The True Spirit of Apollo Ghosts
With Landmark, their third release, Apollo Ghosts contemplate beginnings, endings, and the meaning of place.
Apollo Ghosts have always been a group of friends first and a band second. The Apollo Ghost roster includes singer and guitarist Adrian Teacher, bassist and guitarist Jason Oliver, bassist Jarrett K, and drummer Amanda Panda. The band has achieved local cult band status almost in spite of themselves. Don’t get me wrong, they are very talented! Their second record, Mount Benson, was nominated for the Polaris Music Prize long list in 2010, at a time when the band had no label, no management and rarely tour (due to their dedication to good day jobs). The band is more devoted to friendship and making music for themselves than any music industry ambition.
I quizzed Adrian about all things Apollo Ghosts just before he left for a summer vacation.The fact that people like our music still baffles me. The idea that people want a deeper meaning/insight into my songs/albums makes me want to hide under the bedsheets.
Scott Wood: The band name Apollo Ghosts (to me) evokes the death of the fascination with space and going there. But this theory doesn't really fit with your band... I would love to hear the real story.
Adrian Teacher: The origin of the name—I was on tour across Canada with another band in 2006. We played a bar in Thunder Bay called, "The Apollo." After the show, we stayed upstairs in the giant empty hotel. Each band member had their own room. It was full of old exercise equipment, sawdust, broken furniture, etc. I remember going to sleep and being totally convinced that someone was staring at me. I kept my eyes shut, though. I could feel something at the end of the bed watching me. In the morning, I wrote in my tour journal, "Apollo Ghosts" ...When I was looking for a band name for a new project, that was what got used.
Scott Wood: I have heard your three full length records (Hastings Sunrise (2009) (self-released; re-released on Catbird/Geographing), Mount Benson (2010) (self-released) and Landmark (2012) (You've Changed)) referred to as a trilogy. Is this correct?
Adrian Teacher: Yes
Scott Wood: A trilogy implies an ending of something... The band? ...A musical direction...? …An approach to what you do? …What?
Adrian Teacher: I'm always threatening to end things. I like being on the edge of that cliff. It keeps people guessing and it keeps things interesting. I think there's always been an attempt to reference "place" on the three releases. Whether that will continue or not, I'm not sure. The musical direction will most likely change. But who knows?—I generally make a lot of last minute decisions. There are no manuals or guidelines for what we do. There is no agenda.
Scott Wood: How do you follow up a trilogy?
Adrian Teacher: Not sure! The dreaded solo record?
Scott Wood: I notice you guys all use fake last names for Apollo Ghosts bizness. Can you reveal why you chose your nom de guerre?
Adrian Teacher: It's definitely an ode to the Ramones. I like bands that have stage names. Adrian Teacher comes from my time spent as an ESL teacher in Korea. The kids called me "Adrian Teacher." …Having fake last names also helps us with secret border crossings.
Scott Wood: You have talked a lot about ending Apollo Ghosts. (Because of guilt over sucking up people's spare time, among other reasons.) What would be the perfect way to end the story of local legends Apollo Ghosts?
Adrian Teacher: Packed house with all our friends at Little Mountain Gallery here in Vancouver.
Scott Wood: You guys made the Polaris long list for Mount Benson (2010) (self-released) and at the time had no label and no management. You've said you aren't doing this for the money, but most people certainly like recognition. What kind of recognition is really important to you?
Adrian Teacher: The only recognition I'm interested in is from people who genuinely like our music and live show. If they like it, that makes me happy. So far we have been incredibly lucky in that regard. People know we are honest and amateur musicians. I'm also interested in recognition from respected musical peers.
We played a bar in Thunder Bay called, "The Apollo." After the show, we stayed upstairs in the giant empty hotel. I remember going to sleep and being totally convinced that someone was staring at me. I kept my eyes shut, though. I could feel something at the end of the bed watching me.
Scott Wood: Your full length Hastings Sunrise (2009) (self-released; re-released on Catbird/Geographing) was about Vancouver and Mount Benson (2010) (self-released) was about your hometown Nanaimo. I've heard conflicting stories about just what Landmark (2012) (You've Changed) is about. Can you let me in on it?
Adrian Teacher: Sometimes it's difficult to describe what an album is about. I'm really more interested in people's responses / experiences to something we've made.
Last night, we played a show and someone told me that the new record had been their entire summer jam. We played a few weddings this summer too, which was incredibly humbling. The fact that our music has been the soundtrack to someone's life is rather scary. We'll play Seattle and someone will call out a song that they really want to hear. Or a person will e-mail me and say that one of my songs helped them through a bad breakup. Or that they want a song for a film they're making. We've played in front of really large crowds and also for a handful of people—it's the same feeling.
People tell me all the time that we're a very honest band, which is what I like to hear. But then there's this expectation to perform with a certain professionalism…with a certain effort...which has never been the game plan—it's always been about just having fun and being a weird rock band.
The fact that people like our music still baffles me. The idea that people want a deeper meaning/insight into my songs/albums makes me want to hide under the bedsheets.
Scott Wood: You guys all have day jobs, so your approach to touring and the band has been limited by this reality. Can you give some advice to other baby bands on band/career balance?
Adrian Teacher: Very few bands can make a living at music. Even large bands you see on television. Even bands with publicists, labels and the desire to tour. The system is set up to suckle out every last penny. The vinyl revolution will not save anything. Eventually you have to make the decision to sell your music to a commercial enterprise. Steve Albini talks about this in great detail and with much insight. If you don't play the game, you can enjoy music for what it is. I teach elementary school, so I have a significant amount of time off to work on my stuff.
Scott Wood: Have you ever been tempted to go “all in” and do a big tour?
Adrian Teacher: We've done some pretty amazing DIY tours over the course of the band's history. We've met an incredible number of cool people and bands this way. That's the spirit of the band, really.
That said, in keeping with trying new things, I think it would be fun to go on tour with a bigger band and see what it's like to open on larger stages in front of more people. Who knows if that will ever happen. In order for us to do that by ourselves, we would have to write a hit record and become part of the machine--which is not likely to
happen because of the choices we've made in our personal lives.
Scott Wood: The lead "single" off Landmark is "American Joint" which you have described as "an ode to the punk-rock kids of Bellingham, queer power, house parties, Pacific Northwest skinny dipping, train hopping… you know? A summer jam." Every mid-level hip hop group I interview always makes a stop in Bellingham (a small town on the USA Canada border about a 45min drive away from Vancouver and 3 hour drive from Seattle). Can you talk about it from a "rock" perspective?
Adrian Teacher: Bellingham has a very special place in our hearts. We played a show there in 2009 with our friends Angelo Spencer and the Bash Brothers. It was at a place called Friendship City (house venue) which recently burned to the ground. It was full of all these progressive college kids and the party went off with a bang! Suddenly they started playing our record on college radio. We played there a bunch more over the years and it always popped. Their bands came up here. A real USA/Canada cross pollination. The kids were so into it and we made lifelong friendships. To describe the scene we had and the things we saw would take several pages, it was that good. Then a lot of the kids graduated and moved away to Seattle or other cities around the world. C'est la vie. It was a cosmic time we played some magical shows.
Scott Wood: And when was the last time you went skinny dipping and with whom?
Adrian Teacher: Last week in Ladysmith with the whole band! This was at our friend Brent's cabin on the beach.
Scott Wood: Apollo Ghosts is a group of friends who plays together. Can you talk about a time when Apollo Ghosts has pushed a friendship beyond normal limits?
Adrian Teacher: I've known Jay and Amanda for over ten years, and we've known Jarrett for three or four. Generally, the band is the focus of our friendship, but we also do stuff outside the band together on a regular basis. It's like a family and a business and an art project all rolled into one. We push each other’s buttons sometimes, but so far nobody has resulted to fisticuffs!
Scott Wood: Can you name a few other Vancouver bands people should get into if they like Apollo Ghosts and need more and why?I'm always threatening to end things. I like being on the edge of that cliff. It keeps people guessing and it keeps things interesting. I think there's always been an attempt to reference "place" on the three releases. Whether that will continue or not, I'm not sure.
Adrian Teacher: Check out: Korean Gut, Roll Mach, Collapsing Opposites, Japandroids, Destroyer, Lunch Lady, Half Chinese, OK Vancouver OK, Jay Arner Band, Chris-a-riffic, Movieland, B-Lines—All friends of ours who put out great cuts.
Scott Wood: I am interviewing your pals the B-Lines next month. What's one question you would have me ask them, so I can really mess with their heads? (Something weird about them that only an insider/pal would know, that I could ask about to make them blush?)
Adrian Teacher: You could ask Bruce from B-Lines, "What is your wallball nickname?"
Scott Wood: Interesting question. Thanks Adrian! Want to know how B-Lines answer? Come back to this column next month and check out my interview with B-Lines!
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