Get ready, Carrboro- this is Dave Hedeman as you’ve never heard him before. With his new band, The Gone Ghosts, Hedeman returns to his alt-country roots with deeply personal lyrics inspired by love and loss.
A veteran of the Southeastern music scene, Hedeman has been establishing favorite regional acts since the ’90s. From the formation of Arlington’s PuddleDuck in his college years, to rock outfit The Vagabond Union in Charleston, now Hedeman brings his take on alt-country to Carrboro with The Gone Ghosts.
In addition to being Hedeman’s return to Americana-influenced rock after playing straight rock ‘n roll with The Vagabond Union, this foray with The Gone Ghosts marks Hedeman’s most intimate lyrics to date. On the band’s first EP, Hedeman draws on his own experience, exploring failed romance and his father’s death. The EP is a raw, achingly beautiful testament to a musical life.
The Gone Ghosts herald the release of their self-titled debut at Cat’s Cradle Back Room on Friday, March 15th. You can find tickets here.
I caught up with Dave Hedeman on his musical origin story, his favorite track on the new EP, and how his experiences in the Southeastern music scene have shaped his sound.
What is your origin story?
I grew up outside Washington, D.C. in a very musical family, mostly on my mother’s side. Everyone played something. My grandfather played violin in his college symphony in Germany before immigrating to America before WWII. My mother and my aunt both played piano growing up, and between my brother, sister, my uncle and two cousins, they all played a variety of instruments ranging from piano, to clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, flute and, oh yeah, everyone played in the bell choir at church, which my aunt directed.
Then there was me. I played the drums. I started in fourth grade playing in the school band, and continued playing in some form through high school. Around that time, my brother got this autographed electric guitar from Van Halen that he won in a radio contest my sister signed him up for. He used to keep it under his bed tucked away. It wasn’t to be touched under the penalty of bodily harm. I’ve never really been one to follow rules, so when he left I would sneak it out of the case and pretend to play. Little by little I would try to figure out songs or melodies. I’m pretty sure I was more productive at smearing some of the autographs. But there was something about the guitar that kept drawing me to it.
When I went to college I had a friend who let me borrow his guitar and I spent a year and a half teaching myself how to play. Then in the spring of 1994, I started my first band, PuddleDuck, and the rest is history.
I’ve been playing music and making records now for twenty-five years. It’s just something I’ll always do, and there really is nothing I love more.
What inspired you to become a musician?
Even from a young age I remember pretending to be a rock star. One of my earliest memories was getting busted by my sister, lip syncing Rod Stewart’s “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy.” I was in the mirror really going for it and she barged in the room and started laughing at me. But it didn’t stop me.
I think though, looking back, it was my older brother that really opened me up to music. He was six years older and he had the line on all the best stuff. Bands like AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Van Halen, Motley Crue, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Grateful Dead. All sorts of great stuff. I had the posters of all those bands all over my walls growing up and I would imagine being in those bands all the time.
But the real turning point for me was right after my father died. I was eighteen and my whole life was ahead of me. I made a promise to myself that I was gonna go after my dream… hell or high water. I’m so glad I did. I’ve had so many amazing musical experiences over the years and enough memories to last a lifetime.
You founded The Gone Ghosts out of the need to write more intimate lyrics that you didn’t feel fit The Vagabond Union’s rock sound. How did you decide that you needed to form another band to explore those lyrical capabilities?
When my longtime friend John and I started The Vagabond Union, I think we started with the intent to play more of an Americana style of music. I came from a more folk rock, alt-country approach, and John came from a more straight rock and alt-rock background.
As the band evolved, we started to move away from the original intent of the music and more towards the rock side of things. Which is great, because it was really new to me and super exciting. I continue to learn so much from those guys and I love that band. But the fact that everyone is living in different states makes it more of a challenge to play as often as I’d like.
So Dillon (Vagabond’s bass player) and I decided to start a local Carrboro/Chapel Hill band to play all of the songs that I’d written over the years that just didn’t quite fit with The Vagabond Union. I had some really personal songs lyrically that I had written that I really wanted people to hear, but stylistically it just didn’t mesh. So The Gone Ghosts created a platform for me to explore a range of songs closer to my personal writing style.
There are some slower and more ballad-like songs, and some mid-tempo songs with a little more space to explore, and sometimes even improvise and stretch the songs, which brings me back to some of my early musical roots.
What about alt-country and Americana-influenced rock felt more hospitable to personal lyrics?
Well, they say country music is “three chords and the truth.” And I think that’s how I try approach music. Americana and alt-country rock music lends itself to my style of writing. I just try to write songs that share my story and experiences, and then pair them with solid melodies and a good hook.
I wouldn’t say the style is more hospitable to personal lyrics, because I think you can find that across every genre of music. Trust me, if I could play in Iron Maiden I would, but that shit is too hard for me to play. As much as I’d like to shred, I think this style suits me way better.
You’ve been playing up and down the Southeast for much of your musical career- from Richmond, Virginia with Puddleduck, to Charleston, South Carolina with The Vagabond Union, to The Gone Ghosts in Carrboro. How has your time in each place influenced your music?
There is something really special about this little corner of the U.S. The Southeast has influenced everything I’ve ever done musically. When I was first starting out in music, in the mid ’90s, in Virginia we all watched bands like Dave Matthews go from playing dive bars and clubs to becoming huge successes. It opened our eyes to the grassroots approach. Love them or hate them, they provided a lot of bands with a roadmap on how to go about all of it.
Charleston is going through a huge live music rebirth right now. That place is going off. It’s such a great community of musicians who all support each other from the top down. Bands like Shovels & Rope and Band of Horses are involved and care about the scene. They’re leading the way for up-and-comers like SUSTO, the Artisanals and tons of other amazing artists. But even better, the community is super supportive. People there go out to see live music all the time and everyone supports everyone. It’s really like nothing I’ve ever seen. I imagine it’s much like how Chapel Hill was in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
Which brings me to Carrboro. There is such a rich history here, you can’t help but be inspired. Although I’m not from here originally, I’m so proud to call Carrboro my home now. There is a special place in my heart here forever, because it was the amazing community of local musicians that encouraged me and gave me the confidence to get back into making music again. I can’t thank them enough.
There are so many amazingly talented people I’ve met here. That’s why it was really important for me to do everything locally with The Gone Ghosts. I wanted to record locally.
I want us to focus on playing locally for the most part, because I really want us to establish a strong connection with the place I call home now. I want to support the local music community, local clubs, local music stores because I think it’s important. I love it so much here and am thankful to live in a place like this.
What Southeastern musical traditions have you absorbed, and how do they influence the sound of Dave Hedeman & The Gone Ghosts?
That’s a tough question. I think I’m still learning about the musical traditions here. Coming in as an outsider, I recognize the strong connection this area has to its traditional music, like bluegrass and folk. You can see and hear its influence everywhere. It’s what makes this part of the world special.
I think for me it influences my songwriting. In many ways my songwriting is similar in its approach—I just choose to do it with loud electric guitars. But I imagine, if I were to strip down the songs and use more traditional instrumentation, you would see similarities pretty clearly.
If you had to pick one favorite song off of the new EP, Dave Hedeman & The Gone Ghosts, what would it be and why?
It’s a toss-up. I love love love “Die Here.” I think it really captures the overall sound I’m after. But on a personal level, “It Ain’t Easy” is really special to me. It marks a pivotal time in my life when I was dealing with tremendous loss and pain. Lyrically, I think it’s one of the best songs I’ve written to date.
Performance photos by Adina Davidson. Press photo by Rebecca Mill of Story Photographers.