Armed with a sense of humour and a willingness to take the kind of risks other bands shy away from – check our cover shoot if evidence is needed – Fight Like Apes are among the few Irish bands who seem to go looking for trouble. In addition to wrestling with their fans, dissing their mates and merrily using the word ‘cunt’ in a song, the title of their new album alone might just land them in jail. With a bit of luck, that is.
Yes, they do. Fight Like Apes that is. So much so that venue staff hire extra security at their gigs in order to protect the punters from the band.
As we join May Kay, Jamie, Tom and Lee on a Friday morning in the Library Bar a couple of weeks before the release of their much-anticipated second album The Body Of Christ And The Legs Of Tina Turner, and before the wedding lampoonery of their first ever Hot Press cover shoot, the evidence of which is all over these pages as you read, singer May Kay (aka Mary-Kate Geraghty) is showing us the rather nasty-looking cuts she sustained on her forearms during wrestling bouts with members of the audience after a brace of recent gigs. (You can see those in the pix too).
“Post-gig wounds,” she explains, almost shyly.
“She bashed two lads,” adds
Do tell, we say, not without some trepidation.
“It was a loosely termed ‘wrestling match’ after a gig last week,” the singer elaborates. “I did win though. Well, on the Friday I won, on the Saturday I got beat.”
Has this become a regular occurrence? Should we be worried about asking prickly questions lest we be subjected to a spot of the old GBH?
“It’s not something any of us planned,” May Kay laughs. “It’s crept up on me really! It used to happen sometimes after gigs, ‘cos when we first started playing, we’d play like twenty-minute sets, and coming up to fifteen minutes is when you’d start to feel the adrenaline go. So then twenty minutes happens and the gig’s cut, and we’re dying to play more and we just end up having a fight afterwards.”
“Leg wrestling,” adds Tom, somewhat gnomically.
Which is all very well when you’re playing to audiences of two men and a terrier down the Dog & Duck, but now FLA are filling bigger venues, one wonders if May Kay is besieged by scary stalker-types looking for a tussle on the tiles?
“Quite honestly I’m pretty sure I hunted this guy out last weekend! It’s not like someone came over and was like, ‘There she is! I’ll fight you!’ I was like, ‘You!’”
Tom: “Full Nelson before he knew it.”
Jamie: “There’s way too many security at our gigs now. And they’re completely aware of the fact that we might get a bit aggressive, so crowd surfing is not possible – they pull you down to the ground and go, ‘No, don’t do that!’ And you’re in the middle of a gig and you’re like: ‘I can’t be humiliated at a gig!’ So you start shouting at security guards and giving them the finger. It’s very awkward.”
Indeed. But it was precisely this bolshy and rambunctious attitude that led Fight Like Apes to become the toast of the self-appointed Irish hipster It-crowd on the release of their debut album Fight Like Apes And The Mystery Of The Golden Medallion two years ago. This two-keyboards-bass-and-drums combo could’ve easily been mistaken for a shower of snarky collegiate US indie kids who’d been turned onto Atari Teenage Riot via Bikini Kill, The Rentals and The Breeders. Early songs were peppered with references gleaned from trash culture kung fu b-movie sources too obscure even for Tarantino, and the live shows soon became the stuff of local legend.
The new album consolidates and restates the debut’s agenda rather than tearing up the blueprint. Later for that reinvention lark, although tunes like ‘Katmandu’ (the band’s favourite) and ‘Thank God You Weren’t Thirsty’ suggest a - dare we say it - more vulnerable and fragile band emerging.
But then, the road has not been without speedbumps. Original drummer Adrian left this spring, to be replaced by Lee, an old friend and studio collaborator. The band’s sibling-like closeness has been duly maintained. We mention in passing the Stooges’ propensity for sitting around their Michigan HQ getting bombed on dope and acid in an attempt to attain what they called ‘The O Mind’, a sort of communal brain-meld.
May Kay: “Oh my god, I’d love if we all tried to connect our minds.”
Jamie: “We’d be too busy patting each other on the back. We all hug after gigs as well, like a bunch of spas.”
May Kay: “We do actually!”
Jamie: “And then start fighting again.”
As we’ve said, for the most part The Body Of Christ re-upholsters the elements that made their debut such a celebrated artifact, i.e. humour, irreverence, profanity, flamboyance and noise. Songs like ‘Poached Eggs’ replicate the bzzzt of an over-stimulated brain. May Kay (a former medicinal chemistry and philosophy student) reckons the new album’s sound can be likened to just about any extant form of mental dysfunction - bi-polarity, ADD, OCD.
But while the Apes are maybe the only Irish band that might justify a manga strip, they’re also endearingly self-deprecating (“If we’re not sure how to end a song we just double the speed and start shouting,” May Kay admits), which denotes a well-developed self-awareness and almost po-mo approach to documenting their own evolution.
“One of the things we always tried to do is add clip notes to our albums referencing the progression of the band as a commentary within the songs,” says Jamie, “maybe taking the piss out of the fact that this album is maybe a little bit more emotional and stuff.”
“If anyone ever said we were saying stuff that no one else was saying, it was that everyone was thinking it,” adds May Kay. “It wasn’t that what we said was in any way ground-breaking, it’s just that it was a bit more honest.”
They have musical Tourette’s in other words.
Jamie: “It’s very awkward for anyone we know, because they’ve probably become aware at this stage that no matter how well we get on, if we’re fighting or anything, it’s all up for grabs. We could potentially write about anything anybody says. It doesn’t matter how much that person means to you, chances are there’s going to be something that’s going to offend them. Maybe it’s a bit rude. Maybe we should be a bit more loyal.”
May Kay: “Yeah, that sounded particularly cut-throat, actually!”
Jamie: “Well, it produces honest songs, whether they’re good or not.”
Does May Kay ever get criticised for being a mouthy bird?
“Ehm, no. Whether anyone thinks it or not, in this day and age it’s meant to be celebrated, that kind of openness of expression, so even if anyone did want to tell me to get back in my little box and stop shouting, I think everyone is just too afraid to say it.”
One of the more amusing aspects of the Apes’ trajectory is how the release of first album polarised Dublin media and blogeratti factions, precipitating all manner of online and print hissy fits, catcalling and spitballing sessions. The Apes found themselves an unwitting demarcation line between oppositional cliques behaving like twelve-year-olds passing notes at the back of class.
May Kay: “Can you say I said that? Yeah, it was very predictable.”
Jamie: “I think we always knew at the start... People seemed to like us a bit too much!”
May Kay: “We kept getting warnings from people: ‘Don’t get settled into this, it’s not going to last’. Which it didn’t.”
Jamie: “Because we’d already done the first two EPs, by the time the album came out they were waiting for it.”
May Kay: “It’s funny now to see it happen to other bands and stuff, it’s really weird. ‘Cos it is so predictable, and the way it happens is so obvious, and you can almost timeline it to when it’s gonna peak. I’ve stopped listening to bad reviews. It’s that time in a band’s career when you have to take them down a bit. We’ve had some really funny bad reviews where they say, ‘They’re just stupid!’”
Jamie: “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: ‘WE MADE THEM... WE WILL DESTROY THEM!’”
Said with tongue in cheek of course. As is pretty much every FLA statement. It should be pointed out that the new album betrays something of an, um, jaundiced attitude to modern romance, most notably on tunes like ‘Come On, Let’s Talk About Our Feelings’, which takes the piss out of young lovers’ narcissism no end.
Jamie: “I think a lot of that was really a retort to a lot of people who said we’re not very deep: ‘Don’t you say I don’t have feelings. I can say SOUL as well!’ Any song that will make me sick is a song that will reference ‘the soul burning’ or ‘bleeding black blood’ or all these horrible images.”
Actually, there are lots of feelings on the record. It just so happens they’re all nasty ones. FLA’s bile is still very much in the ascendant.
May Kay: “Well it is funny, when we’ve actually sat down and listened to it, 11 out of the 12 tracks are talking about our feelings quite deeply. But no, it isn’t particularly heartwarmingly romantic.”
Not when songs like ‘Pull Off Your Arms’ contain lines like, “It’s not my cunting problem”, no.
May Kay: “Jamie came up with that word. It is revolting.”
Lee: “I think you say it nice!”
May Kay: “With this one I can justify all the swearing. Maybe I’ve just become more of a wanker since the last one, but playing it for people that might be easily offended and stuff, I’m like, ‘No the reason that’s there is because of this’. It’s just the word ‘cunt’, you don’t actually have to go into it too much. But I remember meeting a couple who said they met at one of our gigs for the first time, so ‘Lend Me Your Face’ was their love song. I said, ‘That’s about tearing someone’s face off – do you know that?’ They thought it was a lovely sort of, ‘Lend me your face and I’ll give you a big mooch’ or something.”
Listening to songs like ‘Waking Up With Robocop’ or ‘Indie Monster’, one imagines the band do a lot of, um, hooking up with people they loathe and detest. What’s the story? Is May Kay perpetually wearing beer goggles when she goes out of an evening?
May Kay: “Do you know what? The ones that you’re referring to are Jamey’s lyrics, and he so luckily has a girl to sing them, because I think he might come across as a bit of a demon.”
Jamie: “We’ve always said I’m really a bit of a chauvinist and it comes across as feminist...”
May Kay: “...Because I sing it!”
And FLA are maybe the only Hiberno band apart from Republic Of Loose willing to accentuate the carnal in their lyrics without worrying about offending their parents.
“Oh, we do worry,” laughs May Kay. “We just do it anyway!”
The same process of denial was integral to the recording of The Body Of Christ, which was conducted under the watchful eye of ex-Gang Of Four Man Andy Gill, who taught them as much about wine and mustard as tracking techniques. In order to circumvent creative paralysis – The Block in other words – FLA had to pretend they were a garage band once again.
May Kay: “We definitely did the isolation thing, out in Ballycumber in County Offaly, we stayed there for three weeks or something.”
Jamie: “After about a week we were just staring at each other. It was such a bizarre predicament: ‘Right, now we’re going to start writing an album!’”
May Kay: “It is such a strange thing to do, to try and write a song from scratch. ‘Somebody write something! Somebody say something!’”
Jamie: “With the first album it was very easy to remove ourselves from any worry, you’re just writing literally for the other two people in the rehearsal space.”
May Kay: “That’s why ‘Digifucker’ off the last album exists. I didn’t think anyone would ever hear the lyrics. But with this album you kind of have to be conscious of the fact that you’re in a different light. You can’t be like, ‘Don’t put that in: people are going to hear it’. We didn’t think to censor anything at all, which I’m actually very happy about, because I imagine it must be a very easy thing to do.”
Jamie: “It would have been very easy for us to turn around and make a more commercially viable record that was maybe a bit safer, but it’s not about breaking taboos, it’s about where we are at the moment. We stopped touring and started treating ourselves like a band that was just starting out again together.”
So is there anything more to the album title than a provocative phrase?
Jamie: “It’s kind of like the ideal album title really isn’t it? The Body Of Christ insinuates something quite precious, and The Legs Of Tina Turner, a bit sexy as well.”
May Kay: “That’s lovely, Jamie.”
Tom: “It’s a brilliant summation.”
Jamie: “Sexy preciousness.”
Oooer missus. I feel a pull-quote coming on.
May Kay: “I think when Jamie said it to begin with, we all thought it was hilarious, and then when it started being bandied about that it might be actually offensive is when I started to really want it, ‘cos I didn’t understand why it would be offensive.”
Jamie: “Maybe (it would be) to some designer Catholic who goes to Mass once a year. People have the right to get offended by it of course...”
May Kay: “But I think you’d really need to be looking to be offended, because I don’t think there’s anything blatantly obvious, it’s not an attack on anyone. It is what it is.”
One wonders how it’ll go down under the new blasphemy laws.
May Kay: “Shit!”
Tom: “If we get arrested I’d say it’ll contribute to record sales.”
Stranger things have happened.
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