Ghost-Note is driven by the search for a groove


Nate Werth and Robert “Sput” Searight have built their band Ghost-Note around their instrument of choice: percussion. But the duo’s mission is also, in Werth’s words, decidedly “anti-drum solo.”

Werth and Searight met and formed a close bond while drumming in the Grammy-winning Texas-based jazz jam band Snarky Puppy. When they struck out on their own to form Ghost-Note in 2015, Werth says he and Searight wanted to emphasize what they love most about percussion: the pursuit of a great groove.

“Obviously I love watching virtuosos do incredible drum fills and feels and chops,” he says. “But in the end … whatever is going to get us out of conversation on a day-to-day basis musically is going to be someone playing a really fat groove. So the music is based around that.”

Ghost-Note, which will play Sunday at Cliff Bell’s, includes guitar, keys, bass and saxophone, but percussion is undoubtedly the band’s lead instrument. Werth and Searight share the spotlight with drum work that’s accomplished and complex, but not showy. The instrumental tunes are crafted as highly listenable pop songs, built around drumming, but not necessarily calling an audience’s attention to that fact.

Werth describes Ghost-Note as “a celebration of rhythm,” and the band’s music indeed runs the genre gamut from funk and jazz to more modern hip-hop and EDM influences. That’s likely thanks to the fact that Werth and Searight are deeply nerdy about their craft. Werth started playing drums in middle school, and when he started music school at the University of North Texas, he piled on credit hours playing in Afro-Cuban, South Indian, Brazilian and other esoteric ensembles.

“Where most people would come in and get a taste for it and go back to their program and get back to what their degree was in, I just loved all of these different worlds of music and those classes,” he says. “So I just immersed myself in that. Every semester I was taking 23 credit hours or something, but only 13 or 14 of those were going toward my degree.”

Werth joined Snarky Puppy after he graduated, where he met Searight. Searight was at the time more experienced than Werth and many others in Snarky Puppy, having toured with Grammy-winning gospel star Kirk Franklin. Werth, who describes himself as young and eager to work at the time, immediately latched on to Searight.

“Those two worlds colliding worked really well,” he says. “But what brought it really together and kept it together, the glue, is our friendship and our brotherhood. We really get along and are just the best of friends.”

Werth says he and Searight have developed an ability to “write music together without really trying.” That’s been particularly important in the quickly evolving Ghost-Note project, which started out with a lineup comprised solely of percussionists, but now features a more diverse seven-piece touring lineup. As the band approaches its 100th live show while prepping a sophomore album release, Werth expresses a shared sense of purpose and open-mindedness between himself, Searight and their bandmates.

“We’re learning and we’re not afraid to change,” he says. “We haven’t found something that hasn’t worked yet, and I think if we do we’ll try to alter it in a way to make the audience love it instead of abandoning it.”

Ghost-Note performance

8 p.m. Sunday

Cliff Bell’s

2030 Park, Detroit

Tickets $12-$15

(313) 961-2543