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Ben Dowd isn’t worried about stage fright. In fact, he’s more concerned by its absence. “It’s good to be nervous, I think,” the Apes frontman says from the confines of a van that’s bound for their final gig supporting glam rock megastars The Darkness. “[It’s more worrying] when you’re playing three or four nights a week and it starts to feel like clockwork. [Nerves] make you excited.”
It’s a solid attitude to have, particularly given Apes have hit one of their most successful periods since their inception in 2011. Not only have they secured support duties with a group of The Darkness’ size, they’ve just released their scintillating new single, ‘Dimension’, the first track from an as-yet-untitled new album.
Such successes couldn’t have come at a better time. “If we struck the right chord as a band straight off the bat, we wouldn’t be ready to deal with [it],” Dowd says. By his account, the band has collectively reached a newfound maturity. “It’s taken us time to get the really massive party modes out of us … When we first started out, we’d be going on tour for two weeks and we’d look at it like a two-week bender.”
With that attitude, every second or third show Apes played in their early days was a disaster. “It’s pretty easy to get lost [in the drinking]. It’s not sustainable. And you lose sight of why you’re doing all this kind of stuff.”
Despite those early setbacks, Apes stuck with it, releasing scorching tune after scorching tune, and growing together in the process. Indeed, in many ways, the Melburnians are closer now than they have ever been. Dowd talks about “riding the energy” of his bandmates while they are up onstage, and, for the first time ever, they have begun to write music as a group. Guitarist James Toohey will be singing some songs on the new album, and Dowd isn’t going to be the only one writing lyrics this time. He is upfront about the fact these changes took some getting used to.
“Everyone’s been putting in,” Dowd says, “which can be a bit hard during that process … A lot of people [clashed].” Eventually, however, the band adapted, and ultimately reached a breakthrough. “Everyone’s got the best interests of the music [in mind]. It’s been a big thing for us to do that.”
Dowd is reticent to give an exact date for the album’s release, not wanting to create a self-imposed deadline he worries he might miss. But diehard Apes fans need not fear. “[It’s] actually mostly recorded already,” Dowd says happily. “It’s a lot closer than we might give off.”
If ‘Dimensions’ is anything to go by, the new work may well be the band’s best yet. The brash, psych and glam rock-indebted single nonetheless has the trembling, emotive subtext that any long-term Apes follower will know and love. But ‘Dimensions’ aside, one can still be excited about the forthcoming record based simply on Dowd’s obvious love for what he does.
“When we’re onstage it never feels like a job,” he says. “When you have an eight-month break and you haven’t played live, you’re dying to get back out there. Sittin’ in a van for 12 hours, talking shit and playing Celebrity Heads…” There’s a pause, and then his voice goes low and wistful. “You just sit at home wishing you were doing that again.”
Written by Joseph Earp
When & Where: The Workers Club, Melbourne – December 4, The Workers Club, Geelong – December 5, The Loft, Warrnambool – December 19 & Karova Lounge, Ballarat – December 24