By Bob McMahon
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Here is how the Ghoul School theme song begins: thirty seconds of cowbell, drum machine and several 8-bit keyboard lines followed by the lyrics, "I've got one more test to pass, I'm not giving up. Girl, I'm never coming back, no way I can flunk. Something is awry here, it's in the blood on the walls. Girl, I gotta get out of here, are there ghouls in the halls?" And then the chorus, "You're in a ghoul school." Repeat.
Ghoul School is a short film made by Springfield's Brook Linder. He raised more than $4,000 earlier this year to make the twenty-minute thrill ride set in a lethally haunted high school some 30 years ago. Completist fans of perfectly imperfect pop band Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin may recognize his name — he's also responsible for the band's videos for "Let It Sway" and "Critical Drain." So when he went looking for someone to write the theme song for his movie, he was at a distinct advantage. SSLYBY's Phil Dickey cranked out the track, and he and Linder had so much fun doing it they decided to just start a band. They recruited Phil's sister Roni, dubbed themselves Dragon Inn 3 and recorded an EP, which came out digitally and on cassette tape last week.
Lately, there has been no shortage of homage to the synths, bubblegum and general bombast of the '80s — recent releases from Destroyer and Gayngs spring to mind. But neither of those bands had balls nor the devotion to go so far as to record a cover of "Danger Zone." Dragon Inn 3 has both — the Top Gun song wraps up the Ghoul School EP. What is remarkable about this band is the way it manages to find the heart beating under that thick layer of cheese. Linder and the Dickey siblings feel a deep connection to the culture of the '80s, and it isn't just emotional — there is a fortuitous actual connection as well: Tom Whitlock, the man who wrote the lyrics to "Take My Breath Away," is a Springfield native.
"Sometimes being in the same place as him feels really good," says Linder.
He and Phil took a break from their jobs working at (where else?) a Springfield movie theater to talk to us about recording in a van and chasing a very specific movie moment.
Kiernan Maletsky: How did Dragon Inn 3 start?
Brook Linder: It was exactly a year ago this week. Boris Yeltsin was on tour, and I tagged along. I was super bummed out — my girlfriend just broke up with me. I went along in the van, and I told them about how I was trying to make this '80s movie. All the best movies have theme songs. So Philip started making this dope keyboard theme song.
BL: We recorded everything in the van. We realized we could do it anywhere.
PD: In fact, on "Ghoul School," on the chorus, if you listen really carefully in headphones you might be able to hear highway noises.
Was the whole thing recorded in the van?
BL: At one point we left the van and didn't go back. And then it became Phil's living room.
PD: About half of it was recorded with a decent microphone, and then half of it was recorded with the computer microphone on the first take.
How did your sister wind up in Dragon Inn 3 as well?
PD: I kind of recruited her to be in the band. I figured she could write all our good songs. She's way better at music than both of us. She can actually play the piano and guitar and all that stuff. We needed someone who could really play. Plus, we were in a band together when we were in second and fifth grade. We had this psychic connection.
What were you called?
PD: The Funky Monkeys.
BL: Terrible band name.
You said you're working on an LP as well?
PD: There are five or six more songs that we're still working on. When those are finished we can combine them with some of the songs on the EP and have a full-length. Early next year or something.
Do you think you'll try and find a label or self-release it?
BL: We're looking at the majors.
PD: Straight to Warner Bros. or Virgin...I don't even know what big record labels are anymore. I say that half laughing, but I'm kind of serious too.
Are there plans to tour or play live shows at all?
BL: Yeah. We need, like, twenty members to play all the keyboard parts. Right now we're just worried about getting the songs finished. But yes, eventually.
It seems like this might have started sort of as a joke, but it's definitely not now. When did that change?
BL: The whole theme song thing is kind of silly, but this is the kind of music that we like. I think we're pretty sincere about making really fun-sounding songs. It's a little silly.