Photo by Sarah Leslie
Over the past few years there’s been an abundance of discourse on the buzzy Spotify-coined term “bubblegrunge,” a catchall term to describe the layering of 21st-century dream pop melodies over heavier guitar-driven arrangements affiliated with post-hardcore, folk, and indie pop. Kississippi, Diet Cig, Bully, illuminati hotties, and Pom Pom Squad are all bands that have been classified under this subgenre.
Joining the ranks is the alternative dream pop duo Tiny Ghosts, whose music blooms with melancholic ruminations on transcending fear and triumph over heartbreak. Their latest single, “Grasp of Me,” brings the duo’s unabashed love of midwest emo to light with emotionally overwrought vocal melodies and descending scales that sync up with hard-hitting snare drums. The lyrics “That day you pulled on my breaks/You never took on the blame,” were inspired by true events where a passenger in lead singer Dayan Marquina’s car pulled on her emergency breaks unprompted. “It scarred me for life, to the point where I had to write about it,” Marquina confessed.
A Grrrl’s Two Sound Cents caught up with Tiny Ghosts to discuss their evolving friendship, learning English via Gwen Stefani records, and how music can bring all of a person’s conflicting thoughts and feelings into balance.
Would you tell us a little about your background as a band?
Dayan Marquina: In the summer of 2015, Eric mentioned the idea of making pop or indie music and asked if I would be interested in maybe doing vocals. I agreed to do it because I always had fun singing. He sent over two songs for me to mess around with and I’ve really loved the process since then. We took a pause for a few years because he had a child and I had moved to New York, but in 2019 we picked right back up and decided to work on music and seriously give it our all, we released those songs in early 2020. It has been such a fun and rewarding experience, especially when you’re creating tunes with your BFF.
Eric Morgan: Back in 2015, I had spent a decade touring in metal bands and was getting more into production work, so it started as a bit of a creative outlet that let me explore pop writing. Dayan sang a few guest spots on songs with one of my other bands, A Hero a Fake. I always liked her voice, so I was excited to try this new project with her. She is incredibly creative and it was very productive from the start. I think both our personalities find satisfaction in taking these little seeds of ideas to a complete body of work.
Dayan, since moving to the U.S. from Peru, how have your music listening habits evolved?
Marquina: I came to the states at the age of 9, it was 1996 and I literally went from ordering my first rock albums (CDs) from the Columbia House mailer catalogs, starting with No Doubt, Green Day, Rammstein, and Beastie Boys. Never understood one bit of any of the lyrics, so it took learning a new language to sing along correctly! I didn’t start really getting into more of the genres I loved until middle school and high school and really appreciated the type of sounds, instruments, and vocals. Of course, I was raised by my parents listening to the good oldies like the Cure, Beatles, David Bowie, etc. I feel like it was definitely a long magical evolution of discoveries just like any other kid. I thank the universe for streaming platforms now making music so accessible. I love discovering new music every day, in any genre. As long as my ears enjoy it, I am happy.
How did the two of you initially meet and what made you click musically?
Marquina: We met through mutual friends in high school. We went to the same AFI show in our hometown, and a lot of kids from our school were there! My first impression of Eric was “that guy looks REALLY cool,” but I was way too shy to approach him at the time. We became acquaintances, but then got really close our senior year because fate would put us in the same business class.
Morgan: A [terribly non-descript] business class in high school. It was one of those classes where the teacher would put the same questions from the practice test on the final. But somehow everyone else in the class kept failing and they’d have to retake — so we had a lot of free time to talk non-stop about music and bands we were into.
How would you describe your sound to a stranger?
Morgan: Dreamy bedroom pop-punk is as close as I can get I think. It’s definitely influenced by what we are into right now, the new breed of alt-pop (Snail Mail, Caroline Polachek, Barrie) and more electronic stuff like CHVRCHES and Lemonade. It’s mostly that mixed with the [punk-leaning/post-hardcore] bands that we connected with in high school, which is where some of the darker tones come from.
I understand that you are heavily inspired by emo/post-hardcore. How does the band build on these influences?
Morgan: Being a guitarist first, I typically approach songwriting on that instrument and I spent so much time learning guitar by playing bands like Further Seems Forever, Strung Out, and Misery Signals. I think those types of sounds naturally just come through even if I’m writing a pop-style song. Those types of chords, progressions, and syncopation styles were a big influence on me.
I also joined the band Brigades a few years ago, and learning to go from writing metal to more vocal-driven post-hardcore was a big influence. Darren Young who sings in that band has become one of my closest friends and he’s such a natural songwriter, so I’ve absorbed a lot of his melodic styles into how I write now.
Marquina: I think emo and post-hardcore scene was big during my teenage and high school years and those are the years where you get heavily influenced. I think it stuck as one of the types of genres I gravitate to, so this explains why I often end up mirroring my vocals similar to a lot of bands I listened to back in the day. My husband usually makes fun of me when I try to sing a Billie Eilish song because I make it sound emo even though I don’t mean to. I never try to sound like anything but myself, but my influences definitely show in the finished product!
How long had you worked on “Grasp of Me” before the release and what has been your most important takeaway away from the song’s evolution?
Morgan: Funny enough, we started this song a few years ago and the first time I showed it to Dayan she thought it was maybe too heavy for where we were at with Tiny Ghosts at the time. So I reworked it for Brigades and we began jamming it until we took a break last year. Dayan listened back to the old demo a few months ago and sent me a message if we could revisit it since we kinda had more guitar-driven stuff on LoveLove that turned out really cool. It was a very last-minute decision to add it to the tracks we took into the studio for our April vocal sessions but we were loving how the song was coming together and wanted to finish it as soon as we could.
Marquina: Originally I thought this song was too heavy for us, but then the more I listened to it and sang along to it and ideas came to me really quick, and that rarely happens. My young self would have absolutely LOVED this song, it is beautifully instrumentally composed and has so much feeling I could not pass this song up.
Who are some of your favorite bands in your peer group/local scene at the moment?
Marquina: I am really enjoying Toebow from Queens NY, Ice Choir from Brooklyn, Family Video from Charlotte NC, and Shadowgraphs from Portland who are good friends of ours! I went to Electronicon a few weeks ago here in Brooklyn and got super inspired. Maybe introducing a little vaporwave-esque to our songs would be awesome.
Morgan: Back in 2019, Brigades toured with Calling All Captains from Edmonton, Canada and their latest release on Equal Vision Records is my favorite new pop-punk record. The Foxies are a great indie-pop band in Nashville — their singer Julia is from Charlotte and her early bands would hop on shows when AHAF came through town. She’s an amazing vocalist and writer — I’ve been waiting for them to pop off and I think it’s actually happening right now!
Oh and one more, Dayan and I saw this Knoxville-based band Temp Job while she was in Charlotte for vocal tracking back in May. The only way I know how to describe them is as a punk-fusion band setup like a ska group with horns. They blew me away…the most entertaining band I’ve seen in a long long time.
What does the rest of the year have in store for Tiny Ghosts?
Morgan: We have a couple of songs that are getting sent in for release later this year. One will not be in English which we’re really stoked on! And we always have a few we are actively writing at any given time so we’re staying busy.
Marquina: I keep bugging Eric for either a Japanese version of a song we have or a new one. So definitely expect something like that, also I would love to do like a soft ballad type of song, I love to experiment. We are definitely working on some new ones and maybe even something visual!
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