Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Naked Torso - An Interview with Soul of Condemned Ape (Part 1)

Soul Of Condemned Ape were a Perth band, and surprisingly, they weren't totally pathetic. Consisting of two young artist-types, Camryn Rothenbury (guitar/vox) and James Beck (drums), they sounded like two young artist-types who had been profoundly affected by Joy Division. The Urinals playing Joy Division? All I can say is, James Beck can play the shit out of a tom roll! Also, Camryn's guitar style was quite unique and original. However, being lamezoids, they called it quits before they could deliver on their promise, the one they made on a quiet, deserted, moonlit beach, as a soft, warm breeze wafted through James' artfully tussled hair as Cameron gazed pensively into the glowing coals, head resting on James' naked torso, sparks ascending into the sky like so many stargazing fireflies - 'Let's start a band, become good, and make a troubled, abrasively moody first album, then we'll shift to a more electronic, depressed, epic, classically gothic style for our second album. We'll probably have to find a incredibly talented, obsessive producer to make our drums sound like whips on ice. Then I guess you'll have to commit suicide Cameron, as you're the singer and it's only logical.' Well needless to say they reneged on this promise, perhaps it was due to fear of success, or a genuine desire not to die at an early age. Sucks!

Here's a post-mortem interview about the rise and fall of SOCA with the guitarist/singer/cd-r wrangler Camryn Rothenbury. Now if I can track down the elusive drummer, James Beck, I could get the other side to this seedy, dark tale of promises unfulfilled, bonds tested, dreams dashed against the rocks...


SOCA guitarist/vocalist Camryn Rothenbury, in happier times.


You were in a band, Soul of Condemned Ape, that some people considered quite good. However, once you were on the verge of cracking though to the Perth local scene’s middle-upper echelon (playing on stages, supporting indie pop bands, supporting at poorly attended obscure eastern states and international shows), you call it quits… What’s the story there? What drove you guys apart? Pressure? Expectations? A WOMAN?

In late 2006 I saw two bands that got me really excited about music, those being Astral Travel and Mental Powers. That was at a house party. That night, I knew I wanted to start a band of my own and throw my own parties and just be a part of what was going on. When we first started writing songs and playing as a two-piece in January 2007, we didn’t know how to play or tune our instruments or write songs. What was driving us was basically having a fun time. We wanted to encourage other people to have fun too. We were very much interested in DIY and were big advocates of supporting other bands that we thought had the same feelings. A friend of ours, Alex, was running Knackers on Wednesdays at the Hyde Park Hotel, where a lot of new bands were playing. There was basically just a general atmosphere of having fun and all this sort of camaraderie between the bands.

As the year went on, we got a bit more involved in the organisation of events and played a role in some very special shows such as at Palm Court and various house parties. Eventually we threw our own party and that was a lot of fun. By the time 2008 had rolled around, I began to realise that things had changed a lot over the course of the year. The feeling was different. Knackers was gone, important people had left Perth, our favourite bands had morphed or broken up, other new (and to be honest, quite awful) bands had risen up... It felt like control had fallen in to the hands of people who weren’t really interested in the music, but more about artificial or menial things.

People had stepped up to become involved, but the problem was that they seemed to be motivated by the wrong reasons. I suddenly lost interest in the ‘scene’. I went from seeing pretty much every new band and being an avid supporter to complete abstinence. It all came to a head and we sort of called it quits. A lot of it was really to do with reciprocity. I guess we felt that our approach to music and shows wasn’t matched any more and that the reward in performing had quickly dissipated. At the end, I wasn’t really sure why we were performing or who we were performing for.

So how did Soul of Condemned Ape get together? What were your influences, beyond the EXTREMELY obvious?

We’d been playing together in some shape or form since about 2003, possibly even earlier. It started off as an afternoon jam band in my bedroom. We kind of screwed around a lot. Most of the time we were just coming home from school, getting really high and making a lot of racket. It’s hard to remember exactly how it worked out, but we somehow managed to play four or five shows as an improvised outfit. Some were as a two piece and some were as a four piece. All were improvised and pretty awful. In December 2006, we played the Meupe/Wilting Flower Christmas Party at the Rosemount. At the end, James Vinciguerra said to the audience ‘In case you’re wondering, yes we know that was a piece of shit’. The sound guy apparently also banned us from playing there again. So we all agreed never to play again as a four piece. Anyway, that was in December 2006. In 2007, James Beck and I decided to write some songs and try again. So we did, and hey presto that’s when the real SOCA came to life.

I’d say we were influenced by bands like the Feelies, Wire, Mission of Burma, ESG, Sonic Youth, Magazine and Joy Division. Are those obvious? (Ed – JOY DIVISION) Joy Division was one of the first bands that me and James really got in to and that was when we were in high school. That band really changed both of our lives. Towards the end, probably stuff like 100 Flowers, the Homosexuals, Devo and the Clean. James likes a lot of stuff like Section 25, Crispy Ambulance, the Names and that sort of thing. Also Australian bands like Soviet Valves and My Disco were really inspirational. We also were really in to older shit like Voigt 465, Wild West, the Take, the Cannanes, very early Boys Next Door and that sort of thing. We found some old compilations of Aussie stuff from the 80s in Sydney that just really blew us away. Lots of people told us we sounded like the Fall but I don’t see it myself.

What is next for you two, separate or together? Do you ever foresee a desperate, pathetic reunion tour/existence?

Well at the moment, I’m getting ready to go away on holiday for 8 weeks or so. I’m also doing some work with my free cd-r label, Farmer Frontier. James is very busy with WAAPA. He’s playing in a band called Magic Window with Amber and Tim from Astral Travel. They’re doing quite well and have been getting some really good reception. I quite like them. When I get back, I’d say there could be a chance for SOCA to play some shows again. But shhh, don’t tell anyone.

What was the highlight of SOCA’s short but gloriously phoenix-like career? And the lowlight?

I’d say the highlight was Deni’s 21st birthday party. That was definitely a lot of fun and the night we got the best feedback. We were playing with our favourite bands and it was just a really great night. I played all of our songs out of tune and nobody even noticed.

The lowlight was definitely our last show at Shape. I don’t think I will ever return there as a punter or a performer.

Who did you write the SOCA song ‘I Dated Catherine’ about? And your anthem, ‘You Come To My House’, what was your motivation there?

The song ‘I Dated Catherine’ isn’t really about anyone in particular. At the time, I was upset about a girl who messed me around. I guess the song’s about people who tell you one thing and then do another. The title isn’t really related to anything. I was once dating a girl whose friend was called Catherine, but it’s not to do with her, either. When me and James were trying to write songs he was singing a line about Amplifier and it went, ‘I went to the bathroom’ I thought he said ‘I dated Catherine’. So it’s not really about anything, except it’s sort of about a girl who messed me around. I mean, it could work for anyone.

‘You Come to My House’ was written because we went through a phase of all these people coming to our house and drinking all our beer and smoking all my pot and making a huge mess and just acting like general jerks. It was a summer of leaches (Ed – good song title – must steal).
These were people who didn’t even really like us or have any respect for us or anything like that. So I guess that song was about our frustration about these transients not behaving in a decent manner.

You have an experimental guitar/sound alter-ego, At Waugh With Gieles. You have a laptop on stage, but also a guitar, so I am often unsure of how to properly put down your performances. What do you think about ‘laptop performances’? Lame or ruling? And as I only listen to The Beatles and Diana Ross, who are you ripping off with this music?

Well, I used to hate people that used laptops on stage and think they were big tossers. One day I got a laptop and I found this freeware program that you could use for looping. I realised it gave me a lot more control over the music I was making, as opposed to the Line 6 pedal I use. That’s because the program has 8 independent channels that you can control individually. So yeah, that’s really why I started using the laptop in my live stuff as it gave me a lot more ability. I definitely don’t frown upon laptop performances as much as I used to. I think it works best in combination with other methods. It really depends. I’ve seen people play completely killer sets on laptop only (ala Matt Rosner, Pita, Bib Gnaw, etc) and I’ve also seen people use laptops as an instrument in combination with other instruments or methods (ala Dave Miller and Laurence Pike, Chris Cobilis and so on). At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what method you’re using to make music. A laptop is just another instrument.

I wouldn’t say I was ‘ripping’ anyone off, but I’m definitely influenced by Jackie O Motherfucker, Seaworthy, Chris Cobilis, Chris Corsano, Oren Ambarchi, Sunburned Hand of the Man and Ginnungagap.

Basically, the Perth music scene totally sucks. There are approximately 3-4 good bands at any one point in time. In contrast, lame indie pop and generic butt rock rules the roost. Why do think this is? Are there ANY bands in this lame, fecking hideous suburban hellhole, that you would consider ‘OK’, ‘quite good’, or ‘worth rescuing from a housefire’?

As much as I’d like to have faith in my fellow men and women of Perth I think a lot of people seem to be wound up in or content with mediocrity. A lot of people are friends with people that are in a shit band and I think they feel like they’re obliged to go and see this lame band. Not many people jump up and get excited when new bands come around. At the end of the day, the only thing I can think of is that a lot of people just have downright stinky taste. An example of this was that documentary that came out recently, ‘Something in the Water’. The catch line was ‘What drought?’ but it was self defeating. It talked about Perth’s worst bands, basically, with the exception of the Scientists, the Triffids and Sex Panther. Now I’m not interested in Sex Panther as a band, but at least they’ve got their heads in the right place. The bands it featured epitomised what is wrong with the Perth scene. I mean come on, Little Birdy? Where was Jed Whitey, the Tigers, Soviet Valves, AIDS, Extortion, Mink Mussel Creek, Astral Travel, Rupture, Adam Said Galore, Matt Rosner, Hexagon Halfblood, Traianos Pakioufakis or any one else who’s actually done something interesting? I think at the end of the day, people probably don’t want to see something unusual or out of the ordinary. They’re happy listening to cute, little, packaged, polished bullshit.

I’ll sing while you croak, and I’ll dance on your dirty corpse.

Yes, there are some good bands/artists doing their thing in Perth at the moment such as: Wooshie, Magic Window, the Tigers, Whalehammer, Chris Cobilis, Mink Mussel Creek, Hooper’s Store, M Rosner, Brutal Snake and Hep. I used to be a big fan of Mental Powers, too. I also think Andrew Ryan and Felicity Groom are fantastic guitarist/vocalists.

Often I come around to your house and there are empty pizza boxes lying around, freshly demolished. However I have never looked to see what kind of pizza it is. Where do you think the BEST, and WORST, pizza in Perth is?

I would say the best pizza in Perth is either Stone’s or Marcos, providing we’re talking about home delivery. I also think the Diva on Beaufort Street do nice pizza if you’re dining in.

I hear my friend Dylan cooked a pizza with pear and cinnamon and icing sugar the other night, that sounds pretty damn good. We can’t cook pizza at home because a rat pissed in our oven about three years ago.

The worst was probably Food Kingz, but they’ve long gone. The generic shit like Pizza Hut and Dominos is pretty stinky.

You once stated something along the lines of ‘partying sucks’. Why is this, and what’s your fragging problem?

I think my problem is that when I was younger I had a lot of anxiety problems. This is compounded by a 45 year age gap between me and my father. I’m like an old man in a youngish, fat man’s body. I do like partying, but I’m just so tired. I’m really trying hard not to be a party pooper.

You have a label, Farmer Frontier. What justifies it’s existence, and what records have you put out? What does a band need to do for you to cast your golden wand of widespread recognition upon them? What’s your favourite of your own releases so far?

Farmer Frontier is free. It’s fun. It’s unique. It encourages people to start bands, record music and have a good time. I’ve ‘released’ my own projects, At Waugh with Gieles and Canyons, as well as Perth pianist Peter Lamont. These were all hand made and each one slightly different to the last. The runs were limited to 10 copies each. I’ve also done a live split of Magic Window and Penetrating Stairs. This was a bit bigger. We did 50 copies and had Amber, Ferron and Ruby draw 5 different covers. They were all given away at a North Perth Bowls club show where Magic Window played. Funnily enough, the NP Bowls Club is on Farmer Street

For a band to catch my interest, it needs to be interesting music, usually a little bit off the wall. They need to understand that they won’t make any money out of doing a record with me. I suppose it’s an attitude thing in a way. A lot of the stuff I’ve put out has been in some way related to me. This year I’m doing releases from Wooshie, Gargamel Gibson, Mongolian Mystery and a split between Hep and Histroyectomy. Probably others as well depending on what happens as the year goes one. I’m also planning to do a photo book and some short stories.
My favourite release is definitely the Magic Window / Penetrating Stairs split. It was the biggest run and the most fun to do. Probably the most accessible style of music for most people too.

It shocks me that any young person with half a brain manages to stay in this city. What keeps you in this desert outpost, and do you ever have the urge to relocate to somewhere else, like Melbourne, like so many other ragingly artistic/deluded types / bands?

Well, I’m going overseas for the first time in about 3 weeks. I’ve thought about moving elsewhere and that’s something I will probably pursue in the next couple of years. I guess the main reasons for me staying in Perth are my family being here and my closest friends. Oh and you’re here too NAME WITHHELD!

If you were stuck on a desert island with a ready-to-go motorboat, helipad and tiki lounge, but had to impress a snobbish, 20-something fanzine editing babe in order to leave said island, what 5 records in your collection would you take to this tropical wonderland?

Flying Lotus - 1983
Wire - Pink Flag
J Dilla - Donuts
James Brown - 20 All Time Greatest Hits
The Clean - Anthology




ĐĆowan McLachlan said...

my ass produces a finer sound than anything attributed to this site.
'That night, I knew I wanted to start a band of my own and throw my own parties and just be a part of what was going on.'
that is fucking profound.

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