Today, Apache Dropout deals out some of the most vivid psychedelic scuzz around, but at its inception, the Bloomington, Ind., outfit was a country unit. Well, at least in theory.
Sonny Alexander started the project as a solo acoustic affair in 2007. Soon he added Nathan Warrick on violin, who eventually shifted to bass. About a year later Seth Mahern joined on drums, and the band tilted in a more electric direction. Still, Alexander saw them as a country band, a notion he maintained until he listened to the results from the band's first recording session.
“When we finally heard recordings of ourselves, we realized that we weren’t at all,” Alexander says. “We just sounded like a typical garage band at that point. A little more noisy, a little screechier, more hectic, but still, we were just a rock ‘n’ roll band fooling ourselves. That took place over a fairly short amount of time. Once there are loud instruments involved, it always seems to turn into a rock ‘n’ roll sort of explosion.”
If there was ever a shred of country in the band's sound, it's long gone now. The self-titled debut LP, released earlier this year, showcases a down 'n' dirty garage band with a striking talent for analog-based production tricks. Potent, chugging rock is the base, and it oozes through cozy, lo-fi fuzz.
But it never stays simple for long. Alexander will erupt into a searing, drugged-out solo here. Soft '60s organ will float in there. Then, all of a sudden, the tones shift, the comfy fuzz contorts into scary distortion, and Apache Dropout becomes a different band entirely. It's a tough trick, and these guys pull it off again and again on this record, each time varying the execution to keep you constantly on your toes.
They're fascinated by the tools and tricks employed by rock bands during the '60s and '70s, and their ambition revolves around using these techniques to make music that's as fun and exciting as possible. They're dedicated to analog recording, a principle nourished by Mahern, who records the band's output in his Magnetic South studio. Sitting in his place, listening to old records and surrounded by antiquated tape machines and other collected toys, they wonder how they can put these devices to use, experimenting with them until they come up with sounds that are genuinely unique.
“Get the weird thing working for you, and you’re going to get a weird sound,” Alexander says. “You want to get that weird, exciting sound. I think it also sort of gives it a program. It gives the songs a direction. It gives the album that feeling, like you’re taking a trip, which is what those old records and all those weird, old devices do for us. They take us on a trip. We want to take other people there too.”
Apache is dedicated to aesthetics, but their approach is refreshingly unpretentious. Alexander sees rock music as a source of exciting sound, not a high-brow piece of art. As a result, the band's music is tooled for maximum thrills. One of the most entertaining symptoms of this are the spoken-word asides the band employs. A horror movie-style scream is the first sound on the LP and on two occasions, tracks are transitioned by the rant of an anarchist street preacher and a paranoid junkie raving about how somebody is “controlling the vibes.” Some of these touches are a little scary. Some are just for fun. But they all ratchet up the record's intensity.
Apache Dropout is out to entertain you, and they take it seriously. They spend hours in the studio talking about and refining their psyched-out garage approach. Alexander says it's the first band he's ever been in where practicing all the time has been the norm. He sees the quirks in the band's sound as tying into the inherent rebelliousness at the heart of rock music. Every out of place shriek, every oddly placed horn, every random bit of distortion is an act of defiance against the bland sounds that inhabit much of today's rock culture.
“We talk about it very seriously. We do it very seriously. We’re active with it,” he says. “We also are sitting around taking bong hits and playing with guitars and tape machines. So it is serious, but it’s fun too. We’re fortunate that we have something that we really believe in. A lot of artists now don’t have something that they’re serious about. Having our serious toys gives us something to express.”
— Jordan Lawrence is assistant editor at Charlotte-based Shuffle Magazine and a contributor to Raleigh’s Independent Weekly.
who: Apache Dropout, with Soft Opening and 3 Man Band
where: The Get Down
when: Friday, Sept. 9 (http://www.getdownasheville.com)