Feb. 25 2014 07:20 PM

Reinvention is key for San Diego indie-pop group

EGT_JDixxPhoto (5)
From left: Rutger Rosenborg, Ryan Miller, Cameron Wilson and Michaela Wilson
Photo by j.dixx photography

On a January afternoon, after practice in his band's rehearsal space in La Mesa, Ed Ghost Tucker guitarist Rutger Rosenborg dispenses a key principle for how he approaches the band's music: 

"I always say, 'Don't think about it.'"

He's speaking specifically about the melodies and arrangements themselves. "Just do what your body is feeling," he elaborates, noting that it's better to trust intuition than analyze the music too much. 

Even outside of songwriting, going with the flow has treated the band to some memorable experiences and given them some good stories to tell. One of their earliest and most curiously matched shows found them opening for pop-punk band and onetime Demi Lovato collaborators We the Kings before a full house in the 1,700-seat Memorial Auditorium at Stanford University.

By contrast, their first official gig at The Turquoise in Pacific Beach in August 2012 was a much more low-key event. But there was an interesting catch: They had to perform a four-hour set despite not having four hours of music ready to go. With only a couple of weeks to prepare, they solidified the songs they had and learned a few albums' worth of covers to fill the remaining time. Unprepared as they might have felt at the time, bass player and vocalist Cameron Wilson says the show turned out to be a lot of fun—and one they say has been more profitable than most others since.

"We had a bunch of songs, but we had only fleshed out about a half-hour of material," Wilson says. "So, we had to figure out four hours' worth of time to fill. We were all over the place, but it was fun."

On stage, it's easy to see the band's relaxed, intuitive nature play out. The four musicians lock into a fluid groove, blending varied elements like jazz, folk and pop, as well as Caribbean and African influences, into one mellifluous whole. And even in conversation at their rehearsal space, there's a clear sense of camaraderie. 

Despite having been a band only since 2012, the members of Ed Ghost Tucker have a long history together. Keyboardist and vocalist Michaela Wilson is Cameron's sister, and they met Rosenborg and drummer Ryan Miller in elementary school. And Miller, Rosenborg and Cameron Wilson played in a punk band called Numskull when they were teenagers. 

Ed Ghost Tucker finally took shape as a five-piece after Wilson and Rosenborg traded acoustic demos back and forth while in college, with fifth member Brian Disney acting as a multi-instrumental jack-of-all-trades. Disney bowed out of the band last fall, however. They considered finding a new fifth member, but, as Michaela Wilson explains, the tight-knit nature of the quartet makes it difficult for someone new to get settled.

"There is so much history with the four of us, and we are like a big family," she says. "So, there's this whole foundation that a fifth member would have to be really OK with and feel comfortable coming into that. And that's really hard to do."

In the time that Ed Ghost Tucker have been together, their sound has undergone a continuous evolution. The acoustic-based project that began between Cameron and Rutger in college? That pretty much went out the window a long time ago, though those songs still exist in a different form. Listen to the tracks on their Soundcloud page—which Michaela Wilson describes as a "time capsule"—and you'll hear widely varied styles: dreamy pop on "Lesser Antilles," a reverb-drenched torch song in "Devils," folk-rock on "Swans."

Since then, however, there have been even more developments in the group's ongoing refinement of their sound. Some of their recent demos find them embracing island rhythms on tracks like "The Likes of You" and more complex post-rock rhythms on "I Do." For Ed Ghost Tucker, no song is ever truly finished, and their sound is never entirely settled in one place.

"We change a lot," Rosenborg says. "I like the idea of reinventing constantly. I like the idea of every song being sort of different, somewhat."

Yet, it isn't lost on the band that so much reinvention leads to the possibility of becoming elusive to an established listener base.

"You run into the question of, 'Will our audience connect with it because it's so different?'" Miller says.

For now, though, that's not high on their list of concerns. They recently wrapped up a video shoot and have hired an attorney—one of their first major steps toward turning Ed Ghost Tucker into a full-time career. But before they move to the next level, their present stage of discovery and freedom is their main focus. 

"I can really appreciate this stage where nobody's telling us not to experiment, nobody's telling us what we sound like," Cameron Wilson says. "It's all our game. 

"It's just us in here."

Email jefft@sdcitybeat.com or follow him at @1000TimesJeff