Many great bands are defined by their singers. The Doors had Jim Morrison, Blondie has Debbie Harry. A new band from Brooklyn, however, is proving that you don’t need a vocalist to keep an audience engaged. Drummer Ray Mazza, guitarist Ben Curtis, and bassist David Sutkin — collectively, Apollo’s Ghost — let their instruments do the talking. That doesn’t mean 15-minute solos that signal it’s ok to check out (or check your texts). Their instrumentals are melodic, but never self-indulgent. While they haven’t ruled out adding a singer down the road, they’d probably be more likely to hire a glockenspiel shredder first.
CultureSonar: Why the name Apollo’s Ghost?
Ben Curtis: Our rehearsal space is on Apollo Street. It’s a large space and very dark in parts. I was looking across the room at a reflection of myself and got spooked. (He laughs.) So, we started joking about the “Ghost of Apollo Street,” but eventually it stuck.
CS: How did you meet and how did the band come together?
Ray Mazza: Ben and I met years ago through a mutual friend and then I ran into him again at a Shiner concert [in early 2016] and we talked about doing something musically.
BC: Yeah, about a year after that, Ray and I began to rehearse and I thought, “Hmm this could be something.” Then I saw David’s ad on Craigslist. A lot of what he was talking about spoke to me and I thought, “This guy seems to be coming at it from the same angle as me.” Not having done it for a while, I was just looking for the collaboration of human beings in a room.
David Sutkin: We had good chemistry.
CS: So you had an instant rapport, but did you find your sound right away?
DS: Initially, Ben came in and laid down a few song ideas. Ray and I started riffing off what he was playing and it seemed to have a really interesting groove. Maybe it was no more than three rehearsals before we realized we had something pretty interesting.
BC: I had all these songs I’d been reworking for years and never recorded. David asked, “Well, what do you want to do with these songs?” and I kinda said, “I don’t really know, I just want to create stuff.” I had no idea that, in a very short period of time, it would take on a life of its own.
RM: After Ben brings in a song and we lay down a groove, the best part is when we start deconstructing what we did.
DS: Yeah man, tweaking!
RM: Then we start reworking stuff and it goes over and over for a week or two until finally, every single part is just where it should be and often way different than where it was the week before.
DS: And no one says, “No, you’ve got to play it like this.” There’s a lot of freedom.
CS: You’re an instrumental band and yet on your self-titled EP and live you don’t do a lot of endless soloing.
DS: The songs are essentially structured. With the repertoire we have now, there’s no spot where we say, “Okay, let’s go all jam band-y.” Because there’s no singer, we need to know where the parts change. So there has to be a count or a set number of bars.
BC: Structure makes me feel safe. (He laughs.)
CS: Do you guys have common musical influences?
DS: Ben and Ray are somewhat similar in their tastes and I probably don’t know ninety percent of the bands they came up on.
RM: Jawbox, Swervedriver, Failure.
BC: We both have a love for all the British shoegaze stuff from the nineties, too.
DS: My background, performance-wise, was reggae and dub for ten years, but that doesn’t bleed into this. For this band, I’m calling more on rock stuff like Zeppelin, The Who, and Cream.
Related: “Shoegaze Is Here to Stay”
CS: So why did you decide to be an instrumental group?
BC: Singers are such a fickle bunch and the Achilles heel of so many projects. (He laughs.) If you have a mediocre singer but the band is great, you’ll be looked on as a mediocre band. Human beings can be difficult. Musicians, on top of that, can be even more difficult. When you find a group of people and it’s not a struggle to write, collaborate and get along, then you think: “Why would I throw a monkey wrench into this sh*t?” Now, if an amazing singer fell into our laps organically, we wouldn’t say no to it.
DS: We’re not averse to a f*cking wicked glockenspiel player, who could come in and just add tremendous…
RM: Glock. (All laugh.)
DS: But we haven’t found that yet and we’re not aggressively looking for it.
BC: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Photo Credit: Image of Apollo’s Ghost by Bryan Matus.