The Apes of Wrath are the best band in San Diego.
Wait, did I just say that? OK, let me back up a bit.
Rather than a bold opinion, I'd say the above comment is more a product of my surroundings. For more than a year, I've resisted jumping on the Apes bandwagon as I watched friends and colleagues totally geek out when talking about the band's spirited performances and intricate mix of post-punk and indie rock. Hey, sometimes it's my job to be skeptical.
But, just as I found myself content in waiting for the band to release an album before I profiled them, I was broken down by the masses. In a post on CityBeat's Lastblogonearth.com commenting on the recent Rolling Stone story that proclaimed San Diego a “hot” music scene, Apes kept coming up in the discussion that followed about which bands were left out of the feature. Indeed, Apes seems to be everyone's pick for the hottest band not being mentioned in the same sentences as Wavves and Crocodiles.
I could resist no longer. The power of the musical proletariat had overthrown the bourgeoisie, let-them-eat-cake dictatorship of the big, bad music writer.
“Yeah, that was Jake blogging secretly,” jokes drummer Dustin Elliott, referring to Apes' bassist Jake Bankhead.
But Apes seem far too humble and fun-loving for such shenanigans. Over several hours and many beers at North Park's Bluefoot Bar & Lounge, my conversation with the foursome covered such topics as corn dogs, penis drawings, eating live crickets, The Goonies, the resemblance between squid mouths and sphincters, and how, according to Bankhead, 90 percent of rock music breaks down thematically into either “she broke my heart” or “I wanna fuck that girl.” Somehow, we managed to talk about what it is that makes their music so damn appealing.
“I think it all boils down to this,” Bankhead says. “We're all so different musically that if we stay genuine to what we each like individually, then we can come up with something together that's even more awesome.”
“Right, we all compromise by not compromising at all,” guitarist Andrew Geldmeier adds.
“Yeah, it can't be three people jizzing and one person crying,” Elliott pipes in. “It needs to be all four of us jizzing on the audience.”
What the fuck? Everyone around the table starts to laugh hysterically at Elliott's crass and slightly disturbing comment. But amid the guffaws and the sense that maybe another round of beers might not be a good idea, there's also the acknowledgement that all three, even Elliott, make interesting points.
First, to expand on Bankhead's explanation, Apes may be popular among their peers in the scene precisely because they are a musician's kind of band. They load their music with complex rhythms and intricate signatures—but the kind that aren't so compounded that they forsake catchiness. The “awesome” result is a seemingly effortless blend of varying musical sub-genres from the past 30 years. Simply put, it's a sound that can appeal to just about anyone with ears.
“Someone said we sound like XTC mixed with Queens of the Stone Age,” says singer / guitarist Rob Kent, recalling a memorable description from a newfound fan from this year's South by Southwest music festival. That show was coordinated by Transfer's Matt Molarius, who became a huge supporter of the band when the current lineup solidified in 2006.
Second, as any band will tell you, compromise is key. But when Geldmeier refers to “not compromising,” he may be referring to each of the members' individual, and strikingly different, musical strengths.
Says Elliott, “There's a balance and a chemistry that goes on where it comes from each and every one of us. The round bass lines that Jake will bring. The raw, driving punk parts that I bring. That technical syncopation that Rob will bring—.”
“And it camouflages everyone else,” interrupts Geldmeier just before Elliott can say what Geldmeier brings.
And, finally, that whole, you know, “jizzing” analogy—a blunt take on the band's approach to playing shows. When I mention that I'm starting to see regulars at their shows, they play it humble.
“They're all deaf,” Kent says, as Elliott does his best Helen Keller impression.
But to have fans, real fans, a posse of people that will bitch on a blog about your omission from Rolling Stone and dance around at your show with abandon, says a lot about a band that doesn't even have an album out yet.The recording of that album will begin after July, after the band returns from a West Coast tour. Meantime, even though they're already popular around town, what truly makes them one of the best in the scene is their willingness to evolve musically, even if it alienates the fans they already have.
“With us, we're changing all the time,” Elliott says, finishing his beer. “Yeah, I want a certain sound, but it's a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. The coolest thing is that as long as that progress is going on, I'm totally encouraged.”
And with that, there's a moment of silence, however brief. Apes of Wrath play with Scarlet Symphony and PAPA on Friday, June 12, at The Casbah. www.myspace.com/apesofwrathmusic.