Ape Machine is one of those groups that arrive every so often to remind us how rock should be played: with shaggy, organic vitality rather than clean, digital corner-cutting. Ape Machine’s name—add a “T” for “tape machine”—symbolizes heavy music’s analog roots in reel-to-reel. The band’s tectonic-shifting attack, most recently captured in 2011 album War to Head, is proof positive that a singer with pipes (like Ape-frontman Caleb Heinze) and killer riffs are the foundation of awesome rock ’n’ roll. Ape Machine is on tour in preparation for the release of forthcoming album Mangled by the Machine via the Ripple label. The band plays Tucson Live Music Space tonight, March 18, at 7 p.m. with Been Obscene. Tucson Weekly phone-chatted with guitarist Ian Watts before Ape Machine played SXSW.
You’re from Portland, an indie-centered scene with a few cool metal bands lurking in the shadows. How does hard-rockin’ Ape Machine fit in, if at all?
Being in a hard-rock band in Portland is a bit tricky. The scene is centered on folksy indie rock or extreme-metal stuff. So we bounce back and forth between the two when we pair up with other bands on a bill. Lately, we’ve been leaning more toward the really heavy bands, which we feel is a more fun scene.
What has rock ’n’ roll lost by rejecting analog?
In a specific sense, there are just a lot of bands out there that aren’t recording their performances live in the studio anymore. It’s a product of the digital age, yes, but when you can do 800 takes of a vocal in an hour the music loses something.
Do you care about Ape Machine being tagged as “retro”?
Not at all. Same thing happened in the ’80s. There was an overproduced rock sound where the drums were loaded with reverb and the guitars were compressed, and then along came this retro-punk band called Nirvana who said, “Fuck all that.” Even after Nirvana, when rap-rock and nu-metal took hold, there were still bands not too dissimilar from us plowing through just fine.
When you went into the studio for your 2011 album War to Head, did you know you were going to record a Deep Purple song?
No, we didn’t necessarily know that. “Black Night” was a last-minute decision. We’d been playing around with covers in the practice room, and that one worked.
What’s the cheesiest hard rock you guys listen to in the tour van?
We love Foreigner. Been listening to Ozzy’s Boneyard for a big portion of this trip.
I heard a rumor that Ape Machine has faced some automotive challenges?
This tour is an adventure. Our van broke an axle in Central California. We’ve been behind schedule ever since. We’re renting U-Hauls, trailers. Three nights in a row, we’ve rolled into a club at 11 p.m., played our set and immediately left.
What can Ape Machine fans expect on your forthcoming album Mangled by the Machine? How is it different from War to Head?
Expect a progression. There’s a lot of the same influences. Mangled is more of a concept album in that we recorded two continuous performances, Side A and Side B. There are individual songs, but we wrote transitions between them. Live, we’ve been mixing it up, depending on where we’re playing. Some nights we play Side A and a few songs from War to Head. Other times we mix and match.
Eager to rock Tucson?
We love it there, because it’s a supportive scene. All the Tucson bands we’ve played with are super-cool are offered places for us to stay. So yes, we’re very eager.