White Ape are a London 3-piece still fighting the good fight in Camden. They make choppy, garage rock that harks back to the 70s feeling of disenfranchisement that appears to have reared its head once again in 'Broken Britain'. They've witnessed the gentrification of the capital, and their upcoming EP 'Kick It Down' is somewhat of a response to it.
We caught up with front man Tommy Mack to see what White Ape are really about.
1. How did White Ape start?
I met Mike in China when he was cycling across Asia. Turned out we lived just down the road from each other, doing the same job. In Tsing Tao, you can buy a litre of Tsing Tao beer in a plastic bag for about 40p so we got wasted on the beach, swam a mile out to sea, swam back to shore and formed a band.
2. Is there a story behind the band's name?
It comes from The Facts Concerning Arthur Jermyn by H.P. Lovecraft. The White Ape represents something primitive, mysterious and terrible but also absurd and unique: that neatly encapsulates our aesthetic.
3. What was the song you heard that made you think "I want to do that"?
It probably wasn't just one song! But when I very first started learning the guitar, literally the first day, it was John Lee Hooker I was trying to play. Groundhog Blues, I think.
4. Kick It Down is quite a strong call to action. What do you want us to kick down?
Ourselves probably! There's a dualism of meaning in most of our songs. In Kick It Down, I'm saying our cities are being homogenised, drained of their character but also that we're culpable for it too. The yuppie types are victims of a boring and destructive lifestyle that they've bought into as much as they're destroyers of others' neighbourhoods. There's an ironic parallel between the scorched earth philosophy of revolutionary politics and the sort of social cleansing that we're seeing taking place. Our living conditions are going to change radically whether we like it or not and the question is do we adapt and thrive or do we allow ourselves to be dragged along by the short-termist agenda of a self-interested few.
5. Would you say that politics in music is important?
I think it's important for politics to be a part of music but I don't think Politics with a capital P has to be central to all great music. I don't think it's essential to be a political spokesperson to be a great artist. That said politics, in the broader societal sense has inspired a lot of great art: there are artists whose politics inspire and enthuse me, there are artists I like whose work is apolitical and there are even a few artists whose work I love despite finding their political outlook abhorrent. H.P. Lovecraft springs to mind!
I sing about a lot of things that get classed as political issues in White Ape because they're things that trouble or intrigue me and I feel I've got to get them off my chest but you don't have to be politically motivated to enjoy our music: when we play live, most people are just responding to the music cos it's both compelling and fun: it's hard and fast but you can dance to it.
What makes music mean something to people, well to me as a music fan, is if you can empathise with it emotionally and that can come from a political call to arms but of course it can come from lots of other, more personal things too. A lot of the best political song-writing combines both, someone like Sleaford Mods, where the political outlook is framed in terms of a personal narrative or even Billy Bragg, his most effective political songs are the ones where his politics are framed in terms of personal experience.
6. Would you class yourself as punk?
No, I'm too much of a magpie. We sound hard, fast and brash so we're punk in that respect but there's loads going on in our music that doesn't come from punk. I don't think you can recreate the moment that punk encapsulated; you have to create something that responds to the here and now. The best description I ever heard of White Ape was that we're garage rock but not at all retro. I'd like to think we draw on the energy and thrust of punk, garage and rock & roll to make modern music without sounding like we belong in the 50s, 60s or 70s. I love punk: the music, the fashion, the politics: punk was one of my earliest musical loves: the clarion call to get off your arse and do something with your life was and still is awe-inspiring but musically and stylistically, I draw on loads of other stuff as much as on punk. I've no interest in recreating a '77 punk sound, I'd rather use it as inspiration to create something new.
7. What's your local scene like? Could you give us any recommendations?
I don't think we fit into any particular local scene; we're an awkward sort of band, we're much harder edged than most of the indie bands around, wirier and more oddball than most of the punk and rock stuff and more off-kilter than the sort of sixties-themed garage scene. That's why we started Aspirational Values, our own night at The Constitution in Camden. Some of the best bands I reckon, around at the moment are Rot Jaws: (enervating post-Riot-Grrrl agit-punk crew) Kero Kero Bonito (Nintendo-sampling Anglo-Japanese electro-pop) and Jay Vee and The Cardinal Sins who are a sort of voodoo swamp rock punkabilly sort of thing.
8. It's getting harder and harder for musicians to scratch a living. What do you do to pay the bills?
Steal bags of fat from the bins outside liposuction clinics and use it to make artisan soap.
9. Where can we see you?
We're playing the next Aspirational Values is on Saturday 17th Jan at The Constitution in Camden Town with Rot Jaws and Tesselators.
White Ape's 'Kick It Down' is released 19th January via Sotones
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