How Blue Öyster Cult Revamped 40-Year-Old Recordings to Make Their New Album, ‘Ghost Stories’

How Blue Öyster Cult Revamped 40-Year-Old Recordings to Make Their New Album, ‘Ghost Stories’

The reaper is clearly not feared as veteran rockers Blue Öyster Cult make the old new on the group’s latest album, Ghost Stories.

The set, out April 12 on Frontiers Music srl, comprises a dozen songs originally recorded between 1978-1983 (with one from 2016), mostly featuring the original lineup. Initially co-produced by golden age BOC audio engineer George Geranios, the versions on the album were spruced up, and in some cases added to, by band member Richie Castellano and BOC manager Steve Schenck, with remaining co-founders Eric Bloom and Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser participating and brothers Albert and Joe Bouchard returning for some overdubs.

“It sounds like a long-lost BOC record to my ears,” singer-guitarist Roeser tells Billboard. The impetus for the project, he says, came from Italian-based Frontiers, which released The Symbol Remain, BOC’s first new album in 19 years, during 2020 and was pushing for a follow-up.

“We were casting around for what we might want to do,” Roeser says, “and we had all these archival recordings from back in the day with the original members. Rather than just put it out as a rarities record we went back to those tapes. There were some multi-track tapes and some stereo tapes, and we used modern tools to sort of deconstruct the elements and then process them as if they were contemporary recordings. So the sonics of the LP are pretty modern-sounding. Of course I remember the songs from the day, but they sound like new tracks to me. It’s almost eerie to me to hear the Bouchard brothers back in the band and Allen Lanier still alive.”

The task of modernizing the tapes fell primarily to Castellano who’s been with BOC since 2004. Nobody needed to twist his arm. “Hearing them play songs that were recorded 20-plus years before I joined the band was like jumping into a time machine. It was the closest I could get to being a fly on the wall for these original sessions,” says the multi-instrumentalist, who’s also part of the Band Geek, which performs and is recording with former Yes frontman Jon Anderson.

Digging into the recordings — which Castellano says were well-preserved by Geranios — he discovered that “each song had its own set of unique challenges and required something different. With the tapes being so old, we encountered frequent dropouts. Hearing parts disintegrate during a song isn’t ideal, so we made a decision to use some new elements to support what was on the tapes.” That included bolstering parts via AI, sampling the original playing to create consistent performances throughout the songs. “With the goal of presenting these songs as complete ideas, we used all of the tools available to us to fill in any missing pieces,” he explains.

“There were spots where the original performance was just too damaged to be salvaged or where we perceived to be a space that needed a part. On those occasions, the best course of action was to pick up an instrument and just play the part.” He also shouts out Joe Bouchard as “incredibly helpful in augmenting these songs. He had a bunch of great ideas for textures and layers that ended up making it to the finished product. For example, on ‘So Supernatural,’ there’s a subtle Vocoder part he added that totally lifts the chorus up for me.”

Roeser says the songs on Ghost Stories “were all contenders” for BOC’s albums during that time — including Mirrors, Cultösaurus Erectus, Fire of Unknown Origin and The Revolution By Night — but that “for one reason or another, they didn’t make the cut. There’s probably a different reason for each one, y’know?” The guitarist purports to have “no opinion” on the original songs, but Castellano lists a few “Holy Grail” finds — including Bloom’s vocal on “Don’t Come Running to Me,” the late Lanier’s piano that kicks off “Shot in the Dark” and Roeser’s solo on a cover of the MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams.”

The latter, in fact, is one of Ghost Stories’ grails for BOC fans at large. The group included a rendition of the song on its 1978 live album Some Enchanted Evening, but this is the only time the band laid it down with studio tapes running. For Roeser it’s also haunting that it’s coming out just two and a half months after the death of MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer, who BOC had met over the years.

“I was struck by the time alignment of that,” Roeser says. “They were signed to Elektra when (BOC predecessor) Soft White Underbelly was signed to Elektra, and we went to a couple of their shows. We didn’t really know them personally that much, but when we decided to cover (‘Kick Out the Jams’) Eric talked to Rob (Tyner) about some lyrics that he couldn’t understand.

“The MC5 didn’t get quite the acclaim they should have. They were very important for the time period, the evolution of American rock. I think our version does the MC5 proud.” Another cover is one of Ghost Stories‘ other lost gems, a rendition of the Beatles’ “If I Fell” from 2016, when Kasim Sulton was part of the band. “We used to do it in the dressing room to warm up,” Roeser recalls. “That was recorded when we did the 40th anniversary video shoot in Los Angeles, and it’s been sitting around so we decided to include it on the record.”

Blue Öyster Cult — which also includes bassist Danny Miranda and drummer Jules Radino — continues to perform sporadically and has several shows set for summer, including a June 7 appearance at the Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame in Stony Brook, NY. Roeser, meanwhile, has been working on a new solo track called “The End of Every Song” that he plans to release this year, but he’s circumspect about the possibility of fresh music from BOC.

“I have the thought, to be honest,” he says. “At this point in our career I don’t think we have anything we have to do. We don’t have anything to prove. So there’s no reason to just put stuff out for its own sake. But if we have something that’s significant and if it’s good, it can come out. But it has to hold up with what we’ve already done…and that’s a pretty high bar.”

The post “How Blue Öyster Cult Revamped 40-Year-Old Recordings to Make Their New Album, ‘Ghost Stories’” by Joe Lynch was published on 04/12/2024 by