by Daniel Coston
also available on the Tangents Magazine website
Ghost Trees are a duo. They play jazz. They are badass. Beyond that, the exploration is up to the mind, the ear and the moment of the listener to listen, learn and enioy.
Ghost Trees drummer Seth Nanaa passed through via email to give Daniel Coston his thoughts on Ghost Trees, music and whatever comes next.
Tangents: How did Ghost Trees come together?
Seth Nanaa: Ghost trees the duo is just an extension or continuation of our previous trio The Eastern Seaboard. It’s us without our former bass player, basically. Me and Brent [Bagwell] have been playing for 16 years now and will probably do so till one of us dies.
Tangents: How much is your music based on experimentation?
Nanaa: Experiments of all kinds … not just music … form our framework for writing and practicing. Probably, to many people’s surprise, much of Ghost Trees’ music is well thought out and written in advance. “Improvisation” has the same word and meaning as the word “jazz” to me, and you can't have one without the other. And you can't improvise without experimenting and pushing boundaries and limits … not only of music but of who you are as a player. Me and Brent are somewhat fearless in that regard, and we hope our music reflects that.
Tangents: How is the saxophone/drums duo different than your other projects?
Nanaa: Duo interaction forces a musician to take on structure and space in a completely different way. From my point of view, when we are writing a new tune, I come at my parts as not only what drum part will enhance the tune but how can I make the listener feel like there is a bass or piano in the room when there isn't. I still hear our songs it in my head almost as a full quartet piece, which helps me play rhythm and lead at the same time. Also the sonic landscape and extra space/silence is way more easily heard and identified in a duo. Brent is great in any band he plays in. I'm sure he agrees with me that a duo is probably more challenging but in some ways easier than large groups. I have watched him play in other bands as a audience member and have always been amazed, and I'm glad he plays with me. Actually, the absolute best part of being in a duo is only having to rent one hotel room on the road and being able to travel in a small car.
Tangents: How often does Ghost Trees bring in other musicians?
Nanaa: If we are on the road and are playing with friends old and new, there is usually a sit-in session or jam. Those are usually a lot of fun. We made a big band double 7-inch that was the accumulation of a month’s worth of writing and practicing with the coolest group of misfits ever assembled. We played some shows, and it was just amazing. We also get a cameo here and there on recordings. Our friends and colleagues who come on board couldn't be better icing on the cake.
Tangents: What has been your favorite Ghost Trees gig so far?
Nanaa: The last one we played and the next one we will play! We play every show as if it’s our last. The joy of playing shows and even practicing is just hanging out with Brent and talking nonsense all night. He's my best friend, and playing the actual music is probably just 10 percent of the experience. We have an underdog us versus them mentality everywhere we go, and just living the jazz life is our favorite part of it.
Tangents: Do you have plans to record new songs?
Nanaa: We record every two years or so. We have a new record coming out at the end of October. And we currently have eight new songs that we are playing live all the time and will probably record some time next summer.
Tangents: How do you communicate with Seth during a song? Hand signals? intuition?
Nanaa: We communicate intuitively with a bond that has formed over being around each other so much. We rehearse one or two times a week and play out often enough that we keep the knife sharp. It’s a feeling to know what a song needs or when it’s time to stop or how long or short it should be. We are usually on the same page nightly.
Tangents: Describe the Charlotte music scene in 2017?
Nanaa: Brent knows everyone, man! He is a social butterfly, and we both get to see a lot of music. And we both constantly say the same thing after we get home from a tour, whether it’s Europe or America: We both think Charlotte has the best crowds, attitudes and diversity compared to most any place we go. There are a ton of new bands, and the scene just keeps getting better and better.
Tangents: Who has influenced your saxophone/drum playing the most?
Nanaa: Brent has a wide variety of heroes, and none of them are probably who most free jazz pundits would suspect. I am very influenced by Elvin motherf--king Jones, art, Rasheed Ali, Tony Williams and Brian Blade. The things I have learned and probably stolen from these cats is immeasurable.
Tangents: Dream gig. You two are playing, and in walks ______ to play with you?
Nanaa: Good question! For me, Coltrane. He's my hero, and I would love to meet him and hear him talk about anything. We both love the man and his music. Brent would probably say Duke Ellington … same inspiration. Man that list is too long!! Maybe Bruce Bee, Kurt Vonnegut … too many amazing people.
Tangents: Finish this sentence: At the end of the day, Ghost Trees is …
Nanaa: A Jazz band!! That is who we are. Not a niche of jazz. Not an offshoot. Not free jazz. Just a jazz band. Same as Duke or Mingus or Trane. We love playing and bringing it to the people, and we’re both very grateful just to be able to bring our sound to the world. You probably won't find two more committed cats in the whole universe, man!