The Beautiful Melancholy of the Golden Apes – Interview

The new EP, From The Sky, by Berlin’s Golden Apes, was a nice surprise for fans and a return to a band based sound, on the label, Icy Cold Records. Brothers, Peer Lebrecht and Christian Lebrecht are back with new band members in the fold. The group is known for both their gothic romanticism and mystical themes as well as Peer’s sonorous baritone singing, so From The Sky, indeed, has this in spades. Dark and rich landscapes are painted for you to explore, with historical touch stones and spiritual pools. All you need to do is give yourself over to the music. We were lucky enough to have the exquisite Peer, talk to us about the German music scene, new music from the Golden Apes and new members, as well as a little about his solo project Voyna.

Welcome to darkness within Onyx, Peer of Golden Apes. Get comfortable for we will be plumbing the inky depths of your gothic mind. Coffee might be a good choice of beverage on such journeys.

It´s here in my hand, bottomless and tasty but I have to be careful, cause the tracks seem quite battered…love the sound though. Sceneries are passing…fields and caves, skies and electricity…. Just a bit annoyed by the guy next to me who´s muttering weird sentences the whole time, nodding unwaveringly in the rhythm of the wheels. I don’t get it….but I´m glad that no one is here with me in the compartment…a reservoir dam…comfortable…

Golden Apes has been around for 24 years. When you first started the band, did you think that you would still be doing this more than 2 decades later?

Heaven…why should I have even done this! When we started the whole thing some handful of years ago, the last thing on our mind was a scheme, a concept, a plan…it was all about the now, the moment of being in the room and creating music together. I mean we were all in our twenties and idealism commonly fucks with strategic thinking…as a twenty-year-old boy with the idea of how it will be when you´re forty! No, we just made our way hand over hand along the next song, the next album, the next show. And somehow it seems that this enthusiasm has never left us.

GOLDEN APES has never been a big player in the game, no money-machine, no bold headline and let´s be honest – I´m quite glad about. No opportunism, just the realization that this might be the reason why we made it that long. We always nursed the freedom to do what we want whenever we felt for and this kept the muses attractive, kept the fire ablaze. Yes, I´m proud of all the things we did and faced over the last two decades, all the places and all the faces because it´s so much beyond anything those 3 boys could have visioned back then while torturing their amps….

Germany has been a fertile place for the gothic scene. Why do you think that is and what was the scene like when you first started the band?

It´s an interesting question and worth a more scientific approach than my humble view on things to find a satisfying answer. There might be so many reasons…geopolitical ones, socio-cultural ones, historical ones….a maltreated continent, a muddy pud of origins, roots and culture, a conflict of generations, rebellion, a desire for a new identity and values, economic imbalances, iron curtains and existential fragilities…Central Europe and especially Germany has always been a hotspot for uproar and rebellion.

Let´s jump from 1968 to 1989, from the leftist activities of the late 70´s to the rightist disgrace in the mid 90´s. The common link is the rejection and questioning of values and morals of the parental generation and a youth´s desire to reshape and redefine an identity and a heritage-linked context (consequently in both directions in both parts of Germany). I think it was this uncoupling from the past and the realization of the future as a blank page that led to a lot of experimentation and alternative ways of life (or to the more nihilistic approach when it comes to punk). As with art and ways of expression. Look what happened to music when the ones like Neu! or Kraftwerk brought it near to magnetic coils! Or the whole Post-Punk (aka Neue Deutsche Welle) Petri dish in and around Düsseldorf. The avantgardistic melting pot West Berlin.

I mean Germany was the cradle of Romanticism, so it seems obvious that Goth found a proper habitat here… Heaven, so much theory. The guy next to me is humming concerningly… What was the scene like? Exciting. Berlin was a good place to be in the mid-nineties. The whole sub-culture/underground organism was growing, expanding, trans-mutating,..there were so many clubs, venues, events…official, illegal, elitist, debatable…but of course this is just an evaluation linked to a certain time and the perception and condition of the protagonist. Of course, most of the spots doesn’t exist anymore, most of the cast has moved on and genres had their ups and downs but that does not mean that I think the modern scene is boring. You’ve just changed your point of view. I’m quite sure that a lot of kids out there feel the same rush, rapture and stimulating input like we did back then…

Do you think the gothic/industrial scene has changed in those years?

Would be sad if not, or? I think it’s necessary and essential that an organism keeps developing. It has to grow, it has to expand, it has to deal with conditions and circumstances, it has to swallow things up and spit things out, occupy new areas and leave familiar ones… I´m not the most reliable mirror though cause my point of view was and is always at the edge of things but yes, I´d say the whole scene has changed a lot over the years. Definitions became more blurry and so created interesting stylistic intersections and I think the acceptance of external influences has grown a lot, what is essential imho (in my humble opinion). A state of mind is always a reflection of the position within the system of coordinates and so is art….

So how and why did Golden Apes become a band?

We have stopped. Half-way on an open field. Is there really no horizon or is just the sun dazzling? Decent headaches and the guy gets shaky. There is a noise out there…some kind of hissing or scratching….is it from the wires above? Or from the mouth of the woman starring through the door inside the compartment? There´s no seat vacant, go on! There´s no seat vacant, there´s no one here…but how and why? How and why?

How and why does a band becomes a band? I don´t know. I can´t even point on a certain moment in time and say: That´s the beginning of the timeline. Maybe something like a band appeared for the first time when Christian and I met our guitarist/founding-/longtime member Eric for the first time back in 1998? Or was it when we finished the first song together? Just the three of us, a vintage drum machine and a cheesy keyboard, sitting on the floor of my flat and playing our hearts out, with no idea about the fact that 24 years later Eric is long gone, we’ve made 10 albums so far, toured Russia and the US of A, met so many exciting bands and artists along the way and I´ll sit here now and answer a question asked on the other side of the globe? Yes, maybe that was the moment. No thunder from above and no whispered oath by candle light, no subterranean rush of fog, lights and alcohol, no palpable deflection on the historico-cultural measuring tool – just a song, first floor, somewhere in Berlin…

The first EP you self released in 1999 was “The Outside’s Inner Life”, notably with the cover of The Cure’s “The Figurehead” and in 2000 released your debut album “Stigma 3:am”. Looking back at those, how do you think your sound has changed or progressed over the years?

I really, really, really hope that it did. On my knees, hands folded…. Don’t get me wrong – it´s not about regrets or denying any kind of past or things we did then but about aspiration, motivation, balance and expectations…and most important: calm. The realization that things take time and that the bottom of the sea might be deeper than the surface pretends. I honestly enjoy walking down the memory lane to the early years. They were filled with so much excitement and naïve storminess, with so much enthusiasm and so less filters and I´m so happy about the fact that we were able to keep some of those things with us all along the way. But did the music really change? I even don´t know. Somehow I even think that “Stigma” is closer to “MALVS” or “Kasbek” than anything between. But who am I to judge…

2019 saw the album “Kasbek” released and then all went silent from the Golden Apes apart from the single “Satori”. Also, Peer, you had started your solo venture, Voyna and covid hit us. What was happening between 2020 and 2022?

A quite strange period indeed. For the first time since the moments I talked about above, there was a moment of doubt if the band was still alive after all. After leaving Kasbek ways parted and somehow I never even thought this could happen. It was a strange moment to be honest. Of course it was not the first time that opinions differed, directions turned, lives changed and people left but here it was completely without having a plan B…and the people were very special to me. So Christian and me decided to take a little time out, some moments to take a deep breath and let the waters calm. I mean this whole pandemic interlude was a quite perfect occasion for this. Inventory…table of content.

As early as the end of 2019 I was working on some ideas for something that would become “The Cinvat Bridge” a bit later and it was quite time- and thoughts-consuming, so the band causa was put a bit on hold for moment but of course it wasn´t meant to end like this. Having “Parting” as the last song ever recorded would have been a bit too much pathetic! And so we had the idea to send some sign of life out there, some sort of “We´re well, hope you too”. “Satori” was written quite quickly and with the help of Denis Ivanov (Brandenburg) and Thommy Hein we went into the studio and the both of us made that little video. And it all felt quite good. There wasn´t even anything missing for a second. Felt familiar. But of course it was just a placebo condition…and there were still some vacant chairs in the room… What was the next question about?

There are new member of the band. Could they be introduced to the readers please?

More than a pleasure! (For this is not about importance, hierarchy and sympathies I´ll introduce them chronologically!)

Frank was the first who joined us on guitars last autumn. Retro audition. A simple ad on a musician board. Fortunate coincidence….lucky us.

Gerrit is a musical old stager. He´s been around for a while already, with a lot of different outfits…most notably Frank The Baptist maybe. And this was also the segment where the ways were crossing. You know someone, who knows someone, who knows someone…Berlin is a clachan when it comes to this. Really glad that he´s with us now.

Joe on drums is the latest in the league. Strange situation – although he´s already with us for a moment (he knew someone, who knew someone, who knew Gerrit…) and takes credits for the drums on the “From the Sky” EP, we still wait for our common live debut, cause unfortunately he wasn´t available for our little US-tour. So we´re all excited about autumn…

And I have to confess that I really like this constellation. Feels comfortable…seems the chemistry is right…

So, now it is 2022, there are new members and the release of your new EP, “From the Sky” which is beautifully rich sounding. How did the EP come together?

It was a logical step in the end. After doing a few shows together (still with the drum machine) we all felt that we seemed to be in tune, on a personal level and on the musical one, of course. And so we wanted to find out how it will work and feel in a creative process. “Satori” felt like yesterday´s news meanwhile and I already had prepared some 20 or so demos for….all possible contingencies and so we chose the 4 that made up the EP in the end and decided to put them out. A sonic foundation stone so to say.

And I hope the proof is acoustically irrefutable – it also worked in a creative process.

Why was “Satori” included into the EP?

Cause it felt so lonely out there. It neither saw a physical release nor was it ever embedded in a musical context. It felt not even like a distinct, concluded chapter and so we removed some dust from its surface and gave a late home.

The single is also the title track, “From The Sky”. What prompted you to choose this track?

Although I remember that we even had a few words about it during the last moments of recording, there was never a real serious discussion about. We all just love it. It was the right tune to come up with after all this silence. Especially in the relation to the new cast. The energetic drumming, the rich and massive guitars…the perfect status quo.

The music video is extremely interesting with a mixture of what looks like alchemy and the natural world. How does this tie into the song?

If you´ve seen some of our videos (we´re quite lazy with that I have to confess) then you might have realized that I like to use the song more as soundtrack than creating an visual explanation. Its more an adding of meaning in both directions. The visuals can unveil possible new or alternate interpretations to the words, while the music feeds the pictures with atmosphere and clues. But it´s never separated then both share the same metaphorical location. Maybe the words are just a memory of one of the guys in the video? Or are the moving pictures the prequel to what the song is about? The things happened after?

I like to have those unanswered questions. Think about the video´s opening sequence…it is all in the same head, it´s all under the same sky… …the woman is still there. She´s pressing her forehead against the windowpane. No noise in her eyes although the birds get nervous in their treetops. It is autumn all of sudden…winter, spring…easter fires in the passing hills…ridges of reptiles. There are just a few stars in the sky tonight. Tiny, inverted punctures…zodiacs on her skin. I shouldn´t have talked about her! I shouldn´t even think about her! Autumn again…

The Voyna remix was a really interesting contrast in style using only electronics? What was the inspiration?

Having this VOYNA identity is a very satisfying luxury. All parameters are in your own hands only. Time, angle, point of view, scenery and costumes…I think I wanted to know how this song would sound if I would have made it on my own. No band, no additional input, just me and my limited instrumental skills. It is like one story retold by two different persons…it differs in details, in perspective, in things perceived as important. What would the woman tell about me now?

My favourite track is “Hole (In My Head)” as I love that fusion of noise with something rather otherworldly. Do you have a favourite track off the EP or one you are excited to play live?

I´m quite sure that everyone has his own favorite among the tracks. And I´m quite sure that the reasons for this are as different as the same story retold by two different persons. For me it really depends on the season in my head and the way the rain falls but the few shows so far revealed that it´s exciting to play any of them…collectively spoken…

When I hear the lyrics, it reminds me a little of those early post-punk/gothic bands but also descriptive like a book. Where do you get your inspiration for your music?

Lyrics or music? No matter because it has all the same origins. How does it find us? It comes by cellular division, comes with the erythrocytes and leucocytes. It occupies with every lung expanding, with every molecule passing your pharynx. It finds you by the neurons twitching, synapses twinkling…. circuits. Electricity again….

As I have previously said, your music can sound otherworldly? What is it about the mystical and shadowy worlds that attracts you to write about them?

Again I just can answer this from a personal point of view only, although I think that there might be some parallels. The first band of this “genre” that found me lost in its music was The Cure. I was twelve when “Disintegration” was released and it´s fatal what this kind of melancholy and weltschmerz can do to a 12-year-old boy! And from there the roads got serpentines. There was lot of Joy Division, there were the Fields Of The Nephilim, Mister Nick Cave passed by with “Henry´s Dream” and “Let Love In”, Cocteau Twins and the other 4AD Perseids and I finally gave my heart to The Psychedelic Furs. Wild and passionate romances…and then came David Bowie…

What is it that makes things so attractive which act as the perfect Yang to that rational Ying we call reality? Those corridors, stairwells and false floors in our mind we learned to deny for not feeling guilty while blinded by the blazing light of ratio and common sense? Why are we so irritated but attracted by the laws and logics in our dreams, by the language in which our subconscious is whispering to us? I don’t know. I have to think about…

Was Covid a help or a hindrance in recording the EP?

That pandemic didn´t play any essential role in the recordings to be honest. When we went into the studio in early February it felt gracefully normal to wear a mask while sitting in the control room. Clean hands, clean heads…after that long time a lot of things became routine.

Peer you have such a deep lush baritone vocal range, so does singing in such a low register, sometimes become an issue when recording or playing live?

Even when trying to answer with a bit more syllables than just a “no” – the only reasonable answer to this is that “no”. It´s my voice. I got used to it.

Going to have to ask, being brothers in a band, is that easy or do you have monumental grumpy moments? Obviously you both have a strong family tie though but does that sometimes make decisions difficult?

Somehow it´s strange but while entering the rehearsal room we completely cast off any blood ties, so if there are moments of troubles, they´re not caused by a genetic relationship. We are friends then, like anyone else in the room. It´s more the fact that we both navigate this ship for more than twenty years together now, which binds us together on certain elitist level but that´s just a mental bond, no hierarchic preponderance…

Golden Apes are touring again. How excited are you to be back out there again?

Endlessly. I think we all are still drawing on those days across the ocean we had in May. Although it was quite helpful on the one hand to have some time off for focusing on new music and things, on the other hand it is really time. Ready to hit the road in 3, 2, 1…

The music we listen to in our formative years molds our tastes in a way. Which bands or individuals did you listen to or fall in love that got you into this genre?

Do you listen to modern music? I ask because many say they do not stray from their first loves. If you do, who inspires you now?

To be honest I´m temporarily not really into contemporary music, especially when it comes to this particular genre. I even don’t know why precisely. I´m still a fervent admirer of Russia’s musical underground/sub-culture, cause there´s a lot of exciting, progressive and maverick music to find ( – that´s why it was additionally special to tour there and meet lots of brilliant bands and artists), but recently music became more and more a tool for triggering and adjusting atmospheres and sceneries in my head. I´m addicted to the music of the late Harold Budd, couldn´t live without the sonic soundscapes of Brock Van Wey, Moon ate The Dark, John Foxx, Eraldo Bernocchi, Robin Guthrie…it´s the depth of the water I´m into these days, not the height of the waves…

If someone asked you to record 10 cover songs what would they be?!

I was quickly channeling the other guys and the ouija board told that we´d like to reinterpret 10 songs from the latest VOYNA album…

We hear there is basically a new album already written. When might this be unleashed on the world and what else in the future for Golden Apes?

It´s a fetus so far with about 15 demos hand-picked and one by one we´re dealing with it now. There´s even the chance to hear some of them at the upcoming shows but maybe this is more than I’m allowed to tell. The idea was to enter the studio anytime next year and then we will see. Would be nice to have it out in 2023.

…now I remember her face! It was her the whole time! The fire, the noise in the walls, the solar spots, the read rope in the window, the injections…the crazed promises back then in Delphi…How could I forget……?

Thank you dear Peer for your time, an EP that is epic and I bid you safe travels.

Thanks for the coffee and your words. It was more than a pleasure…

From The Sky | Golden Apes (bandcamp.com)

Golden Apes | Facebook

http://www.goldenapes.com/

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