There’s a lot of talk on the internet about the state of the music industry in Australia, with all sorts of theories about why the end of the world is nigh. While that’s going on stalwarts like Tex Perkins continue to write and release good solid Australian rock that shows just how much water is left in the well and how sweet it tastes.
Perkins (The Cruel Sea, Beasts of Bourbon, The Dark Horses) has teamed up with Gus Agars (The Vandas, Gin Club, The Dark Horses) on drums, Raul Sanchez (Magic Dirt) on guitar and Pat Bourke (The Ladyboyz, The Dark Horses) on bass and piano to create The Ape, an avenue for a bunch of songs that had no home but which has now forged it’s own DNA. Their debut self-titled album is about to be released alongside a series of tour dates and I caught up with Gus for a chat.
Five minutes before the interview, I got an email from their publicist Suzie, saying I should ask Gus about his facial hair. Being the professional I am, I immediately fell for this set-up and asked Gus if he had a beard.
Er, no (nervous laugh), not at the moment, why?
I was told to ask you…
Sensing that Gus had possibly identified me as a weirdo I did what any gentleman would do in the situation and dropped Suzie right in it, which generated a decent guffaw. I told him that she said he had a magnificent beard…
(continuing to laugh) No, no, those girls are upset because I had a moustache. It really upset them, it really got at them. They couldn’t understand it.
That’s not exactly how she tells it, but having left them all with something to sort out at counselling sessions, I moved on and asked, given his new band’s called The Ape, what sort of ape he is?
I’m, er, what would I be? Well, you always want to be a chimp don’t you? I think a youthful chimp. Struggling to be the alpha.
Gus has been playing music all his life, starting with little instruments but getting on the skins at the age of ten. I asked if he considered music his day job.
Yeah, kind of, yes, this is it. I do other stuff to fill in the blanks.
I wondered if he thought making a living off rock ‘n’ roll was becoming less common.
Well, er no. I just think a different way and people need to be smarter. I think living off rock ‘n’ roll is now more about touring than anything, and putting bums on seats.
I hear a lot of people complaining about how hard it is, but perhaps the main ingredient continues to be that you actually have to make good music?
Yeah! Totally! I don’t know if there’s more music these days. I know it’s more accessible and it’s harder to sort the good from the bad when you’ve got so much coming at you. Bands that come through that are good will have more chance of longevity, that’s for sure.
The band came about to get some songs out there that had been around for a while – have you added some new songs?
Yes, absolutely. The band had developed these songs and they now have a common denominator, a thread running through them – it’s their own sound now. They go well together so it’s much easier to write when there’s a kind of formula to it. We know what things will sound like live with the four of us playing them so we write to that.
The reason these songs are around for us to play is because they weren’t Cruel Sea songs, they weren’t Beasts of Bourbon songs, they definitely weren’t Dark Horses songs, so they are their own thing in a way.
The album seems to be built on a principle of being lean without being light-on it’s only got the notes that need to be there and it’s on the flatter, dirtier side of the fence production wise, but not too far that way…
Yeah! They’re fairly pared back – we want to be able to play everything live, the four of us, and be able to sound as close to the record as possible. There’s some weird percussion and all sorts going on in there (yes there is! GP) but they are the cherries on the cake, but yeah it is basic music. Very. Just drums. Bass. Guitar. And a good melody over the top of it.
There’s a few bands going around in Australia with your level of experience, bands like Front End Loader and so on, where you can actually feel the confidence that lets you get back to what’s important…
…yeah, I think there’s a lot of music that’s hip and popular and ‘the youth’ seem to like it that has a very eerie, indie, ethereal – I can’t even explain it but it just seems like everyone’s been neutered a bit and like there’s something to be said for simple guitars and pounding drums.
Don’t get me wrong – that ethereal stuff – I like it and there’s certainly a place for it, but there’s a place for what we’re doing as well.
Yeah, personally I like progressive instrumental rock but fuck-all people listen to that and if you ask people they want stuff they can sing and hum to…
Yeah for sure, like if you look at Perkins and my record collections, the stuff we listen to, we have massively eclectic tastes and this (the album) is what came out.
The album starts with those banging drums and even though you’ve kept it simple there’s a great progression – it does end up in some pretty beautiful staff at the end there.
Well thank you for saying that, that probably comes from the stuff we listen to and there’s a million different possibilities in every song – sometimes it’s hard not to use up all those possibilities.
Did you record it live?
We basically got bed tracks as a full band for everything and we tried to get as live a take of everything as possible, then do the overdubs and finishing off at the end.
There’s a lot of bands recording when they are not even in the same country, and kids in bedrooms recording full albums on their own…
…which is fucking great!
…yes, agreed, but there is this feeling you get from a record that’s been recorded with everyone in the same room.
Because the stuff is so simple you kind of gotta do it all together otherwise all feeling’s lost.
What’s the response to the shows and the single been like so far?
We did our first show in Melbourne at the Cherry bar a few months ago and it was interesting because we didn’t have our single out at that stage so no one had any idea at that stage what they were going to see, and at the beginning there was this kind of “OK, show us what you’ve got” and at the end of each song you could see this “Oh, I didn’t mind that” and you could see people easing into it, and not hating it. Which is kind of what we want.
If you were playing a gig and your rider was a slab of beer and you got there to find it was a slab of Carlton Cold, what would you do?
Oh shit! (pause) Do they still exist? Probably keep it and sell it on ebay. Can’t be around too much longer!
Last up, your favourite drummer joke?
What do drummers use for birth control? Their personalities (laughs) That’s my staple drummer joke.
Here’s another – how do you get your drummer to play his drums? Tune your guitar. (laughs) Which if you ask any guitarist is the fucking truth!
You can catch The Ape live in early October and grab their great debut album then too. It’s the pick of the bunch (sorry – I couldn’t resist a monkey reference. No one can.)
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