The Passion of Ghost Hounds
Music has always been an essential part of my life. I grew up very poor in challenging circumstances, and music was a form of escapism. As a young kid, listening to the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and genres from Blues, to Country, to Rock, I always loved the way that music felt. Not only the way I heard it but the way it made me feel. I picked up the guitar at a young age and have played since I was probably 10 or 11 years old. Music has been a big part of my life.
Sometimes heart and soul rip right through you like the Blues on a hot summer night, or the sincerity of a classic road trip Country song, or the fervor of a piercing Rock rift you cannot soon forget. That is the voice of Tre Nation, and the songwriting of guitarist, Thomas Tull (along with Kevin Bowe, co-songwriter/producer, who has also worked with Etta James, Jonny Lang, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Kenny Wayne Shepherd). The band is Ghost Hounds and their members also include: Johnny Babb on Guitar, Bennett Miller on Bass, Blaise Lanzetta on Drums, and Keyboardist, Joe Munroe. They are a close-knit, unified Blues Rock force, with much sincerity and drive to create and connect to their fans.
Their previous album was Roses Are Black, and it purposefully highlights diversity with memorable hooks, poignant lyrics, and Blues Rock tonality. Songs that seep of rocking soul are, "Push That Rock Up the Hill," "Skin in the Game," "Almost Loved You," and "We Roll Hard." Their 15 years together is marked by the song, “Second Time Around.”
Thomas Tull left music for a while to have a family, and pursue film production, and in the past few years he has returned to his passion in playing guitar and songwriting. His former company, Legendary Films Co, which he has not been involved with since 2016, produced success hits like the recent Rockumentary, It Might Get Loud, Jurassic World, Straight Outta Compton, and The Hangover.
As for lead singer Tre Nation, whose persona on stage is compelling and oozes a strong Gospel Rock vibration, a friend of his sent a video of him to Tull, and the rest is history. Tre says of his background, "I grew up singing Gospel and was a Gospel artist for a while. These songs were familiar to that kind of style in a way, which makes it more fun."
I caught up with Thomas Tull and Tre Nation to find out about their path and process as a band.
By Abbe Davis, June 30, 2021
AD: I love the new song “Between Me and the Devil”, the first single released for the second album. Thomas, you co-wrote this song with Kevin Bowe, so tell me, how did that come about?
TT: I write our songs, most of them with Kevin Bowe. Kevin and I are collaborative, and I enjoy writing with him.
AD: The enjoyment of your songs shows. The video has great symbolism including the male assistant with the red tie, the woman with the red dress, and the guy at the desk, perhaps Satan, with a red tie, too. Tre signs the “contract” and is now in a red shirt, in a red room, blood ink dripping from the pen. It's classic. Whose concept was this and where did you shoot the video?
TT: I have always been fascinated with the Robert Johnson story. Legend has it, he went down to the crossroads and transformed from a little known blues musician and became the great Robert Johnson. In the story, he sells his soul in exchange for his musical talent. That was the original concept I had for the song. Our hero is confronting a similar choice, but the love of his life is keeping him from making that choice, even though he’s tempted. That love is grounding him and keeps him from going over to the other side. Jay Arcansalin, who is a very talented director, works with us all the time and ran with that concept in the story that you see in the video.
AD: It's really done well and I can see how your background fits right in with the storytelling of the tune. Your prior album, Roses Are Black, is a rich combination of Blues and Soul musicianship. You can hear the influences of Robert Johnson and the Rolling Stones throughout, but it feels like a completely unique project with Tre's soulful, beautiful tones ringing out. Can you tell me about the recording process for the record and what inspiration you drew upon while writing it?
TT: Well, the only way I know how to write songs is to write and play what I'd want to hear. You’ve mentioned some of my main influences; I love Classic Blues music from Lightnin’ Hopkins, Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, etc. The Rolling Stones are my all-time favorite band. So, fusing all of that and just trying to come up with something that is influenced by that sound, but hopefully then, that it inspires something original. Writing songs and knowing that Tre is going to be singing them is exciting, because he has such a unique and incredible voice. He’s charismatic and is able to put his own spin on the vocal.
AD: Great blues legends. Yes, Tre a very natural, strong persona yet ease while performing! I love hearing the emotion and beautiful tone in his vocals. Your new live album Ghost Hounds Live is also out now. I know this project is a culmination of the 2019 tour with the Rolling Stones, ZZ Top, and Bob Seger. Was this recorded entirely at one venue, or did you take songs from various shows on the tour and compile them together for this album?
TT: It was a compilation. We chose performances of the songs that we liked, and the audience seemed to like.
AD: It's a great compilation. I’d love to talk about your songwriting as a group. How do you typically approach your songwriting process collectively? Is it usually a full-band collaboration or does it typically start with one member?
TT: I write all of our music and lyrics and then bring them to the band. On most songs, I write with Kevin Bowe. Once the pieces are written, the band puts their own spin on the performance, and individual parts. It's a very tight-knit group, and we have a lot of fun playing together.
AD: This shows during your life performances. Thomas, you have produced many films in your career, do you ever get involved with the soundtrack to the films?
TT: Certainly on many of our films I had input on the soundtrack. Music is contextual and an important part of the experience of movies.
AD: Yes, there is also a huge crossover now, with Rock hit singles becoming film soundtracks, or vice versa. Tre, while growing up, how did you discover Gospel music? Did your family introduce you to Church at a young age?
TRE: I was introduced to Gospel music at a young age. My mother listened to lots of R&B and Soul music, but my father and stepmother kept all of the classic Gospel on repeat. Once I was old enough to join the youth choir when I was about seven, I already knew all of the songs! Growing up, church was like a Disney movie come to life. The stories, music, inspiration, and excitement were all so captivating for me. I started writing and performing my own Gospel music when I turned thirteen, and I’ve had a beautiful musical journey ever since.
AD: What a great environment, and to have the inspiration to write your own at a young age is just spiritual . Your church sounds amazing! For each of you, how has music provided an emotional outlet for you over the years, during both good and bad times in your life?
TRE: Recently, I sat and listened to a good chunk of the songs I've written over the years. I was pleasantly surprised at how beautifully they’d managed to capture those snapshots of time; heartbreaks, breakthroughs, spiritual and mental revelations, the most pivotal moments, all collected and submerged in a mass of assorted rhythm. Music is Art Therapy.
TT: Music has always been an essential part of my life. I grew up very poor in challenging circumstances, and music was a form of escapism. As a young kid, listening to the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and genres from Blues, to Country, to Rock, I always loved the way that music felt. Not only the way I heard it but the way it made me feel. I picked up the guitar at a young age and have played since I was probably 10 or 11 years old. Music has been a big part of my life.
AD: I'm always glad to hear when music is there for someone in difficult times, and to look back on that and appreciate the songs you have written as a journal of your life is important. Thomas, how did you meet Tre? What made him become the singer for Ghost Hounds?
TT: We were looking for a lead singer and John Baab (guitarist) saw a Snapchat video of Tre singing at a wedding and hunted him down to join the band.
AD: Oh wow, it was more random that I had thought! What are the odds? Very cool. Tre, your stage presence is relaxed and soulful. Has it always been that way from the beginning, or did you develop it over years of playing together?
TRE: Call me biased but I believe there’s something extraordinary about this particular collection of musicians. We always have this synergy that I can only describe as vaguely magical.
AD: You can see and hear the chemistry between you guys. With your songwriting and how the band sounds, maybe it's not as much of a surprise that you'd open for a legendary Rock band. How did the Rolling Stones support slot happen? What was it like to find out that you’d be performing with them?
TT: We submitted to them, as I'm sure there were many bands that tried to get on the tour. They are my favorite band of all time, and when we got the phone call it was a surreal experience. Walking out on stage, knowing that you're opening for the greatest Rock 'n Roll band in history, well, it's something that I'll treasure forever.
AD: I cannot imagine how much you felt when you guys went on. Are there any other key moments about touring that you want to share?
TT: The tour in 2019, going from the Rolling Stones, then going out with ZZ Top, playing the last leg of a tour with Bob Seger, all of it was a privilege. I mean, these are bands that you revere and look up to. I think the most memorable thing was the reception that we got from audiences. Being able to feel how the crowd reacted to our music. There's nothing better than that. It was incredibly gratifying. The whole band felt it. I think the biggest thing that can happen is to love playing together and then have that feeling extended to an audience, and have them be in it with you. It's just a feeling you can't even describe.
TRE: On the road we collect so many stories! From astonishing encounters with fans, wardrobe malfunctions, to what it really looks like inside of Willy Nelson’s tour bus! However, it's the off-season moments that are most pivotal for me. Following our last tour, the band took a trip to British Columbia and spent some time in the mountains. Personally, it was a very mentally transformative experience. We even got a couple of songs out of it!
AD: Please tell me what it looks like from the inside of Willy Nelson's tour bus! He embodies American country and activism. I would also love to hear about the rest of the band members. Do they have some influences that might surprise us?
TT: Well, I can't share about Willy Nelson's tour bus, he's just a remarkable person and artist. As for the band, I think we all have similar music tastes. Bennett Miller, our bassist, has a degree in music and a background in Jazz, so he brings that sensibility. Johnny Baab is a highly versatile, incredible player. He's very dedicated, always has a guitar in his hand, and is relentlessly chasing that great tune. John and I play together all the time.
We, fortunately met our keyboard player, Joe Munroe, in our studio session here in Pittsburgh. When he started playing with us, we were just blown away. He's certainly a local legend in our area and is very well-respected. Blaise Lanzetta, our drummer, is the backbone of the band and provides swagger. His eclectic taste always has him bringing something different to the table. He's constantly coming up with ideas. We have a bunch of vintage drum kits at Maple House Studios, where he spends a lot of time and is always pushing to get the perfect sound.
TRE: My bandmates are some of the most fascinating humans I've encountered. They’re so unconventionally multifaceted. John is an amazing guitarist but has also excelled as an athlete. Blaise is a filmmaker and master gardener. Bennett has two daughters and a musical degree. Joe is in the most literal sense, a local legend. It's quite beautiful how our various paths have led us to the same room.
AD: It is great to hear the mutual respect you all have for each other. Who and how you are, the different interests and passion to do music, makes you a solid family, it sounds like. What are your plans for the rest of 2021?
TT: We've got the album coming out in September, which we're very excited about. So far, the first release is doing well. We're going to have a few more singles released before the album comes out. Hopefully, we should be announcing some touring plans soon.
AD: Well, you must know what I'm going to say, so please send us your new singles and info about the tour. We can't wait to share it with everyone! It's been great getting to know you both and I can't wait to hear more of Ghost Hounds music! Thanks so much.
Abbe Davis, Editor TRR,
Abbe Davis is Editor of TRR and the lead singer of the Hard Rock band, Sordid Fable. She has performed alongside legendary Blues artist, Buddy Guy, and formerly with Day of Colors nationally. She co-hosts The Tru Rock Show. Abbe is presently recording an EP with Sordid Fable for release in 2021/2022.