Today on Porch Stomp Presents, we highlight one the best up and coming singer/guitar players on the New York City bluegrass scene (not only that... we're proud to say has been a part of the Porch Stomp community since the beginning!).
Christian Apuzzo is an anomaly in the folk world. His vocal power and dexterity frequently incite awe amongst listeners and fellow pickers alike (and as of recent, it's become apparently that his guitar playing will soon follow suit). I vividly remember the moment that I first encountered Christian. His band "The Idiot Brigade" (now "Cole Quest and the City Pickers") was stuffed into a tiny corner of The Cowgirl Seahorse in the historic NY seaport belting the rowdiest version of "Workin' on a Building" I'd ever heard with Christian at the helm. We've been fortunate to watch Christian blossom from a student of the craft of folk song and flatpicking guitar into a dynamic performer complete with an soaring tenor range and enough one liners to keep an audience laughing well into the evening.
However, the thing that makes Christian's singing and playing so stirring is his sheer relatability. His powerful, boisterous laugh is infectious, and Christians performances/persona have a way of inviting the listener into his world with gusto. As of recent, Christian has began channeling this momentum into traditional-based songwriting. While I'll confess to only having heard a few of his original tunes, the old truism "you are what you eat" is particularly apt in Christian's case; having spent years consuming only the finest elements from the folk and bluegrass cannon, his writing reflects a raw energy that is potent and immediate and above all, honest.
Check it out for yourself. Here is Christian singing his original, "Run Away".
A quick Q and A with Christian
What was it that brought you into the bluegrass community/what was the series of events that pulled you into NYC folk?
I've been in the city for about 5 years. I was living in Astoria for about a year before I heard of a weekly bluegrass jam on Sundays. I've always been intrigued by the purity of the music but I never had the opportunity to play the style with other people. I love how no one needs to be plugged in and everyone has to be listening to each other. I am also a sucker for harmony singing so it was no question I'd be back at the jam every week. I got to know the regulars and checked out pretty much every other jam in the city meeting everyone I could. They've taught me so much, either directly or indirectly, with G runs, rhythm and lead guitar playing, jam etiquette, you name it. I've met some of the greatest people I'll ever know through the scene here in NYC.
Who are your biggest influences as a singer, songwriter and artist (non-folk influences are totally cool, fyi)? How do you find your influences mix in your writing process (as someone with a diverse background in music)?
Growing up I listened to a lot of the Beatles and Everly Brothers along with the classics my parents grew up with during the 50's and 60's. I think this helped me form a solid foundation for lead and harmony singing. When I fronted other non-folk groups, I'd like to channel Jim Morrison, James Brown, Joe Cocker, Freddy Mercury. They had such stage presence let alone great vocal talent. It definitely helped me to be able to be a lead singer with no instrument. Those performances developed a sense of confidence that I think is as important if not more so than raw talent.
Some of my major bluegrass/folk/country influences would have to be Del McCoury, Tony Rice, Michael Daves, Willie Nelson. Those were the singers that kick-started my ever-expanding list of bluegrass tunes. I've found so much just from starting with those guys. You don't realize how small the folk world is until you realize everyone is playing with everyone.
Having so many different influences coming from so many different places helps me hear many styles when writing and as of late I've been fusing some genres and styles to create something to show where I have been as a musician. But most times I'll have a really great hook or a lick and realize it's already apart of a song I've been listening to!
What is the song 'Run Away' about?
I wrote 'Run Away' about a very specific feeling I get often. I'm sure everyone can relate. The gut wrenching feeling of, "Why did I do that? What was I thinking?!" Those are the regrettable or cringe-worthy moments in life I wish I could take back. Often times, "running away" from the thought or keeping occupied helps to keep you moving forward but the moment in question always remains somewhere in your mind. The song eventually turned anti-romantic in nature as that was the specific experience I was going through when I wrote it. I must have regretted something I said and was wondering how the other person would take it but eventually realizing I was probably better off.
What's the one piece of advice you have to offer to young players entering the bluegrass and folk scene here in NYC?
Listen! I haven't been playing for nearly as long as other players around town but one thing is for sure, if you play too loud and can't hear the bass or leader of the tune, you need to hold back a little and listen. Ask "how do I fit in with the group?" and what kinds of tricks or textural elements can I bring to the song besides sheer volume. A guitarist should provide the solid rhythm more for percussive purposes to support the soloists. I am guilty in thinking that the guitar is the star but learning your role is essential for sounding cohesive.
Also, don't be afraid or hold back. The jams I go to are meant to be welcoming environments for all. Try a song you've been working on, ask questions, take a break in a tune you might pass on. Meet new people, go to shows and festivals. That's how I found my current crew of really talented friends. You never know where that next gig is hiding. Just remember to listen!
How do we follow you/find more of your music?
You can check out www.ChristianApuzzo.com for media specific to me. You can contact me personally for lessons or shows etc. I play in many different pick-up groups at various venues around New York so you might run into me with a brand new group each day of the week. I am also in a bluegrass group called Cole Quest & the City Pickers. Our album and other stuff is out there at www.ColeQuest.com. We play pretty frequently in the NY area and we write our own songs as well as arrange some good ol' chestnuts. Hope to see y'all out there.
Special thanks for Jeff, Sue and Redia at Beehive Productions for documenting today's featured performance at Porch Stomp 2017.