Apollo Ghosts

"Kind of like a pufferfish."

Apollo Ghosts fighting a giant salmon. Illustration by Tyler Crich
Apollo Ghosts fighting a giant salmon. Illustration by Tyler Crich

The Divine Prophet is a friend of the Apollo Ghosts from Nanaimo. He is also a wrestler who casts himself as a deranged preacher and performs in the Extreme Canadian Championship Wrestling league battling the likes of “The Loose Cannon” Kenny Lush, Fast Freddy Funk, Beautiful Bruce and the Mayor. (“You can’t fight city hall!” yelled out Ghosts’ singer and guitarist Adrian Teacher, after mentioning the Mayor.)

As the interview meandered over tacos in the Apollo Ghosts jamspace next to JC/DC studios in Gastown, we arrived upon the topic of “wrassling” (what the Ghosts call wrestling). I know that the Apollo Ghosts like wrestling because sometimes when they perform, the Divine Prophet often leaps onto the stage. He’s a well-muscled, long-haired wrestler. They shot a wrestling themed video for “Angel Acres” featuring the Ghosts battling the Divine Prophet and Manther. There’s a good out-take floating around in which Chris-A-Riffic (the big Nordic piano player and radio DJ with a high excited voice from Bible Belts, CiTR’s Parts Unknown, and most concerts in Vancouver) gets bodyslammed.Amanda Panda, Adrian Teacher and Jay Oliver (not their real names, not even Jay Oliver) are fans of the small Vancouver-based league and all the pageantry, violence and drama that comes with it.

“I suggest going to a tables, ladders and chairs match,” said Oliver.

“Unless you don’t like blood. Then I wouldn’t recommend going,” added Panda.

Though they’re clearly fans of the sport itself, it’s the colourful identities that really get them excited.

“Kenny Lush kissed a baby!” Panda recalled excitedly from one match she witnessed. Lush had literally played out his role of the “babyface” in matches. The term is used in wrestling to describe a hero or classic good guy who doesn’t break the rules (the Divine Prophet plays the polar opposite of the babyface, the heel).

Though the Ghosts’ own performances don’t get quite as dramatic as a professional wrestling match, you can see a love of the dramatic costumes and posturing in their live set. At the release party for their album Mount Benson that was held at Little Mountain, Oliver played bass while wearing a Mexican wrestling mask, Panda beat the drums wearing a disco ball-eyed sea monster hood and Teacher was decked out in a pirate hat while he pretty much controlled the room.

Though the other members play their own roles, Teacher especially is a performer. He is a force on the stage. It’s an all-eyes-on-me performance and it shows. He starts every song with a quip or story before bursting out an exuberant performance that is a whirlwind of rock and roll bravado that features shouting, witty stage banter and a close physical performance that usually includes a lot of crowd surfing.

Off stage, though, Teacher is the opposite. He’s a mild-mannered school teacher, a nice guy who cracks a joke now and then and laughs easily. Put him in a full room and he’d prefer to quietly talk to a few people, unlike the commanding performer who appears on stage.

“I certainly wish I could be the person I am on stage,'” said Teacher. “Normally I’m shy and quiet around most people and in most situations. I’d say I’m pretty socially awkward in a lot of ways. Being on stage is different, though. It’s not that I’m comfortable there—I fuck up a lot and forget lyrics and chords—but I just feel confident and a bit ridiculous. Kind of like a pufferfish.”

One time, I was riding in Chris-A-Riffic’s car, and he played me a tape of his show, Parts Unknown. On it, a band called Lala played. Lala was a French-Canadian band, and also a joke band, fronted by Teacher under the name of P’tit Jean and backed by his three sisters, Marie-Michele, Marie-May and Marie-Marie (a.k.a Amanda Panda). They were a jovial Acadian folk troupe playing off of every stereotype imaginable through a thick thick accent. It was hilarious, but it wasn’t real.

In the way that Lady Gaga, Bob Dylan and Prince aren’t real, neither are Adrian Teacher and the Apollo Ghosts. Just as the Divine Prophet is not really the deranged villain he portrays, the Ghosts are not their stage personas.

Sitting in their jamspace and petting the floor’s shared cat, Loki (made famous by Neko Case in a picture on Pitchfork), they bring out the other side of their personalities.

“A lot of the songs on Mount Benson were written while [Teacher] was in the bathroom,” Panda joked, when Teacher went to the bathroom. With Adrian out of the room, Oliver would reveal a bass line, Panda would join in with a beat and Teacher would rush back into the room shouting, “Keep doing that!” and join in.

The band makes a point of seperating the other facets of their lives from their work as a band.

“I like to keep my lives compartmentalized,” said Oliver, which got Teacher to voice his agreement.

Teacher is in fact a teacher. He tries not to let his students know he also fronts a band, though as the Ghosts become more well known, he finds it harder to keep the secret (a note to any of his students who read this: keep it a secret, shhh!).

“I think in a few years we might see a few of [my students] coming out to shows,” he said, though he seemed conflicted about whether this was a good thing.
Teacher’s moniker originates from his time in South Korea when he and Panda were teaching English to young children. Korea is also where he and Panda played in their first band together, the Omokgyo Dragons.

Omokyo is the neighbourhood they lived in and is a good example of the use of location in the band’s songs. Their first album Hastings-Sunrise is named for the Vancouver neighbourhood they live in, and Mount Benson is named for the mountain in Nanaimo (Panda and Teacher both grew up on Vancouver Island). Their songs are dotted with references to other places where they have spent time: “Shanghai Alley” is in Vancouver’s Chinatown and “Witchcraft Lake” is near Mt. Benson.

Though the other members weren’t sure why so much of their material was about specific places, Panda mentioned that “it’s a good way of situating something in a particular time and place.”
Their music, while fun, feels personal and one gets the impression they are about significant moments in their lives. The lyrics can be listened to, but not read because Teacher likes to “leave a bit of mystery” for the audience. Though the songs do, for the most part, have personal meanings to the band, they don’t care if the audience interprets things differently.

“If people get something else out of a song [than what I intended] that’s great,” said Teacher. The content of their personal lives may make up the meat of their song lyrics, but the front they put on on stage lets them keep some distance from their audience. Semi-professional wrestlers, musicians and all performers have two lives at the same time: public and private. The Ghosts’ consciousness of this may be the key to their brilliance.