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Interview: Ryan Graveface at Graveface Records

As a follow up to my first article, I was fortunate enough to interview Ryan Graveface exclusively for WUSC. We discussed his move to Savannah, the true crime stories behind his Dreamend albums, his annual Halloween band, and much more!

So I Ate Myself Bite by Bite

DJ Blondie : Would you like to go ahead and start by introducing yourself and give a brief history of Graveface?

Graveface: Yeah, my name is Ryan Graveface and I started the recording label Graveface Records in 2000 and then it became “real” in 2002. I've moved on to making, producing, and directing films, obviously recording a ton of records on the label myself, starting a museum, several museums actually in Chicago and Savannah. I've got a bunch of physical retail shops, mostly record stores. So, it's kind of expanded over the past 20 years.

DJ Blondie: Is there any significance about why you chose Savannah for the museum?

Graveface: No, honestly. I lost all the company belongings to a flood in Chicago in mid 2010, and just felt like I needed to start my life over because I didn't have anything, and I was basically starting the record label over. So I literally looked at a map and picked a random place. It was between Wilson, North Carolina, Savannah, and New Orleans. Wilson was a little too desolate, New Orleans I knew too many people, and Savannah I just had no context for. So it kind of excited me to, you know, just be in a place that I didn't know anyone, I didn't know anything about it. So it was literally just me picking a random place to start over. 

DJ Blondie: Do you have any favorite Savannah lore? Because they say that it's the most haunted city in America, so I was wondering if you had any stories that interested you. 

The Witch Hat House

Graveface: I mean, the problem is most of the cool stuff that I have heard from ghost tour guides and the like are just bogus. I learned that through a friend who used to do ghost tours. The city used to police the information that they were to regurgitate and maybe 10, 15 years ago, they stopped policing that. And so they just opened the floodgates of misinformation. So I don't know, it's completely jarred my perception. I mean, we have a bunch of haunted things happen in the downtown museum like pinball machines playing themselves, lights turning on and off, people hearing their names, shoulders being pushed down, frames flying off the walls. We have most of it actually on video because we have so many cameras in there, so I mean, I believe that Savannah certainly could be the most haunted city. My experience is limited to the museum and this house I lived in in 2010 called the Witch Hat House which was super f*cking haunted and I actually made a Marshmallow Ghost record about, it's called The Witch Hat House and I think you can listen to it for free, anywhere, but it's basically a narrated version of when I moved to Savannah and how terrifying that house was.

DJ Blondie : As you mentioned, you have so many projects, how do you manage to balance all of them?

Graveface: I don't find it to be particularly difficult, honestly. I'm the sort of person who gets hilariously depressed when I'm not doing a million things, so I kind of thrive on being overwhelmed... I think I'm just built strangely. I love it. I always think I could be doing more, and I truly believe that. 

DJ Blondie: I know that a lot of your projects are horror based, and I know that you have a big love of horror movies. Out of curiosity, what is your opinion of the modern horror film industry?

Graveface : It's all right. Like I see what they're going for and I respect it. There's certainly been some good stuff over the past 10, 15 years. But I'm sure just simply being born in the eighties that I'm still to this day, obsessed with sort of the neon, goofy, hilarious, gore stuff that I grew up with. Nothing, for me personally, will probably ever top that. I mean, there are way better films, but just the experience of watching dumb crap like Spookies or Basket Case or any 80s creature feature, they're just so dumb and hilarious, but the gore and practical effects are actually amazing, and the musical scores are usually incredible. Obviously, in our culture today, there's so much throwback to that, because people my age are the ones making a lot of the films right now, so it's a lot of trying to harken back to either the 80s or early 90s and I mean quite frankly, it just doesn't work. It's like doing a period piece, which is funny because it's not that long ago. I mean certainly plenty of great films over the past 10, 15 years and I like how socially aware they are. But there is a point where I'm not really looking to horror films for that. I'm looking to horror films for escapism, cause reality is f*cking garbage for me, like I just hate most people and things. I'm a very, very negative person. So I look to horror as fun and escapism from my miserable reality. So I don't necessarily want to be hit over the head with very large themes that I'm already constantly thinking about.

DJ Blondie: So you recommended two of your projects to me, Dreamend and Marshmallow Ghosts. How would you describe the Dreamend sound in general?

Graveface: Dreamend is loosely my true crime project before true crime was even a word that people use. It's about family stuff, lots of deep, dark family secrets. I'll write entire records about them, lots of suicide and dark topics, and then I pivoted into a double album about Gayce, but it doesn't sound like that. It's like shoegaze folk music that if you listen to the lyrics, you're like, oh, he's singing about how he loves the sun. But if I tell you why that's the lyric, you're going to be absolutely horrified. I'm not claiming it's like well written per se, but I tried to compose all the Dreamend stuff so that sort of normal people aren't affected by my mental illness. They can just listen to it but if you connect with my unique brain, you'll probably see the bigger picture. Whereas the Marshmallow Ghost is kind of the polar opposite. It's a very classic Halloween band that I've been doing for 15 years. This year is the 15th anniversary, and to my knowledge, it's the only project ever in the history of recorded music that does an annual record every single Halloween. So there's 15 albums but it's everything from songs intentionally for a younger audience to really dark topics about H. H. Holmes Murder Castle, to, I don't know, it just kind of runs the gamut. And we do a lot of visual elements. We made a movie that went along with the first full length, and that was in 2012 or something. It's a larger concept, but it's very simple and meant to be mostly fun, or October fun, I should say. Yeah, probably not January fun.

DJ Blondie: So the albums you were mentioning with the true crime lore, could you tell me a little bit more about that? Some specific albums that you have in mind? 

 Part of Graveface’s Massive Gacy Collection  

Graveface: So, in 2007, I moved into John Wayne Gacy's neighborhood in this little coach house and I started to have all these daily interactions with people who knew him in some capacity or claimed they knew him in some capacity. I ended up acquiring a painting and, not like a diary notebook, but he was a very calculated, meticulous person, so he kept lots of logs and notes. I ended up acquiring one of those and sort of transposed his day-to-day and turned that into a double album. The first part was called So I Ate Myself Bite by Bite, which came out in 2010. Then the follow-up came out about two years later. But basically, it's, just taking pages from his book, not the book that he wrote and published, but his private ledger. I guess what I liked about studying him was that he was “normal,” you know what I mean? Like he was a business owner. He had 60 employees and 10 99ers who checked in on a daily basis and he managed very well. Two different wives, children, this sort of thing. It just created a different thinking of him in terms of being this “normal” person on a day-to-day basis and then pivoting a few times throughout the records that I wrote about him to this dark, murdering piece of sh*t, and how delicate a balance that must have been for him. It's obviously not justifying anything, more so saying, if he's able to run businesses and be “normal” to most people, that's a serious amount of psychological juggling on his end. How do you manage 60 people in the morning after you just murdered some poor, innocent kid? And honestly, the records aren't too depressing. Not suggesting that they're happy either. But I think it's palatable, and most people probably don't even realize that's what those songs are about. 

DJ Blondie: What does that writing process look like, turning these journals into a song? 

Graveface: Honestly, it was very hard. It's a very creative writing style, which is not anything that I've ever been good at. Because it's such a delicate balance and it's so easy to just write the sort of police narrative, the public narrative of this guy that we all know is a piece of sh*t. But that's not what the purpose of the records were. Like, one of the things he mentioned was that his second wife, Carol, he regrets the way he treated her and wishes that he had not f*cked her over, basically, in life. And that always kind of stuck with me. This guy is such a monster. He's also clearly gay, but he likes that sort of comfort of having a woman, which is why he kept remarrying. You know, for all the wrong reasons, meaning to cook, clean, take care of the house, blah, blah, blah. He always was really attracted to a very strong woman, which is also interesting if you think about the bigger picture. He'd never said I regret murdering someone, but he did say I regret the way I treated my second wife and that's really fascinating to me. That’s the sort of stuff that I would analyze and then try to figure out how to creatively turn that simple line into a story arc. 

DJ Blondie: Is there any significance to your album covers? Do you create those or do other people come and create their own covers?

Graveface: Yeah, I am not an artist. A lot of the Dreamhead stuff was done by William Schaff, who's a Providence, Rhode Island, kind of famous artist. He's super talented and did work for, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Jason Molina. I think he did a Mighty Mighty Bosstones record cover. So he's got a pretty large career. Marshmallow Ghosts is largely my wife, Chloe. She does the bulk of our artwork. She's got a really unique style because it's not all one thing. They all look like they were done by someone different, which I like. I mean, I'm a part of it, meaning I'll say this is what I'm thinking for this thing. But, I've gotta be the world's worst artist, honestly. 

DJ Blondie: I see that you work with a lot of different artists. I was looking through some of your Marshmallow Ghosts albums, and I saw that you work with the Casket Girls and that you discovered them when they were playing in a park. Can you tell me a little bit more about them? 

Graveface: Dreamend is like my personal project. There's really no one involved with that. With Casket Girls, I write all of those songs and then they sing over the top of these beds of music that I compose. I was literally just walking to the coffee shop on Bull Street and they were clumsily playing an autoharp and they were both singing over it. The autoharp was super out of tune but it was really charming. You know when you see someone on the street performing? They're clearly busking and they've got the guitar case open and they're looking for a buck here and there and it's a whole vibe. That's not what they were doing. They were just tucked into this remote corner of this large square in Savannah and they were keeping to themselves. They were literally just playing for each other because they were so far away from everyone. I just liked the vibe. And their voices are f*cking amazing. Basically, the long and short of it is Marshmallow Ghosts had released four records, maybe five at that point. And I had all this material that I had written that just didn't fit Marshmallow Ghosts because it was way too happy, or at least that's how I heard it. I was looking for some female singers to write over the top of these songs. So, it was just perfect timing where I had like 42 songs just sitting there that I thought were good enough to merit something, and they were like, sure, send us some stuff. I emailed them some and they picked 10 songs that they liked and then they wrote some really weird stuff over the top of it, like interesting vocal melodies that I definitely wouldn't have thought of. They were able to turn some of the most boring sh*t that I sent them into the most interesting songs, which I thought was pretty cool. So they clearly had an ability to songwrite, you know. We've been together since 2012 or 2013. We're probably in the 10th year of that project... The good news is we're working on our final album that we've been planning right now. And we'll probably have that out about a year from now and tour it. Yeah, I'm excited about it actually.  

DJ Blondie: Yeah. And I also saw in the... I guess it was the autumn update that there's of course a new Marshmallow Ghosts album coming out for Halloween. Do you have any words about that?  

The Collection

Graveface: It's called The Collection. Every single Marshmallow Ghost record sells out pretty quickly, save for two that were kind of weird experimental concepts. Basically every Halloween, there are new people that find the project and they're like, How do I get your old music? And I say I don't know. Because it's not available physically right now. I thought for the 15th-anniversary release, which is this one, that it would make sense to do a collection of all the material that I've ever written. But instead of it being what you've already heard, it's all remixed by this dude out in California. And most of the Marshmallow Ghost records I mixed, and I'm not a mixing engineer, so the simple fact that all the tracks were remixed makes them sound like it’s not the same material. It almost sounds like it's rerecorded or something. And then in addition to that, there are a million songs that were just snippets, like 30 seconds here, 10 seconds there, because they were beds of music that would lead into a narration or something. So for the first time, you're able to hear the full songs without hearing the narration because you've already heard the narration. So in other words, there's a lot of music that people that are devotees will not recognize. But it's all old stuff, meaning it's 15 years' worth of material, it's just collected and presented in a new light, if that makes sense.

DJ Blondie: I have to ask, do you have a favorite album out of all 15? 

Graveface: I think that Witch Hat House is definitely my favorite because it's just so personal. It's literally what happened to me when I moved to Savannah for nine months. I don't even know if it's interesting to anyone except me, but I think that one. I also did one 10-inch release in 2014, that came with a talking board. That sort of presentation is tied for first or maybe my second with Witch Hat House. I always wanted to make an Ouija board, basically. I did that one with William Schaff, that Providence artist, and it just turned out so freaking cool. It's all been sold out for almost ten years, so there's no proof that it even exists. That's kind of the impetus for the collection though. The project's been around so long, there are people that certainly weren't consuming weird Halloween music 15 years ago. So in theory, there's a lot of new people to turn on to this project that's been around for a while.  

DJ Blondie: I have one final question, just to wrap everything up. What do you want to leave behind as your legacy? 

Graveface: Honestly, at 42 that's what I struggle with on a daily basis, and I don't know. I mean, I used to, even a year ago. I think I had an answer, but now I don't know, cause I'm not sure what's necessary. I used to think my research and my work for the museum was clearly the legacy, and that's the most important legacy to have. But people are so surface level with what they consume as far as true crime and stuff of that nature. I just don't know how interested they are in some of what I call my life's work. I feel more lost with that question over the past six months than I ever have for my entire life, which is honestly kind of frustrating. Hilariously, if you had asked me that 12 months ago, I would have had a very thought out, slightly pretentious answer. But I truly don't know the point of what I do at this juncture, and I don't know if that's just cause I've been doing it for so long. Because Graveface is seriously like 23 years old. I think I started when I was 19, so I was a kid when I started the whole thing, and now approaching 50. It's weird to try to reflect and be like, man, you've done tons of sh*t on Grayface and on my other label, Terrorvision, which is the horror soundtrack label. I've put out probably 250 albums and 50 movies or so. I don't know what the point is, you know?  It's almost just like feeding my own mental illness, which is constantly doing creative sh*t. I'm kind of at this point where I believe, say, five minutes after you drop dead, people move on with their lives. So realistically, I don't know that there even could be a legacy at this point. People are so oversaturated with TikTok and these small bits of consumption that I highly doubt anyone would even really give pause outside of, oh, that sucks. Something like that, you know?  So, I don't know, it's a little depressing. And it's funny, and it's depressing. But, I guess that's Graveface in a nutshell.

^A Picture from One of My Visits to the Record Store

DJ Blondie

Hey everyone- it’s DJ Blondie! I am a junior year nursing student and a 2nd semester DJ with WUSC. I love listening to classic rock (and finding modern bands with the same sounds). Be sure to tune in to my show, Dumb Blonde Radio, as you might get to hear some dumb blonde jokes!

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