When I visit Pete Kostrivas, the man behind a little-known local music project called Wealthy Ghost, he is laid up at home, resting after minor surgery to repair a hernia he got from shoveling last winter. He invites me in, offers me coffee and we sit in his studio: a small, bright room in the corner of the house, just big enough for a desk, a keyboard, a few guitars and a bookshelf. On his Bandcamp, this room is credited as the Sun Parlour, and it’s where Kostrivas wrote and recorded Good Luck, his enigmatic first album as Wealthy Ghost.
Kostrivas is 27, works in sterile processing (he sterilized the very instruments used in his surgery) and has been playing and writing music for years. When his band Sharking Hour broke up two years ago, Kostrivas continued to make music alone. He wrote and recorded Good Luck over a six-month period, in and out of relationships, entering a new chapter in his life. He chose the album title – those familiar parting words – to represent the transition.
Good Luck is a sparse, humid collection of bedroom pop made with soft keyboards, clean guitar and the occasional programmed drumbeat. The lyrics, which emerge from the songs as if through a fog, feel deeply personal without being the least bit transparent. Strands of bare truth like “when you’re not around I act like I don’t care/but nothing’s as good” are as prevalent as head-scratchers like “don’t worry about a snake bite/cuz I’ll turn off the overhead light.” It’s as intimate and mysterious as listening to a stranger’s anonymous confessions through a screen. It leaves you wanting to know more.
Though he admits it’s a personal record, Kostrivas won’t say much about the stories behind his songs. He has the listener’s best interest in mind. “It can mean so much more, and someone can attach themselves and relate to it more, if they’re not thinking, ‘No, I can’t relate to this because it’s actually about this,’’’ he says. “If they know what it was written about, it could ruin their own interpretation.” Thus, he has nothing to offer regarding the titular vehicle that keeps appearing in “White Cars,” or the missing keys in “Good Luck.” His lyrics are open to interpretation. He wants the listener to be able to relate. “I try to keep it broad,” Kostrivas says. “There’s been times in earlier drafts where they were probably a bit more specific, and then I pick up the pen and cross stuff off, because I don’t want it to be like that.”
While many of the songs seem to be about relationships, they also represent a checklist of everyday anxieties: money, employment and living as a musician. “Moving To Make It” opens with the biting “I think you’re not from Brooklyn/I think you’re from Brookfield, Wisconsin,” frustrated by the inescapable talk of “music scenes.” “There is gonna be great music from New York,” he says, “but there could be the best artist in the world from the stupidest, uncool town.” With its understated cool and slick production, Good Luck sounds more Brooklyn than Brookfield. But Kostrivas says he has never considered moving anywhere for the sake of his music, which is good. We like him right here.
Wealthy Ghost will give its first live performance on 91.7 WMSE Tuesday, July 9 at 8 p.m. Good Luck is available as a pay-what-you-want download on Bandcamp.