Apollo’s Ghost: No Singers Need Apply

apollo's ghost

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.

Colm Clark

Photo Credit: Image of Apollo’s Ghost by Bryan Matus.

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Colm Clark is a freelance writer, musician and composer (a.k.a. Crush Limbo) whose music has appeared in TV and film and whose songs have been sung on New York theater stages. Despite all this (if posts to social media are any indication), his proudest recent accomplishment was getting a backyard fire started with wet logs. Twitter: @malstranger

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