Former Sunny Day Real Estate frontman reflects on solo album 'Ghosts,' the most difficult album he has ever made
Jeremy Enigk joined emo forebears Sunny Day Real Estate in the early '90s, while he was still in his teens, and for years after that band's groundbreaking debut (1994's Diary) he continued writing, recording and touring, whether with Sunny Day, the band that formed in its wake (the Fire Theft) or under his own name. He never really stopped.
“I started so young. I was just a kid,” Enigk, 44, said recently by phone. “You just go as a kid. And then finally I stopped. … I spent eight years living in the country, essentially, and spent a lot of time reflecting upon my past and looking at the positive future.”
During that reflective pause, Enigk began writing songs that would eventually find their way onto his most recent solo album, Ghosts. “It represents moving on,” he said. “It's all about moving away from the past and into the future, and taking the good things from the past, and also removing the bad things from the past — the demons and the ghosts and phantoms.”
In 2015, Enigk announced a fundraising campaign for the album on Pledge Music. “It was a crowdfund, which I had never done before,” he said. “I was doing everything myself. It was completely DIY. I've always had management. I've always had a label. But this time I was doing everything myself. So there was a really steep learning curve.”
Ghosts turned out to be the most difficult record Enigk has ever made. “Every step of the way — every time I would have some sort of idea of what I wanted to do — I was met with a wall that I had to navigate and figure out on my own,” he said.
Some of those roadblocks were due to Enigk's lofty ambitions. “I wanted to make a very high-production record, like Daniel Lanois or Peter Gabriel — this high level of just sonic beauty. And I wanted to find the right person to do it,” he said.
Enigk zeroed in on recording engineer Mike Reina at the Brink studios in Virginia, but he soon realized he was spending way too much of the crowdfunded budget on recording. Eventually he discovered he could record more affordably and at a similar quality in Spain with Santi Garcia, who recorded Enigk's 2009 solo album, OK Bear.
The whole process took longer than he anticipated (Ghosts didn't surface until fall of 2017), but overcoming the obstacles led to personal growth. “I came out on the other side with so much knowledge on how to better manage myself,” Enigk said. “It was a fundamental change. And my priorities have changed a little bit — my perspective and my humility. I've had to learn some really hard lessons. … I'm consciously focusing on what it is I'm doing. Before, I just waited for things to happen. But now I want to engage a little bit more with things myself, and have more intention with my career, but also my life.”
Even though Ghosts has been out for more than a year, Enigk didn't have a chance to tour the album with a full band until recently, mostly because Sub Pop reissued his cult-classic 1996 solo debut, Return of the Frog Queen, and Enigk paired the re-release with a full-band tour. But for this current stretch of dates, including a stop at the Basement on Thursday, April 11, Enigk recruited guitarist Tomo Nakayama, drummer Pat Schowe and bassist/keyboardist Nils Peterson to accompany him on a tour that will focus primarily on Ghosts material.
Ghosts is full of the sonic beauty Enigk was aiming for, with those Lanois/Gabriel touchstones lending the album an early U2 vibe, albeit one that doesn't betray the signature soul-bearing that drew early emo acolytes to Sunny Day Real Estate, nor the spiritual longing that undergirded TheFrog Queen. “Set your light afire on this little earth/And escape the thought that you have no worth,” Enigk sings on “Sacred Fire,” a song full of Bono-esque, rafter-reaching moments that stem from an inner realization.
“[‘Sacred Fire'] is about a meditation experience that I had — that there is this light and this fire that's inside, and it's not the material world. And that it's real. It exists. It's insane! And that you're not bound to this amalgamation of all of your experiences,” he said. “It's this idea that you can remove these thoughts and patterns that have been created in your brain, and that there's a pure light beneath that.”