Serious heavy metal is coming our way. It’s heading here in the form of four men, and the name that binds them together, Ape Machine. It is coming in a van – a Ford Econoline named after a hula-hoop expert, Yuri. When I caught up with guitarist, Ian Watts, he was just getting Yuri back from the mechanic’s. “They say nothing’s wrong with it.” He didn’t sound convinced – an ominous introduction to an ominous band.
Ape Machine is a musical time machine; a throwback to the dark and early days of metal when the screaming, bloody demon child was being born, clawing forth from the blackened womb while the flower children, and the beautiful people, watched in horror. The LSD flashbacks, the bad trips, the coalescing marijuana smoke, and the bevy of sexually transmitted diseases – the bad hangover from the Summer of Love – the thorn in the side of the 1960s. Spewing forth from the peace and love was blood, bile, and death, as the nameless and the faceless were being slaughtered overseas in the name of freedom and democracy. The wars reverberate back to our shores; growling, detuned, and stomach-churning.
In the 1960s it was Deep Purple, Iron Butterfly, and the progenitors of a musical wash of darkness that would follow in their wake, Black Sabbath. Today, Ape Machine carries forth this imperative, undeniable tradition. The music is raw and pure, grinding the listener into gristle and bone, and sending a furious pulse of ice-water up the spine.
Ape Machine hails from the grim, gray northwest of Portland, Oregon, but the band spends a good amount of their time out on the road. I catch them on day four of the tour. They’d just played a show in San Francisco, an early afternoon affair in the Mission District. “It was great,” Watts described. “We got to play with a bunch of really cool bands.”
Their frequent touring takes the band up and down the West Coast, and this particular sojourn cuts a heavy chunk out of the southwest with stops in Arizona and Texas. Watts tells me this will be the band’s fourth excursion into the lone star state. They’ve run into some heavy situations in that wide-open, rough and tumble part of the country. In Arizona they had to back down a biker who was threatening to kill them, claiming they’d knocked over his motorcycle.
The band has some affection for New Mexico. They explained: “We’re looking forward to getting to New Mexico so we can get some more fireworks, and start blowing stuff up in Texas.” On-stage the band is equally explosive – the shows are fearsome, with the audiences hungry for the droning metal elixir that Ape Machine delivers. The band churns out the heavy riffs for vocalist Caleb Heinze to release his blood-curdling, vocal chants.
The rest of the tour takes Ape Machine down the coast, then back up. They’ll be hitting our fair city here on Thursday, March 21st, playing at Café Coda. They scoff when I suggest the band might be worn out by the time they get here. “We’ll just be hitting our peak.”
Our conversation drifted toward food. I asked the guys what they tend to eat out on the road. “When we’re in California, it’s all about the burritos,” they explained. I asked if the burritos in Portland are no good, to which I received an adamant “they suck.” Watts added, “They’re just not real burritos.” We continued to marvel over the ability to screw up a food item that is apparently so simple.
It’s a vintage sound the band is after, and they utilize vintage equipment to get it. Watts scoffed when I ask if they use any digital modeling, or tone sampling, to arrive at that killer 70s-era, metal sound. He plays his Gibson guitars through a 1974 Orange amplifier. Brian True’s bass guitar rumbles through an amplifier built in 1970. Damon De La Paz, the band’s hard-hitting drummer, was born in the 1970s. Even the band’s name is taken from an old piece of equipment.
“Yeah, I have an old 80’s mixing board in my studio consul in Portland,” Watts clarified. “The ‘T’ was rubbed off of the tape machine input,” and a band name was born.
The band recently signed to San Ramon, California — based Ripple Music, and is enjoying the support of a label that is fully on board with the vision Ape Machine is working towards. A new record is in the works titled, Mangled By The Machine.
The album was recorded on two-inch magnetic tape, so I asked Watts if this had something to do with the title. Having done some work with tape in the past, I remember how badly the brown magnetic stuff can get gobbled up by those shiny, spinning wheels. But Watts said no, that the title was drawn from a song lyric. It’s in that limbo state; completed, but not duplicated yet, in between recording and pressing. “It will be released in a couple of months,” Watts explained. Of course, it will be on vinyl.