An Interview with Jeff Aug of Ape Shifter

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Jeff Aug is the mastermind behind the thunderous, raging beast that is Ape Shifter. With two albums under their belt and another in the works, the future beyond the COVID-19 pandemic looks pretty bright for the band.

Today, I’ve got Jeff Aug with me for a chat. Among other things, we cover Jeff’s entryway into both music and the guitar, the early beginnings of Ape Shifter, what’s in store for the band going forward, his thoughts on the scene today, and a whole lot more.

If you would like to learn more about Ape Shifter or pick up any of their music, you can head over to the group’s Bandcamp and dig in. Enjoy getting to know Jeff. Cheers.

Andrew:
Jeff, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. It’s been a weird year. What have you been doing to pass the time?

Jeff:
In addition to rescheduling rescheduled tours (my main job is as a booking agent), I have been playing a lot of guitar, writing new material, and recording demos. I´ve also written a children´s book. I´m still working (struggling!) with the illustrations.

Andrew:
Tell us about the backstory. How did you get into music? What was the gateway, so to speak?

Jeff:
My father played piano, so I started piano lessons at 5 years old. The first record I ever bought was The Monkees Re-Focus, which was a bit of the greatest hits. My Uncle Arthur was my favorite uncle. He had posters of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Bela Lugosi as Dracula hanging in his room at my grandparents´ house in Queens. When he moved out, I was 12 and stayed the night at his new pad. He played me a recording he made from one of Pink Floyd’s The Wall performances in NYC. It was the first time I heard music in headphones. It was amazing. He had an old electric guitar and amp and gave them to me as a parting gift. I was just staring at it with anticipation on the drive back to Maryland. When I got home, I bought a cable, a strap, and a guitar pick. I called up a neighbor I knew who had an electric guitar, and he showed me the intro to “Fly By Night” by Rush and the chords at the ending of “Freebird” by Skynyrd. From there, I just took off.

Andrew:
As an artist, who were some of your earliest and more important influences?

Jeff:
Steve Morse, Groucho Marx, and Salvador Dalí.

Andrew:
Let’s talk about Ape Shifter. Tell us the story. How did things start?

Jeff;
After my band Sorry About Your Daughter broke up in 1996, I took to playing solo acoustic instrumental fingerstyle guitar full time. I took it to Germany in 1998 and kept it ongoing. In 2002, I started playing as a guitarist for the British wave icon Anne Clark. Eventually, around 2008, Anne decided she wanted me to start including electric guitar in the arrangements with the band. As a solo performer, I had done some shows as tour manager and support act for Allan Holdsworth by this time. Allan was playing Hughes & Kettner amps (H&K), and Frank from H&K would come to the shows every now and then. When Anne told me she wanted me on electric, I called Frank, and he hooked me up with an H&K direct box with a tube and 3 channels.

When I first tried it out, I started playing a riff, which sounded so good. During Anne Clark soundchecks, I would come up with riffs left and right. Eventually, I started recording the riffs and then putting them together. I played a bunch for Alec Empire of Atari Teenage Riot at his studio in Berlin on a day off during an Anne Clark tour. We recorded a few of them, and one of them became the song “Black Flags” on the ATR album Is This Hyperreal?

In 2015, I had enough material to record an album, so I called up Florian Walter and Kurty Münch. I played with them during a short-lived Punk band I had from 2000 to 2004 called Banana Peel Buzz. The plan was, learn the songs, rehearse, record, and release an album.

Ape Shifter (2017)

Andrew:
Ape Shifter’s debut came out in 2017, and Ape Shifter II in 2019. With all this downtime, are you working on any new music? If so, tell us about it.

Joe:
The Ape Shifter debut album Ape Shifter came out in 2017. Ape Shifter II came out in 2019. For the 2019 release, we pressed double-vinyl in a gatefold jacket. One vinyl was Ape Shifter I, and the second vinyl was Ape Shifter II. I have checked, and it seems it is the only double album vinyl ever released in the world which is always right-side-up no matter if you are looking at the cover of Ape Shifter I (on one side) or Ape Shifter II (on the other side).

Ape Shifter is ready to record another album. We are only missing funds to be able to finance the production and release. I have been able to do a final master of one new Ape Shifter track called “Betty Davis” (inspired by the legend herself) which features D.C. Go-go drummer Tony McGhee. Hopefully we can release it before June 2021.

Andrew:
How about songwriting? What is your process like? Does your work come from a deep, ethereal place? Or is it sort of just spur of the moment? How has living in the foothills of Germany affected your songwriting, if at all?

Jeff:
I remember watching the film Heavy Metal and during one of the scenes towards the end, Black Sabbath´s “Mob Rules” is blaring. I pressed pause, grabbed my guitar, and wrote “Uhluhtc.”

Sometimes, it´s just jamming at night when everyone else in the house is asleep. When I have a cool part, I´ll record it. Eventually, those “parts” develop, and then there´s a complete composition.

Living where I do allows me to concentrate on music rather than how to get out of traffic jam, where I am going to park my car, and how my life is passing before my eyes as I stand in some long line in the post office, the bakery, the (fill in the blank). It´s a small town and a needed refuge from the touring through all the major cities throughout the continent.

Andrew:
How does your latest work differ from your earlier offerings? What’s changed? How have you evolved?

Jeff:
Some of the first album sounds like jams, although there are a few more “complete” compositions on there. The second album definitely had more concise arrangements. We are developing as a band and really focusing on our strengths to be able to deliver the best we are able to do.

Ape Shifter II (2019)

Andrew:
You’ve had the opportunity to tour with Albert Lee, Soft Machine, Greg Howe, Carl Verheyen, and more. What has it been like sharing the stage with so many incredible musicians over the years?

Jeff:
It´s a great opportunity to be exposed to many different approaches to playing and composition. I´ve seen Allan Holdsworth play probably 50 times. He´s definitely had a huge effect on how I play, even though it might not sound like it.

Andrew:
Aside from music, what else are you most passionate about and why? How do your other passions inform and inspire your music?

Jeff:
I dig Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, Dalí, The Grateful Dead, Marx Brothers, and Sherlock Holmes with Basil Rathbone. I have three kids, so there´s always something going on, whether it´s a basketball game, board game, or reading a book.

Andrew:
Are you into vinyl? Tapes? CDs? Or are you all digital now? Where do you like to shop for music? What are a few albums that mean the most to you, and why?

Jeff:
About 5 years ago, I was discussing with Alec Empire. He asked if my oldest son was still listening to German Hip-Hop. I answered that it was terrible and explained that he is streaming from Spotify on his phone and sending it with Bluetooth to the stereo and playing it through that. After that phone conversation, I decided that my kids will be introduced to music through analog means from that point on. I set up a record player we had from a neighbor and started to play records. Now, we have a few hundred records here. My kids play Michael Jackson all the time (Off The Wall, Thriller, Bad). I love the live albums by Bob Seger, Ted Nugent, Rick Derringer, Cheap Trick, and Blue Oyster Cult. Then there´s Nasty Gal by Betty Davis, all the Fugazi stuff, and Misfits gets plenty of plays, ZZ Top, Zappa, soundtracks to Heavy Metal, Jesus Chris Superstar, West Side Story, Rock ‘N’ Roll High School, and the list goes on and on. I really dig the 70s Rock, for sure.

Last Fall, I picked up a huge collection of Dead and Dead related releases which included lots of Grateful Dead studio albums, live albums, Jerry Garcia, JGB, Jerry with Merl Saunders, Bob Weir, Rhythm Devils, Old And In The Way, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Robert Hunter It was about 50 records in all. I have pretty much been listening to them non-stop and still haven´t got through the lot. I´ll listen to the same handful of albums about 50 times before I start to trade out one for another.

Andrew:
Touring is a big part of any artist’s proverbial machine, but as we know, COVID has disallowed it. What do you miss most about being on the road?

Jeff:
Playing through an amplifier and getting paid.

Andrew:
Speaking of COVID, where has it left the music scene? So many indie venues are closing, and people are struggling. Do we recover from this? If so, how?

Jeff:
I recently read the Groucho Marx biography Hello, I Must Be Going. There one section where he explains a theater production they were doing in 1918 during the Spanish Flu Pandemic. It was required that there be an empty seat in front, behind, to the left, and to the right of every audience member. They did the show, decided it wasn´t financially viable, and simply didn´t do any further productions until after the pandemic was over 2 years later. Needless to say, Groucho and his brothers went to deliver sold-out performances and become huge film stars. So, I have hope we have our own “roaring 20s” ahead of us.

Andrew:
Last question. What advice would you have for young artists looking to take the plunge?

Jeff:
Don´t do it for the money. Do it because you love it and because it´s fun. That´s the only guarantee you are going to get.

Interested in learning more about Jeff Aug? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interview

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

With an immense passion for music, a disposition for writing, and an eagerness to teach and share both, Andrew decided to found VWMusic in 2019 as a freelance column under the column Idle Chatter. Over time, the column grew into a website that now features contributors who further the cause of sharing both a love of music and the art of journalism with the world through articles and interviews. While Andrew enjoys running the website, his real passion lies in teaching and facilitating others to do what they do best, and giving them the opportunity to explore their passions in the process. Some of Andrew’s favorite artists include KISS, Oasis, ACϟDC, Elvis Presley, Ace Frehley, The Rolling Stones, Rush, The Pretenders, Led Zeppelin, The Gaslight Anthem, Iron Maiden, John Lennon, The Melvins, Noel Gallagher, Regina Spektor, Rory Gallagher, The Stone Roses, The Strokes, Thin Lizzy, Elvis Costello, Van Halen, Neil Young, Blur, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, and many more.
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