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Exhuming love

Profile image for By Lucinda Breeding
By Lucinda Breeding

Casket Girls’ album raises ghosts of relationships past

The story of how sisters Phaedra and Elsa Greene wrote the latest Casket Girls album, True Love Kills the Fairy Tale, sounds like something a publicist might cook up if such a thing were allowed.

But it’s God’s honest truth: When Ryan Graveface, the chief songwriter and instrumentalist of the Casket Girls and member of the better-known Black Moth Super Rainbow, dropped in on the pair during the creative process, he said Elsa was sobbing and writing the poetry Phaedra was reciting, trance-like. The next day the Greene sisters dropped off a CD with Graveface and said they weren’t sure what they’d made, and would understand if Graveface scrapped the whole thing.

When he didn’t scrap it, Graveface said that the Greenes had to learn the songs — as if someone else had written them.

“Elsa and I have been practicing and working with an automatic writing technique for a while,” Phaedra said. “We’re kind of into delving into the the subconscious, and we kind of went into a really different writing style when we did that. We do most of it together.”

Phaedra Greene said she and Elsa do sometimes come into the studio or writing session with words from their journals and maybe occasionally from their dreams. But the pair prefers to follow their first instincts. Vocally, True Love sounds like something Best Coast might come up with after a bewitching cabaret performance by 1980s supergroup Bananarama. The Greene sisters have that magical family harmony — the kind born of vowel sounds conditioned by years spent under the same roof.

“When Ryan sends us the songs, we immediately start singing over it together,” Phaedra said. “She has this first instinct that comes out and I sing the first thing that comes out.”

True Love is a moody record. A lulling, dirge-y energy dogs the trio throughout. Phaedra said Graveface sets the mood.

“We respond to the music he gives us,” she said. “He definitely has a pull to the macabre. He’s also a very definitely feeling person. We consider him the third writer in the group, even if he doesn’t look at it that way.”

Graveface said the music is rooted in personal experience.

“This record in particular came out of a breakup with someone who now, comically, plays in the band,” Graveface said. “Most of the songs are musically supposed to be really hopeful. I don’t think anything about the music that way when I’m writing. Or after it’s written, for that matter. It almost never sounds like it does in my head. They somehow make everything sound like it was meant to all along.”

Graveface discovered the Greenes one day as they played “strange songs under a tree” in the trio’s hometown of Savannah, Georgia. One of the sisters was accompanying them on an autoharp.

Graveface and Phaedra said True Love benefits from the training ground that was the band’s tour in support of its first album Sleepwalking, released in 2012.

“We’d never even played live,” Phaedra said. “I think we’re learning. We just finished a double record, and we’ve always had the same formula with Ryan submitting music and us writing it.”

Graveface said True Love reflects a maturing music and production.

“It’s thought out,” Graveface said. “When we first started working on it, it was kind of random — it was just songs that were written for a project that didn’t exist. I don’t listen to it often, now. But as we’ve toured and played together, I can say that True Love is thought out, pleasing, not as lo-fi as Sleepwalking.”