Tex Perkins makes some attention-grabbing remarks in the press release for his new band The Ape’s self-titled record.
“The Ape is the album I was born to make,” the rock singer writes. “It is the album that Richie – the president of the Tex Perkins fan club – has been waiting for. It is an album bursting with swing and grunt, and is easily the best thing I have ever done, or ever will do.”
This is a big statement from an entertainer whose diverse resume includes front man of rowdy rock pigs Beasts of Bourbon and eclectic southern rockers The Cruel Sea, plus one third of Tex, Don and Charlie. It’s also a sensational claim when you consider his acclaimed portrayal of Johnny Cash in the stage show The Man In Black and his film score for the impressive Australian movie Beautiful Kate.
When pressed to explain himself, it is not surprising that the towering crooner backtracks. “Well, I may have overstated it a little bit there,” he chuckles. “I could have just said, ‘Here’s another record I put out, everybody – here’s some more shit that I recorded.’ So I spiced it up a little bit.”
Perkins does stress that the comment about “Richie”, Perkins’ biggest fan, is true. “There’s this guy that has been following me and running the unofficial Tex Perkins website for a long time,” the singer says. “He’s seen all the sorts of things I’ve done and when he saw The Ape play he said, ‘Finally! This is the band I’ve been waiting for you to do. Because The Ape is somewhere between The Beasts of Bourbon and The Cruel Sea. It’s probably scarier and hairier than The Cruel Sea, but not as dark and intense as The Beasts of Bourbon.”
The Ape’s debut record is a collection of songs that Perkins has been working on for many years, but were not a musical match for his established projects. But the time came for The Ape to evolve. So he called in friend and former Magic Dirt guitarist Raul Sanchez, drummer Gas Agars – who played in Perkins’ The Dark Horses group – and former Dallas Crane bassist Pat Bourke.
“These are a collection of songs that didn’t find a home anywhere else,” Perkins explains. “I had this ever-increasing pile of ‘Ape’ songs. “Actually, Raul and Pat have played bits and pieces on some of those demos over the years, so it was natural to go back to them.”
Perkins says the finished album is a faithful recreation of his demo recordings, which were a departure from what the songwriter had released in the past. “Originally, they were me playing trashy, riffy guitars over the top of hip hop drum loops, so it had this funky hip hop vibe clashing with trashy ’70s guitar,” he says. For a long time I thought they were the important elements and that’s why these songs didn’t get a home for a long time because I felt that combination of feels was an important part. But I realised that for [the music] to come to life it had to be played by living, breathing beings – whether they be apes or humans.”
The songwriter chose his fellow Ape band members not just on their proven ability in the rock arena, but also on established camaraderie.
“I’ve known all these guys for a long time and realised that I get along with them very well and that’s always an added bonus when you’re forming bands,” Perkins says. “Not that these guys aren’t great players, but these days I think I would choose band members based on their personalities rather than their skill and their chops. You’ve got to spend a lot of time with people – if you can’t stand being in a band with them it makes the whole thing destined to fail.”
Perkins reveals that he has a hard drive full of musical ideas like those that led to the creation of The Ape. And his musical experiments are diverse – many of which he hopes will never see the light of day.
“I make a lot of music – it’s an impulse to do that,” Perkins says. “I do it for pure pleasure and it’s an ongoing learning experience about music. I record on my laptop all sorts of music. Even dance music – which, believe me, you will never hear. But, you never know, because when I started recording these Ape demos it was with the belief that no one would ever hear them. So my perspective on things can change – six years from now you might hear my dance album. But please, stop me – don’t let me do it!”
Fans of Perkins’ rock songwriting won’t have any objections to The Ape. The record is full of big riffs and takes some unexpected turns into more simmering, slow-building numbers. And it translates perfectly to a live setting.
“It’s a tight album – it’s not a loose, ‘who-gives-a-f***’ kind of sound,” Perkins says. “It wasn’t a careless approach – it was a study in simplicity. And it works equally well live. Up until this point we’ve been playing to people who haven’t heard this album before. People’s faces start out with an expression that says ‘Hmm, OK, what is this?’ Then their eyebrows go up a bit and the corner of the mouth opens a little and you see some teeth. Then they might glance to the person next to them. Then, before you know it, they’re leaping up and down – spitting and screaming.”
Perkins also downplays the supergroup label, which is invariably placed on new bands that feature established musicians. “It’s far less of a supergroup than any of my other groups,” the singer says. “I see it as my core act. All the others – Beasts of Bourbons, The Cruel Sea, The Dark Horses – they do operate in a supergroup fashion where all those people have careers doing their own thing and those bands come together periodically for a project or a tour. Then they disperse again. I see The Ape as being my central creative vehicle – for now!”