and the Beach Boys are a given, the key to everything. And at first there was also that very specific indie-rock sound.
“That’s still a big part of what we do, but as we’ve moved on I’ve been trying to widen those influences, trying to draw on the sounds of classic soul records. As far as new music, I play a lot of piano on the new album, and I’ve been influenced a lot by the last Toro Y Moi album, ‘Underneath the Pine.’ It’s got all these beautiful textures. The keyboard stuff on that is amazing.”
His days at the piano go back to his boyhood in Sioux Falls, S.D., where he was raised by parents who were music teachers. By middle school he was taking lessons on the piano and cello. His dad, Mike Connor, is a weekend musician and another significant influence.
“Back in the days of Beatlemania, my dad was in a couple of bands that were very popular regionally,” he said. “He’s a really good singer and songwriter. I look up to him a lot.”
His dad also brought the guitar into his son’s life.
“The guitar was always fun because no one would tell me when to practice or what to do,” Connor said. “I could just pick it up and play.”
In 1999, he left Sioux Falls for Lawrence to enroll in the University of Kansas. That same year, he started Ghosty with drummer Richard Gintowt, formerly of OK Jones and now of Hidden Pictures.
Connor graduated from KU with a degree in music in 2003. By then, Ghosty had released three EPs and been through several personnel changes. That was the same year that Nolte, his longtime friend, moved from Sioux Falls to Lawrence and joined Ghosty. He has been with the band ever since and its longest-standing member after Connor.
In 2005, the band released its first full-length recording, “Grow Up or Sleep In.” It followed that with two more EPs, then, in 2008, its second full-length project, “Answers.” By then the roster had changed several times over again.
“It wasn’t like I wanted new lineups,” Connor said. “They just happened. Guys moved or had other things to do.”
In 2010, the band took a hiatus and Connor started working on material for “Ghosty.” He also became part of two other local bands, playing guitar for the ACBs and bass for Mary Fortune, where he performs alongside his wife, Liz Connor, who plays violin. Working with other musicians and other bands has helped him with his own creative processes, Connor said
“I’m really proud of everything I’ve done,” he said, “but at first I was a little inside my own head. I was more self-absorbed. By working on other people’s projects, I feel more like a part of a community, and not someone alone in my bedroom making music and posting it on the Internet. I could easily slip into that, and I don’t want to.”
Three bands require more time, however, which gets tough for a guy who also works full time as a guitar tech at Musicians Friend.
“I’ve gotten a couple of speeding tickets lately,” Connor said, “which is directly related to my schedule: Playing in three bands and trying to self-release an album.”
The schedule will quickly turn to Ghosty and promotion of its latest project. The “Ghosty” album was officially released Tuesday, digitally and on vinyl. It is a testament to the current band and to its past. Belzer plays drums on eight of the 13 tracks. Several Ghosty alums also contribute, including David Wetzel, Josh Adams and Jake Blanton. Nolte did the digital mastering and mixing and assisted on the engineering.
“He was in the studio one day from 10 a.m. till 5 a.m. the next day,” Connor said. “He deserves a medal for that.”
The live versions of the songs don’t bear all the studio trimmings and embellishments, but they convey each song’s virtues: bright melodies and fetching grooves. The trio played a set at the recent Middle of the Map Fest, and the stripped-down versions got a rousing response from a crowd that packed Gusto Lounge.
“If a song is good, it should stand up to several arrangements,” Connor said. “If you try to do too much at the live performance, you’re at the mercy of the sound guy and other variables. The live shows and the recordings are equally important, but they don’t need to sound the same.”
The band has booked several shows, including two this weekend and a few out of town: in Sioux Falls, Omaha, Chicago and Minneapolis, some with the ACBs. Connor said the intent is to push and promote the album as much as possible and see what happens.
“It’s hard to make money as a band,” he said. “At this point we’re just trying to book as many shows as we can and get the music out there and not lose our jobs. It’s a tricky balance.”
But it’s worth the effort. Being in a band has become more than just a creative outlet or a weekend hobby, he said. It has become innate, inseparable from who he is.
“Music has become second nature to me. I try to have a sense of gratitude about it,” he said. “Once I get engrossed in the process, hours can go by and I won’t notice because I’m so into it.
“A lot of things I can’t concentrate on at all but music is like second nature. I get obsessed with it naturally and i feel like it’s a great way to deal with an obsessive tendency. If I stopped altogether, I don’t know what I’d do withthat energy.”