Indie + alternative music culture depends on dedicated artists who create diversity & drive innovation in all aspects of songwriting, production & performance. We constantly feature new & notable independent acts on the verge of success. Meet this week’s featured artist in an exclusive interview. Introducing You To Your Next Favorite Artist: Apeman
A three-piece rock band from the basements of New York, the band consists of multi-instrumentalists Dexter Dine, Ethan Primason, and Ryan Gredd Smith. Since recording their debut album in a decrepit Revolutionary War-era house in Western Massachusetts, Apeman’s sound has warped and culminated in their third album, “Televisioner,” which came out in September.
We recently talked with the guys of Apeman to get their take on alternative culture. Read on to find out more about your next favorite artist.
Comments From The Curating-Editor
The title of Apeman’s latest album, Televisioner, says it all; they’re grungier disciples of 70s proto-punkers Television, with scratchier shoegaze effects layered into their hard-alternative sound. At times, the group reminisces very early The Strokes in both vocals and guitar lines, at others (like in Burner) Pearl Jam vibes vibrantly emerge. The reverberating album gets better with every listen, as you start to tease out the complex “distillation of all the sounds and experiences we have been through over the past five years.” There’s a song for every alt-rock lover on this album, and mine has to be Lion. The off-kilter pedal-driven groove is stimulating against those breathy, longing vocals. A guttural guitar-bass breakdown tops off the moody and roaring soundscape. Definitely a song I would kill to experience live, being the Leo that I am.
What are your top 3 favorite albums that inspired you to get into music?
Dexter: Marquee Moon – Television; Television, and specifically their guitar interplay, was one of our biggest influences when we were starting out as a band. For our first few years together, our lineup consisted of two guitarists and a drummer – like Television, we didn’t write rhythm and lead parts, but rather parts that locked together or played off of each other. Only in the past year or so have we shifted to guitar, bass and drums. That change was necessary to fill out our live sound, but we quickly embraced writing bass lines that also replaced the missing second guitar line that had become crucial to most of our songs. I think we are getting better and better at this, but I still listen to the guitar parts on Marquee Moon in disbelief.
Ryan: Bleach – Nirvana; When I first learned guitar I would learn every Nirvana song I could and play them with my friend who could drum. Our other friend didn’t play an instrument so he just sat there and cheered us on. We’d jump around the room and I’d hit my head on the fluorescent light and what not. I was 13, I think, and really confused about the changes my body was going through.
Ethan: 20 All-Time Greatest Hits – James Brown; I used to listen to this CD on repeat when I was growing up and just freak out in my room. His rhythm section was out of control and I would like to think that somehow I was able to glean some chops from the hours and hours I spent jumping on furniture to the beat of “I got the Feelin.”
What are your fondest musical memories?
Ryan: As an artist, I was in a punk band in college and we would play these really crusty shows – a friend kicked a hole in the ceiling at our house and someone got their teeth punched out. Once, when we played in a barn, people climbed up on the rafters and were throwing bales of hay. I was drumming and our guitarist, who always took his stage presence very seriously, had eaten a lot of mushrooms a few hours earlier, so he was just smiling, ear to ear, as all this hay was swimming in the air. As a listener, when I was a kid my parents would play the Beatles in the car on trips to the catskills. That was really nice.
Ethan: I once heard a guy playing “Bird’s Lament” by Moondog on the Saxophone while I was waiting for the F train. When he finished, I asked if what he was playing was indeed Moondog, to which he replied “yes.” I told him that I was a fan of Moondog, thanked him for the experience and gave him Five Dollars. A few weeks later I saw the same performer at the same station playing Saxophone. Once again I waited for him to finish playing through a song, caught his attention and asked him if he wouldn’t mind playing a Moondog song for me while I waited for my train to which he replied “I don’t know what that is, this isn’t a fucking Karaoke bar, eat a dick.”
Lately what musical periods or styles do you find yourself most drawn to as a listener?
Ryan: Sometimes when I feel anxious, I turn off all the lights and put on Brian Eno’s “Apollo” and pretend I’m on a space mission gone wrong. I get all freaked out and fall asleep – it’s like in the movies when someone’s in so much pain they pass out?
Dexter: Good call, I’m always listening to “Discreet Music” by him because I’m always trying to go to sleep.
Ethan: I really like that moment in the early 2000’s when Timbaland decided to put Harpsichord in every rap song.
What is your creative process like? How do you approach the writing process? Is there a particular message or theme central to your creative works?
Dexter: I come up with a ton of song ideas, most of them are real crap, but I end up hanging on to a few. I’ll usually have a vague idea of what a song’s “about,” or have some general emotional idea that I want to convey from the beginning. From there, I obsessively think about the song – on the subway, trying to fall asleep, wherever – and keep updating the lyrics right up to the final take in the studio. For some of the first Apeman songs Ryan and I wrote, we would also write each other’s parts. Now I think we all really trust each other musically, everyone writes their own parts, and songs feel less like they belong to, or were written by just one person.
Ryan: There’s always a particular theme or message, lyrically and musically, and it’s based on whatever is going on – so the approach is passive. It’s like when you go somewhere in the city and recall dreaming about that place the night before — you realize something is buzzing around you so you grab at it and try to make something coherent or evocative of that strange, uncanny feeling.
Ethan: Apeman used to solely be driven by Heaven Hill Whiskey, but now we drink White wine.
We’re a firm believer that the cities that artists are based in helps craft their sound. How would you describe your city’s music scene? How has it inspired you into crafting your sound?
Dexter: So many venues here are completely money driven, all of these cool old places just churning through acts to get paid on the night. It’s a little disillusioning.
Ryan: You really just have to get out there.
How would you describe your visual aesthetic, in terms of album artwork, music videos, and artistry? How does the music you create contribute to your visuals? Does this extend to your live show experience?
Ryan: Our visual aesthetic is definitely influenced by the music we make and vice versa. The album cover is a collage I did, and a lot of times when we talk about writing music, we’re talking about doing so in a way that is similar to collage. We take pieces of different genres and try to combine them, have them speak to each other, et cetera. Dexter said a few months ago that he was walking around the city listening to “Televisioner” and thought, “this is like a mix of Etta James and Gang of Four – what the fuck?” I loved that. A worry of mine, though, is that it becomes too muddy and directionless. Like when you mix all the paint you’ve got and it’s just this shit-brown. One time, at college, I was going into the dining hall and my friend, who wanted a soda and didn’t want to pay to enter, handed me his thermos to get him a drink. He never told me what he wanted so I got him a little bit of everything, including that weird Hawaiian Punch thing. I think he’s still mad at me. Where do you draw the line? We plan on bringing more aesthetic to the stage though for sure – Ethan has some pretty innovative lighting ideas.
As an indie artist in the digital age, social media and streaming are essential tools for marketing and promotion. What do you think about online music sharing, both as a music fan and as a musician? How do you think social media/music streaming services impacts the rising musician?
Dexter: While social media is obviously an invaluable tool for an artist to have, I do think that up and coming bands can rely on it too heavily. It seems that the only way rock bands can hope to make money these days is through aggressive touring, and I think that focusing too much on digital promotion can actually hurt your effectiveness as a live outfit. Similar to how people manipulate their Facebook profiles to create highly managed versions of their lives, bands often put too much effort into creating the illusion of success where there is none. You can spend hours online following random bands just to get their follow back, but that is not the same as going out into the world, attending shows and establishing real connections with like-minded musicians and artists. Some aspects of online promotion feel really gross and unnatural, and for a long time I’ve just told myself to stop thinking and go shameless, but I don’t think that’s the only possible path anymore.
What is your dream collaboration and why?
We’re all big fans of John Malkovich.
Which songs are you currently obsessed with? What new acts do you recommend to our listeners? What bands do you believe are your best kept secret in the indie community
Dexter: I like “Kanye West” by Young Thug and “knock on my door” by Androgynous Mind.
Ethan: The fact that more people haven’t heard of The Barnacles really blows my mind.
Ryan: I really was obsessed with the guitars on Mclusky’s “What We’ve Learned” for a few days. Also, listen to Shilpa Ray – she’s got a great scream and sounds like Edith Piaf. That’s another one – “Milord” by Piaf is hard AF. Best kept secret: The Barnacles.
What are you currently working on? Any new projects?
Dexter: We’re all constantly writing songs and thinking about what our next projects will sound like. Going forward, we want to focus on smaller releases like singles and EP’s. Those will be easier (and more affordable) to record and produce, which will give us more room to experiment, and we’ll be able to get a lot more stuff out there every year. We’ve already played a few new songs live, but we aren’t going to jump into something else without first finishing up a few more Televisioner related things. We’re planning on touring and making at least two music videos – one of which might not be live action – so stay tuned!
Ryan: Singing on key.