How many years and tears went into the first LP from APES? Frontmen Ben and James have a chat

They may have been kicking around for a few years, but APES only dropped their debut album Stranger Than Strangers last Friday. And it was a bloody treat.

They’re also taking the new cuts on the road, touring with San Cisco and hitting a show or two of their own. In between gigs we teed up a chat between the band’s twin guitarists slash vocalists, Ben Dowd and James Toohey. It got a little bit cheeky.

apes interview live ben james stranger than strangers
Photos by Chris Cohen

How many years and how many tears went into crafting the debut album from APES? Go behind the scenes with Ben Dowd and James Toohey.

JAMES: Hi Ben. Bought any new CDs lately?

BEN: Nah it’s all about vinyl and digital these days right?

JAMES: Yeah I think so, speaking of which, wanna talk about our album that finally dropped last Friday? It’s taken us a little longer then expected to get Stranger Than Strangers out to the world, but now that it is, do you have a favourite song on the record?

BEN: Not here to f*** spiders eh? Sorry, I’ll try leave the worksite lingo out of it. I hate to give it to you… but I think it’d have to be It Is What It Is. You’ve written a pretty good song there Jim… don’t let it go to your head.

JAMES: It is what it is I guess.

BEN: Ok Okaaay Stop it. I did have a lot of fun in the recording process though. So many different sections and had a lot of group stuff on the tracking. Was heaps fun!

JAMES: How do you think the finished album compares with the album you expected to make at the beginning?

BEN: Hmmmmmmmmmmm… I guess I expected us to write a garage rock record initially, but we had some sort of a mid-life crisis along the way. Luckily, we didn’t purchase an old Porsche in the process of it or a Trans AM Firebird hahaha.

JAMES: I kinda did… buy the car your ego can afford.

BEN: It’s guess it’s pretty different though. I didn’t really picture songs like Tomb or Better on the record when we started writing it. Glad it has though. I definitely feel that we have established more of an identity for ourselves throughout the process of making it. Not sure if that means it’s exceeded any expectations I had initially, but I couldn’t be happier with how it’s turned out. Are you happy with it Jim?

JAMES: Yep, couldn’t be happier actually. It’s probably my favourite vinyl actually… even before Neil Young. Sorry Neil, don’t let it bring you down.

BEN: Careful James, don’t need a rap beef on our hands.

JAMES: Did you have any low points in the process?

BEN: FINALLY AN EASY QUESTION! Deciding to put two songs on the record with James singing on them.

JAMES: I think you misheard the question…

BEN: Hahaha I kid I kid. There’s so many highs and lows over the early years of your 20s. I guess I just happened to be writing a record whilst going through them, a few of the songs really capture some of those dark moments. We had a pretty quick start when we got APES together and gained a fair bit of momentum. So after a while, when we hadn’t put anything out for a while people kinda start asking “Is APES still a thing?” and questioning if the album was ever coming out…

That stuff kinda hits you pretty hard, because behind the scenes you’re working your ass off. Even though on the surface it may look like not much is happening. We were all working jobs to self fund the album as well as trying to write and record it. We didn’t have the luxury of a label or album advance.

JAMES: In the transition from studio to stage have you found any challenges in playing the album live? Do you think we capture live what we convey on record or vice versa?

BEN: If we didn’t add Elliot on keys in our live shows, I think it would have been pretty challenging. At the moment I feel like we are pulling it off. But I definitely want to work towards pushing our live show to a different experience, with a larger visual element and maybe some more live members down the track. ‘Better’ does have a fair bit of trumpet in it hahaha. Any trumpet players out there want a gig? Hit us up! Or are you keen to learn James?

JAMES: It sure would be a different experience. Maybe I’ll stick to playing guitar for now.

BEN: Yeah… I think so. And now that the album is out, does anything feel different? What’s changed?

JAMES:  Holding that vinyl for the first time was a pretty special feeling, I imagine similar to parenthood and holding your baby for the first time.

BEN: Parenting takes patience…

JAMES: Any sage words to other bands before recording their first album?

BEN: I can’t really give a straight answer for this one mate. Our experience was pretty unorthodox. Not too sure if it was a road we would go down again as far as the recording process. But for any musician I would suggest that you try and put as much of your own personality into the songs you write. Everyone is unique and if you can showcase that in your writing you can come up with some pretty special stuff. If you have split personalities… even better.

apes interview live ben james stranger than strangers

BEN: What was the most important thing to you throughout the process of making Stranger than Strangers? Could be a certain bit of equipment, somewhere you like to write, a feeling? Whatever you like, Jim.

JAMES: A credit card. Recording near Chapel St can be pretty expensive and the banks can be really understanding when it comes to credit limits. Really hope this album goes alright though. It would be nice to be able to give up the day job and focus solely on music.

BEN: APES have evolved from having a front man to having front men. How have you found the process of taking on that roll?

JAMES: Didn’t you always consider me a frontman before this? Haha.

BEN: Well up until our shows with San Cisco last weekend, besides singing, you’d never really spoken into the mic before and James there was a rumour for awhile that you wet yourself onstage after your first APES show. Espy 2012? Ring a bell?

JAMES: I was always an attention seeker…

BEN: Where would you like to see APES in five years?

JAMES: I’d like to see the headline “APES overcome the writers block of their first album to become Australia’s most prolific band upon releasing their 10th album… James has gotten pretty good on the guitar too.”

BEN: The prolific thing I can get behind. The guitar bit might be a reach though. I’ll admit you’ve come pretty far for a self taught guitarist though. *applause*

apes interview live ben james stranger than strangers

BEN: Are there any Australian bands you can recommend the beautiful readers of Happy Mag?

JAMES: Why Ben I thought you’d never ask. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever are pretty rad. It’d be pretty sweet to play a show with them guys one day ay?

BEN: Yeah they’re great, very subtle James… I’m looking forward to the next Preatures record. I remember touring, driving between shows and having sing-a-longs to Is This How You Feel?

JAMES: Yeah same. Well I’d love to stay and chat but we should probably get busy on the next album.

BEN: Haha yeah, good idea. Better get ready for those shows at The Tote and Yah Yahs too.


Catch APES live this month and next, on tour with San Cisco and performing at the SYN 1700 fundraiser.

Stranger Than Strangers is out now. Read our review here.

Sun 28 May – The Tote, Collingwood – SYN 1700 Fundraiser
Fri 9 June – The Wool Exchange, Geelong
Fri 9 June – Yah Yahs, Melbourne
Sat 10 June – The Village Green Hotel, Mulgrave
Sun 11 June – Chelsea Heights Hotel, Chelsea Heights