All photos by Alyssa Lesser.
If you’ve read any of my October interviews, you’ll see a string of failed attempts at creating my own version of BIO’s Celebrity Ghost Stories; a lot of the artists agreed to participate in one, but when game time rolled around, they admitted they didn’t actually have a ghost story of their own to share. Which was fine, but it just made this in-person interview with Django Django all the better; turns out I was just barking up the wrong continent, because Vinnie (Ireland) and Tommy (Scotland) had LOADS of paranormal stories to tell me during our chat. I’d initially intended for this to be half ghost stories, half musical discussion, but at the fifteen minute mark when I asked if they’d like to get into some tune talk, they both agreed that they’d prefer to keep it weird. (I fist-pumped internally for the rest of the discussion.) So here are Vinnie and Tommy (and Dave, briefly) on ghosts, fairy rings, banshees and baby monitors:
Megan: So do either of you have a ghost story? It’s cool if you don’t, but…
Vinnie: I have ghost stories which are kind of from me, and some second-hand knowledge. It feels like we should turn of the lights and get a candle!
M: I know, I should’ve brought a flashlight!
V: I lived in like, rural Ireland, and there was this really creepy house near me, which had this really strange man and his kids and his wife. The kids were never allowed to come out and play with us, and they’d always kind of touch the curtains when we’d walk past. One time I kicked their bins over when I was younger, and the guy came out and grabbed me. My mom kind of gave out to him for grabbing me; I was about seven or eight. I was being a little shit, but yeah. And then my grandad arrived down, and he lived in that area about thirty or forty years before. My mom said what had happened, and he was really defensive of me, and then he saw the house, and he was just like, “That house is totally fuckin’ evil.” And I was like, “What do you mean?” He was in construction, and they were in the house doing refurbishments or something like that, but when they were refurbishing the house, his mate basically just started screaming upstairs. He ran up the stairs, and his mate was just held against the wall with his feet off the ground, and he pulled his mate off the wall, and basically they just ran, left all their tools and ran down the street. And they never went back for their tools, quit the job. So after I heard that, I was like, “I’m never going near that place again!”
M: Whoa! So where in Ireland did you grow up, then?
V: Donegal, Derry.
M: I’ve been to Donegal! When I was five, though.
V: Yeah, I mean, it’s a really superstitious area around there; there’s lots of fairy rings, and you’re not meant to…
Tommy: What’s a fairy ring?
V: It would’ve been an old fort, like a circular fort that a family would’ve lived in. Like the trees would’ve grown in the middle, but then at the end of the big hole, there’d be a fairy ring. And nobody would go in there; like, no farmer would go in there to cut down the trees. And then, you know, when there’s a funeral we still do wakes, and they cover the mirrors with a piece of cloth because you think you’re going to see the dead.
Alyssa: That’s so funny, because you do that in Judaism, too.
A: Yeah, whenever someone dies you cover all the mirrors in the house.
V: Yeah, and you pull all the curtains and you cover all the mirrors. But the thing was, people would drink pouteen, which is home-brewed, but sometimes they’d have lead pipes and get lead poisoning, and you’d start hallucinating and seeing stuff all over the place. And you’d stay up for like, three days taking snuff, which was like this panel that they’d put over the dead; everybody was addicted to snuff, because it was like the cocaine, effectively, of its day. So yeah, they would just set it on the breast of the person, and then everybody would watch to see if it moved. And then you’ve got banshees, which means “wailing woman,”…
M: Oh I know ALL about banshees. My mom went through a weird Irish nationalism phase when we were younger, even though we’re like, fourth generation, and so we were always watching things like The Secret of Roan Inish and Darby O’fucking Gill.
V: Yeah, well the wailing woman thing came from…you know, again, no one knew how to do a proper, “This person’s dead.” So they would just kind of lie out, and the wailing was to try and get them to come alive again, just in case you were in a coma. So they would scream in your ear for a few days. (laughs)
M: Well yeah, because there was even stuff like that here, where you’d be buried with like, a horn or bells in case you came back to life underground. That’d be pretty terrifying for all parties involved.
V: Yeah, or there was another thing where they’d bite the toe. The undertaker is called the toe-biter, because the last thing you do before you bury them is this kind of reflexology…
T: Oh, it’s like the sailors and the last final stitch through the nose. I actually saw that movie (Master and Commander) with my girlfriend and her granny and grandad, and her granny got seasick! (laughs)
V: There’s this weird thing in London called The Last Tuesday Society, and it’s kind of this freak show basement. And I went down there, and there’s this guy who’s really strange looking, kind of like, a really demented-looking transvestite, and she’s saying, “Roll up, roll up! See the amazing haunted dog!” And we just…we had to see it, and it was just like, a stuffed dog that’s apparently haunted. It’s not a very good one, that story.
A: They have a lot of stuff like that in Coney Island. Have you guys ever been to Coney Island?
T: Yeah, we were there just a couple weeks before the Twin Towers came down, and there was some weird shit over there. Like, much weirder than…we went back recently, and there wasn’t nearly the amount of freaks as the first time. But there was this thing that said, “Come see the amazing thirteen-inch woman!” And so we said, “Alright, we’ve got to see this.” And so we paid and we went round to the booth, and she wasn’t thirteen inches, she was just sort of a regular person. But she was just sitting there kind of watching telly and eating crisps, and it was really sad. I felt really badly doing it. But Edinburgh’s got a whole industry of haunted stories; there’s so many.
V: Yeah, Edinburgh’s really odd. Loads of grim tales.
T: Deacon Brodie, he was the rich guy that…
V: Was he Jekyll and Hyde?
T: No, he was Deacon Brodie. Because Jekyll and Hyde…
V: …was based on…
T: No, no, no. Deacon Brodie was just Deacon Brodie. Deacon Brodie got sent to be hung, and he wore a steel collar, got hung and got away with the hanging and was stashed away, which was brilliant. But Jekyll and Hyde was just a story written by Robert Louis Stevenson.
V: But based on…
T: Burke and Hare?
V: But not based on Deacon Brodie? Because Deacon Brodie…
T: Well, okay, fair enough. But Burke and Hare, they were like grave robbers; Edinburgh University was the best medical university in the world, but they needed fresh dead bodies to practice on, basically, and there was an illegal trade of doctors paying people to go and dig up fresh graves so they could have a relatively fresh corpse to work on.
V: So Burke and Hare just went straight to the source and started murdering people, going, “This woman just clocked out fifteen minutes ago!”
T: Yeah, they’d get more money the fresher it was. So there’s dark things like that, and then things like this catacombs underneath North Bridge; originally, Edinburgh was walled up and really small. It had a big city wall and you’d have to stay within the city limits. But basically there was a plague, and people were brought out and put in these closes, and boarded up and basically just left to slowly die. And now you can go back there and they do ghost tours and stuff, but I worked at one of these places in the dungeon as the photographer at the door. But it was more like Disney horror, so, you know, someone would come up behind you and jump out. It wasn’t like a haunted site at all, it was just a new building.
V: Do you know Westlife? The band?
V: They took Westlife down to that close, and one of the guys started dry retching on camera, and then it cuts away to this guy who’s like, a professor, and he says something like, “Yes, he’s displaying a clear dislike for this place.” And then it cuts back to the guy dry retching because he was so scared, all on national television. Dave our drummer had a really good story where he dreamed that there was this person there in the room with him…
T: Yeah, Dave’s got a shitload of stories…
V: Yeah, so it was the night terrors, and then he woke up and the light bulb popped out of the lamp and fell down. Like he’d gone for the lamp and the bulb just popped out onto the table. But he thinks that room’s got some…
T: This is good. Here, take a photo of this. There’s a place in Berlin called Berliner Gruselkabinett, and it’s a really good museum, but it’s got this feature where you go around and then the guy that runs the place sort of wears a cloak and jumps out at you. It’s excellent. If you ever go to Berlin, you should check out the Berliner Gruselkabinett.
V: Growing up we used to have to go to Mass every Sunday, and we would find new and elaborate ways of escaping and going off on rampages around Derry…
M: Well of course! No kid wants to be stuck in Mass!
V: Yeah! So we went to this old kind of mental infirmary, and we went down all the halls, and it was all dripping and creepy and mattresses everywhere, and then this old woman was in the infirmary, just like, by herself, completely derelict. And she said to us, “Do you believe in god?” and we were like, “No,” and she was like, “Well if you don’t believe in god then you believe in the devil!” (Vinny makes a creepy BLAHHHHH sound here.) And we were screaming, and we fucking ran out; it was like a really dark infirmary, and we just ran out and went straight back to Mass.
M: That’s a pretty good way to get you to go to church!
V: Yeah, the priest probably hired his wife to do that! Or, not his wife, obviously…his mistress! (laughs)
Dave walks in…
M: Dave, I hear you might have some ghost stories for us!
V: Yeah, we told your light bulb one!
Dave: Yeah, that’s my only ghost story!
M: Well, it’s a pretty good one…
D: I used to make my friends go on ghost hunts when I was young, and then as I got older I’d make them get drunk and do Ouija boards.
M: Yeah, we actually recently interviewed real ghost hunters around here, and I asked them, “Are there any rules…like, you know, you shouldn’t run from a bear, so are there any ghost survival rules we should know about? Like, don’t run from the ghost?” So the guy said, “Well, don’t use Ouija boards. You know, don’t invite anything in.” So you broke rule number one!
D: Yeah, that and don’t offer them Twinkie bars!
M: Right. Tie up all your snack foods. Do not feed the ghosts.
V: My dad’s an architect, and I worked with him for a while, and he’d send me off to measure these sort of derelict houses and stuff. So I went to this house one time, and I had to start on the ground floor; it was a Georgian four-five story kind of thing. I got to the top floor and I just freaked out; I just kept looking all around me all the time, measuring really fast, scribbling it all down. So then when I got back to the office, I was like, “Dad, this place is fucking weird.” So he says, “Oh, I forgot to tell you…what floor was it that you were feeling weird on?” So I said, “The top floor,” and he was just like, “Well, six months ago there were students living in there, and the top floor student hung himself off the back. You know the metal stairs? He hung himself off there, and no one could see him so he was there for about three or four days. And then someone finally saw him from miles away.” And I was like, “You sent me to a fucking house where a guy fucking hung himself?!” And then I got started drawing it all up, and all the measurements were wrong since I’d done them so fast. So he said, “I need the measurements by today. You have to go back.” And so I had to go back to the house with that knowledge. It was terrifying.
M: That’s the worst. Like, for me, even being in a recently deceased relative’s home makes me uneasy. It was funny, because I recently went back to Baltimore to visit my sister, and she’s got a two-year-old. So in the baby monitor, you can see she’s talking to the ceiling or whatever. I mean, I’m sure it’s not a ghost or anything, but it’s still really creepy, and I was joking that it was probably our grandma hanging around. My sister didn’t like that.
T: Well you can get those visual baby monitors now, have you seen them?
M: Yeah! See, that’s what they have, so not only is the baby babbling into space, but she’s also got these crazy-looking green eyes at night!
T: Well, yeah, because the baby opens its eyes, looks right down the camera, and then maybe you see something inside the room. You know? It’s like, asking for…
M: No, totally! And then sometimes the houses swap monitor signals…I mean, I would just rather risk it than have a terrifying baby monitor system. Like, they got by in the fifties without baby monitors, so I’m sure it’s fine.
V: We went to this friend’s house in the countryside, and they had a baby there, so we said we’d all stay at the house rather than go out. And then I said, “Wait a minute, there’s a pub across there…the baby monitor might stretch!” So we left the baby at the house and we took the baby monitor to the pub, and it totally worked fine! As soon as she cried, you know, the dad just up and ran off to the house to feed her or whatever and then came back across. And then people would come in and see this baby monitor sitting there…
M: That’s amazing. Well, any final words for the people of America and/or the universe?
V: You need more blenders and more blender infomercials.
T: You need better tea.
And more ghosts, apparently. THE END.