Interview with Peer Lebrecht of Golden Apes

When I was in Berlin Golden Apes album “Kasbek” was my continual companion. I was very excited after the review to have a discussion with Peer Lebrecht about music, the future, and where the passion comes from to keep making music through decades while you watch the world change.

Ken: I found your band several albums into your journey, I’m excited to discover you in reverse. Tell me about when and how you came together, and when did that become the current incarnation of the Golden Apes?

Peer: The fact that KASBEK, our current release marked the 20th anniversary of that band. It makes it quite easy to detect the right point in time when 3 guys, sharing the same musical passion for everything in common. We, met in a small and spare flat then tried to turn lots of energy, idealism and a little bit of weltschmerz into choruses and verses…Feels good to remember after all that time. Diaries and demiurges….

Can´t tell where we all came from but we met at the right time in the right place.We all had already gained some experiences in bands and projects before but this. Golden Apes was some kind of reset, a playground, a return to zero because we were free from any pressure and guidelines. There was no template, no route, no urge of artistic sophistication or thoughts about concerts or recording something – just a guitar, a bass, a keyboard, a trashy drum machine and tons of songs we wrote in the first handful of months. Should we have kept it like this? Maybe…Ha Ha Ha…
But soon a kind of ambition crept in and everything got more structured and ordered. We sorted and selected, discarded and rebuild and in the end we had about 12 songs, which soon became our debut album “Stigma 3:am”. Though so many seasons have changed since then and whole rivers have passed under the bridge I still like it´s atmosphere, it´s insouciance and hedonistic attitude towards genres and stylistic boundaries. Something we came closest to with MALVS again I think, some 18 years later…and finally KASBEK…circles, circles, circles….

Ken: I was struck by how different this record sounds from others I have heard in modern post punk, tell me about how it is different from your previous records?

Peer: Destiny is a weird thing now and then. Graceful and cynical, torturing and pleasing, snow and ashes…one second honey is running through your veins and the other mercury…and its true shape you only realize in the end. When we started with KASBEK we thought we were going to do an album that would become a gift for ourselves, something to celebrate the 20 years of existence in the most proper way – in the rehearsal room, making and recording music. That was the idea. But somehow it all took a completely different route, something strange crawled in, slowly but toxic…something that let us die on the way. Sadly. The deeper some of us got into the focus on the music, the more we faced a kind of strangeness and alienation between us. The songs felt like a trigger for skimming layers of things unspoken for years. There were so many cracks suddenly, so many distances and discrepancies of expectations, ambitions, engagement and creative involvement. But this is how it goes sometimes. Not every covenant is made for eternity.

In the end it felt a bit like doing a solo album with 11 of 12 songs written by myself and no real input during the mixing and polishing. But there was never a second I had doubts about going on. On the contrary. The more I felt deserted, the more important Kasbek became for me. It was my album all of a sudden in some way and I dealt with it passionately. And I confess – I´m quite proud of it. Was it to become the last Golden Apes album? Or the first letter on a new, blank page? Still I don’t know, but Kasbek is a caesura, one of those relics pointing to a certain moment in time whose palpable significance makes you shiver.

Ken: I read that Kasbek as an album name was a tie in to Greek mythology with the story of Prometheus. Tell me the significance of this title and how it relates to the music you are making ?

Peer: Prometheus, who stole the fire (as an metaphor for knowledge and wisdom) from the gods and handed it over to the man and was therefore chained on a mountain in the Caucasus (this ominous Kasbek), where an eagle was eating out his liver, day by day cause – and here my congrats for the authors savvy, it was regrowing every night! A brilliant story, isn’t it?

Where is the link to the album? Somehow the whole story is about the wish for knowledge and the failure of dealing with it. It is about morals and their counterweight, about sacrifice and the tempting odor of things forbidden. It´s about guilt and atonement, about betrayal and iniquity…The rest is hidden in the words, in the lines between…in the flames.

https://goldenapes.bandcamp.com/album/kasbek

Ken: Post punk/dark music is going through a real Renaissance at the moment. What are you doing to distinguish yourself artistically?

Peer: Honestly? I have no idea. I still would call myself a musical amateur with no idea about thirds, syncopation, the Pythagorean tuning or the Neo-Riemannian theories. I always made music the way it finds me and I don’t care about sophistication, compatibility or definition of genres as long as it is moving me, makes something inside oscillating. (I even don’t know what post-punk is nowadays for the inflationary usage of that label makes it quite different to stay on top of things.) And although I use to hear a lot of music, keep always watching for new and exciting bands, I strangely always escape into instrumental ambient, neo-classic tunes when it comes to writing. From Harold Budd to Moon ate the Dark, from Eno to Dvdub. The atmosphere is the setting, the condition of the mind the main source of inspiration. So maybe it is this different set of influences or the missing intuition for contemporary trends that puts Kasbek in a stylistic alcove…I never really thought about that…

Ken: Speaking of the growing scene I know you just did a show with Actors in Berlin. Tell me about some bands you would really love to share a stage with?

Peer: Fortunately, I´m part of a team, which organizes an annual little festival here in Berlin (Dark Spring Festival) and we are lucky enough that we survived for 10 years now with a concept that is far beyond any commercial prudence. We only invite bands and artists whose music we personally like and cherish. No thought about popularity or the number of sold albums. We are just naïve idealists and it works well! Therefore, I´m blessed with the fact that I could already share the stage with so many interesting bands. For example The Trees, Motorama, Whispering Sons, She Past Away, The Foreign Resort….not to forget all those amazing people we met on the way so far: the above mentioned Actors, Pink Turns Blue, Clan Of Xymox, Cinema Strange, Love Amongst Ruin….to be continued. So have a look at the billing of the next Dark Spring Festival and I´m sure there you´ll find a few answers…

Ken: I recently took a trip to Germany and saw your home city of Berlin. I was absolutely floored by the way people embrace music and art there. Tell me about what it is like to be a part of that, how has it shaped the music you create?

Peer: I don’t know if there is a specific Berlin patina on the music we make, (maybe this is something I even can´t judge for living here for every single day of my life already!), but I agree that there´s some kind of urbanity sticking on it, like sand on wet skin. All the places it is passing seem to bear traces of man somehow….abandoned, damaged, broken, lost but reservoirs of memories. There is a lot of nature in my lyrics – seas and rivers, mountains and valleys, deserts and skies but these are metaphoric landscapes somehow, conditions, backsides of mirrors, resulting either from that romantic rejection of modern technological deadening or just a subconscious vocabulary of a mind…? Analysts may know. I´m not sure if this is linked to a special place.

Of course, culture rates high in Berlin, either on the surface or below of it and in one way it was amazing to dive into this Bohemian maelstrom, there were so many possibilities…especially beneath the water! All the clubs, all the venues, concerts 7 days a week, so many interesting people and so many people looking for the same. It was great being in it, being twenty, being curious…but a lot has changed since then. Don’t get me wrong, there´s still a great variety of abreuvoirs of cultural and subcultural life, but somehow it´s on display now. It feels sold out and tired. Maybe it´s a question of generation or just the usual way of cities eating their inhabitants. Take a look at other former cultural hotspots like London or NY. It all becomes polished, whitewashed and an insiders tip in a travel book….

Ken: So one of the songs on the record I kept coming back to was “Clouds Silver Lining” It was such an effective use of dynamics. Tell me about what was happening during the time you were writing it?

Peer: I can´t point to a certain song on Kasbek and tell you when and where I wrote it. Somehow the whole album became one piece of work, a solid shell with a lot of inclusions. There were periods of doing the music and periods dealing with the lyrics, not that one-after-the-other linear progression. I just remember that the first, atmospheric part “Clouds Silver Lining” was the first I did and for a while there was no idea to change the atmosphere at all. Just those leaden major and minor chords, this lofty Cocteau Twins guitar and the decent drums. It changed when I accidentally put a bass line from another idea over the main pattern and realized that it changed the whole mood without affecting the harmony. So we found that rattling middle section, whose conclusion asked for the heavy guitars and these over polished late eighties drums. And about the words – it´s a classical love song with all this light and pain, this hope and disappointment, this faith and echoing loss….

Ken: You did the Song “Dust and Dew” as a duet with Shannon Hemmett from Actors/Leathers, I felt like you had such great call and answer chemistry with your voices. What is it like to share a song like that, what do you think another voice added?

Peer: This song is really, really special for me. And not only for we never did it this way before. There was “Missing” on the MALVS album on which Froxeanne from The Frozen Autumn added a few lines with her magnificent voice, but it was more a final seasoning with her coming to the studio, taping her vocal lines in a few takes and leaving again. “Dust And Dew” became so different case. I wanted to do a song WITH someone this time. Someone special of course. Shannon and me knew each other from a few shows we played together and stayed in close contact since then. She´s a brilliant being and it turned out we share so many similarities if it comes to passion for arts. In this way the idea of doing something together has been in the air for a long time.

After the riverbed for “Dust & Dew” was dug, I sent her the rough musical template and the first verse. She replied with the second and so on and so we worked through the whole song, denying that there were a few continents and oceans between us. And when she added her additional keyboard textures in the end I was so delighted about the result, so enamored of its density and intensity. But the real consummation of it all happened a few months later only, when we sang the song together live on stage here in Berlin…then we really finished the great white work.

Ken: What is the future for you now? What is your ideal outcome for the rest of 2019? Hint: come tour in America 🙂

Peer: As revealed above there is a moment of re-design happening here, some adjusting of the compass, because even if I left a doubt a few sentences before, I erase it here and now again – I will go on with the band. It is a too big and important part of my life for letting it go completely. There was this idea to work on some new music on my own at first, to see things from a different angle, to redefine states and conditions, but there will definitely be a post-Kasbek era for the Golden Apes. Don’t know its shape and don´t know its color, but I´m certain about its existence. Promised.

Ken: What is something about your music you put a lot of heart and soul into but you think often gets overlooked?

Peer: I don’t feel legit enough to judge this, to measure popularity and the reach of the music we do. I just can say that we feel quite happy about the feedback and response we got over the years. We have never been that front page band, never stood prominently in the spotlight and always failed to meet commercial and economic expectations but….it was never about that. From the very beginning we dealt with everything on our own, there was no real company at our back, no educated management, no booking agency…what was not easy and asked for a lot of idealism and resilience but making music the way we wanted to do it, music that felt right and important (to us) always kept us going on. And finally I´m quite happy that we can do all this without any pressure, without any need to meet other demands than our own. There is so many music left to do, so many places we have been to, so many lovely and wonderful people we met – we couldn’t be more proud of the things we faced so far.

Picture by Grendel

Ken: If you were given unlimited resources to make any of your songs into a video, what song would you choose and what would it look like?

Peer: That´s a question that hits the nail on the head in an almost eerie way, cause we´re really in the state of working on a draft for a new video right now. Christian and me are dealing with some ideas in the moment and we hope to get something on the way later this year. And of course I won’t reveal what song it will be. Let´s keep it murky…but it will look great I hope….Ha Ha Ha….

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