I’ve you’ve heard the music of Ghost-Note, you’ll know how great they are at fusing jazz with funk, hip-hop and other styles.
The Dallas-based band features a rotating cast of musicians around co-founders Robert “Sput” Searight and Nate Werth, both of the Grammy-winning ensemble Snarky Puppy.
Ghost-Note has released two albums — 2015’s Fortified and 2018’s Swagism — and now, after being forced to hit pause for a while, Werth says the band has come roaring back with an international tour and several albums’ worth of new material.
Werth joined us over the phone to talk about his early days, his all-time greatest influences, Ghost-Note’s new music and more ahead of the band’s two tour dates at The Rex in Toronto.
You were born and raised in Dyer, Indiana, not too far from Chicago. Your mother got you into music, along with your brother Nick, who’s also a drummer. Do you recall the moment when you decided you were all-in when it comes to music?
Absolutely. I was a very lucky kid growing up, having the support of my mom and dad. I was playing in a marching band, and I would spend my days after school in the band room practising marimba, timpani and all the different orchestral instruments. At one point, I realized that this is what I wanted to do. I think I was practising a marimba solo that was an interpretation of a Bach étude or something. The musicality coming off of the page and channelling through me definitely put a long-lasting imprint on my life. Here I am today, proudly 25 years after that moment.
Do you shake your head every once in a while with the feeling that you’re living your dream?
I have to remind myself, because it’s tough out here, especially after what we just went through. I’m just so thankful to be back on the road playing music and getting to share this love for music with the rest of the people in the world.
When I was growing up in the ’70s, I was immediately attracted to horn bands like Earth, Wind & Fire, Parliament-Funkadelic and Chicago. I’m curious about the bands that influenced you in your formative years.
When we’re talking about influences for Ghost-Note, I would say James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone, and of course Parliament-Funkadelic. Tower of Power was a big one for me. Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters, with Bill Summers on percussion, that was one of the biggest imprints on me; it made me switch from a classical percussionist into the jazz side. Headhunters was probably the biggest one.
Who’s your favourite percussionist/drummer?
That’s a tough one. I’ve always loved Weather Report, so hearing Alex Acuña and Manolo Badrena together in the ’70s, that was life-changing for me. Both of those guys play drums and percussion, and they’re huge influences on me.
I read this quote from Elvin Jones, who said, “It’s the honesty that you apply to your playing that makes music is enjoyable. The style of music has little to do with it — it’s only honesty that makes it beautiful.” Do you feel like you’re being honest with the music that you’re playing these days?
That really hits home. After being in the house for a year and a half, when we got back out on the road, there was a bit of a learning curve, actually. We realized as a band that we forgot how to play Swagism — like, the whole record. So, we looked at each other and went well, that’s okay, because we went in the studio and we recorded 36 new songs and we actually have three records on the way, so we just started pulling out new material. There was this experience of feeling alone in your craft and feeling a little bit out of control. I had to reach back down inside my soul and find that original sound. It’s definitely coming back. But I think all of us musicians who were so used to cutting our teeth every single day, to have that two years off was something else. I would say that absolutely, the music I’m playing right now is probably the most honest I’ve ever been.
Do you remember the time and place when Ghost-Note was first conceived?
It was on a flight to Europe. I was sitting next to Sput and I was asking him for career advice. I wanted to make my own record. He looked at me and he said, “Well, why don’t we do it together?”
This interview has been edited and condensed.