An interview with Damn Dirty Apes

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Damn Dirty Apes

DDA can be considered as one of the post-rock pioneers in Malaysia and you guys have mould it to be majorly instrumental. Without lyrics, which gives more room for personal interpretation, what are the challenges or difficulties that you guys have to go through? Do you feel listeners ever misinterpret your music because of that?
Sounds dumb but there’s nothing to interpret. Lyrics may have a focused idea the artist wants to deliver but instrumentals deliver rawer, “unrefined” emotions. A very common compliment I get is people feel stoned listening to us without even taking drugs. Mission accomplished!

Doesn’t matter if I was thinking about my pet turtle when writing it and it invokes thoughts of sushi to the listener. If the music has an effect and you are going to play that song again in the future, I did my job. Ha ha. I just re-read what I wrote… so silly.

How would you compare the accessibility and appeal of instrumental bands today in Malaysia to when DDA first started out?
When we first started, it was common to get comments like “you guys are good BUT it would be better with singing”. We hardly hear that comment now. There’s nothing fresh or unique about it now. In fact a lot of post rock bands bore me. The textures and tones are so over done. Reminds me of the post-grunge scene with Nickelback. Post rock is the new nickleback! Ha ha!

A lot of bands are struggling to find the balance between consistency and progression. From where DDA started out to now, how’s the journey for you guys in maintaining those two elements?
You know the saying; it’s all about the journey, not the destination. It’s really true. The best example would be “Rebel Scum”. I wrote the first half quite easily but I just couldn’t figure out where to take it. We jammed the hell out of that tune, trying different combinations and after a month or so figured out how to tie up the end. I was proud of the song but I was even more proud that as a band we explored the shit out of it. It was like solving a puzzle.

In terms of progression, we are very very picky. Any new song too similar to a previous song, my band will call me out! It’s very stressful being in DDA. I would write 20 songs and only 3-4 would be acceptable. Music is all about self entertainment. If a tune doesn’t inspire us, what’s the point?

Damn Dirty Apes

DDA came out with “Ape Kill Ape” in 2004, after the band was announced hiatus and made a comeback with new reggae-esque sound, which was quite a surprise to your listeners actually. What is the decision making process behind that?
I’m an Iranian living in Malaysia with a western education. I don’t fit anywhere. I have no real home. I am opposed to all forms of religious institutions imposing on government rule; which can be seen as a very western ideology. But I am also against Western foreign policies. What is happening in Palestine and Iraq are war crimes. The over throw of the Iranian elected government by the CIA for oil is a morally bankrupt government. So I don’t like both sides and here I am, a young man full of frustration and anger with no avenue to express myself.

Reggae’s simple lyrics of the underdog against Babylon made a huge impact on me. I re-appropriated their lyrics of racism, isolationism and injustice to fit my frustrations. From around 1998 to 2009 I became obsessed with trying to learn EVERYTHING about reggae, its history and evolution. Bands like Asian Dub Foundation confirmed to me that even us Asian brown boys can use it to express ourselves. Reggae is punk, clear and simple.

So, how does it affect you as a band in terms of acceptance by your fans/listeners? Do you think it’s well-received by them?
No, I find that most people who like DDA don’t like our reggae tunes. And those who like reggae tend to not like our tunes. But it’s okay. Writing these “rebel reggae” tunes were very therapeutic for me. Like I said, music is self entertainment but it’s always nice to share.

I feel that Bob and Shankar (drums and bass/guitar) also identified with these tunes. We grew closer to each other because of it. We are damn proud of them, isn’t that enough?

I’ve written 2 albums worth of reggae tunes and probably only half of them will see the light of day. But for now it’s all about the rock!

Since you guys are based in Penang, can you tell us how the music scene is like there and any hidden gems of the scene that you think deserve to be known?
First of all, Alleycats are from Penang so we win! We have 2 venues that are very active each week, Soundmaker studios and China House. So the music scene does have a pulse but it’s nowhere near to KL’s vibrant scene.

Bands wise, Coma is the only real active band I know of. They are like God speed you black emperor but more fucked up. 2 members of Coma got drunk and told off GSYBE for giving a shit show in KL. Ha ha! They got kicked out of the venue. Rock and roll man!

Apart from playing for the upcoming Urbanscapes, what’s on the horizon for Damn Dirty Apes? Are we expecting new album from DDA or a tour maybe?
We’ve tried recording several times in fancy studios and I’ve rejected the results, Absolute shit. It’s not the studio’s fault, our performance was mediocre. My band mates are getting very frustrated with me. It’s really tough juggling work, family and a band. I hope to get something done in the next few months. We’ll see.

We are playing Kuching in January, other than that nothing else is confirmed.

Catch Damn Dirty Apes at Urbanscapes Festival 2013, alongside Nicestupidplayground and tonnes of other amazing bands this coming 23rd and 24th of November 2013. Ticketing info and other updates can be found on their official website here.

Interviewed by Awin Roslin
Photos via Damn Dirty Apes