The Dead Sea Apes have returned out of their pandemic induced slumber. Domesticated were they, caged, like all of their musician brethren. Sure, they managed to make new music still, but it was never as raw and alive as before. Until now. They found the holy fire again, being able to play together renewed, free in the live experience. The jam, the very blood flowing through their veins. The Apes could roam again, wild once more. Bear witness to the Rewilding of the Dead Sea Apes.
On their new album the revitalised Apes have stripped their sound to the very core: guitar, drums and bass. Just three guys in a room picking up on a vibe and rolling with it, six times in a row for forty-two minutes. The sheer pleasure of the solid click Brett Savage, Chris Hardman, and Jack Toker have is infectious, and it is not difficult to visualise the energy in the room with your eyes closed.
You can feel it too, in your limbs, in your stomach, the rumbling bass, the tribal hacking of the drums, the gyrating howl of the guitars. This is a band of wildling apes released from their cages once more, ready to crush, ready to shed some sweat, ready to breathe. Rewilding presents a band finding back their holy fire; the mighty jam, the intuitive ritual, and we get to be there in this moment. It is a good time to be alive.
I talked to guitarist Brett Savage, who was more than happy to tell us more about the who/why/how of Dead Sea Apes. It is so great to be able to connect with passionate musician lifers like him and his band mates. It is the main reason for keeping up this Weirdo Shrine of mine in the first place…
How are you? How was the pandemic period for Dead Sea Apes?
Hello Jasper! Im all well and good, thank you. Hope that you are too! Personally speaking, I’ve got very mixed feelings about the pandemic period. I realise that it came with a real heavy cost to a lot of people – but I also thought it was really an interesting time to be alive. The lockdown period here in the UK was a really odd time. There was a real uncanniness to that time that I don’t think that we will ever experience again in our lifetimes, and I do think it ended up having a huge bearing on Rewilding. The empty streets, clear skies and the general quietness was a little bit spooky.
Here in the UK, we were allowed to go outside for short periods for exercise and get a breath of fresh air. I was out walking with my dog on a quarry local to me and I was listening to some really spooky music (Dire Wolves, as it happens), it was April and still quite cold and windy. The wind was making all the trees sway wildly, flecks of snow were flying in the wind – and all of a sudden, two deer just run out in front of me. It was like something out of a dream. It kind of felt like Mother Nature was reasserting herself in some way. That had a profound effect on me. It was both dreamlike and visceral at the same time – and that really seemed to jive with the times.
I also felt like a lot of people were affected rather oddly by the overall atmosphere of the lockdown. I’ve always been interested in conspiracy theories (not as a fan, more as an observer) and it was interesting to see how these ideas had started to promulgate so fervidly, as they often do in periods of uncertainty. These themes and the general uncanny vibe of that whole era seemed to fit with the primal and red-blooded music that had started to come out of us when we finally got back into the rehearsal room.
Obviously, it was frustrating for anyone in a band during the lockdown, as it was incredibly difficult to make music together beyond recording stuff and sending it over the internet, but we managed to get some ideas together with Adam Stone and Stephen Bradbury (Black Tempest) to make Dataland, which we are all really proud of and which I think captures some of that weirdness of the pandemic era really well, not least in Adam’s words.
Can you introduce the band, and how did you meet, etc, ?
Originally, Both Chris Hardman (drums), Nick Harris (Bass) and I (guitar) met through online musician’s noticeboards way back in 2009. We were a steady line up, up until Nick Harris left at the end of 2017. It took us a good few months to find Jack (Toker), who came in to replace him on the bass. I used to see Jack at quite a few gigs down in London and had always got in well with him. I ran into him at gig for The Heads in Manchester when we were looking for a new bass player after a few false starts. He had not long moved back up to the North of England and was keen to join. And we are so glad he has. He has given us a new lease of life and has fitted right in.
What can you tell me about your musical backgrounds?
All of us have had experience playing generally loud and weird stuff in a number of bands, up and down the country!
What does a regular day in your lives look like? (jobs/hobbies/vocations…)
Well, music is a connective tissue in our lives. In his day job, Jack builds and fixes guitars (he has just built me a beautiful custom guitar, by the way!). Chris is a sound engineer for the BBC. He also records and produces all of our stuff. We have recorded everything in our rehearsal room and Chris makes it sound pretty much as if we have been in a recording studio! I’m definitely biased here, but I think Chris is a true artisan when it comes to recording. He has a lot of creative talent backed up with a high level of technical skill. As for myself, in recent years, I’ve opened a record shop, so making music is kind of a ‘busman’s holiday’!
What is the best thing about Rewilding?
I think Rewilding has been an absolute rebirth for us. Although it took its time in coming, I think that we have bounced back with a real passion. I think we were really hungry to get back to playing as a band and let that unspoken communication can come back into play. You really can’t replicate it playing it in a back bedroom and sending it over data transfer. We wanted some of that ‘rehearsal room democracy’ to inform our music – and as a result, I think it made this album much more focussed, cohesive and our most passionate yet. Admittedly, we have taken our time in making it, but I feel that we have got the feel and the sound just right. We wanted it to come along in its own time. We haven’t laboured it to the point where it had drained all of the life out of it. It feels wild and spirited. We’ve been Rewilded!
Where do you live and what is the environment like for musicians like you?
Both Chris and I live in different parts of Greater Manchester and we have always pretty much rehearsed in the city centre. Jack lives a bit further out in Todmorden. Both Manchester and Todmorden have great promoters and audiences that are really supportive for music like ours.
A friend of ours told me recently that they felt that the Dead Sea Apes sound is very ‘Northern’, not so much that we sound like Oasis or The Stone Roses or anything (at least I hope not), more that it captures the vibe and space of the surrounding hills and local environment etc. I took that as a real compliment.
What are some of your best memories with the band so far?
We have a lot of good memories with the band – and most of them revolve around the friends, including a lot of great bands, that we have made and met along the way. We have been really lucky to meet loads of great people – and Facebook has allowed us to keep in touch. We’ve also played with bands that we are real fans of such as The Heads, Carlton Melton, Part Chimp and loads more.
We also have a back catalogue of albums that we are proud of. I don’t feel that we have any real weak spots in our collection, nor feel the need to rewrite history to reframe them to make sense of them. They all capture us at a point where we were at that time – and I feel that they all stand up really well.
We have also been incredibly lucky to work with Cardinal Fuzz on all of them. You really could not wish for a more supportive label owner than Dave Cambridge – who is a great friend of all of us in the band. We have also co-released with some great labels including (the legendary!) Feeding Tube, Sky Lantern, Sunrise Ocean Bender (RIP Kevin McFadin) and Deep Water Acres. Also, a big shout out to Andy Uzzell who released a couple of groovy lathe cuts with Adam and Steve on his great Misophonia label! We could also do with giving props to Adam at Drone Rock Records and the Terrascope guys for adding us onto their great compilations too. And finally, thanks to all at Golden Lion Sounds for releasing a split single with us and the mighty Carlton Melton!
Can you tell me about the recording sessions of Rewilding? How did you get in the right flow?
I think just before the pandemic, we felt a little bit lost – and not a lot of stuff was coming together. We kind of entered the lockdown period with nothing really solid to work with as a band.
When we got back in the rehearsal room we regrouped and returned with a newfound energy. Some new ideas seemed to just arrive fully formed, which really shocked us. Some other ideas that we really liked took some time to percolate into what they are now – but definitely showed promise. We could feel our confidence returning and I think when you are excited by what you are doing, the album then starts to build up its own momentum. And as I said before, we are lucky in the sense that Chris is a sound engineer and records everything – so nothing is really lost to the ether. We can listen back to the jamming out that we do with each song and take any ideas that come from the sessions and apply them to the songs.
I also feel that Jack had really bedded in and stamped his authority all over this album too. That’s not to say that he hadn’t on the last two, but I feel that he has really brought lots of ideas and a real energy to this one. It really has confirmed that he was the right choice!
What is the secret of a good jam? What would you recommend aspiring jam bands to do?
Jamming is a pretty strange thing to try and quantify as I feel that there is a lot going on in the mix! I think it really helps if you are actively listening to each other and that you can pick up on cues for dynamics etc – but I also think, when I put my ‘magical thinking’ hat on, that a lot of unspoken communication comes into play. Peak states, flow states, third mind, whatever… but it definitely feels like something spooky is going on when you hit your stride.
I’m also a big advocate of the input/output rule – the more music that you listen to expands the scope of your own musical imagination. Its also good to work with other people who like stuff that you have never heard – and they can subsequently open you up to it – and likewise, it’s also good to work with people who share similar touchstones as you.
I suppose an openness to follow where it goes is also good. It might not hit the spot everytime – but you are more likely than not to hit peaks the more that you play together!
Any touring plans? Would love to see you guys in Europe!
We do have some touring plans. Not least, we are playing at Ottawa Psych Fest in September – at the invitation of Mr John Westhaver of the amazing The Band Whose Name Is a Symbol. He is a good example of one of those really good friends that you meet along the way. We cannot wait to play over there. John has been a real advocate for us over there – and we have been told to expect a warm welcome. Christopher Laramee is also playing as Wasted Cathedral, and he is another exceptionally fine fellow who I’ve met a few times now. Its going to be great! We do have a few UK dates for the rest of the year, but not for Europe unfortunately. Maybe next year? (and so long as the Brexit related admin nonsense is not too much of a stumbling block!)
What should the Weirdo Shrine reader do after reading this interview?
I’ve always loved it when The Minutemen’s Mike Watt used to shout ‘learn an instrument… form a band’ at the end of shows. I think that is good advice, so I will steal it!