Haiku Monday's debut Mind Smoke Records release, The Ghost of Pontchartrain Expanded Edition, is an imaginary movie soundtrack for a ghost story that takes place in New Orleans, Louisiana. Follow the dark trail of Sammy Thibadeaux aka The Ghost of Pontchartrain, as he returns home to his former life of underworld voodoo and murder. Salvation is at hand!
Mind Smoke Records Promotions Director, Judy Fleenor-Sheets, recently sat down with the members of Haiku Monday, a conceptual pop band, to discuss their popular Mind Smoke Records release, The Ghost Of Pontchartrain Expanded Edition.
Alex Maes (Guitars, Vocals)
Rudy Schnee (Drums, Percussion, Programmed Drums)
Don Reintier (Bass)
Margarite (Keyboards, Programmed Brass, Vocals)
Artwork by: Mary Selbane
(who does all of their album & single covers)
Judy: First off, over the past year your album has made a splash with music fans. I also heard many stories when the band was making this album that things became quite difficult at times...is that true?
Alex: I guess that's an accurate statement. When we began working on this project, the conceptual elements of the music were quite obvious to the entire band. We were all deeply involved in the progression of the music and we all had different ideas for the album. At times it seemed like we would never be able to bring this project to a satisfactory conclusion.
Don: The hardest part of making this album was remaining true to the story behind the music.
Alex: That's a good point Don...if you listen closely to the music, it will tell you when it's a complete finished piece.
Judy: I've listened to the album several times when it was released in 2019 and my first reaction to the music is that all of the songs seemed to tell one big story.
Alex: Well Judy, from the start of this project, we had all decided that it would be fun to write an imaginary soundtrack.
Judy: An imaginary soundtrack?
Alex: Yes. We wanted to write a soundtrack to a film that didn't exist. Early on we envisioned an imaginary soundtrack to a film about a ghost in New Orleans. It's a real mind-movie of sorts. I mean, it's like sitting on the couch, staring out the window, and you start daydreaming; and suddenly, you find yourself creating a film in your head.
Judy: Why, yes, I believe I've done that once or twice! The other day, you mentioned that the group started working on this project in 2002. Let's start things off by playing the album's opening track, South To Louisiana...
Judy: Were all of the songs written prior to the recording sessions or did the band write just one or two pieces and then let the other songs develop naturally during sessions for the album?
Margarite: Originally, I started composing on a synthesizer but I wasn't really happy with the string and orchestral sounds so the rest of the band helped me block out rough drafts of many of the songs and then we put the project on hold for a little while. We released a version of the album in 2012 but it basically wasn't fully conceived at that point in time. Over the years, I would come back to this project from time to time but it was just last year when I started working with Orchestra and String Section Emulators that things began to move ahead at a quicker pace. So, in 2019, we released what we call The Ghost of Pontchartrain: The Expanded Edition that includes all of the tracks that didn't make it onto the original release.
Judy: The album contains a very cohesive collection of musical themes. What was the overall inspiration for this project?
Margaritte: To me, it always sounded like a soundtrack to a film I was seeing in my head. I'm sure you've noticed that many of the tracks are around 2 minutes long or under; that seemed best for dreaming up little movie scenes in a person's head.
Alex: Our original inspiration for the material came from the many trips we all made to New Orleans over the years; each one of us noticed that there was a certain vibe that hung in the air of that city. There's a palpable sense of mystery that flows along the cobblestone streets in the French Quarter.
Judy: Was your overall vision of an imaginary soundtrack difficult to impart to all the members of the band along with any other musicians you brought in to help with the project?
Margaritte: Everybody was on board with the imaginary soundtrack theme from the get-go. Once I began working with various Samplers, things started to come together nicely. It's worth noting that since we all use the same recording software in our home studios, we were able to work on a lot of our individual parts separately which also helped move things along in a speedy manner. Once I had all the music back in my home studio, I would edit the parts a bit and then Alex would come over and we put each track together as we went along. In a certain way, putting this album together like this was almost like time travel for me.
Judy: Time travel?!
Margarite: Of course! One day, a song is nothing but a bare bones type of thing and then…poof! Rudy would add drums or percussion and then…poof! Don would put down some bass parts and so on.
Judy: The next track reveals a lot about Sammy Thibadeaux, the main character of this imaginary film.
Judy: What other players did you ask to play on this album?
Alex: I was lucky enough to bring in Little Slim Lavaro to do the lead vocal on I Am The Ghost of Pontchartrain track. Margarite ran his vocal through a simulator and that gave the track a nifty "ghost" voice! Also, Little Slim sang a little scat vocal on All the Way To Yazoo (in a body bag) and played all of the blues guitar riffs on the City of the Dead track.
Don: It was my choice to bring in Alex's brother, Victor Maes, who played some horn parts for the project. That provided a lot of color to some of the tracks. I've done a lot of gigs and sessions with Victor and he always hits the right groove.
Judy: Is there any song that you find to be reflective of the voodoo atmosphere in New Orleans?
Alex: Definitely...it's a song called The Devil Takes The World. It has a dark sound that raises the hair on the back of your head.
Judy: Did anyone outside of the band write any of the songs for this album?
Alex: Why yes, a matter of fact! Johnny Pierre, our record label boss, penned the aforementioned tune called The Devil Takes the World. When he heard what we were working on he sent me a digital file of the song. After listening to the song several times, we all realized that the dark mood of the song would be a perfect addition to the project. The track dates from 2009 when JP was working on the Biscuit Kings album, Hambones & Trombones. It was supposed to be on that album but it didn't make the final cut. What we did with the original track was strip it of everything but the bass parts. The way we wanted to integrate the song into our album was to develop it as a sparse instrumental. Margaritte created some string parts for the song on one of her synthesizers.
Don: The only original element of the song that we kept was the bass parts which were played by Biscuit King's Jeff Goldstein, one of the best bass player I've come across.
Judy: Tell us about some of the characters that appear in The Ghost of Pontchartrain project?
Alex: Well, at first, I Imagined a ghost named Sammy Thibodeaux returning home to New Orleans. Originally, I had a little ragtag lyric for one of the first songs; Sammy Thibodeaux is my given name, I was born on the banks of Lake Pontchartrain, I'm coming home tonight with my ball and chain, I am the ghost of Pontchartrain. It was almost like a child's schoolyard song actually. From there, Margarite and I started writing purely instrumental pieces with the ghost character in mind.
Margarite: Within a short space of time, we developed three other main characters; The Preacher, a local minister who seemed to have one foot in heaven and the other in hell, Mama Legba, a creole voodoo spiritualist and Little Girl Blue, a young girl who may or may not be Sammy Thibodeaux's daughter. I think one of the best performances on this album is Little Girl Blue which was pretty much something Alex came up with all by himself. Since the release of the album, Little Girl Blue is the most popular Haiku Monday track with music lovers around the world.
Judy: Have any of you ever had any actual experiences with a ghost?
Don: There might have been a couple of sightings when I was coming home from a club date in the Quarter. Random shadows appearing by the side of the road. You know, that sort of thing.
Rudy: I have and I'll never forget it! When I was living in New Orleans back in the early 90's, there was this old lady who would push a little wishing well around on wheels throughout my neighborhood. Every time she came by my house, the temperature dropped 20 degrees and I felt really cold. One Halloween night, she freed 13 black cats from a big cage that overran the whole neighborhood! I'm damn sure she was ghost!
Judy: Some of the songs on The Ghost Of Pontchartrain seem to hint at voodoo rituals. What can you tell us about that?
Alex: There are definitely two songs in this project that reflect some voodoo magic; Mama Legba Throws The Bone and Across The River To Algiers. At some point it seemed like Mama Legba was controlling Sammy Thibadeaux to do some bad stuff. Across The River To Algiers surprised us because when we finished the track it sounded like one of those thrilling Chase Scenes in an Action Film! How did that happen??!
Judy: Any final thoughts on The Ghost of Pontchartrain Expanded Edition?
Margarite: I expect that some people who listen to this album might imagine a much different mind-movie than what my imagination conjures up when I listen to this music. But I think that just might be a good thing, n'est-ce pas?