Among London’s indie music intelligentsia, Brain Ape’s latest album, Auslander, is clearly a demonstration of wit and cleverness. From topics to song titles, including “Graphomania,” about the uncontrollable urge to write and “The Quick Brown Dog Jumps Over The Lazy Fox,” the trio’s ingenuity comes across loud and clear. With a punkish-metal-noise rocking message, on the schlimbumrecords.com label, get ready for Brain Ape.
Brain Ape’s new single and music video features “Graphomania,” the third cut off of Auslander. The song begins with a chorus-filled guitar intro, rich with tremolo, before acoustic strumming moves in and a subsequent pounding, stop-time metal riff takes hold. The vocals are moody and sensitive, while first-rate bass play and drumming adds to a grungy Nirvana feel. A tremulous electric solo rips through the 6:00 track, ending the same way as the tune began. But there is more.
The music reveals a unique, introspective message of inner loneliness with the lyrics: “Used to be someone else and then he fell to earth, no sense of pride, but a strong awareness of will…” That same candid mood is underscored with the refrain, “He doesn’t know what he should be.” You can hear how Brain Ape digs deeper than most; add the music and you have something special.
Another highlight, “Respect Your Icons,” is a metalized punk-fest of attitude and tempo. With relentless drumming and bass, the guitars and vocals maintain a high-speed limit throughout the mix. “Blood Blister” has a thicker melody and volume; “Hunger” is more melodic rock. “Give Me My P45,” the opening track, is big with fans. But our favorite pick of the album is “The Quick Brown Dog Jumps Over The Lazy Fox,” with its lightning instrumentation and time changes. Did you notice the play on words? The track retains a progressive quality and is a bit different from the rest of the cuts in the 12-song collection.
Brain Ape is Minky Très-vain – vocals/guitar; Jamie Steenbergen – drums/vocals; and Sol Alex Albret – bass/vocals.
Outside the Studio
Whether it is London, Paris or elsewhere, simply put, Brain Ape kicks ass in concert. Yes, frontman Très-vain has been known to destroy a guitar or two while on stage. Talk about living to play live.
Interview with Brain Ape
Musicinterviewmagazine.com recently spoke with Brain Ape about Auslander, “Graphomania” and more.
What was the inspiration for the song “Graphomania?” Who wrote the words and music?
Minky: There’s so many different influences in it, it’s difficult to pinpoint just the one. It was a continuation of the quieter theme on our first album. The music was written by all of us and then I wrote the words. Actually, I’d written a different vocal melody first and had written a bunch of words for that which were all just morbidly poetic. I realized that I’d ripped off the melody from the Arctic Monkeys. So, I wrote a different melody, which I ended up preferring and adapted the poetry into more of a linear narrative and rather than being abstract, became more of a three act story inspired by the initial poem that was written for the song.
The song’s pulsating effect sounds great. Was the track difficult to record? Did you use a chorus pedal on the guitar? Was the guitar mic’d in the studio or recorded digitally?
Minky: Yeah, we did use a chorus pedal actually. It’s an Electro-Harmonix® Small Clone set on maximum settings. To me, that had a lot of extra-terrestrial vibes to it. It just sounded really trippy and I felt that went well with the narrative that runs through the track. The song wasn’t really particularly difficult to record. It was recorded in the same way the rest of the album was recorded, typical three-piece.
Sol: Record drums, bass, then clean-tone guitar and distorted guitar separately. In fact, it was one of the easier songs to record because we had it very worked out in our heads when we sat down to record it. Everything was mic’d.
Minky: The entire album was mic’d, cab-wise. We wanted a definite live feel to the record, which makes more sense when you put our first and second albums next to each other. You get the continuation of the live atmosphere through them both, albeit more polished this time. So all of the guitars were mic’d up with my Vox® amp. There was no digital processing other than balancing, compression, EQ and panning. All of the effects that you hear were achieved using outboard guitar pedals.
Sol: With the entire album and our entire discography, the way we approach recording hasn’t changed. It’s always going to be musicians in a studio rather than digitally done.
Minky: All of the albums that influenced our recent record Auslander are albums of bygone eras where computers weren’t used in the process. So although we did use digital a workspace to record the album, we went into the recording sessions with the mindset of tracking it like you would an analogue album. We made sure all of the sounds being tracked into the computer sounded as good as they could and as close to the finished product as they could possibly be, before we even hit record.
Sol: Our ultimate goal is to be able to recreate it live.
Minky: Being able to recreate it live is very important in our eyes. So using digital manipulation doesn’t really make sense.
Who produced the album and where were the songs recorded?
Minky: We went up to Scotland to record the drums and bass.
Sol: At Ornockenoch Studios.
Minky: It had a really great drum room, so we went up there. The album was engineered and co-produced by Ryan Stephenson, the other co-producer being the band. We had a really hands-on approach to the recording of Auslander and made a vast majority of the decisions ourselves when recording. We wanted to ensure that it was the record we wanted to make. The guitars and vocals were recorded at Ryan’s studio in London. He runs a recording company called E&R Sounds, so it only made sense to record those with him. We then mixed the album ourselves.
Another cut from Auslander, “The Quick Brown Dog Jumps Over the Lazy Fox,” though a play on words, also takes its title from a writing reference. Is there a central concept to the songs?
Minky: I love that you’ve picked up on that theme. It’s constant throughout the album and draws heavily on that idea of obsessive writing. But I think that one of the really interesting things for us is that a lot of that is also carried through the music. It doesn’t simply rely on the lyrics to convey that message. Tracks like “Oh, David” have barely any lyrics at all, but for me the central themes of the album are still very present.
Sol: I tend to focus on the instrumentation a lot. With this album, I came into it hearing what Minky was bringing to the table and then playing the role that our old guitarist Dydy Haynes had on our first album. He made the instrumentation as different and interesting as possible. I think the best thing that comes out of group writing is the process that the material goes through. It’s not going to end up being what the initial writer thought it would be when he wrote the first draft. It’s a collaborative experience and that was the role I took during the production of this album.
How does this album compare to the last, which was the band’s debut?
Minky: Our first album was a bit of a statement.
Sol: Of intent.
Minky: Of not being afraid to sound as harsh and horrible as possible. It had a huge influence on how Auslander ended up being written and produced. We had somewhere to start the process and somewhere to move away from whilst remembering where we were coming from. What’s nice is that you can hear that they’re clearly two very different albums, but you can still hear that it’s the same people.
Sol: It’s the same people who are growing and that’s what I like about Brain Ape the most. We are constantly evolving our sound, but not just our sound, our technique as well. I like that they’re both a part of our history.
The cover art is thought-provoking. Who created the artwork?
Minky: The artwork to Auslander is a photograph I took in Pompeii. There was a mural that originally depicted the various activities you could do inside this gymnasium there. In the natural disaster that occurred, a bit of that mural was destroyed and in it I saw a lot of imagery that I thought was rather striking. So I took a picture of it and pitched it to Sol to use for the album cover. What I like about it the most is that everybody sees something different in it.
Sol: For me the focus isn’t on the picture, it’s on the color. I suppose because that’s the main thing I had a hand in creating. The reason I tried to steer Minky in the direction we eventually went in for the color of the record is because I see those colors as the palate of the music itself. When I listen to it, it’s dark, but it also has hints of purples, reds and browns. That’s also why we went with the colors we did on our merchandise. They’re the colors of the music we’re making at the moment. It’s slightly alien; it’s royal and it’s different.
Jamie: I got the alien vibe straight away when I first saw the cover art. It was interesting and fascinating and it wasn’t like anything I’d seen before. There was a strong link between the alien Auslander theme and the actual alien I saw in the artwork. It was very strong in its self-referencing and imagery. I do like what Sol’s just said about the colors on the album and the merchandise. I hadn’t really thought about it until now, but it makes perfect sense. At first I was confused as to why we were making t-shirts in these colors, but it now makes sense to me that those colors are kind of the Brain Ape colors in essence.
Minky: The cover art to the “Graphomania” single is very different, but carries through a lot of those ideas. Sol, you’re probably better at talking about this, seeing as it was more your idea than anybody else.
Sol: We like to debate what the artwork of a single should be. Because of our love for Bowie’s [David] work, when creating the cover art for our previous single “Give Me My P45” it only seemed right to reference his portfolio in the artwork. So Minky drew something that referenced Bowie’s Heroes album cover. The artwork for our single “Graphomania” has followed very naturally from that.
Minky: What’s interesting about the “Graphomania” cover art, which Sol brought up in a recent interview we did, is that we really wanted to show the range that Brain Ape has. The actual word “Graphomania” describes a person who is obsessively writing and writing a lot of material. When Bowie reused the Heroes artwork on The Next Day, which was an album he released decades later, it demonstrated how prolific he’d been throughout that time, while still remembering where he came from. The Next Day is reminiscent of his Berlin years and serves as a look-back on his career as a whole. That played in very nicely with the idea of a “Graphomania.” And for us, from “P45” to “Graphomania,” our sound is very different even though they’re on the same album. That’s why I liked the idea of reusing the artwork of Auslander’s first single for its second. When Bowie did it, it was an ode to a lifelong career, whereas with us it’s almost a hopeful premonition of how much we’ll write as a band.
The album was released on the schlimbumrecords.com label. Can you tell us a little about that?
Minky: They’re an excellent label. The team behind it is solid.
Sol: Especially their head consultant.
Minky: We’re joking, of course, because we run the label. It’s an independent label that we started more than five years ago. We’ve done everything DIY and have always been inspired by people who take matters into their own hands. Like the people at SST Records or Roswell Records. It’s enabled us to make our own decisions that are in our own interest, rather than in somebody else. So when we came to release Auslander, why release it through anybody else? We’ve not yet been given any better offers.
Sol: Schlimbum Records is all about the artists. It sounds really clichéd, but that truly is what the label is about. It’s about giving artists the power to control their own work.
Minky: At no point do the executives step in and tell an artist how to write their next release. It’s always going to be supporting what the artist wants to do. That’s going to be the ethos of the label for as long as it’s around.
You recently performed in Paris, supporting the False Heads tour. What’s next for Brain Ape?
Minky: It depends when this interview goes out. We just played a show on the 10th of March in London which we were very excited about. It was a hometown show and we were hoping to see quite a few friendly and familiar faces there. There was a buzz about it. It’s the first time we brought Auslander to a stage in London. We’ve got brand new merch and we’re coming back after having opened for False Heads, on their tour. A lot of things are happening for us. It all collided into the London show.
Jamie: I’ve played there before with another band and the venue was great. It was the perfect place for this show. From having been on the road with False Heads and coming back to London, which is where the band’s from, it was just a really good feeling to come home.
Minky: The band actually has a bit of history with that venue because the day before we recorded the vocals for Auslander we’d gone to see False Heads play at The Water Rats. We ended up having far too much alcohol after the show and stayed up with them all night singing along to a DJ’s set containing all of the songs that we’d grown up with. This resulted in me blowing my voice out completely that night. I was incredibly lucky to have woken up the next day with only a hangover. Thankfully, my voice was fine.
Sol: We can’t really complain. A good night and we got away with it.
Jamie: So rock and roll.
Photo of band:Jack Young – Rabbit With A Camera Photography