When Handsome Ghost singer-guitarist Tim Noyes taught high school English classes for three years a Bronx high school, he made sure he didn’t exploit the fact that he had a built-in audience for his folk tunes.
“I brought the guitar in once or twice,” says Noyes via phone from New York where his hip indie rock band was rehearsing for a short tour that includes a stop at the Beachland on Dec. 16. “I tried not to be the teacher with the guitar. I had a teacher when I was in high school who was always playing guitar, and I tried not to be that guy. I don’t think the students really knew that I was pretty serious about it. I still get notes from students who follow along on Facebook. They were nice about it. They were kind to me.”
A Boston native, Noyes says he was a “late bloomer” who picked up the guitar in high school but struggled to play it well.
“When I went to college, [guitar] finally made sense to me,” he says. “ I started writing as soon as I could play four chords. That would have been my freshman year of college. I was 18. It came natural and was more fun than learning covers.
Last year, Noyes released “Blood Stutter,” one of the band’s first demos, and the delicate, Death Cab for Cutie-inspired indie rock tune that features falsetto vocals instantly racked up over 7 million streams on Spotify.
“That was the first one I wrote for this band,” Noyes says of “Blood Stutter.” “I wrote it before we were a band. It shaped our sound a little bit. It’s about an old significant other. She was getting married and it’s kind of like a don’t-get-married plea. It was a good one. I wrote it with the acoustic guitar and then on the laptop. It made me realize how much I wanted to shift direction and do this type of music moving forward. Lyrically, it’s really important too.”
And what was his reaction when it went viral?
“I was completely shocked,” he says. “I had literally no expectation one way or another. When it started to creep up there on Spotify, I thought it would stop at some point. That was a huge surprise. It really got us started, and we realized we had something unique, and people were connecting with it. I was working with a manager at the time, and we just put it out there. We did sign [to a record label] shortly thereafter. At first, it just took off on its own.”
Earlier this year, the band released its new EP The Brilliant Glow
, a collection of shimmering indie pop tunes. It supported the album with a successful two-month tour as the main support for Melanie Martinez. The album’s brisk opening track, “Graduate,” immediately sounds more upbeat and suggests the band has embraced a more vibrant mix of organic and electronic instrumentation.
“Yeah. I think sonically, we were trying to push it a little bigger and make it a little harder hitting,” Noyes says of the new EP. “It was the first time I worked with anyone collaboratively. It was a unique experience to open yourself up to critiques and new ideas. I sat down with a couple of different producers. I honestly wasn’t into it at first, but I’m really proud and the collaborations were helpful and pushed me to be better and take more risks. I’m really happy with how it came out. I don’t know what I want to do moving forward. I might want to strip things down.”
He says even “Graduate” still has a “dark element.”
“I can’t help but write dark songs no matter what,” he says. “But you can’t just write slow, sad songs forever.”
He says he wrote “Promises,” an anthem with cooing vocals, about his struggles to keep in touch with old friends in the wake of his success as an indie artist.
“That’s directed toward a lot of people,” he says of the tune. “I’m sure you can imagine to whom, but once this got started, I wasn’t doing a good job of keeping in touch and staying level. I got tunnel vision for the band and trying to grow this project and I let relationships slip. [The song is] about reconnecting and remembering that I am a human being with responsibilities and relationships beyond touring and writing songs. Those are important too. You can’t just give up on everyone who cares about you. I’m trying to be better. It’s my pledge. I am getting better — one step at a time.”
With its percolating synths and tender vocals, “Didn’t I Fade” works as a terrific album closer. Nyoyes says he always intended it to be a final song.
“I had written it long before those other songs,” he says. “I always wanted it to be the last song on something. I randomly listened to it about a month before we wrapped up the EP. I realized it had to go on it. It still resonates with me. I like the mood it sets, and I think it fits as the last song for sure.”
Given that Handsome Ghost has only released a pair of EPs, does Noyes think he’s capable of putting out a full-length?
“We’re going to release our full-length early next year,” he says. “I have the songs, and I feel really good about them. We’re exploring how to progress our sound in a way that is true to what we’re doing but also unique. There are so many bands in our world. It’s trial and error to find something that speaks to us. The songs are written, and we’re on schedule. I always wanted to do a full-length. I feel it will be a huge step forward for us.”
Handsome Ghost, Yoke Lore, Polars, 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 16, Beachland Tavern, 15711 Waterloo Rd., 216-383-1124. Tickets: $13 ADV, $15 DOS, beachlandballroom.com.