Here at the Terrascope we always like to think that during our 25 years or so of existential being – ten of which have been Online, would you believe – that we have had an unerring eye for spotting good ‘uns and championing them. How reassuring it is then, when, occasionally, the recipients of such perceptive and positive press confirm just that.
“If it wasn't for Phil's effusive review [of sensationally smouldering debut EP “Soy Dios”], maybe Deep Water wouldn't have got in touch with us to do Lupus”, offers Dead Sea Apes guitarist (and some synths too, these days) and main band spokesman Brett Savage.
The Dead Sea Apes are named after the mythical beings in the Koran – a group of people transformed into apes because they had turned away from God. “I’m not sure how much of that was a consideration when we chose it, although it’s an interesting idea. I think we just liked the way it sounded more than anything”.
Brett is joined on what he calls an “instrumental leviathan” by Nick Harris (bass and guitars) and Chris Hardman (drums and studio wizardry). They formed in Manchester around 5 and-a-half years ago. “We didn’t know each other from Adam when we got together”, says Brett. “We did the musicians’ equivalent of internet dating, but everything seemed to click into place very quickly”.
For those yet to experience the aural pleasure of Dead Sea Apes, their music has a very cinematic feel, not least the way in which it manifests itself through Brett’s distinctive guitar sound. “I think I picked up elements of my guitar sound incrementally over time, which is as much to do with what I listen to or what bits of gear come into my possession. I was massively influenced by Neil Young’s Dead Man soundtrack and Ennio Morricone when the band first started, so they certainly insinuated themselves into my style by osmosis. However I think a bigger influence on my guitar sound and playing overall was working with Nick and Chris. They could already carry the main heft of the music before I even plugged in my guitar, so that freed me up to be a little more impressionistic with the guitar. I’ve been a long-time fan of dub reggae, and although delay seems to be musical shorthand for ‘psych’ these days, I love it and I like to see it as a way of bridging the gap between those ideas.
As a guitarist, Neil Young is a massive influence. The fact that he could be such a singular voice in guitar playing without having to resort to the standard guitar hero ‘bag of tricks’ and histrionics is highly inspiring to me. I am, by no means, an exceptionally technically proficient guitarist, but I’d like to think that isn’t a barrier to making interesting music.
I’m also a massive fan of Eddie Hazel. I am obsessed with those early Funkadelic albums. I remember going to a friend’s flat in the early 90’s and him putting that first Funkadelic album on. It was like something unlocked in my head. I had intuited that music like that had existed somewhere, but had never come across it before. Then, when I heard Maggot Brain, I was absolutely floored. It spoke to me in the same way that ‘Planet Caravan’ had as a 15 year old.
On top of that, I’m a big fan of any kind of droning, repetitive or raga-inspired music and have always had a yen for it when this is incorporated into rock music somehow”.
How do Brett’s influences and stylistic leanings fit with the band dynamics?
“There is quite a lot of common ground between us as a band, but there are also things on the edges of each other’s musical spheres. Nick has a lot of Industrial, Anarcho-Punk and Warp influences, but he’s also a big fan of, say, Cream – so he has a very wide and unpredictable take on music. Likewise for Chris – he is a massive fan of Zappa and Beefheart, Mahavishnu and Miles Davis but is just as likely to throw you a curveball as much as Nick would.
In terms of how we work as a band, CAN have always been something of a touchstone for us. Chris is a sound engineer by trade, so all our recording is done in-house (at our rehearsal room). If something crops up whilst we are just improvising, we either have a recording as a reference, or Chris will artfully edit it into something useable if there is something unrepeatable about the sound. Lupus came about through a process whereby we did some rehearsal room jams with loops and drones, then we went back to the recordings to shape them into something else by adding or editing them.”
Finding the time to listen to other bands’ music can be something of a challenge these days. “There so much stuff worth listening to not always the time to do so” says Brett “However, recent albums by Bong, Blown Out, Tomaga, Anthroprophh, OnYou, E-Gone, Evening Fires, YSNBWATID, Nope, Last Ex, Lay Llamas and Goat have been getting a lot of turntable time around at my house. ‘Mammatus Clouds’ by Kikagaku Moyo absolutely knocked me for six last year. I’m always interested in hearing what Mugstar and Carlton Melton are doing, too.
I also go through cyclical dalliances with reggae, especially dub reggae, from time to time. I came across a great album recently by chance called Peace & Love by Dadawah that everybody should listen to. It’s wonderful. We’ve been ingesting quite a bit of PiL and The Pop Group recently too.”
I mentioned in a recent review of the rather delicious “High Evolutionary” that it would be good to see Dead Sea Apes play outside of their “home patch”. Herein lay one of the difficulties of semi-professionalism which many a band with whom we speak have to grapple with.
“It’s quite difficult, as finding the time between family and work commitments means that we can only dedicate so much time to the band. That makes long distance stuff a bit difficult. That said, we did play Supernormal Festival (Oxfordshire) the year before last, which was wonderful. However, we are booked to play at the Cardinal Fuzz showcase at The Shacklewell Arms in London on March 8th. Hopefully, this will be followed by something similar in Bristol soon.
Had the band been tempted to try vocals, either directly or by co-opting a guest to do the honours?
“I certainly wanted a vocalist when we started, but Chris and Nick had a bit more confidence in the idea of being an instrumental band. When we first started, there were still a good few identikit, po-faced ‘post-rock’ bands churning out Explosions In The Sky type of stuff. I’ve no massive objections to Post Rock as a genre or anything (especially as there are some great bands that came out of all that; Labradford, Mogwai, Godspeed etc), but I was quite keen to differentiate ourselves from that scene as a whole. It was pretty difficult to find a vocalist who was in tune with what was starting to naturally evolve between us. It became increasingly obvious that instrumental was the way to go.
I’m sure we’d be open to collaborate with a vocalist again if somebody complemented what we do, but I’m sure we’re happy enough to continue to make instrumental music as it stands. We did collaborate with a Canadian chap called Gabe Minnikin on a cover of Skip Spence’s ‘Land Of The Sun’ for a Fruits De Mer thing which was fun, but I think that was pretty much a one off”.
There was quite a gap between the band’s debut “Lupus” and 2014’s “High Evolutionary”. We were concerned we’d seen the last of them.
“Straight after the collaboration with Black Tempest, Dave at Cardinal Fuzz asked us if we wanted to release Lupus on vinyl, which we jumped at the chance to do. We were exceptionally proud of Lupus. So in the wake of it coming out, we started getting things together that would eventually become High Evolutionary. Some of the material was stuff that we had for a while, but we reworked or reassessed it until we felt it was right. Others were tracks that were fairly new. Everything was going swimmingly, right up until the point that the only thing left to finish the album was a final guitar solo from me. At that point, I had a pretty dramatic Multiple Sclerosis relapse (although I didn’t know that I had it at the time). One of the most alarming symptoms was that my left hand became numb, so that held up the recording for a good six months until I started to get some feeling back in my hand. I recorded one guitar solo with one finger - such is the quality of my guitar playing that nobody noticed!
In the meantime, we did attempt some rehearsals where I played synths and stuff and some of that has yielded some material that we are using for our upcoming album.
The collaboration with Stephen Bradbury (Black Tempest) worked a treat (see Terrascope Reviews June 2013). Were there any further hook-ups planned either in the studio or live and was there anyone with whom they would like to buddy up with?
“We would love to collaborate again with Steve at some point. Notwithstanding all the hard work that Chris obviously did to pull it together, the process was pretty painless and gelled well for us all. Of course it helped that Steve is on the same wavelength as us. I think the only barrier at the moment is time. We’re pretty much getting back on an even keel now, so I think the outlook is a lot rosier on that front. We’ve recently done a remix for a band called Sunwolf (who are pretty amazing) and we’re really pleased with the results. We are currently working with a friend called Abi who plies her musical trade under Maurice’s Hotel Death. That will be quite different to what we have done before and it’ll be interesting to see how that pans out”.
Brett’s reference to time constraints reminds me that on top of everything (band, job, family) he also manages to fit in editing Optical Sounds magazine. “It was originally put together by Dave Cambridge at Cardinal Fuzz. I had just started writing reviews here and there around the time I first found out about it, so I asked about contributing. Shortly after that, we started meeting up at gigs and stuff and we got on like a house on fire. As Cardinal Fuzz was taking shape, Optical Sounds was getting increasingly relegated as Dave has the mammoth task of running the label all on his own. He asked me if I would take over the reins of Optical Sounds and I was more than happy to do that. I think my job is to make sure it doesn’t lose its soul. Dave started Optical Sounds as a labour of love and it’s important that it remains that way. He is still massively involved with it”.
Brett echoes Dave Cambridge’s recent comments to Terrascope about the magazine’s ethos. “You’re not likely to find a negative review in there, as we only tend to write about the things we like. Cardinal Fuzz has really opened our eyes to the way the industry works, and that pretty much amounts to the fact that you will only get reviewed if you pay for advertising. We have adverts in Optical Sounds, but so far we have not taken a single penny for them, as we wouldn’t want to fall into that trap. It’s not a money making exercise. As long as it keeps going, then that’s what is important. The support we have had from Rocket Recordings, for example, has been phenomenal – and they will always get a free ad so long as they want one”.
So as the man at the helm what are Brett’s ambitions for the magazine?
“I certainly want to do an accompanying 7” for upcoming issues, and we are looking to doing one with the fantastic God Unknown label for the issue after next. That would be great and hopefully if we can keep it sustainable, we’ll definitely do it again. Generating a turnover of ideas is really important for keeping things going, but with the calibre of contributors– past and especially present – I feel pretty confident that Optical Sounds still has plenty of legs! We are very lucky to be living in an age when so much good music is coming out almost constantly. It’s certainly worrying in terms of the records I have to buy to satisfy my need, but let’s face it, that’s not a bad problem to have”.
No indeed, which just leaves us to clear up what the foreseeable future is likely to hold for Dead Sea Apes?
“We are putting the final touches to our next album, “Spectral Domain”, which we imagine will be released sometime around May/June time. This is a joint release with Cardinal Fuzz and Sunrise Ocean Bender. I really can’t wait for this to come out, to be honest. It’ll be good to work with Sunrise Ocean Bender as Kevin McFadin has supported DSA right from the outset and working with Mr Cambridge is always a pleasure. After that, we are looking at limited vinyl release of our first EP – Soy Dios, which we might add a new track to, but that will be late summer at the earliest. We are playing the aforementioned gig at the The Shacklewell Arms, and we will be playing again with Sunwolf in April and The Demons (YSNBWATID) again in Manchester on May 3rd. There are some interesting things in the pipeline, but I don’t want to nix them at this stage!”
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