An Interview with Seth Applebaum of Ghost Funk Orchestra

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Press — Ghost Funk Orchestra

If you’re into Funky, Jazzy, Soulful, eclectic music, then today, you’ve come to the right place. New York City has long been a hot bed of musical activity, from the indie bands across the full spectrum of genres, to the clubs and halls that house these artist’s shows. And of course, the record shops which sell the records both new and old that we love. If you’re from NYC or Long Island, and you don’t love music, then you’re a true anomaly. That said, today, I’ve got the leader of Ghost Funk Orchestra, Seth Applebaum “with us” for an interview. Ghost Funk Orchestra are part of the new and fantastic breed of Funky awesomness that has been creeping its way onto our turntables and howling out of our speakers. While Ghost Funk Orchestra are the type of band that’s built for live performance, their studio records are where it all starts, and they’re pretty awesome too. You can head over their website here, and their Bandcamp here to learn more and take the journey. Ok. Good enough for now. Dig in.

Andrew:
Seth, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. This has certainly been a weird year. What have you been doing to pass the time?

Seth:
When New York first went into lockdown, I sort of sprung into action creating daily projects for myself to keep my brain occupied. For a while, I was making daily 1-minute songs and documenting the process step-by-step. Then I tried my hand at organizing large, remote orchestral performances. Most recently, my wife and I moved to a new house, so that definitely took over most of my free time.

Andrew:
Tell us a bit about your backstory? How did you get into music?

Seth:
I’ve been practicing music since I was in around second grade. It started with piano, and then transitioned into guitar, drums, and whatever else I could get my hands on. There have been a few serious musicians in my family that help keep the spark alive. I’m thankful that Jazz was introduced to me at such a young age because I think that discovery shaped my musical interests more than anything.

Andrew:
My understanding is Ghost Funk Orchestra started as a solo project for you, but has evolved into a full ten-person band. Tell us how the group got started and how it’s become what it is today.

Seth:
GFO existed for a year or two as a recording project prior to having a live outlet. I put out two EP’s, Night Walker and Death Waltz, before ever considering making a band. It was actually at my friend’s prompting that I decided to finally try to find a way to perform the songs live. As time has gone on, the size of the band has grown as my interests started to lean more towards having complex horn arrangements and three-part vocal harmonies.

A Song For Paul | Ghost Funk Orchestra

Andrew:
Ghost Funk Orchestra blends many genres. I hear Psych, Soul, Salsa, Funk and more in there. What/who are some of the band’s greatest influences?

Seth:
I’d say some of my biggest influences are David Axelrod, Miles Davis, Roy Ayers, Eddie Palmieri, Fela Kuti, and Sly & The Family Stone. If you mash those all up in a blender, that’s more or less how you end up with what GFO is doing. The beauty of being established as a band without a singular genre is that I can pretty much attempt anything I want, and it will still make sense in the GFO universe. As new ideas and inspirations come into my life, I have the freedom to shape shift the band as I see fit.

Andrew:
This is a broad question, but what’s your primary inspiration as a songwriter? 

Seth:
One of my biggest goals as a songwriter is to make sure every song has some sort of sonic surprise, whether that’s a hard switch between time signatures, a weird key change, dense polychords, or a weird mixing technique. About 70% of the songs start with a drum idea and get built up from there, so coming up with a rhythm that feels good is the most essential building block. Building on top of the drum idea is where it gets fun and weird.

Andrew;
In 2019, the band released A Song For Paul. Great album. What do you remember about the recording of your full length debut? What have you learned and what will you do differently going forward?

Seth:
Recording A Song For Paul was another stepping stone in the process of me figuring out how far I can stretch this project. I recorded it all in my basement like the previous releases, but this time I was incorporating strings and horns in a bigger way so I had to learn how to engineer for those instruments. The process overall was a lot more haphazard than An Ode To Escapism. The handwritten charts were a lot sloppier, I wasn’t playing to a metronome or any tempo reference, and my process for bouncing between tape and digital wasn’t fully realized yet. For An Ode To Escapism, I made a concerted effort to clean up my act in the studio because I knew I wanted to try bigger things, and in order for them to be properly reproduced, I had to refine some of the old methods and make room for new ones.

An Ode To Escapism | Ghost Funk Orchestra

Andrew:
As you’ve touched on a bit, in 2020, you released your follow up, An Ode To Escapism. Tell us about your new record. Where can we get it? What was the inspiration? How did the process compare to your first album?

Seth:
This record feels like our most mature one to date. The arrangements are considerably more involved than anything we’ve done before, and there was a lot more care given to making the album flow and feel like a unified piece. The name comes from a poem that my uncle Matthew Anish wrote about escaping the horrors of the world through reading escapist literature. I borrowed the title as a continuation of that idea, as there’s been so much turmoil over the past four years that everyone I know is struggling to reconcile with. Half the songs had already been written before I landed on the album title, but once it was decided, it made writing the rest of the album easier because I had a strong theme to tie everything together. As far as the process goes, I still recorded a lot in my basement, but I also decided to take the horns and strings to a nicer studio so that I could get them cleaner while also freeing myself up to just focus on the arrangements rather than also having to man the mixing desk.

Andrew:
What other passions do you have? How do they inform you musically and as a songwriter?

Seth:
I went to film school so I’ve always had a passion for visuals, whether moving or still. For this album cycle, I put a ton of effort into making videos for the songs because while COVID kept me from being able to perform with my band, I felt like it was a good time to flex a different creative muscle. My background as a filmmaker also plays a lot into how I structure albums and even songs sometimes. I always want there to be an arc and a story to follow.

Andrew:
Let’s talk about live music. How does playing live compare to playing in the studio? It seems to me a band like yours would truly thrive in the live setting. What do you love most about playing live?

Seth:
There’s no better feeling than performing in front of a room full of people and being able to make them smile and dance with your music. It was devastating to have to stop the live band when we did because we were making a lot of progress and had some big, exciting shows to look forward to this year. Thankfully, until we can get back to work as a live act, the studio is always here for us to cook up new stuff.

Chill Out And Escape With Ghost Funk Orchestra's Quiet Storm Soul «  American Songwriter

Andrew:
Earlier I touched on the fact that Ghost Funk Orchestra crosses over many genres. With that in mind, what are your thoughts on the idea of genre constraints in general?

Seth:
On one hand, specific genres make it easier for someone to shop for new artists they’re likely to enjoy. For instance, Metal has a million subgenres, which I think works because a fan of Black Metal might not be a fan of Power Metal. On the other hand, it can be tough for a band with a track record in one genre to branch out because it might mean alienating their loyal fans. I think anyone would agree that artists should be allowed to branch out and try whatever they feel like doing, but that doesn’t always mean that the people that follow them will be along for the ride. I think that’s always why some groups will put out releases under different monikers so that they aren’t clouded by their reputation in a specific genre.

Andrew:
Do you collect vinyl? Cassettes? CDs? Or are you all digital now? Where do you like to shop for music?

Seth:
I collect all of the above! I don’t actively buy CDs anymore, and I mostly buy cassettes at shows, but I buy records all the time. Before the pandemic, I did most of my local shopping at Human Head Records in Brooklyn. They’ve consistently been a great resource for Afro-Cuban music, Jazz, Soul, and more recently a lot of Dub and Rocksteady. I also buy from labels online, such as Light In The Attic, Numero Group, Daptone, and Now Again.

Andrew:
This may be a hard question, but what are a few albums that mean the most to you and why?

Seth:
I’ll give you three. First is Discern/Define by Poets of Rhythm. I discovered that album in high school when I was hanging at my hometown’s local CD shop, and it definitely changed my perspective on drumming, arrangement, and just overall mood. That CD got played to death when I was driving my dad’s Ford Taurus around town. Second is Naturally by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings. I discovered that one around the same time as Discern/Define, but fortunately for me living in New Jersey, it wasn’t hard to actually go out and see that band. My friends and I all came into the Daptone circle around 2003, and going to see those bands live was mind-altering. The third record is Sorcerer by Miles Davis. My uncle gave that CD to me for my birthday when I was probably around 11, and it was my first foray into the world of Miles. From the first second of ‘Prince of Darkness,’ I was hooked.

Ghost Funk Orchestra Photos (1 of 4) | Last.fm

Andrew:
2020 was a weird year, but we still saw a lot of great music released. What are some of your “must have” albums of the year?

Seth:
I recently got this compilation from Light In The Attic, called Funky Coup: Korean Soul, Funk & Rare Groove Nuggets 1973-1980, Vol. 1. That’s been a really fun listen, and the packing is incredible. Another one I love is Introspection by Angela Muñoz. She’s a young protégé of Adrian Younge, and her songs are beautiful and brilliantly orchestrated.

Andrew:
Once COVID-19 calms down, what’s next for Ghost Funk Orchestra?

Seth:
Once things are safe again, I want to get back to work with the live band. We had a plan in progress to make it to Europe this year, so once the coast is clear I want to get those wheels back in motion. The writing and recording will never stop, so the only thing that’s been put on hold is the live band.

Andrew:
Last question. What changes would you like to see within the industry that would benefit both the fans and artists alike?

Seth:
I would love to see Spotify take some notes from Bandcamp about how to make the platform a bit more artist-centric. Bandcamp is by far my favorite home for music, but it’s not as convenient a player as Spotify. If the royalty breakdowns could be cleaned up, it would be very helpful so that smaller artists could get a fair share for their own personal followings.

SONG OF THE DAY Ghost Funk Orchestra – What Now | The Listening Post a blog  to discover, listen and enjoy music

Interested in sampling the music of Ghost Funk Orchestra? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interviews

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

Since he was a young child growing up on Long Island, NY, Andrew has always loved writing and collecting physical music. Present-day, Andrew is proud to share his love of music with the world through his writing, and the result is nothing short of beautiful: articles and interviews written by a music addict for fellow music addicts. Andrew lives on Long Island and works as a Horticultural Operations Manager by day and runs the Vinyl Writer Music website by night.
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