Ben Dowd of Melbourne’s APES talks Stranger Than Strangers

APES are an enigmatic Melbourne band. They’re well-known across the Australian music community, however in their long career, they haven’t released a full-length album – only small tasters in an EP and single launches. But, finally, the day has come, and they are bringing their debut album, Stranger Than Strangers into the world. It reveals a huge exploration and growth since their 2013 EP, Helluva, and reiterate why APES is a band that everyone knows – or should know.

We caught up with front man Ben Dowd to find out a little more about their scintillating debut album. As Ben and I chatted, he was caught in traffic (responsibly using a hands free headset, don’t panic), proclaiming his headset to be ‘ballin’ on a budget’.

First off, congratulations on Stranger Than Strangers – I’ve had a listen (or ten) and it’s great. Long time coming though… 

Yeah, it’s been like four years now, glad to finally get it out and for people to have a listen, and see what they think. When you’ve been doing something for so long you’re kinda like ‘I don’t even know if this is good anymore’. [Laughs]

It’s just become a part of you after so long. [Laughs] It’s really interesting – the first track on the album is “Pull The Trigger”, which was a single of yours from 2014, so it’s not exactly been a standard sort of album release process, is it?

Not really, I guess that kind of showcases like how long we’ve been doing it. I guess it was a subconscious thing to put that as the first track because, you know, it has been such a long period and everything after that song is stuff we wrote [for the album].

I guess it’s kind of been linear since 2014, but it’s not how most people release records. Now that we’ve got the album from you, does that mean that we might be seeing some more regular releases?

Yeah, definitely. We’re gonna try to have something out before the end of 2017…

Another album or another single?

Not too sure, like maybe an EP, but maybe that’ll turn into an album. That was kind of the process that happened this time around. [Laughs] We were just putting a few songs together for an EP and then we ended up writing an album, and then the music direction kind of changed a bit, because we started all writing as a group a bit more, [from when] James [Toohey, guitar], was doing a lot more writing and the sound was a bit different from what we would all write together – so we kind of had a whole album done at around the end of 2015, and then we kind of … started anther one. [Laughs] So we’ve written a lot of music in that period. It took a while to put together the release.

Maybe if you release everything that you’ve written we’ll have ample releases for the next few years, enough for a couple more albums?

Yeah. Now we’ve got a back catalogue….

You don’t need to record anything new for a few years.

Yep, we’ve done all the hard work

Yeah… [Laughs] So this album was written over quite a long time, was it noticeable, as you were writing it, seeing how your sound was changing and developing? Like, were there things that you had to go back to and go ‘Hey, that doesn’t sound like us anymore’?

It was most noticeable when we had the first bunch of songs together, and then we kept writing and we were like, ‘This is so different to what we were’ kind of thing. Like, obviously we could tell… even the songs that made it to the album are quite different from each other but still have that kind of one thing that still makes it sound like APES, showing through on all the songs. But yeah, I think you get to a point where you’re like, ‘I don’t think we’re that band anymore’, like, compared to what we were on the EP and stuff.

Absolutely – but it’s normal for that to happen.

Yeah… when we initially started, you get together with people and you’re writing songs that sound like a band you like. When we started we were just like, ‘Fuck yeah, we love Black Rebel, we love The Hives or Band of Skulls,’ you know, all that kind of stuff. After a while, you kind of come to realise that’s not what you’re writing naturally. You’re writing trying to sound like something, it’s not naturally what you’re playing when you pick up an instrument for the first time or something. I think that’s more true to what our sound is now.

So would you say you have creative influences that you can hear in this album? Or did you stray away from that?

That’s kind of hard. I guess musically we kind of thought of bands like TV On The Radio and stuff. Toohey is really big on Radiohead, stuff like that. There’s like a lot of weirder sounds, and he kind of leads that… I think the biggest influence was probably working with Michael [Belsar], our producer, he kind of pushed us a bit to experiment a bit more our sounds and melodies and stuff.

Yeah, there’s some really amazing people who contributed to this album. What was it like working with them?

The process we did, [over] such a long time, we recorded it in various studios and had like five different people mix on the record, I don’t think it’s something you can do over and over again, but it’s made it sound kind of interesting, I think you can hear that in the textures and stuff. Like, you know, you’ve got songs like “Strange Tastes” that Bill Skibbe mixed, and he’s working with The Black Keys and The Dead Weather and stuff.

Yeah, you can hear that 00’s era kind of rock influence, and then you can hear the influence of people like Mark Rankin who’s done Queens of the Stone Age, Florence and the Machine…

Yeah, with tracks like where you’ve got Mark Rankin’s influence, it’s totally different kind of end of the spectrum.

Absolutely, like Malcolm [Besley] from Northeast Party House has done some stuff on there as well?

Yeah, he’s awesome. He is the first guy we ever recorded with – he did our EP and our first singles ever, and it was pretty important to us to work with him again. Just, he kind of understands the way we write, easy getting ideas across to [him] because we’ve just worked together for so long.

It’s very Melbourne of you. Would you say there are any overarching themes to this album?

Kind of hard to tell because I wrote some stuff and James wrote some stuff, and me and James have never really spoken to each other about what the themes of the songs are, what they mean personally… so I can’t really speak for him on what his music means. Although I think it is kind of like a coming of age kind of process, you know, I was 21 probably when we started writing songs for this record, and now I’m 25. And I think those four/five years in anyone’s life is a pretty interesting time.. like trying to figure out what kind of person you’re gonna be for the next, you know, chapter of your life, kind of thing. And it’s confusing.

It’s really confusing.

Yeah, there’s songs about love and songs about you know, tracks that you don’t want to conform to this lifestyle that you’re being pushed into, and stuff like that. Just all different shit that you kind of think about in those early 20s years.

Yeah, its relevant to that age, definitely. So if you could describe this album in fifteen words or less, how would you describe it?

Uhhhmmm. Yeah, that’s interesting.[Laughs]

Sorry, it’s a hard question…

 Yeah… I guess I’d say… there’s something in it for everybody….? [Laughs] Maybe you can write something a bit more.. uh… deep and meaningful.

Oh no, I’m definitely putting that in – ‘Something for Everyone’!  Maybe you can put that on your next batch of merch..

Yeah, thank you. [Laughs]

So, you’re dropping the album and stuff, so can we expect to see lots of touring as well?

Yeah, definitely, we’re [doing a] bunch of shows [for the album launch], and then we’re going to be looking to do a lot of national stuff in the second half of the year. Really want to get out to a lot of places we haven’t been to in a while – like, we haven’t been to the west coast probably for over eighteen months now, and it’ll be really cool to go to more rural places and towns and see Australia.

So mostly touring for the rest of the year then? And potentially a release?

Yeah.

That’s very exciting, that’s a big year for you.

Yeah, we’re pretty excited.

 Getting stuff together, stuff is happening. You’ve been around Melbourne for so long in the music scene… it’s so strange you’ve never had an album out.

Yeah, I know. It feels weird cause you’re having such a long time off doing that, and especially making that kind of decision to focus on a record, like, when we were kind of at the peak of our career so far. It was pretty risky. But we’re feeling a lot more comfortable about it now. We were constantly changing our plans and stuff. Like, trying to get into a studio, record a single, and just you know, get it out and get back on the road playing and stuff. Now we’re kind of like trying to set ourselves up in a situation a bit more stable.

I think you guys have finally figured it out. Maybe. As much as anyone ever does.

I hope so.

And a final, important question; what’s your stage beer of choice? I remember it used to be VB…

I think our palates have matured a little… [Laughs] I dunno, I really like Cricketer’s Arms beers, they’re really nice. But everyone kind of gets on the Furphy now.

Especially now that we’re not allowed to drink Coopers…

Furphs and Mountain Goat cans, those orange ones, quite popular in mine and Toohey’s household.

Good to know, just in case people want to buy you beers at your next gigs. Great. Is there anything else you want to touch base on?

Yeah, if we could kind of see some fresh faces at the next run of shows we’re doing! [We’re] just looking forward to getting out and getting this record out for everyone to give us as much feedback as they can. Whether it’s good or bad.

So people are allowed to send you angry and bad comments?

Yeah! Bring on the haters, man. They need a place to feel comfortable as well.

Stranger Than Strangers is out today, and APES are hitting the road to support the release. Have a listen, catch their shows, and tell them what you think – good or bad (my guess is you’re going to love it).

 

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