Ghost Funk Yourself: An Interview with GFOs’ Seth Applebaum

Words By Matthew Spence:

Don’t worry, yo. If your Spotify isn’t renewed for this, just do the good ole Plan B: guess your cousins’ password and hope for the best. Let’s begin, and put a “Freebird” lighter (preferably pink or white) in the sky for yourself [not around anything flammable, please]. For what may you ask? Even though you didn’t ask, I’m gonna tell you anyway because you clicked your way here. But for what, you may ask? Swimming through the sea of playlists for “being the main character” or “songs that make you feel like the main character” (they usually contain the same artists generally), you realized, How the fuck do I apply it to my actual life? It’s easy to enjoy music for the vibes, thrills, and feels, but we can’t forget that it can really bring us out of reality and make life bigger. Enhance the moment once you scrape through the surface.

Film, soundtracks—there’s a science to curating the perfect song for every moment. Whether it fits well lyrically, sonically, atmospherically, thematically, physically, literally, or figuratively, all of the -ly words. Music that can vary personality while being a sponge for yours. Highlights musical character. Shit that can either turn your perspective from widescreen to 4:3. Black and white to Indie Quirk Colorfukl. The brand new Funk Yo! Hell, even if it’s not literally playing, it’s in the ether. Some deity is playing it with a John Cusak boombox.

 

If only there was a band that oozes: theatric feels (not to be confused with Electric Feels), combining the influences of jazz, funk, and soul wrapped in psychedelic wrapping paper (you know the kind you’ll use to wrap a Tame Impala record or something).

Cue “Also Sprach Zarathustra”

Welcome…. the music of Ghost Funk Orchestra. The Jazz & Funk child and musical project of Seth Applebaum (no relation to Bonita). Another pin to add to the New York Bulletin Board of “Talented Motherfuckers Come From Here.” Seth is another one on the VIP list of “Talent in the US.” Being introduced to jazz as a kid by his piano teacher (thanks, Piano Teacher #1).

 

Surrounded by music from his (supportive) parents, who were constantly playing the B-52s, Def Leppard, and Fine Young Cannibals, amongst others. Jumping into his teen years, Punk & Garage Rock would be calling his name (as it does many of us) like a teacher taking attendance. Developing his constantly evolving craft, one of his first times, up to bat with music was being in the Garage & Surf Rock band, The Mad Doctors. Whos’ LP “No Waves, Just Sharks” kicks so much ass and rips so much shit that concrete waves are begging to be skated and surfed to it (well, for surfing, just have someone play the music from a very loud stadium setup).

 

 

Indulging in spoken word and poetry, the sounds of surf rock like Dick Dale and Link Wray, and the punk rebellion of the Dead Kennedys. Keeping his ears roaming universally to Latin music such as Eddie Palmieri (“Harlem River Drive) or German bands like Poets of Rhythm. Some may see his influences and musical endeavors and wouldn’t know what to do with them. It’ll give them musical whiplash in some cases.

 

Yet he’d take his creative and traveling brain to birth and flesh out Ghost Funk Orchestra. Combining his influences, he’d create his own take on fusing the worlds of jazz, psychedelic, and soul, with a cinematic execution that the first thing that comes to mind when listening is: “Damn, this sounds like a movie soundtrack” (which is something I tried my best not to mention during the interview).

 

 

It’s refreshingly gold, which makes the spotlight on us even bigger and brighter. This personality trait is what Seth is trying to highlight in the music. “I’m trying to challenge myself and trying to not sound like I’m following the mold, if that makes sense; there’s definitely a tide, and you can tell there’s a lot of bands doing it well, of course, but doing copycat stuff. There are a lot of instrumental funk bands that are very talented, but if you did a blind taste test, it’d be very hard to distinguish one from another. I’m proud to say I’m never chasing trends. Even throwback trends.” Whether an up day or a low day, GFO has your back.

Scenario 1: You’re in a retro diner, cornered Thom Yorke style.

 

On a cold Saturday night to yourself. Looking out the window, the streets are lit up by the night sky, street lights, headlights, and the vibrant sign of the diner that makes the Las Vegas strip look like a dim jazz club. After a long day of hijinks and self-reflection, the diner Bluetooth would beg to have this on for the moment.

 

 

Scenario 2: God decides to give you a break and let you enjoy your day (he’s gonna fuck with Ned today). The sun is out, it’s Friday, and you’re gonna do it big like the Big Tymers, minus the money and bragging. As big as you can, at least. You walk around the block, Baby Driver style.

 

 

Smelling the flowers and running from the bees. Coming back home to clean around and dance like Tom Cruise in Risky Business. Play this.

 

 

It’s music required for your main character playlist, next to Cage the Elephant and Tears for Fears. Oh, and Seth does all the music himself. No big deal. Jokes aside, like a musical project, Seth is the main scientist behind the recordings, instrumentation, songwriting, and lyrics. Unless it says otherwise in the credits (most likely a horn, violin, or cello), the majority of the time, it’s him creating the music and lyrics that express “growth, change, and mental hurdles.” Creating a package of art that he and his live band (the core of the band are people he’s known since his punk days) can bring to life and perform on stage.

“With the first offering in 2014 being “The Haunt” EP and their debut album in 2019 being “A Song for Paul,” the musical project reached a goal not everyone can say. 5 albums in and a couple of songs with over a million streams (aforementioned “Walk Like a Motherfucker” and “Seven-Eight“) and over 100k listeners on Spotify.

Their latest release, 2024’s “A Trip to the Moon,”  is another gem in the GFO catalog, adding more to their refined sound fit for midnight maurdering.

15 tracks that reel in a floating theme of space (real Apollo transmissions appear through the project) and give a sense of expansion beyond our world. Accordingly, the concept of the album is “a story about a woman stranded on earth by her cosmonaut partner, left to ponder his whereabouts and whether or not he’ll make it back from the cosmos alive.” Intense, I know. The album takes you on a musical journey that is, in essence, like a film. The opening track, “Eyes of Love,” kicks off the album with adrenaline to where you might get whiplash.

 

 

Helios, To the Moon, the album feels like the perfect example of storytelling through instruments. You’re wondering where it’ll take you and how it’ll end.

Now on a Friday (I wonder if Thom Yorke gets nam’ flashbacks whenever this is said), I got to have a neat convo with Seth and ask some questions about the newest album, GFO, our love of cassettes, and other stuff that I may include or not. It’s Q&A, I’ll stop talking.

 

Have you always had an infatuation with escapism in music that trickled down into GFO?

I don’t know if this is super novel to say, but it’s true. I’m definitely somebody that takes my listening experience seriously. I like to be an active listener when I’m putting on records. I think for me, especially growing up when I had an iPod—

[I wonder which one he had…..In my household, we didn’t have one, my brother had a Zune]

— listening more into headphones than I do now. It was definitely the kinda thing, whenever I put on headphones, it transported me. It was a way to soundtrack everything around me or if I was doing something mundane.

-[Now, is it in the heart of the music? [We shall get our answer.] –

When it comes to writing and recording GFO stuff, the process of making, I don’t think actively about being it like an escapist experience for a listener. But the fact of the matter is that, when I’m making this stuff, I’m in my basement, shutting out the world and getting into my own space. So the bubble I’m in when I’m making this stuff, it makes sense; it would translate to the sort of escapist listening experience. In a sense, I’m hidden from the rest of the world when I’m writing and recording myself.

Preference: Music in the day or at night?

I think most of my listening experience is at night. Most of my listening I do is with my turntable [No headphones for Seth these days]. Putting on records in the evening or having people to hang out, or decompressing from the day. Beyond that, when I’m driving downtown, I’m listening to the radio. Sometimes I’ll check out stuff during the day, especially if people send recommendations or a friend puts a new record out.

Did you spice up your writing/recording process for this album?

I mean, every time I make a record, I learn something new. If there’s anything about this record that was significantly different, and it’s not a technical thing, but I approached the horn section differently than I have in the past. I was sort of trying to attack it like a big band. Where there’d be: a section of trumpets, section of trombones, and a section of saxophones,and they all have their own space and functions. For this one, I was trying to layer up the horns more than I ever have to get that big band sound.–

-[However, it was business as usual for Seth when it came to everything else. Trying his best to make the best work he can, even though, like all creatives, there’s that moment after it’s all said and done, you just think, “FUCK I SHOULD’VE DONE THAT INSTEAD.” However, with this project, this may be a rare case that is missing, as this record is what he feels is the most fulfilled GFO record]-

This record, I let it go far over the top. No holds barred in terms of it being the most maximalist effort in the history of this project.

(Straight to the moon, you can say.)

How did the concept come about?

So, I got about halfway through the recording, writing and recording songs, or at least started recording songs for the record. Once I get to a certain point in making songs, I try to start and arrange them and figure out a sequence, and see how it flows as an album. This time around, I discovered this archive of National Recordings that were in the public domain, and I thought they were interesting. A lot of them are dry and scientific (generally), but there were a lot of interesting moments, like hearing astronauts being joyful and awestruck by what they’re doing. Which, in a way, felt rare. So I started playing with those, peppering them in the outskirts of making songs. I didn’t have a concept at first; A Trip to the Moon didn’t exist. As I started working in these clips, they were creating an interesting concept for everything that helped guide me to write the songs that were left to finish out the record. It was a happy accident.

Maybe too fresh, but what mark does this make in GFO’s discography?

To your point, it’s hard to say that, being as fresh as it is, what it represents (in GFOs catalog) to me it’s definitely “even flow” in how I approach this sound of the band. From record to record, it’s definitely a culmination of all the years of experience I have with the musicians, who are involved as well, and how these songs can be represented live.

Elements from your Mad Doctors days that carry into Ghost Funk?

I’d say guitar sound. I’m a guitarist in the live band, and my guitar tone is ultimately the same as when I was in Mad Doctors. But if anything, that’s been the most influential and carried through. When I started the live band, I thought it was gonna be regular. I was coming out of playing crazy punk shows, so I thought this would be different, but over time, the GFO shows have become rowdy and rowdier. People crowd surf, and now I’m getting super excited about that. I like that; I feel it gives people to check out both sides of it. Go home for one experience, but when you come to see us, we throw down.

[Funny enough, April 10th they had a show in Connecticut at the Space Ballroom. I couldn’t make it. Fuck Me Right?]

 

Do you often think about merging other genres?

Kinda yeah. The thing about taking all the influences from being a record collector and whatnot, is that sometimes I do, even subconsciously, I think about blending genres just because it’ll be interesting to hear something modern over something old school. The writing process, often isn’t as active as ‘we have a mission; this is what I’m out to do’; something will pop up in my head, and I’ll see it through. I do listen to a lot of different stuff, and it’ll all seep in influence. If I was listening to Sleep and Sharon Jones in the same week, who knows what’s going to happen? Am I gonna make a Doom Soul Track, i don’t know <laughs>

[I wanna see him combine Ska Punk and Trap Music; a guy can dream.]

 

Are there any rare occasions where the first draft of a song is the final draft?

I’m so glad you asked that, because this is kinda a problem I have. So many of the stuff I have on our records are just the demos. There’s a lot of songs that are on our final releases that were the first drafts, not even, literally, demos. Sometimes it works better than others. Whenever I do it that way, it’s probably because I added something to the track that was a sound I felt like I didn’t know how I’m gonna recreate again, and if I try to recreate it, the magic’s gone.

[Word of the day: “Demo-itis”]

There’s always gonna be something more captivating about a demo than a polished final version. I’m glad they come off as polish because so many songs we put out, it’s like, “Man, I really should’ve rebuilt this; I built this on shaky grounds.”

Do you feel there’s this stigma of lack of validity for musical projects/one-person bands compared to actual bands?

I don’t think so, especially now, using the examples you gave–

–(I referred to Tame Impala and Unknown Mortal Orchestra. In particular, Kevin Parker famously expressed how he made his label believe Tame Impala was a band instead of him because he felt they wouldn’t take it seriously.)—

Tame and Unkown are huge. I don’t know for sure, but I’m gonna take a guess that part of the reason why Rubin (Unknown) or Kevin (Tame) would’ve wanted to present themselves in that way is that it’d be easier to sell to a label to visualize as a touring band when trying to sell an one-man band. It’s hard for someone to be like, ‘This is great; we’re gonna put out the record and go on tour.” What does the tour look like if there’s no band? Especially nowadays, it’s so common, like 9 out of 10 bands, center around 1 person who does their thing in the studio and crew up on tour. In this age of home recording setups, it’s so common that there’s no reason for anybody to doubt the potential. If it comes to touring, people have figured it out.

Film School: What did you study?

I studied cinematography and still photography.

Favorite Scores and Soundtracks?

I love the Taxi Driver soundtrack. Blows my mind every time I listen to it; it’s so perfectly dark. Black Dynamite. Adrian Younge did the soundtrack for that.

Directors you’d want to score for?

I don’t know if I think as much about directors themselves as I do about what the subject matter of the project would be. I would love the opportunity to score a movie, but I haven’t done a feature film score yet, so I don’t know what the process would feel like. If I had to choose a director, probably Coen Brothers.

Any artists you’d be interested in collaborating with in the future: singers, rappers, poets, etc.?

I don’t know; I’ve had a few special guests on the recordings that it’s like, over time, as we gain more notoriety, there’s new people who enter the fold. Stuart Bogie, who’s worked with Arcade Fire, contributed to this project. Some rappers hit us up for collabs; I’m down. I don’t know what it’ll be like. As opportunities arise, I’m down to work with folks.

The bigger challenge: Naming all the live members of Arcade Fire or GFO?

Probably GFO because it’s not always the exact same band every time. Sometimes some people are available and others aren’t. If you can name every person in our live band, hats off to you.

GFO song you’d play for Isaac Hayes?

You’d think Isaac Hayes, but I’d play him Bluebell from “A New Kind Of Love.” That one feels spiritually the most in the Isaac Hayes wheelhouse, a slow, sultry R&B song.

Future Plans?

The near future for us is getting out, playing our songs, and touring. No specific plans for when I’m gonna start writing for another record, but I honestly never do it. It just starts happening. Immediate plans: play songs. Far Future: Just keep doing what we’re doing.

 

Photo: Seth Applebaum

 

Follow Up on GFO and Stream their music anywhere and everywhere: Bandcamp, Youtube, Spotify, etc. Be sure to check out their latest project A Trip To The Moon on those same outlets. Click your ass off of this article and check them out for yourself, as they’re on tour as we speak. Perhpaps in your area. Grab a ticket, perhaps a vinyl, a water and a smile.

 

 

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