Savannah’s Casket Girls Cast A Spell On The World
by Anna Chandler
People who have encountered a ghost often express a peculiar sense of comfort within the shock, a paralysis that makes it too mesmerizing to look away. Sleepwalking, the debut record from Savannah’s The Casket Girls, showcases a connection to the metaphysical through the whirring strains and slow-buzz swells of Ryan Graveface’s synths paired with the alluringly ominous vocals of sisters Elsa & Phaedra Greene. The combination is transfixing: pop music draped in mourning crepe, girl-group stylings created to be sung down haunted halls. It’s as much an auditory treat for fans of lush dream-pop, like School of Seven Bells, and 80’s darkwave as it is for Phil Spector enthusiasts, begging to be played during the witching hour in deep forest clearings. Immediately garnering attention from media giants like MTV, Spin and Stereogum, Sleepwalking already has the world acquiring a taste for the The Casket Girls’ dark Southern mythos.
Graveface, founder of Graveface Records (Black Moth Super Rainbow, The Appleseed Cast, Hospital Ships, Dreamend) and Savannah’s only record shop, Graveface Records & Curiosities, had been conceptualizing The Casket Girls long before stumbling upon the Greenes singing in Savannah’s Chippewa Square. His Halloween project, The Marshmallow Ghosts (which puts out an annual record in time for October celebrations), was built on low-end gritty guitars and fuzzy synths, inundatory tracks that weave the listener in and out of driving beats and vocoder wails and into eerie, uncomfortable squeals. With The Casket Girls, Graveface wanted to take the pop elements of the Ghosts (one can’t help but sing along to “It Won’t Be Long,” an up-tempo track filled with murderous longings) and pay dark homage to the “bad girls” of 1960s girl groups, The Shangri-Las, by collaborating with a group of female vocalists. “It’s stellar to have two completely different Casio projects now,” Graveface remarks. “I’ll keep the Ghosts Halloween’y and the Girls dark, poppy and good for the whole year.”
Graveface proposed The Casket Girls idea the day he met the Greenes. “That’s definitely one of the many reasons I love living here,” he says. “People are so easy to talk to.” Shortly after, the sisters, who prefer to work in their own space, began adding to instrumental tracks Graveface sent them. “We are religious about our process,” the sisters, who are responsible for all of Sleepwalking’s lyrics and vocals, share. “Working with Ryan has been an emergence from our cocoon. It allowed us to write bigger sounding songs because the music is so much bigger.” The call-and-response vocals immersed in the beautifully catchy opener “Walking on a Wire” set the tone for much of the album’s imagery–an isolated narrator dangerously yet almost contentedly teetering between sleep and dream states. The Girls lead into the title track gently crooning, “There will be no starting over/it’ll just be over,” easily accepting premature death with phrasing reminiscent of classic girl group breakup songs. Between cross-dimensional whispers lies the dancehall-worthy “Heartless,” followed closely by the don’t-listen-to-it-alone-in-your-house-at-night spoken ghost story “The Visitor,” inspired by an experience from the Greenes’ childhood. “Lyrically we are just writing from our hearts, so the collaborative outcome was not necessarily premeditated, although we feel like it was meant to be,” they say. “It’s like we’ve embodied spirits of the past and present and let their message come through us.”
Graveface releases are trademarked by each’s lovingly designed packaging, and Sleepwalking is no exception to the rule. Designer Ryan McCardle (of Savannah folk-noir duo mumbledust) paired Maria Reichstadt’s acid-toned embroidery with a photo he found in a Chicago antique shop for a lost/found quality to echo the nature of Graveface and the Greenes’ meeting. Says McCardle: “I like to look at the package and feel like it was found in some old Southern farmhouse, tucked away from civilization just a bit. You know, the kind that no one has lived in for a while, but then comes back to after years to (re)discover all of their old family belongings…there’s dust everywhere and you don’t want to touch, but you do anyways.” Both the embossed jacket LP and CD release come with a 11”x17” poster and are available in-store at Graveface Records & Curiosities or through the online catalog at graveface.com.
With just a handful of house shows and their Graveface Fest performance behind them, The Casket Girls set out with labelmates Black Moth Super Rainbow (with whom Graveface plays guitar) and The Faint in October to pack legendary venues like The Bowery Ballroom and House of Blues. Live, Graveface and a drummer (recently Savannah’s own hard-hitter Peter Seeba) carry the rhythms and synths while the Greenes own the stage, playing off each other’s energy and hypnotizing the crowd like the Shining twins all grown up. “After this tour, we wondered why we ever stopped making up dances,” they reflect. The choreography is pre-meditated yet free-flowing, decorated with allusions to The Supremes yet carried out with an eerie languidness.
Sleepwalking dropped eight dates into the tour. “It’s been super bizarre and awesome to watch,” notes Graveface. “It seems like folks either get it or they can’t stand it. Feels nice to be slightly polarizing for the fact that these are simply pop songs.” For the Greenes, “It’s all come together magically, and it’s been a great experience to put it out there in the world.”
The Casket Girls are currently planning a backyard bonfire tour en route to South by Southwest.
Here are two of the standout tracks from the album as well as the video for “I’ve Got A Secret”
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