A harsh, nihilistic world calls for harsh, nihilistic music. The last few decades have seen catastrophe after calamity after quagmire repeated ad nauseam. In a world constantly engulfed in war, perpetually on the brink of climate disaster, and struggling through a pandemic that still kills by the thousands daily, waking life is anything but a chipper place to be. Anyone looking for a bleak, harsh soundtrack to the bleak, harsh period of history we find ourselves in should look no further than the Québec-based grindcore band APES.
APES, which formed back in 2012, has been tearing faces off listeners for a decade now with its unique melting pot of grindcore, black metal, powerviolence, and hardcore. It’s an abrasive mix that’s pulled off incredibly well by the talented six-piece. The band’s 2022 EP, Lullabies for Eternal Sleep, is the group’s strongest release to date and a harbinger of exciting things ahead. I recently talked to the band about their history, the new record, and what the future holds for APES.
First off, although you’ve been a band since 2012, the new EP may be a lot of people’s introduction to the group, particularly with the great reviews it’s getting and the amazing music videos supporting it. How did the band come about and what drew you all to each other? Why the name APES?
Gabriel d’Amours, drums: First — thank you for having us! APES members are mostly long-time friends, and most of us have played together in previous hardcore and death metal bands. We come from different cities, but all ended up living in Quebec City twelve or so years ago, and hit it off. Our initial plan was to form a hardcore and powerviolence-style band (which is what our earlier material sounds like), but our sound evolved over time, to include more and more elements of death metal and black metal.
The name APES was chosen because we wanted a short name, easy to remember, that referred to something primitive. The name came up and we stuck with it! It just matched what we were looking for.
What was it that got you into extreme metal in general and what about that style appeals to you?
Gabriel: Most members of the band come from rural, eastern Quebec — which curiously was a hotbed of extreme music during the ’90s and early 2000s, during our teenage years. This had an enduring influence on our musical tastes. We grew up listening to bands like Cryptopsy, Gorguts, Dying Fetus, Internal Bleeding, Suffocation, and Devourment. We also loved hardcore punk, and have always been involved in that scene as well. Back then, most American metal tours would play smaller towns where we lived — and shows were always packed. “Smaller” cities like Rimouski often had better turnouts and a crazier response than much bigger cities like Montreal or Toronto. The scene was just huge. So most of us grew up in what we now perceive as some kind of “golden era” of extreme music — and this definitely shows when you listen to our releases.
Who are your musical influences, both in and out metal?
Gabriel: Our musical and artistic influences go in every direction. We listen to a lot of different music styles, and we try not to restrict ourselves too much when writing music for APES. We clearly have extreme metal and hardcore punk influences, but we draw inspiration from so many bands. Think Malevolent Creation, Bolt Thrower, Napalm Death, Mind Eraser, Cult Leader, Iron Age, Conjurer… certainly a melting pot! Industrial/noise music like Godflesh and Swans, or even stuff like the Alien movie soundtrack also influence our writing.
I hear a lot of different styles mixing on your records with elements of death, black, grind, and hardcore seamlessly melding together to the point where genre classifications almost feel like a fool’s errand. How would you describe your sound?
Gabriel: Our favorite take is “Hardcore kids playing blackmetal in a grindcore band” — which is copied from an Eighteen Visions t-shirt design that said something like “Hardcore kids playing death metal in a rock band.”
We’ve stopped trying to define our “music style” too much, as we don’t want to restrict ourselves. But obviously we haven’t invented any new, avant-garde, cutting-edge or progressive blend of music: we play heavy songs that blend death metal, hardcore, and black metal.
What is your writing process like for the music aspect? Is there a primary songwriter or is it a collective effort?
Gabriel: We mostly write as a full band. Patrick (Cloutier, guitars) will often write a few riffs, and put together a rough song structure for us. We’ll then put this draft “through the wringer” as we call it — a.k.a. all band members will pitch in, add ideas, and also remove stuff. For some bands, having six people involved in the writing process will be a nightmare. This process usually works for us, although the final song will typically be quite different from the original idea. Every member contributes to writing in one way or another. The trick is to take a lot of cigarette breaks. Being good friends, and being respectful and patient with one another also goes a long way. We’ll typically iterate through multiple versions of the same song, improving it over successive jams, until we’re happy with it. When we’re not satisfied with a new song, we’ll often shelve it for a few weeks or months, and revisit it with a fresh perspective.
In regards to lyrics, how do you come up with them? I love lyrics that don’t shy away from the more bleak or nihilistic side of things and yours feel like a pretty accurate reflection of the less-than-ideal state of the world right now. How much does whatever is going on in the world affect your writing?
Alex Goulet, vocals: I write most of the lyrics, which like you said are pretty nihilistic. As life goes on, I see things happening that (make) me adopt a dark and pessimistic outlook on most things. We’re all well into our thirties, we have a good deal of experience living in this nasty world, and we’ve also all lived through many personal challenges. All of these things are captured in the lyrics, and the songs definitely serve as an outlet for calling out all things negative in life.
What was the recording process for Lullabies for Eternal Sleep like? With such a cacophony of intricate parts to the recording, it’s impressive that nothing feels lost in the mix even as the pacing changes song to song. How were you able to achieve that clarity of sound with a clear distinction between instruments without losing any of the brutality?
Gabriel: Thank you for the kind remarks! We’re also very proud of this recording. We rehearsed the songs a lot, and recorded high-quality demos at our practice space. This process allowed us to listen to tracks that were very close to the “real thing”, and prompted us to make a few crucial changes to the songs. When we walked into the studio, we were well-prepared. Our long-time collaborator Raphaël Malenfant, who recorded the album, also suggested a few important nits that improved the songs overall.
Will Putney handling mixing and mastering duties, however, is what took the recording to a whole new level. We shared ideas with him, and he knew exactly how (to) make this record sound just as brutal as we wanted it, balancing a clean and professional sound with very dirty and dark tones. We share a lot of music tastes and influences with Will, and right away he knew what direction to take to make our music shine the most.
How did collaborating with both Dylan Walker and Will Putney come about?
Gabriel: Dylan is a long-time friend of APES. We played many shows with his band Full Of Hell, and this collaboration came naturally. Being fans of his drone/noise work, we asked him if he would be interested in crafting noises for our recording. Dylan generously said yes right away, and suggested that we sprinkle noises all throughout the recording — which we thought was a brilliant idea. Him and (I) did some back and forth, and put together the eerie noise sequences that are found throughout the EP. Dylan’s contribution was quintessential to the sound of Lullabies For Eternal Sleep, and we are very thankful!
The idea of working with Will Putney came from Alex, who knows Will through artwork projects he’s done for Will’s bands End and Fit For An Autopsy. Alex had discussed the upcoming recording with him, and Will showed interest in mixing the songs. We are thankful for this opportunity, knowing how Will is very sought out and always busy working with great bands or touring as a musician himself. We could not be happier with his work — it sounds like a fucking ton of bricks!
Speaking of the new album, the video for “Cornwall” is incredibly killer and “Devour” is a damn great short horror film in and of itself. What was the creation process for them like? I’m assuming you guys are horror fans, what are some of your influences within the genre?
Gabriel: Some of us are great horror and sci-fi movie fans. Alex often does artwork and collaborations with independent horror filmmakers, and is very interested in the genre. We love and draw artistic inspiration from horror classics (Suspiria, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, etc.) but also sci-fi movies (Planet Of The Apes, Soylent Green, Alien, Children Of Men), B-films, slashers and exploitation-horror films.
We love the work of Frank Appache, a Montreal-based horror filmmaker who works on amazing gore/exploitation-horror films. Alex is good friends with Frank, and we had the idea to commission him to produce two videos for the EP. We sent him the songs, exchanged a few ideas, and pretty much gave him carte blanche for the creative process. He is very resourceful and talented, and the results are amazing! We particularly like that the videos are quite different from one another, although they are clearly both influenced by horror and psychological themes. We even had the video for our song Devour featured exclusively on Rue Morgue, a popular and well-respected horror website.
I noticed that releases were pretty consistent during the beginning of your career and then there was a longer gap between Lightless and Lullabies for Eternal Sleep. Was that a planned break or did it come about out of necessity? I know that when some bands have that longer break between releases, it can kind of reinvigorate them and with the last EP, it definitely feels like things are clicking on all cylinders creatively. Did the break help fuel the current creative fire?
Gabriel: The longer break between Lightless and Lullabies For Eternal Sleep was mostly because of COVID-19 and lineup changes. So, although it wasn’t fully intentional, the break and the new members did invigorate the band on a creative level. Having three guitars now opens up a new world of possibilities for us, writing-wise. We wrote Lullabies in the Fall of 2020, recorded it in early 2021, but could only release it in 2022 because of the delays experienced by record pressing plants, who are facing supply shortages like most industries nowadays.
You recently signed with Translation Loss Records. How did that partnership come about and what has their support meant to you?
Alex: I’ve done artwork for many Translation Loss and Relapse bands over the years, and became well acquainted with Drew Juergens, who leads production at Relapse and who founded Translation Loss. So the story is a bit similar to other collaborations: Drew was a fan of the band, I was discussing upcoming new songs for APES, and Drew kindly offered us to release our music. We said yes right away, knowing how nice the end product would be! We are very happy and proud to be part of the Translation Loss family — they are a very supportive, professional, no-bullshit record label, they’re great human beings, and we love how they focus on putting out top-notch records.
Metal is such a merch-crazy genre of music and you guys have some of the sickest out there right now. I was wondering who designs your merch and what the thought process behind your artwork in general is?
Alex: I do all artwork and design most of the merch for APES. Similar to the way I approach most band artworks I do, I don’t really have a consistent creative process. I listen to the songs and read the lyrics, draw inspiration from those themes, and try many ideas before setting on something more definitive. I watch lots of sci-fi and horror movies, and you can tell that it definitely influences my work. I’m also inspired by artists such as Francis Bacon, Alejandro Jorodowsky, and HR Giger.
With COVID forcing all kinds of lockdowns and distancing measures, what was the process of writing and releasing a record during a pandemic like? I know some bands have said it gave them more time to work on material but also deeply hindered their ability to get out and work the material out live.
Gabriel: It was odd, to say the least. Quebec was under lockdown and curfew most of the time, but artists were allowed to rehearse and record music. We practiced social distancing with almost everybody but members of the band, rehearsed on a regular basis, and recorded the tracks with only a few band members present at a time. Not being able to play shows was undoubtedly the worst aspect of it — at the moment of writing this, we’re preparing for our first shows in almost three years. We’re not a “studio band” — we love playing live, and can’t wait to meet people and feel the intense live energy again!
Lastly, what’s next for Apes? Do you have any live plans in support of Lullabies for Eternal Sleep and what are your goals for the next few years?
Gabriel: You can definitely expect to hear more from APES in the coming year or two. Right now, we want to support the new EP by playing as many shows as we can. We’re booking shows around Quebec this Spring and Summer, and we’re preparing for a Canadian tour this Fall. We also have plans for early 2023 — it’s too early to drop names, but we’ll be supporting a lot of great bands. Touring Europe and the USA next year would be awesome — let’s just hope this COVID thing is over and done, and hope for the best. We’re already writing material for a new full-length, which we’ll probably record in early 2023, to be released on Translation Loss. We are very excited for what’s coming, to say the least!