Thursday, March 27, 2008

Naked Torso (Part Two) - James Beck of Soul of Condemned Ape Interview

Finally, the other half of the Soul of Condemned Ape story is revealed. James Beck, the drummer of the now deceased outfit, has kindly dropped some personal insight into the strange tale. Quite the Renaissance man, he can now be found drumming and singing in the post-punk/new wave netherworld of Magic Window, acting up a storm at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts in preparation for a career in stage and screen and repelling lovestruck betties like malaria-infested mosquitos. Without further ado I give you the dramatic conclusion to Naked Torso - The Soul of Condemned Ape Story...


SOCA drummer James Beck in a pensive, yet hopeful moment.


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?

HA ha ha! I wish I could say it was a woman, that would be far more dramatic. But really, I think it was more to do with the enjoyment of the thing slowly dissipating. For the first couple of months it was really fun and exciting, because SOCA had really only existed as a sort of joke-improv-comedy routine, and now that we were a reformed pseudo punk duo with songs, the prospect of playing a decent 'show' was always enticing, and we were usually playing with local band mates, Astral Travel, Mental Powers and Burning Sensation, usually at Knackers, at the Hydey. Anyhow, Camryn's answer explains a lot of this so I'll get to the point. The last couple of shows we played were very unenjoyable, and I suppose the spirit was sort of ripped out of the thing. When I'm involved in something like a band, or a piece of theatre or whatever, I like to put my all into it (hence why I sweat like a pig on the drum kit) but if it feels like its pointless, then I can't find the truth in it...and it was just playing for 'playings’ sake. It’s not satisfying. I love to perform, either musically or when I'm doing some 'acting', but it’s so easy for that to swing the other way when the novelty is we called it quits.

It was a great experience mostly. We learnt a hell of a lot about being in an active 'group', and I think as far as playing our instruments, I think we've improved tenfold. Camryn is a great guitarist, and with his solo projects and Farmer Frontier, I often think of him as some sort of vigilante...he isn't recognised enough. Maybe that’s what also ticked us off about SOCA. We got more of a response from the public once we had died than we ever did when we were alive. I don't know if that ticked me off as much, because I simply enjoyed playing. But I do agree with Cam on the issue of helping forward a sort of DIY movement. I mean, I'd be a fucking liar if I said we pioneered some sort of movement of local groups, that’s not true. In reality, we didn't know how to play our instruments, sure we'd been 'playing' for some years, constantly bashing about and having a laugh, but we've never considered ourselves musicians. In saying that, I think what we were saying to people was "hey, look at us, we're having fun, we're not even that talented, and you can do it too!" I'm going to stop answering this question because I'll start repeating myself whilst being totally vague without being specific enough. It’s been a long week.

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

Well, it started in Cam’s bedroom, 2003. We were smoking a lot of pot, and basically just fucking around. Cam had gotten this drum kit a few months earlier, and he was already pretty good at that. I was going through a huge 80's phase, and basically just wanted to play the keyboard all the time. So a lot of the first stuff we did was just noise and nonsense, just trying to play hard and fast. It was experimentation at its finest. I had also discovered Joy Division about half a year before that, and then of course New Order, which still remain massive influences on me to this day. I'm a blatant Factory Records fiend, most people know that. I learnt how to play drums from listening to 'Unknown Pleasures' everyday. Generally I'm stuck in the whole post-punk/new wave thing. I guess I enjoy the simplicity of the genre. But SOCA isn't exactly post punk. Cam’s musical tastes gave him a kind of unique guitar sound, I suppose I thought of it to be a bit more "Mission of Burma-ry" kinda style. Wire and The Homosexuals, Sonic Youth, and to an extent Fugazi were influential as well. I've always been a Bowie freak, since I was a wee lad, and the other great factory bands, Section 25, The Names, and Crispy Ambulance, all inspired me. Look at that, I just name dropped a bunch of bands, how much of a cool wanker am I?

What is next for you two, separate or together? Do you ever foresee a desperate, pathetic reunion tour/existence? What's Magic Window, your new combo, all about?

Ha ha ha, yes. A reunion might be on the cards when Cam gets back from Europe, we'll have to see! Magic Window is Amber Gempton and Tim Loughman from Astral Travel, and of course me. I've had a great time with these guys, they are lovely people and incredibly talented. We have a good chemistry, and a similar sense of humour which I think helps. Also, we share a lot of the same musical tastes, so I guess that’s why we have that sort of sound...I don't know if I'm brave enough to say what that 'sound' is, because I think we touch on a lot of 'sounds'. We have a few shows coming up in the next month or so, and hopefully more throughout the whole year if we are game. It’s fun because we all get to do things that we didn’t do in our previous groups. Amber plays bass, Tim and I swap drums (although I spend a lot of my time on the kit still) and we use a synth and a drum machine, and Amber and I both sing. So using new equipment, and swapping instruments has really opened it up a bit, and we keep it fresh enough I think. Some of our songs only have a rough structure, so each show will always be different. I'm ever admiring Amber and Tim, they are very very talented, it’s always a pleasure playing with them.

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

Hmm, well I guess I'll always have a soft spot for that first Knackers show we played. I also enjoyed that Velvet Lounge gig, and of course Deni's birthday party.

When did you discover your amazing ability to play the sh*t out of a tom roll? Was it a Spiderman-esque 'with great power comes great responsibility' type moment? What would you say to Stephen Morris if you saw him at say, a Magic Window gig?

Well I'd probably piss my pants, and do the whole "I'm not worthy, I'm not worthy!" a la Wayne’s World thing. I'm not going to deny that he's my favourite drummer. I learnt everything from listening to his beats in Joy Division and New Order. He's a fucking Duracell bunny. I guess if I could be even half as good as Stephen Morris, I'd be pleased with that. I'm sure there are other drummers in Perth who can tom roll a lot better than I can! Ah ha ha, as I am self-taught, there are still lots of things I'd like to suss out on a drum kit. Like arm-to-tom-to-snare ratio etc, how I should be sitting on the kit, how low or high, etc. I often get quite uncomfortable, and cramp up because of how fast I tend to drum. But I'm getting better I think, 'with great practice comes great tom rolls!' Or something. If it weren’t for the style that SOCA sort of decided to fall into, I'm not sure if my skills as a drummer would have improved.

For a while there I would shit Cam to tears with my "one two one one two one two roll crash one two one one..." beats, because I think he felt they were boring. But I always thought they were just simple. I wasn't going to be the sort of drummer who sounds like some jazz wiz kid or crazy Corsano. Cam is a great drummer, I think probably better than me in a lot of ways, because whereas I was listening to Stephen Morris everyday, Cam was listening to more 'off time' stuff, or crazy pattern stuff, like Corsano, which gives him the ability to drum some very complicated beats. But I dunno, I like to think that I'm finding new beats and techniques amongst the simplicity of my 'whips on ice and rolling toms'.

You're studying acting at WAAPA. I hear you're doing really well. That's really cool. However, you are yet to embrace the Method. Do you know the amazing actor Daniel Day Lewis has approximately 15 Oscars, despite having normal teeth and a crudely self-inked prison tattoo on his hand? How are you going to get into Robert De Niro's super-expensive restaurant in NYC if you don't know the Method? Omar Sharif once said to Dustin Hoffman 'you know, this Method stuff is interesting. Personally, I just pretend. It's easier' (something like that). However, Omar Sharif wasn't the Rain Man! Seriously, have you ever considered the Method? What lower-case method do you favour?

Hmm, this is interesting.... Well, in my training I've basically been going through a wide-range of 'methods', but I think what you're talking about is 'method' acting. (ED – duh!) Like actually living or doing something that the role requires. For instance, if I'm going to play a character that eats a piece of dog turd in a movie, I don't think I'm going to have to 'experience' that in order to be able to do it in the film! I think my imagination is capable enough of helping me get there. Which could be said for almost everything I do as an actor. I put myself in the shoes of that character. A lot of the time, its really just being able to feel the gravitas of a situation, and I think you have to have a good understanding of 'human nature'...but acting is hard! It’s been my whole life, and it’s certainly not without its bumps and major 'head fucks'. You have to personalise everything. Find the truth, play the truth, live the truth. In naturalism anyways, the most prevailing form of acting on screen today, and even stage.

If you ask Cam, he'd tell you that sometimes I'll come home and just collapse on my bed, and want to die. Ha ha, yes, I'm an actor, I'm a drama queen. But it does exhaust you. You need to be fit mentally and physically, and this is hard, because you need to go to dark places sometimes, and be in certain head spaces, so this can shake a person up a bit. I know a lot of people think actors are complete wankers, heck I'm sure some people even think that about me, but we are pretty vulnerable and sensitive most of the time. That’s sort of a major requirement; we're always sort of open, you know? And sometimes I have to dive deep into my past and dig up shit that I've buried in order to help me reach some places in my performances....ha ha, but then of course there is my self esteem which is in a constant state of flux!

I'm never happy with anything I do, but then maybe that helps me get places. I don't know! I guess what has been a major thing that I've been working on and am still working on, is just doing simple, and truthful’s sort of easier than it sounds. Some people get it quite well I guess, I'm surrounded by ridiculously talented people in my class everyday who astonish me with what they can do. But then I guess you never stop learning. So, even though I may not get to where I want by the time I graduate this year, I need to just trust that I will continue to refine my art, and just be the best I can be!

What's your favourite Bill Murray movie? Please do not say Lost in Translation.

Ha ha ha, no, it’s not Lost In Translation, although I did enjoy it. That’s new wave Murray. Well, if you know me, no wait, I'm sure even if you didn't know me, you would at least know that I'm a huge Ghostbusters fan. In fact, that’s probably the reason why I want to be an actor! It’s the first film I can remember watching...I don't know how old I was when I made that bloody decision, god, four, maybe five? Apart from all the cool special effects, and all that humour totally flying over my head, I think I had so much fun with that movie (heck I still do, its hilarious) that I wanted to be apart of something like that...

I know it sounds cliché or whatever, but I felt so joyous and excited by watching movies and TV, that if it made me feel like that, then I wanted to make people feel like that too! I know, that sounds a little lame, but its true. I love performing. Even though I've had some major confidence issues at drama school and stuff, and often walk away from the stage shaking my head and telling myself "you suck balls, that was a piece of shit, maybe you should be thinking about getting into some sort of other career you fuck" at the end of the day, there’s nothing that pleases me more. Except playing music. So you know, I'm thinking they are kind going hand in hand for me now. Oh look I've gone off track. Ghostbusters, followed by....ha ha Ghostbusters 2, then Stripes…shit its Murray, its all pretty good.

If Bill Murray is the Stones of 80's comedy, who would you say was the Beatles? John Belushi? Or would it be the other way around? I guess John Belushi is edgier.

Hm, yeah, maybe it is Belushi. Either Belushi or Akroyd. Fuck, Akroyd is such a bizarre surname. Sounds like an alien commander or something.

'Scrooged' - classic or dud?

I love it! One of fave Xmas movies next to National Lampoon’s Xmas Vacation. Hey, Chevy Chase, he's pretty cool too! Of course there is the cameo with the guy from New York Dolls as the cab driver which is pretty funny. I think Scrooged is on the same level as Groundhog Day for me.

If you could be in any past Bill Murray movie, in any role, EXCEPT for Bill Murray's role, what movie/role would you choose?

Hmmm.....shit that’s a tough one....Well, I guess I wouldn't have minded being another Ghostbuster, but let’s face it, Murray's Venkman character is like the leader and has all the best gags! Ha ha, I could probably play Louis Tully, who is Rick Moranis' character. He has some great moments in those movies...or maybe I would have liked to have played Hunter S Thompson's buddy, Gonzo, from "Where the Buffalo Roam"...Is his name Gonzo? I haven't seen it in a while. Oh shit! What About Bob is also a pretty awesome Murray movie.

'The Hunger' is a classic, gothy, modern vampire flick that you turned me on to. David Bowie plays a vampire. Bauhaus play in the opening goth club scene! How good is the love scene between a young and hot Susan Sarandon and the older Euro-Vamp lady? Despite all this though, didn't you feel a bit cheated by the ending? It was pretty weak IMO. What's your favourite David Bowie song? Mine is 'Rebel Rebel'.

Yeah The Hunger. It was one of those childhood movies for me. Yes, childhood! I loved vampire flicks when I was a kid, and was allowed to watch whatever I wanted. Then I rediscovered it when I was 16 and found an old VHS copy at a record store, which of course got me into discovering Bauhaus, round the same time as Joy Division actually... It’s a cool film! Very arty. So funny to think that Tony Scott went on to direct such greats as "Top Gun". Which was probably the most suggestively homosexual film I've ever seen in my life.

As for my fave Bowie song (god I think you know me too well NAME WITHHELD!) I could list a shit load. It’s too hard.... My favorite record is 'Low' and my fave track off that is 'Subterraneans'....I also adore the songs 'Moonage Daydream', 'Rock 'n' Roll Suicide', and 'Wild is the Wind'.....ha ha ha shit, then there's the whole Labyrinth thing. So many memories! But I think the ending is just 'okay'... it’s very ambiguous I guess. I kind of read it as Catherine Deneuve's character getting what was coming to her for all those thousands of years, whilst Sarandon’s character is about to embark on her own journey of love and melancholic betrayal....

Basically, the Perth music scene totally sucks. Are there ANY bands in this lame, fecking hideous suburban hellhole, that you would consider 'OK', 'quite good', or 'worth rescuing from a housefire'?

Ah ha ha, does it suck that bad at the moment? It’s hard for me, because apart from the gigs that I attend because Magic Window are playing, I rarely find the time to get out to shows, because of WAAPA (ED - West Australian Academy of Performing Arts?). But I've got some time freeing up so I'm going to really make the effort to get out there more and see shows. Well I adore Astral Travel, I'm really liking the new Whalehammer stuff, I'll kiss ARSE WITHHELD arse some more and say Burning Sensation is up there for me as well! Um, who else?

Mental Powers (despite having a somewhat ambivalent relationship with one member of that group), Extortion, Penetrating Stairs (RIP), The Tigers, At Waugh With Gieles, a lot of the Farmer Frontier roster. Ha ha ha, god, am I biased or what? I enjoy a bit of Cease now and again. Of course DJ Wooshie, I hold very dear to my heart. But I seems like there is a bit of a divide amongst bands at the moment. Look, I could be totally wrong here, as mentioned above, I haven't been out in a while, but it seems like there are certain bands who attract one large group of followers, and others who attract a certain group of their own. It seems like bands such as Carbuncle, Bone, Mink Mussel, Cease etc all have a strong fanbase and they play a certain kind of way....then I guess there are the more sort of punky groups like Burning Sensation, and the sort of new wavey/electro types that get the other half. That sounds blatantly obvious now that I've written it, but I think it’s true, and I guess with the tastes in music that I have, I'll see the latter more often. But I dunno.

Does that not mean there is a certain kind of variety in Perth? I guess I'm finding it hard to be critical here and say I think such and such band is shit....I think what’s most important is that there is stuff happening...whether it be good or bad. Look, nobody likes a shit band, a shit band is a... well they're shit aren't they? So what? Nobody goes to see them. Tough for them, but that’s the reality, but at least that shit band is giving it a shot and trying to make an effort and put something out there. I would rather know that a shit band is being shit somewhere rather than no band be playing at all....but who knows, this is where I get a bit conflicted, because I think about all the good bands that are out there who never seem to gig, or get the recognition, and the shit groups do. Ha ha ha! But then again, its all about taste isn't it, so some shit might smell better to some than others. Hmm, thought for the day, put that on your Feng Shui calendar.

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 or Sydney, like so many other ragingly artistic/deluded types / bands?

Yeah, it’s a tough one eh? At the end of this year it looks like I'll be moving over east just like every other schmuck from this town, ha ha. Essentially, if I get picked up by an agent in Sydney or Melbourne, that’s where I'll have to be so that I can audition for stuff and hopefully get work - and there seems to be more work over there...more film and TV stuff anyways, which is what I think I'll be going after. Work in general, ha! But you know, people make their way here in Perth as actors and muso’s... I guess it just depends on where you want to go and who you want to be! Unfortunately I can't see myself getting what I want in Perth...and its tough you know, because I went to Sydney and Melbourne over the holidays, and I really liked them both, gawsh they are huge, but I still kinda got homesick! Strange isn't it? My whole life, family and friends, all 22 years worth are here in Perth, and that’s a lot to fly away from...

Sure, it’s like 4 of 5 hours away, but home will always be home. Perth is not so bad...the more I think about it, the more I understand it’s the people who make this joint, not the city itself. Which is a bit rough I suppose, because everybody moves away! I don't know what Perth needs to do in order to pick itself up....I think it just has a lot to do with 'catching up'. We need more venues, and the liquor licensing to be freed up...more money into the arts etc... I think this is slowly happening now, I just hope it builds momentum before everybody has packed there bags for Melbourne!

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 movie editing arthouse rental babe in order to leave said island, what 5 movies in your collection would you take to this tropical wonderland?

1) Seven Samurai
2) Akira
3) La Heine
4) Blade Runner
5) Nosferatu

I wouldn’t mind taking more than that though! Too many to list!

What's the edgiest hairstyle you could ever imagine yourself having?

It’s got to be the shaved Sigourney Weaver cut a la Alien 3. Ah ha ha, god can you imagine it?

Peace and love,

James Beck

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