Jesse Nolan describes the name of the band 'Caught A Ghost' as referring to the sensation of being filled with the spirit of the past. "It's an old expression," he says, " blues musicians used to say you caught a ghost if you gave a good performance…like you were possessed."
As the songwriter, producer and lead singer of the band, Nolan is a devotee of music from bygone eras. He has a deep affection for vintage soul, delta blues, and 90s rap alike. As Nolan explains, "It's definitely like being possessed. Music is an obsession for me. What's not to be obsessed about? I don't think that makes me unique, it makes me human." What does, however, make Nolan unique is his musical dexterity. He plays all of the instruments on Caught a Ghost’s full length debut, HUMAN NATURE, with the exception of horns and some of the drums.
The record recalls influences from the soul and rock n’ roll traditions (Stax, Motown, Sam Cooke, and, of course, the Rolling Stones) and yet still feels distinctly modern with references to hip-hop and electronic recordings from the 90s to the contemporary. "I had a very rich musical upbringing." Nolan says. "My dad, who is a musician himself, exposed me to a lot of great music. He's a Stax/Motown fanatic, and obsessed with seeing live concerts. My first live musical experiences were seeing my dad’s band play, but I would credit my musical awakening to a Hollywood Bowl show with Tom Petty. I also grew up in the 90’s watching MTV and listening to rap, so I'm into tracks that hit hard.”
“Caught a Ghost is ultimately about a collective experience.” Nolan says. “It may have genesis in my weird brain, but it’s ultimately about creating a community.” That spirit is reflected in the makeup of the band, which includes Stephen Edelstein on drums, who was Jesse’s kindergarten classmate and singer/percussionist Tessa Thompson, known to audiences for her acclaimed acting roles in such films and TV series as Veronica Mars, Cold Case, Copper and Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls. She also stars in Dear White People, which won the Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.
Anyone who has seen Caught a Ghost play live can testify to the communal spirit. In addition to playing high energy shows, with as many as nine musicians and various dancers onstage, the group often makes use of projections, performance art and audience participation. The result: Caught a Ghost produces a sound and aesthetic that separates them from other Motown devotees. Of course there are threads of the classic influence that are apparent, but, for example, 'No Sugar In My Coffee' achieves a secular gospel vibe, incorporating elements of southern blues, but powered by a machine-like groove and a big sub bass. There is the hypnotic synth line on 'Time Go' as well as the use of dubstep wobble bass with a full Motown horn section on 'Sleeping at Night'.
The diversity of influences in Caught a Ghost that spawned from Nolan's mad scientist approach to composition has sparked many a comparisons to other Los Angeles native, Beck. Every song feels on some level like a great big remix. "I love the aesthetic of taking something old and repurposing it." Nolan says. “But we don't tend to use samples - we’re just sampling musical muscle memory. It's a very imprecise process really, like a Jackson Pollock painting…..splashing sounds around. We’re imperfectionists."