Well, as promised, here’s my Fight Like Apes festival diary from this summer. We laughed, we cried (well, not really) and we watched one too many episodes of King of the Hill. The original ran in Vol 32, Issue 19 of Hot Press but because I’m so good to you, you can read it here for free…
As rising Dublin-based outfit Fight Like Apes prepare to unleash their much anticipated debut album, Edwin McFee joins them on tour at the Reading and Leeds festival to find out all about recording in Seattle, writing songs about wrestlers and why being in a band beats working at the sweet counter in a cinema any day of the week.
Within five minutes of meeting rising Dublin outfit Fight Like Apes in their dressing room at the Reading festival in England, singer May Kay throws her arms around Hot Press and cackles “We already love you, you’re one of us,” as her band-mates circle me, inspecting my tattoos much like the simians in their band’s moniker.
Welcome to the world of Fight Like Apes and for the next few days we get to see them in all of their glory. Whether they’re rocking out in front of a packed room of banner-waving Limeys, practising wrestling moves on each other, watching endless re-runs of King of the Hill in their bus while leaning out the window good-naturedly heckling the passers by, eating stew with their fingers or sitting in shopping trolleys in some anonymous English inner-city car park begging this writer to push them onto the motor-way, they continue to carry themselves like absolute stars in the making. Even when the band’s lanky bassist Tom tells me they plan to roll me up in a carpet and throw me in the river later on that night while I sleep, he does so in a manner that could charm the knickers off a nun.
On September 26, the kooky quartet (completed by synth player Jamie and tee-total tub-thumper Adrian) deliver on two years worth of promise by releasing their debut album Fight Like Apes And The Mystery Of The Golden Medallion and all being well, it should catapult them to the stratospheres.
“To be honest I’ll be fucked if I know what the reaction to the record is going to be like,” begins May Kay. “If I was to take a guess I’d imagine it’s going to split the Red Sea. It’s been like that since the start of this band though. We’ve always divided opinion and we love that we divide opinion. We just play for ourselves because we’re not interested in pleasing anyone else.
“I imagine it’s going to have a Marmite reaction,” continues Jamie. “We like that though. Anything that provokes some sort of reaction is fine by me.”
Earlier this year the band decamped to Seattle for a month, where they made their debut with knob twiddler extraordinaire John Goodmanson, who has produced albums with Sleater Kinney, Deathcab for Cutie, Wu Tang Clan and um, Hanson. By all accounts, it was an amazing four weeks for the band and not only did they see the gun shop where Kurt Cobain bought his rifle on that fateful day and used Marky Ramone’s old drum-kit, they made the album of their lives as well. Now that the feisty four-piece are on the cusp of something great, we ask them if record sales and ambition (seemingly a dirty word in some circles) have much impact on their quest for world domination.
“I want to sell loads actually,” laughs Jamie. “Anyone who says they don’t want their song played every minute of the day on the radio is a liar. I’m more than happy for this album to get the shit played out of it.
“When we record an album, spend a month in Seattle working on it, then bring it home and sort out the art work over a few weeks and make sure everything is as perfect as it could be, we want people to hear it. So if the radio wants to play our song a hundred times a day then that’s cool!” continues May Kay. “Just so you know though, we didn’t sit around and make sure everything sounded as commercial as possible. As well as poppier songs we’ve an eight second long song called ‘Megameanie’ on there as well as a secret track that hints at where we go from here.
“As far as our ambition goes, I think it’d be easy to make an album that panders to the fans we already have, but we’ve never done anything the easy way. We want to challenge ourselves and get as many people as possible into this band. That’s why we’re releasing ‘Jake Summers’ again as a single-so we can get that exposure we need and also because it’s our favourite song.”
Ah yes, ‘Jake Summers.’ For those of you yet to catch the Fight Like Apes live experience, ‘Jake Summers’ is a song that’s not only as catchy as clamidia during Fresher’s Week, but it also features a mid-section where Jamie wrestles May Kay to the floor every night. It’s a moment which usually provokes two reactions in the crowd-mild out-rage or belly laughs. At Reading and Leeds, thankfully most people seemed to get the joke…
“That wrestling section in Jake Summers is the one time in a guy’s career where he gets to beat a girl up onstage and get cheered for it and I’m cool with that,” laughs their singer. “I always end up getting a kick in the mouth whenever we play that song and I‘ve got the cuts to prove it, but it’s just funny looking at everyone’s reactions. If you look around, Adrian is usually pissing himself laughing and Tom is always at the front of the stage looking at everyone to see what’s going to happen next.”
Fight Like Apes have always delighted in a bit of near the knuckle frivolity though. Even when they were just starting out in 2006, their initial gigs in the Mez in Dublin were like a training ground for them all and it helped them gauge how far they can take the piss with their punters.
“When people really hate you and keep leaving, you can’t help but amp up the obnoxiousness,” says Jamie. “It got to the stage where we started to ask ourselves about how obnoxious could we sound. There’s only so far you can go with that however, and at the end of the day we’re writing songs-so we’re not as snotty as we used to be.
“When we started, it was a case of whoever wanted to stay can stay and whoever wanted to leave, well, we didn’t want you there anyway,” offers May Kay.
While they may have toned down the snot-factor just a tad (though we should hasten to point out that Fight Like Apes performances are hardly on a level with “rolling around in your own shite while naked and bleeding” types affairs that you used to get from someone like G.G. Allin) they remain just as vital and visceral as ever. Best of all, they now finally have an arsenal of tunes to back it up. These days their synth-laden songs pack more punch than Barry McGuigan in his prime and it’s pretty clear from watching them strut (or should that be stagger?) around back-stage at Reading and Leeds that they’re already walking the walk like old pros. So does it concern them that the press may feel the need to pigeon-hole a pretty damn unique band with an ugly bog-standard label?
“I’ve heard they’re already grouping us, Johnny Foreigner and Los Campesinos together and calling us riot pop due to our mutual riot grrrl roots,” sniffs Jamie as he tidies up his equipment after another stellar show in Leeds. “In some ways we’re afraid of getting attached to a scene just to sell magazines. If we had have started a few years earlier then we might’ve been added to the new rave list because we’ve got synths, and nothing would’ve pissed us off more.
“It would have been good for our wallets though,” May Kay keenly observes. “New rave was such a shite term, wasn’t it? Bands like the Rapture, Klaxons and CSS were all put into that pigeon hole and while I like them, they’re all totally different. It’s unfair to give them a name. These days you can’t be written about unless you come from a ‘scene’ and if you can’t be put into a box then no-one cares. I blame the journalists. Like who gives a fuck about sex tips for new ravers? Top Shop seem like they sponsor the scene and that’s stupid. Why are clothes sponsoring music? At the end of the day, the way I see things is, if sticking us with a label is what gives us access to bigger crowds, then I’m all for it. After that, they can make up their own minds.”
Amen, sister. From the looks of things however, Fight Like Apes don’t need to be attached to a scene in order to fire up people’s imaginations anyway. They’re already doing that if the scores of FLA t-shirt clan English fans who have packed into the Festival Republic tents to see their heroes are anything to go by and with celebrity fans such as BBC Radio One heavy hitters like Steve Lamaq and Huw Stephens backing them up, it looks like things are really happening for the unassuming musicians.
“We’re the type of guys who whenever we’re in the VIP area, we’re always wondering when we’re going to get kicked out,” laughs Jamie.
But for all Jamie modesty, this writer has to disagree with him. Just moments later, Hot Press is sitting with the band’s straight-talking drummer Adrian in the artist catering area and as members of We Are Scientists, Gallows, the Raconteurs and Brandon from the Killers all sit with us to tuck into the swordfish dinner, he looks utterly unfazed by their celebrity status. Better still-he actually looks at home with it all. Like this is where he deserves to be. It’s a rather telling moment for the quieter member of the band, but in just one sentence he perfectly sums his career up thus far.
“When you first start a band you usually make a list of things you want to achieve and this past year, what with playing Glastonbury and making the album in Seattle, we’ve done it all. It’s an amazing feeling and I just keep wanting more.”
Later on that day at the Leeds festival, we catch the band tucking into some much needed alcohol-based nourishment. The security guys are watching the band’s wrestling antics and shaking their heads proclaiming us all mad. In many ways they may be right, but who cares as long as you’re having this much fun, right? Unlike some of their po-faced, pretentious peers, Fight Like Apes know how to have a laugh along the way and that could one of the secrets to their success.
“What other profession in the world is it ok for us to be this drunk this early in the day and where your work colleagues might criticise you for not being drunk enough?” laughs Jamie.
“I think once you start feeling like you should be bigger and are hard done by, then that’s the time to give up,” May Kay states. “This life is amazing. I mean you get free equipment, a bottle of vodka, some Haribo and six paper cups on your rider for starters. Cool, eh?”
May Kay’s attitude is not only refreshing, it’s inspirational. After the bottom fell out of the riot grrrl scene in the late 90s, the music world needs someone like her to help kick against the pricks and the singer, for her part, has got her steel-toe capped boots at the ready.
“Sometimes when people complain about this life that we lead, I feel like punching them,” she says. “When you look at the fact that your other option is getting up at seven in the morning, walking to a bus then travelling to work for nine, this life is pretty sweet. We’ve all done the nine-five life, except for Jamie (he was the sweet factory man in UCI cinemas) and we all hated it, so what’s to complain about?
“Don’t get me wrong, it can be a slog,” she continues. “There’s always a point in a 20 day tour where you’re playing 17 of them and you just think to yourself-I’d fucking love to eat some carrots, or I’d love to have a slice of bread from my own house and a bath, but no-one ever says anything because it’s such a laugh and we don’t like complaining. When you’re onstage for those 30 minutes it’s the most exciting, amazing, orgasmic time of any day and that’s worth all the sacrifices. By the way, I saw your face there now Tom and I did not have an orgasm today thank you very much.”
Much like their kung fu movie heroes China O’Brien and the Cobra Kai, Fight Like Apes are also refusing to take quitting as an option. While other Irish bands with similar promise have imploded just as they were on the cusp of something truly monumental, the four friends see this as the be-all and end-all of their lives to date.
“We’re a young band and we don’t have any ties whatsoever,” says Jamie. “I think the reason why other Irish bands haven’t made the breakthrough is because they have other things to rely on. We don’t. We live on £15 a day and failure isn’t really an option. We don’t have back-up plans. We’ve left ourselves with no options on purpose. It’s either this or nothing.”
“None of us want to go back to college,” remarks May Kay. “All of us want this so bad. We look to people like Siouxsie Sioux who is still doing this while middle aged and we think that’s pretty great. If I can do this until I’m 30years old and make a living from it then I may quite possibly be the happiest girl in the world. At the moment Fight Like Apes are a beautiful, messed up and twisted family and we don’t ever see that changing.”
After spending a weekend in their company, it’s clear that May Kay is right. The band are indeed like a family with their long suffering road manger Dave Broy (who they enjoy tormenting by trying to get him arrested on a daily basis) and Adrian acting as the parents and May Kay, Jamie and Tom as the rebellious, yet adorable kids. It’s a fucked up dynamic, but it seems to work for them and if the results are delivering an album that’s full of more jaw dropping moments than a Jenna Jameson movie, then who’s complaining? As Hot Press bids farewell to Fight Like Apes, we count our blessings that finally, after a succession of false-starts and fuck ups, we’ve not only got a new Irish band to believe in, but one that actually relishes the challenge of using their talents on a world stage. Couple that with the fact that yours truly didn’t get rolled up inside a carpet and chucked into a nearby lake and you can chalk one up in the win column for Team HP.
“Let’s say in two years time the entire world signs a petition saying ‘Fight Like Apes, please stop playing music’ and we have to quit,” concludes May Kay as she gives us an emotional goodbye. “I will genuinely have had the best time of my life that’s been the most ridiculously horrible but amazing time ever and you know what the best thing about all that is? I know that there’s more to come.”