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Don't Fence Me In: GhosTown are getting airplay on KPIG--and across the Atlantic.

Rodeo Free Europe

Business-savvy cowboys John Cirillo and GhosTown are flooding Europe's airwaves with country rock from Santa Cruz, making miracles happen with a little help from a Killer Klown

By Mike Connor

Contrary to popular belief among moon-eyed teenage musicians, the likelihood that a knight in shining armor (also known as a record company) is going to swoop down from the heavens and spirit a would-be superstar straight to the crest of superstardom is pretty much nil. Heck, one of the greatest superstars of all time--Jesus Christ Superstar--has yet to return for his famed second coming, and hella prophets have been predicting that shit for, like, millennia.

The moral of the story? Find yourself some better prophets. And, if you really, really want something--like, say, a successful career in the music business--don't just sit around and wait for a miracle.

"You make your own luck by being out there," says Liam Wald, the well-coifed, well-spoken bassist for GhosTown, a local band that has done just that. "At this point in my life, I see [making music] as a business. We're willing to put in the time and do the work, and you have to have the business sense and the marketing sense to succeed."

The band's primary songwriter and lead vocalist John Cirillo drives the point home. "We have the desire, the determination and the willingness to make sacrifices," he says, seeming to follow in another Superstar's footprints. "We're not 21-year-old kids, but our whole band is ready to go ... and with our maturity, we're not going to waste our opportunity."

Influenced by artists like Jeff Beck, Gordon Lightfoot and Jim Croce, Cirillo's boyish enthusiasm about his current project belies any trace of the cynicism one might expect from a seasoned songwriting veteran, but there's no doubt that he's a pro at what he does. He's been writing songs for more years than I've ever counted on a birthday cake.

"There isn't anyone in the band who's been playing for less than 30 years," says Wald.

GhosTown's debut album Lonesome Side by Side is solid and slick, full of straight-ahead, radio-friendly country-rock songs. Cirillo sings tender ballads of broke-down dreams and loves lost and found, while the boys behind him--Jaimz Dale Lewis on lead guitar, Paul "Hollywood" Haley on the keys, Tom Cardona on drums and Dani Cobo on the fiddle--rock out with well-honed precision.

But technical skills aside, this band is all about heart. Both Cirillo and Wald believe strongly in the ballad, pointing to the creature's success on the charts throughout the years. Cutting to the chase of musical styles, Wald breaks it down into three categories: groove music ("it's totally sexual"), intellectual music ("you know, the guitar-wizard-type guys") and the heart-oriented ballads for which Cirillo has a particular penchant. "I've always written from the heart," says Cirillo, admitting that he'd never given enough creedence to the entertainment side of things until he hooked up with GhosTown.

Killer Kraftsmanship

While you may have heard their songs on KPIG, it's just as likely that your friends and relatives living in various places around Europe, Australia and New Zealand have heard GhosTown, too. In addition to regular rotation on radio stations, they've got 12 minutes of songs in a film called Choosing Mathias. Says Wald, "In the European market, people love what we're doing--DJs, people. Maybe there's still that mystique about the West--what is it about the West that's cool?"

An interesting question ... but, turning it on its head, one could also ask: what isn't cool about the West? Cowboy boots and hats, drawling accents and tumbleweeds ... all cool. Inevitably, though, some people will still need convincing. And that's when it's time to bring in the Killer Klown.

Filmed in Santa Cruz back in 1988, Killer Klowns From Outer Space is a bona fide cult classic. Among other roles in film and television, keyboardist Paul Haley played one of the klowns in the movie. Although he may not be as menacing without his klown suit on, he's still a force to be reckoned with on the keys. That's not to say they actually condone killing, though--not even in the I-shot-a-man-in-Reno-just-to-watch-him-die kinda way.

"No one who's ever listened to our CD has committed a violent crime," quips Wald.

To which Cirillo responds, "We should caveat that with, 'as far as we know.'"

GhosTown perform Saturday, May 3, at Henfling's 9450 Hwy. 9, Ben Lomond. Tickets are $7 adv/$9 door, available at Artforms Gallery.

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From the April 30-May 7, 2003 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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