Grooving with the ghost particles

New Madison band mines old musical friendships for a fresh sound and a new CD.
members of The Ghost Particles standing and sitting together
Photo by Jon Sender.
ghost particles members standing from left to right: Dave Benton, Phil Davis, Lee Laski, Joel Tappero. Seated in front: Don Irwin.

Getting the band back together has become a cliché used outside the music world, and that’s not what the ghost particles did, anyway.

Instead, they gathered musicians — and friends — from different Madison bands spanning some four decades to form a new pop-rock band whose self-titled debut CD has just been released.

Some of those earlier band names — Spooner, Fire Town, and the still-active Rousers — will be instantly recognizable to longtime Madison-area music fans. Those with the longest memories may even remember the Buzz Gunderson Band launched by Phil Davis and brothers Frank and Peter Anderson in 1974.

Davis sings, plays guitar and wrote or co-wrote all the songs on the ghost particles’ CD. Frank Anderson, who has taught animation and film studies, created the video for “All the Love You Wanted,” one of 11 original songs on the new record.

The project began three years ago when Davis — a veteran of Fire Town — and bass player Joel Tappero — Spooner — started working on some of Davis’ new songs. Tappero mentioned it to longtime proprietor of the MadCity Music Exchange and multi-instrumentalist Dave Benton of The Rousers and Spooner. Benton, liking the idea of working on original material, signed onto the project.

“The three of us were the nucleus,” Davis says, and in fall 2019, wanting a keyboardist, they added Don Irwin (The Rousers).

Davis had their name ready.

“The first time I heard the term ‘ghost particles,’ I thought it would be a cool band name,” Davis says. “But I didn’t have a band.”

The phrase refers to high-energy neutrinos discovered by the IceCube Neutrino Observatory in Antarctica, a scientific collaboration led by the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

“It’s hard to come up with new band names,” Davis says. Nobody had used [the ghost particles]. The metaphor works. You can’t see ghost particles, but they do have mass. They move through you. I thought, ‘That’s a lot like music.’ You can’t see or touch music. But it moves through you and can be a powerful thing.”

The launch of the ghost particles was delayed — but not derailed — by the pandemic. In person group recordings and rehearsals were tabled. Instead, the musicians played the tracks individually in their home studios, downloaded the files, and sent them to Tappero’s son, Jeremy Tappero, to be mixed in Minneapolis.

“Jeremy has a lot of talents,” Davis says. “He drums. So he took the songs, played live drums, and then mixed them. They came back sounding great.” The band has since added a local drummer, Lee Laski (Rousers).

A decade ago, Davis had a similarly successful digital recording experience with a band called The Emperors of Wyoming. The band members — Davis, his old Buzz Gunderson mates Frank and Peter Anderson, and Butch Vig — all lived in separate cities.

Vig, of course, had already achieved wide fame both as a musician with Garbage (having earlier played with Spooner and Fire Town), and a producer, where his work included Nirvana’s seminal album, “Nevermind.” Vig’s Smart Studios — established in Madison with Steve Marker in 1983 — was the hub for many of the collaborations and friendships noted here earlier. Vig cowrote, with Davis, “The Darkest Hour,” a song on the ghost particles CD.

Benton says Davis’ songwriting continued even as work on the album progressed.

“Through the year he seemed very inspired and prolific and kept sending us great new songs to work on,” he says. “It was inspiring to me as well.”

Davis, who has done freelance journalism for Isthmus over the years and worked in various communications jobs, says he never stopped writing songs — even while taking a 17-year break from music between Fire Town and Emperors to raise his family.

He says now, “People might wonder, ‘Why are these old guys still doing it?’ If you read through the lyrics and listen to the music, I think we have something to say. And we’re talking about things we wouldn’t have been talking about when we were 30.”

There is, of course, another reason to keep at it.

“At one point,” Benton says, “Phil and I were talking, and Phil said, ‘You know, this is the most fun recording project I’ve ever been involved in.’ I thought about it, and I agreed with him. This was a really fun project.”

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