As the crisp autumn winds begin to blow once more, the giddiness ahead of Halloween is becoming palpable. Who better to usher in the season of excessive candy consumption and spooky stories than Dani Shivers, the Mexican singer-songwriter who has been delighting fans with eerie Casio-driven fantasies of ghosts and witches for the better part of a decade. Tijuana’s queen of goth just unveiled Half-Ghost, a brand new album completing her epic trilogy of horror, which follows a series of supernatural encounters into the unknown depths of the afterlife.
Dani Shivers is the brainchild of You Schaffner, a prolific Tijuana artist who created an alter ego as a means of telling fantastical stories unbound by genre or the more mundane aspects of her personal life. Known for her work as Dani Shivers and as a founding member of lo-fi post-punk trio Ibi Ego, Schaffner has become a beloved cult figure of Mexico’s goth underground. Her raw and irreverent debut – 2012’s Jinx – was loaded with electroclash-flavored bangers such as “Up!” and “Vampire,” while her 2015 follow-up Syzygy took a moodier turn, more intent on creating tense and unsettling atmospheres. Half Ghost is the final piece of the puzzle, wrapping the immersive three-album story arc in unexpectedly metaphysical ways.
Speaking with Remezcla over the phone, Schaffner says that while the music is open to interpretation, she had a pretty clear vision of how the story would flow from the onset. “Jinx was the first chapter,” she explains, “and it chronicles Dani Shivers’ adventures with an array of supernatural characters that include witches and vampires. The album closes with a song called “The End,” as if the character has died, and is later followed by Syzygy, which means ‘being in between worlds.’ The idea was to leave things unresolved, unclear whether she was here or there. Now, Half Ghost is about reaching a higher plane, when Dani is already in the beyond, which is why many of the songs were made with synthesizers that give the album a spacey feeling.”
Early Dani Shivers releases are characterized by Schaffner’s use of musical toys and vintage Casio synths, which set her apart from other DIY contemporaries with a creepy and cacophonous signature sound. In the case of Half Ghost, much of the recording process took place in 2015 while Schaffner attended the Red Bull Music Academy in Montreal, granting her access to top of the line studio equipment. The album’s gauzy production draws from the concept of ether, the philosophical essence of the universe as an intangible yet all encompassing substance. Tracks “Young and Beautiful” and “Love Is A Vampire” are built on a sense of drifting – the latter embracing quiet oblivion as Shivers repeatedly chants “I’m not afraid.”
In a way, the existential impermanence of Half Ghost is a metaphor for Schaffner’s own life around the time it was conceived, as she bounced between Tijuana, Mexico City, Mexicali and Los Angeles over the course of a few short years. Even in a track like “Ghost In You,” which can easily be enjoyed as a straightforward heartbreak ballad, the opening lyric “My heart is all open / it is all over” can be read as an artist frustrated with a scattered, rootless existence.
“I’m attracted to stories that don’t follow traditional song structures,” reflects Schaffner. “I feel like songs are a medium to project my influences, which in many cases come from cinema.”
Horror films were a fixture of Schaffner’s upbringing, citing Carlos Enrique Taboada’s “Hasta El Viento Tiene Miedo” and “Más Negro Que La Noche,” works by French director Jean Rollin and other classics of 1960s and 1970s cinema as favorites within her family. In fact, Schaffner attended film school when she was 21, and has directed most of her music videos – all of which carry distinct influences from the horror genre ranging from costuming to found-footage style cinematography. Her video for recent single “Enfermos Mentales” even splices together grainy shots of Dani Shivers at home with clips of Dario Argento’s 1985 film “Phenomena.”
Released via French imprint Cranes Records and mixed by Marin Esteban, Half Ghost will receive a limited edition vinyl pressing that includes a holographic mirror installation attached to the center of the record. According to Schaffner, while the album closes a long-running narrative trilogy, it will also be her final English album. “About a year ago, I wasn’t sure what would come next,” she says. “I thought this would be the last Dani Shivers record all together, but I started writing a lot of songs in Spanish and even released an EP called Una Secta Basada En Tí. Actually, I’m already working on a sequel called Hereje.”
Much of this new material is already available on Bandcamp, the main platform on which Schaffner distributes her music, and she describes this era of Dani Shivers as one that will be anchored in self-sufficiency. One of the clearest examples is “JJ76,” her favorite track off Half Ghost, which was written, performed and produced entirely by her. At this point, creative control is the name of the game for Schaffner and as she sums up, “I think from here on out it’ll be just me.”
Half Ghost is available now on Bandcamp.