One of the joys of being a music blogger is being exposed to all kinds of music across a wide range of genres. More recently, it seems an increasing number of artists and bands are fusing together multiple influences and creating music that spans across numerous genres, rather than sticking to only one, which is making for some really unique and interesting sounds (I even heard a discussion of this the other day on my local National Public Radio station). A band who’s done this quite nicely is Brain Ape, a talented, inventive and slightly crazy London-based outfit who skillfully fuse punk, stoner rock, grunge, noise rock and shoegaze to create their unique sound they’ve dubbed “Scratch Rock.” As the band state in a recent YouTube interview: “Scratch Rock is an anti-genre. If you’re a punk band, then for your next record you’re not allowed to make a heavy metal record. It’s stupid that you’re not allowed to decide what you want to make if you’ve been labeled something. So why not label yourselves something that means nothing. And therefore, your next record could be jazz. It gives us freedom.”
A self-described “Scratch Rock, spot popping, guitar smashing, headache inducing band from London, England,” Brain Ape was formed on New Year’s Day 2012 by front-man/guitarist Minky Très-vain and bassist Sol Alex Albret. They’d been friends since meeting in middle school when they both lived in Belgium. They soon released their first single “Cipramil,” and in 2014 released their debut album Dara O’. About that album, the band states they “established themselves as a group unafraid of releasing material very unsuited for mainstream radio. The record, with its lo-fi production, received no critical acclaim and went unnoticed by the world, much to the band’s delight.” Didn’t I say they were slightly crazy?
Photo by Nuri Moseinco
The band eventually added drummer Jacob Powell, and in August 2017, dropped their second album Auslander, which was released through Schlimbum Records, an independent record label started by Tres-vain and Dydy Haynes. Auslander is an ambitious work, containing 12 brilliant tracks with some of the best titles I’ve heard, and running nearly 55 minutes in length. You can read my review here. Powell eventually left the band due to other commitments, and Jamie Steenbergen joined the lineup in early 2018 as the new drummer. He quickly got up to speed learning to play the band’s repertoire of songs, as they embarked on a tour to promote Auslander, playing throughout Southern England and in Europe.
It was one of these concerts – at The Unicorn in Camden, England on the night of July 21st – that turned out to be an especially fateful show. They were opening for the band Ethyrfield, and excited to be performing at one of their favorite venues. Unbeknown to them, footage of the show was being simultaneously filmed by Galina Rin, Nuri Moseinco, and The Unicorn venue itself. Brain Ape played their set that night as they do every other, giving it their absolute all. After the show, they were approached by the promoter who told them they had footage of their performance, and it just so happened that a few videographers had filmed it too. So they obtained the footage, spliced the best pieces together to record their entire performance, and once they saw the edited version, they thought it was far too good just be used as a YouTube “throwaway.” It was then they decided to make it into an actual DVD release – “Brain Ape: Live at the Unicorn.”
The live video showcases the entirety of Brain Ape’s July 21, 2018 performance at The Unicorn. Both the sound and visual quality of the video are pretty outstanding, considering the footage was filmed by three different people. Furthermore, the video editing is seamless and near-perfect, and every bit as good as any other concert video I’ve seen. Brain Ape’s performance is tight and flawlessly executed, and they’re a joy to watch. Their live performances bring their songs to life, and it’s clear the guys greatly enjoy playing them for us. The physical DVD is scheduled to be released on the 13th of December, where the band will be performing a release show at The Dublin Castle in Camden. The DVD may be pre-ordered at http://www.schlimbumrecords.com/shop
Information in square brackets indicate the timestamp where the relevant track can be found within the live video. Information in round brackets indicate which album the relevant track was originally released on.
1. Meanwhile [00:00] (Dara O’)
2. Blood Blister [02:04] (Auslander)
3. The Quick Brown Dog Jumps Over The Lazy Fox [05:43] (Auslander)
4. Respect Your Icons [10:19] (Auslander)
5. Give Me My P45 [13:43] (Auslander)
6. Stop Sulking [17:02] (Auslander)
7. Das Krokodil Will Barfuß Sein [21:04] (Auslander)
8. Rig It [23:13] (Dara O’)
Here is a video clip from the DVD of the final song performed in their set – “Rig It,” which is the first track on Dara O’.
Interview with Brain Ape
I recently asked the band some questions to learn a bit more about their sound, creative process and love of performing, and all three happily provided some thorough and very entertaining responses. Enjoy:
EclecticMusicLover: Hi guys. Thanks for wanting to discuss your music and new concert DVD. We’ve followed each other on social media for more than a year now, and I know a bit about you and how you formed as a band. But before we get started, I do have one question for you Minky. I love your name, and am wondering if Minky Très-vain is your actual given name, or is it your artistic name?
Minky: A bit of both, really. ‘Très-vain’ is my actual surname, but ’Minky’ has been my nickname since I first saw the light of day, so it’s almost my given name by this point. Nobody ever really calls me by the name on my birth certificate, so there’s no real point going by it.
Jamie: I didn’t even know his ‘real’ name until about six months ago.
Minky Très-vain – photo by Nuri Moseinco
EML: You guys have a unique sound that really sets you apart from most other bands I’ve heard, partly due to your use of unorthodox melodies and song structures, but also because of your wonderful, distinctive voice Minky that sounds like no other singer. That’s a good thing, as it makes your songs instantly recognizable as Brain Ape, unlike some bands who, while putting out good music, can sound indistinguishable from a lot of other bands. Any thoughts about your uniqueness?
Minky: Sol and I have very, very similar voices when we sing, the only difference being that he impersonates Eddie Vedder, whereas I impersonate my inner turmoil. All jokes aside, whenever Sol does any backing vocals on Brain Ape material, or I’ve done backing vocals on A Twisted Carnival tracks, it’s very difficult to mix them in a way that they don’t blend in with each other to the point where we’re unsure of who’s singing what. It’s a really strange thing; when they’re soloed, they sound completely different and Sol’s quite recognisable in his own right. But for whatever reason, when we track them and lay them on top of each other they blend quite nicely.
Sol: When it comes down to “unorthodox melodies and song structures”, I think it’s because Minky and I never came from a formal music background. I’m shit. I dropped out of Music GCSE.
Minky: We get bored of ‘Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Chorus, End’. So we make our material interesting for us to play, and it just so happens that a lot of the time that means that the structure follows its own path.
Jamie: At first it did take me a while to get my head around the songs, but that’s perfectly normal when you join any new project and you’re filling in for someone else. You’ve got to do the other musician’s parts justice, but make them your own. Now all of the structures are second nature. I don’t really need to think, anymore.
Sol: We’ve kind of clicked together.
Jamie: Yeah, we’ve got good chemistry. The song structures make perfect sense now.
Minky: We never force our writing to be unorthodox. We write whatever comes naturally. It’s not as if we set out to write a tune, and we say “right, we’re going to do a verse, a chorus, and then change the key, and then upset the tempo, and then trick the listener into going somewhere completely different”. In fact some of our tunes, like ‘Give Me My P45’, have a far more conventional structure.
Sol: But even that tune switches it up slightly at the end, because as we were writing it felt right to have the outro change up the entire feel of the song.
Minky: We’re not completely against orthodoxy. But if we were to do a whole album of that, we’d get kind of bored. It would kind of feel like going from ‘Rubber Soul’ to ‘Beatles For Sale’. Not to say that dumbing down music is inherently a bad thing, because the whole reason things like the early Ramones kicked off was because the tunes were simple enough that they were relatable, but… I dunno… We don’t really think about it, in all honesty. We just kind of do what happens. And what happens we kind of stick to.
Jamie: You want to be different, but there’s a difference between wanting to be different and –
Minky: Forcing that difference.
Jamie: Yeah. “I have to create something new”. We’re not reinventing the wheel of music. We’re just taking our influences and putting them together.
Minky: We think our material sounds well-worn. We haven’t explored any new territory, I don’t think.
Jamie: The sound is kind of familiar.
Minky: We kind of feel like we’re just paying homage to sounds that came out twenty years ago, but people seem to think that it sounds…
Minky: Yeah. Well we feel like we’re adding at least something to it, otherwise there’s no point in doing it. And people seem to think that we sound distinctive, which I guess is a good thing. If only we could market that, you know. We might have been millionaires by now.
Sol Alex Albret – photo by Julian Newton
EML: You released your most recent album “Auslander” in August 2017. Tell me a little about your creative process for that album. Specifically, where did your inspiration come from for the creation of your songs, and how long did you spend writing and recording the album?
Sol: Recording the album, that’s the easy bit to answer. In studio time, it took us about two weeks to record. But we had to space that out because of various commitments we had.
Minky: Conflicts of calendars.
Sol: Exactly. But we were able to record it quickly because we rehearsed the material so much that we could literally go into the studio and bash it out.
Minky: We rehearsed incessantly. Every track, except ‘Blood Blister’, was either caught in one or two takes. In fact there were tracks that surprised us because we thought we were going to have to really work on them. ‘P45’ was one of those. We got that down in one take. ‘Blood Blister’ was the only one that, for whatever reason, we had to do eight or nine takes of. We just had a day in the studio where we got very frustrated and felt like we weren’t delivering. But then when listening back days later we ended up using take three or four, so it ended up not being that big of a deal and wasn’t that catastrophic. We just weren’t feeling it on the day of recording.
Sol: The feel of that song had to be done right.
Minky: But it wouldn’t be on the record if we’d felt like we hadn’t delivered the take that we actually wanted to etch into a CD.
Sol: The writing however… Minky writes the material at first, and then my process comes in a little bit later. It takes us a long time to write material that we want to put out.
Minky: We took a step back after our first album because we didn’t want to write the same record twice. So I went on to produce Sol’s record with his band A Twisted Carnival, which was a nice change of pace and kept things interesting for us. There were some strong similarities between that album and the first Brain Ape record, but it was different enough that we felt like we were still moving forwards rather than regressing. And then the year after that, I ended up doing an album with a duo I’m in called the oRaNGUtaNZ which was a complete change of scenery. It leans a lot closer to electronic music, which was really good fun to write. And at the same time I was also working on my sister’s first EP, which blends all sorts of genres. So by the time I’d started writing new Brain Ape material, I’d done so much different work that I felt comfortable that the material wasn’t just going to be a rehash of ‘Dara O’’. During that time, Sol had been travelling around the world and when he came back to England I was ready to show him what I’d come up with. So he moved in with me, and once you’re living under the same roof it’s a very easy and natural process to write music together. So we did that for about a year, and then we turned our attention to finding the right drummer for the job. Luckily for us it was around about that time that we were introduced to Jacob Powell. Once he’d joined the process it took maybe a further six months to just go over it again and again, which we did over one long summer in 2016. After that, we went up to Scotland and we recorded the album. There’s a ‘documentary’ about that bit, which you can watch here on YouTube.
EML: I read in another interview you did with Teri Morris for her Music Matters blog that you guys have spent a good deal of this past year touring around Southern England and in Europe. I know that touring is important for bands to get their music heard and try to connect with fans, but it can also be a stressful experience. How was it for you guys? And did the connection with and reaction from fans make it worth your while?
Sol: Fuck yes.
Minky: I don’t think we’d be doing it again if it wasn’t worth our while. We’ve just been back out to Europe for the third time this year, which was hugely successful. A good friend of ours runs a booking agency out there called UphillBookings, so if you’re looking to play Europe hit him up. Nice bloke, treats bands well.
Sol: The connections and reactions from the fans this past year… For me at least I love just getting on stage and playing loud music, and having people enjoy that is one of the best experiences.
Jamie: You can play music for yourself, but it’s more important to do it for other people.
Sol: It adds a new level to it.
Jamie: Obviously, it’s good fun for us. We have good laughs going out on the road, but performing and sharing the music is the most important bit. People connect to that, and they enjoy the tunes. It’s great for us to see new places too, and that’s all part of the fun and games for us. But we wouldn’t do it if it weren’t for the people who enjoy our music.
Minky: It’s unanimous in this band that music did so much for us when we were growing up. It’s really, really lovely to be able to offer that same service to other kids.
Jamie: We’ll never know the true effect, really.
Minky: I’m going to repeat myself between interviews here, but it’s not just kids either. It’s people of all ages, and if we can help anybody through tough parts of life… I’m not going to go into specifics, but in this band we’ve had a rough couple of weeks and playing music has helped us through it. So if we can help other people through rough times then it’s worth it.
EML: In addition to seeing and hearing you play your songs live, the thing I like most about your performance on the DVD is how you guys really get into your ‘zone’ and seem to have fun, not to mention your on-stage charisma. Do you find you get more energized performing your songs on stage as opposed to in a studio setting?
Sol: I like to try and make a studio setting feel like an on-stage performance. It helps translate the studio work to a live environment later on.
Minky: When we recorded our first album, I refused to let anybody sit down while they were tracking. You can hear the difference, especially with vocals, when someone’s going through the motions without particularly paying attention to it, compared to when they’re completely committing to what they’re doing. Posture changes how you play. We weren’t quite like that on ‘Auslander’, though, because we approached that album very differently than we did ‘Dara O’’. For our first record, we’d written it and rehearsed it and then went into the studio and only did one take for virtually everything. We had an ethos of “even if you make a mistake, that’s what happened at that point in time”. We treated that album almost like a photograph. It was supposed to be very spontaneous, regardless of ugly faults and flaws. But we didn’t have that approach at all for ‘Auslander’. We wanted to capture exactly what we thought we were about. Rather than take a picture of the band, we wanted to paint a painting. Which is why some of the song titles and lyrics reflect that.
Sol: To be more specific to your question, though, while we make both environments similar I definitely get more energised performing on stage. It’s a blast. You get feedback from an actual audience, and you get feedback from your fellow musicians. I’ll look over and I’ll see Minky going crazy and that makes me lose it, too. Then I’ll look over at Jamie and he’s not even looking at anything in particular because he’s lost in the music. It’s great.
Minky: When you’re playing with what the crowd are giving you, it makes a huge difference. It doesn’t matter if it’s thirty people or thirty-thousand people. Having someone lose themselves in the music, the moment, owning that. It’s fantastic. Life’s too short not to. You’ve got to never let that go, because you’ve only got one shot.
Sol: Do not miss your chance.
Jamie: But I think we’ve got good chemistry. Even in the rehearsal studio, we bounce off each other. That’s just what we do. It comes from playing together a lot, and rehearsing a bunch. There’re little things that Minky will do live that Sol and I have to deal with –
Sol: But we keep eye-contact and it works.
Minky: I must give you guys credit, to be fair, because I can sometimes be quite predictably unpredictable –
Jamie: We know.
Sol: Yes, we do.
Minky: But you guys keep the foundations rock solid. I couldn’t do it without you. It would just all fall apart.
Jamie Steenbergen – photo by Nuri Moseinco
EML: Are there any challenges in getting your songs to sound their best when played live?
Jamie: Getting a good sound-man.
Sol: People shutting down our show for being too loud. It’s tough to get our songs sounding their best when people are turning down our music.
Minky: I’m enjoying playing stuff from the first album at the moment because we’re having to reappropriate four-piece material into a three-piece setting, so I’m having to take what two guitarists had written and make some sort of hybrid out of it. To me, it’s new and almost like rewriting material. Our first album turns five years old next year, so we’re so far removed from who we were as people when we wrote it that I’m really enjoying revisiting and rearranging stuff so that it’s still contextually relevant for us as musicians. But it’s a bit of a struggle sometimes. Some of the tracks from the first album, we still haven’t worked out how to do with our current line-up. But the more we get to play with Jamie, the easier that’ll become. The setlist that we’re taking on the road at the moment –
Jamie: Is a mystery.
Sol: Wrapped in an enigma.
Minky: But we’re playing quite a few old tunes which we haven’t visited for years. We’re opening our sets with one of them and it’s been a lovely surprise to breathe new life into that track. A track that means a lot to us, as well.
Jamie: Having a decent drum kit helps me play live, too. And it also helps to hear myself. The hilarious thing at The Unicorn was that you guys came up to me after the show and were like “That was sick”, and it was but I couldn’t really hear during the show. It wasn’t the ideal sound for me. I was struggling to hear during the show. When that happens you kind of just pretend like you can hear the band. You just go for it, but it’s tough sometimes. Sound at a venue plays a big factor as to how a show goes.
Minky: Gear surviving tours is also a huge challenge.
Jamie: Especially when you smash guitars.
Sol: That is a challenge. Keeping gear intact is very difficult for some.
Jamie: Especially if you’re a Mustang.
Sol: Those things are so fragile. You have to be very careful.
Jamie: Expensive as well.
Minky: I feel like this has turned into something quite focused in my direction. And to be fair to me, there’s stuff I can’t help breaking as well. Like my bloody gate pedal not working anymore, so now I have to play slightly differently in order to –
Jamie: Guitar straps?
Minky: Yeah, okay. Fine. My gear breaks… But regardless, I think if you watch the DVD it’s clear that we wouldn’t get up on stage if we didn’t feel like we were translating our studio material properly. When you watch the show on that shiny purple disc, you’ll see that the material sounds very close to how it sounded on record. In fact we played ‘Blood Blister’ as the second track during the set, and during the credits at the end of the DVD I think ‘Blood Blister’ was used as well. Yes they sound different obviously, because one’s a studio recording and the other is from a live environment, but it’s so close that it made me quite happy the first time I saw it. I think it just highlights how well the songs translate from recording to stage.
EML: What dream band would you most like to open for or tour with?
Jamie: Queens of the Stone Age.
Sol: Foo Fighters.
Minky: You guys are shooting pretty high.
Jamie: I would have loved to open for Soundgarden.
Sol: I love the old, golden grunge scene.
Sol: But there’s a revival coming around that I’m loving, too. Mantra are great for example.
Minky: Yeah, I’d love to go on tour with mates of ours like Mantra. Or Sundrifter. They’re a band from Massachusetts and they’re fucking sick. I’d love to play with them.
Jamie: Black Stone Cherry. They’re pretty sweet.
Minky: You wanna tour with Black Stone Cherry? Again, you’re shooting pretty high.
Jamie: Yeah, mate. Why not?
Sol: We do have dreams to go on tour with the big bands of our generation, but that’s not to discount any of the smaller bands that we’re at the same level with.
Minky: There’s quite a few good bands around at the moment.
Sol: There’s a Belgian band called Raketkanon, for instance, who are awesome.
Minky: Going on tour with Raketkanon would be wicked. On a complete tangent, I caught a really good band the other day called Mice on Mars. They’re from Britain and they’re cracking. I don’t think we could ever share the stage just because we’re very different types of music, unless it was a festival setting or something, but they’re a great band. I really enjoyed their set. Fiende Fatale are another one. If you get a chance to catch them, they’re quite good.
EML: Are you now working on new music for a possible future album? And are you contemplating any directional or stylistic changes for your music or sound?
Sol: As we’ve said in every single interview, there’s stuff bubbling but we’re not at the stage where we can start talking about it.
Minky: “We’re keeping the top on the pot”.
Sol: We’re keeping the top of the pops.
Jamie: Top of the pops brewing.
Sol: We’re still touring with our previous album.
Minky: There’s no point making any false promises. We’re not going to be ready to tell people until we think the material is ready.
Jamie: It doesn’t really happen until you have something worth having.
Minky: No matter what we do, though, it’s not going to sound like ‘Auslander’ because we’ve done that already and we don’t want to do the same thing twice. It won’t sound like the first album, either. It’s going to sound like its own thing.
Jamie: It’s going to be different.
Sol: Stay in the present. The future’s for another day.
EML: Anything else you’d like your fans and followers to know that I’ve neglected to ask?
Jamie: We now have badges and stickers. Put a sticker on your skateboard, kids.
Minky: Fucking sick nosegrab, dude.
Sol: In all seriousness, thanks for your time and we hope you enjoyed the DVD.
EML: Thank you Minky, Sol and Jamie, and I surely did!
Minky: Cheers, Jeff.