Michael Harrison Berg of Van Ghost was a musician in high school, but as an adult swapped his onstage pursuits for backstage ones. For over 10 years the Chicagoan has been managing bands and promoting concerts like the North Coast Music Fest and Chicago Bluegrass and Blues Fest rather than making music. But when a band he poured time and money into imploded, he sought solace in songwriting and awoke the musician within.
In mid-July, Van Ghost will release The Domino Effect (Dustimmoff Music), a focused pop-rock album with smart hooks, cocksure classic rock swagger, and refreshingly optimistic lyrics. In addition to singer-songwriter/guitarist / founder Michael Harris Berg, Van Ghost features the talents of decade-plus Trey Anastasio Band vocalist Jennifer Hartswick, who has shared the stage with Herbie Hancock, the Rolling Stones, Dave Matthews Band, among others. The sympathetic interplay between her silk and sandpaper vocals intertwining with Berg’s folksy emotive lead vocals has become a staple of Van Ghosts sound, garnering favorable comparisons to CSNY (Flavorpill). The band also features the telepathic interplay of guitarist Grant Tye, drummer Greg Marsh, and Klem Hayes. The Chicago Tribune has described Van Ghost as, “an ultra-melodic take on epic ’70s rock — augmenting the group’s smooth vocal harmonies with blissed-out guitar solos.”
The Domino Effect is produced by Justin Niebank, a GRAMMY-award-winning producer who has worked with Eric Clapton, Bon Jovi, Blue Traveler, and a veritable who’s who of contemporary Nashville chart toppers. Niebank’s sterling production aesthetic streamlined Van Ghost’s innate pop sensibilities while preserving its classic rock patina.
Album standouts are the euphorically uplifting title-track “The Domino Effect” and the empowering soulful pop of “Cage.” Van Ghost is currently prepping videos for both songs with Ian Gelfand (director of the TV series “American Pickers”), and ‘Cage’ is currently in the Top 100 at Triple A Radio. The track bursts with Berg’s unflinchingly positive message: Cause the door door door it’s wide wide wide/ it’s open like a long midnight/and lock lock lock is broken like my brain/and there ain’t no bars in front of my face/arms wide open, magical place/let me out of this, let me out of this cage/let me out of this. These uptempo tracks contrast with the shimmering Hartswick-penned ballad “Drowning”’ and the haunting beauty of “White Lies,” a cosmic slice of Pink Floyd-transcendence with teardrop guitar solos.
Van Ghost built an impressive local profile through a tireless work ethic and the broad appeal of their infectious hooks and burly musicianship. They’ve amassed a devoted local following opening for diverse artists like Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zero’s, Drive By Truckers, Grace Potter, Big Head Todd and the Monsters, John Oates, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and Tim Reynolds.
“I didn’t plan my future,” Berg says of the surprise turn his music business career has taken after those initial private and therapeutic songwriting sessions. “I found inspiration in writing a song and I took that inspiration and multiplied it. I found I could deal with demons through music.” Berg has found that he is as comfortable operating under the spotlight as he is behind the curtain. With Van Ghost, he sets out to inspire music fans the same way other artists have inspired him – one song at a time.