“We’ve gone from being nineteen-year-olds making music about growing up and hating ourselves, to being grown men making music about how we hate everybody else!”
Minky Très-vain’s brilliant summary highlights that Brain Ape’s punk spirit remains, even though the band has changed direction. In recent years, Brain Ape has focused more on politics and other thought-provoking topics, such as the rise of false idols and the emergence of far-right political parties. But what made the band move away from a more introspective writing style?
“It’s a case of getting older,” says bassist Sol Alex Albret. “You become less focused on the internal, and more focused on the external the older you get. You take more of an interest in the world, a world that affects you and your kids if you have any. It’s an organic change that happened to us as people.”
To facilitate the change, Minky and Sol have adapted their approach to songwriting. Rather than using their own voices to get their inner feelings across, they use characters as a songwriting device to explore more complex ideas.
“We spent years writing songs about ourselves,” says frontman Minky. “When we had nothing more to write about in that realm it was easier to then put on a persona and distance ourselves from our own personal experiences. That way we could talk about the wider environment that we find ourselves in.
“All humans are playing characters in day-to-day life anyway, so it seemed right to develop those characters and explore not only the human condition but our own condition through these semi-fictitious personas.
“When David Bowie was singing as Major Tom, he was using the character and the musical compositions to externalise his own experience and make it more relevant to the wider population. We’re doing something similar.”
Sol weighs in with his take on things: “Most artists get bored of talking about themselves, especially in our category. As long as you’re not a narcissist, you’re going to run out of material if you just keep talking about yourself. It [the change of direction] has given us the freedom to explore more political, philosophical, economic, and historical ideas.”
BRAIN APE’s political ideas come to the fore when they talk about false idols in our society. They believe that we put too much faith in people and institutions that are not worthy of our trust. Those views extend to the music industry, which they feel is too focused on creating stars and celebrities, rather than supporting independent artists.
“False idols? Try all of Downing Street,” says Minky in response to a question on who they consider false idols.
“A false idol is anyone achieving notoriety and influence through malicious means,” adds Sol. “A lot of current politics is full of people who seem to have ulterior motives. Our characters reflect that.”
Minky continues: “It’s not necessarily only within the realm of politics, either. When Damon Albarn was starting the Gorillaz with Jamie Hewlett, they had this slogan: ‘Reject False Icons’. The entire idea behind the fictitious band came from rejecting those false icons within the music industry.
“Manufactured entities, these false icons that are by their very nature insincere, lead to nothing tangible as far as the human spirit is concerned. And we’ve taken that to heart in a lot of ways. The way so many industries are constructed, through subversive monopolies, makes it so difficult as a consumer to try and support genuine humans trying to achieve genuine progress.
“Rejecting those false icons means supporting independent creators, supporting independent politicians, supporting genuine people who are trying to help the everyday person on the street. If that means boycotting manufactured pop music in order to breed environments like Greenwich Village in ‘60s New York, then I’m more than happy to do that. But I’m also not expecting other people to do that just because I think it’s right. You don’t have to stop listening to Katy Perry if you like her tunes. Your life’s short, just enjoy it.”
So, it begs the question, what’s a real idol in the eyes of Brain Ape?
Sol: “A real idol is somebody who’s willing to speak what they consider to be their own truth. They’re willing to change, and they’re willing to be honest with both actions and words. If you can find somebody like that in our current Downing Street, then please point me towards them.”
Minky: “Humans are so complex and nuanced. A lot of people would consider Jeremy Corbyn a true icon by that definition. But his legacy is obviously marred by him trying to exist within a system that isn’t as forthcoming with its intent, and within a world where one is scrutinised for every little detail no matter what the outcome of that scrutiny will be.”
On the subject of politics, news sources recently reported that right-wing Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is suing Placebo’s lead singer after he called her a “fascist, racist” on stage at the Sonic Park festival in Turin. As expected, Minky and Sol offer a thoughtful and insightful analysis of the controversy.
Minky: “The right-wing establishment has done a cracking job at weaponising the word ‘fascism’ whilst simultaneously being fascists in their actions. And it’s odd to me when people hold the opinion that musicians shouldn’t speak about politics, or that comedians shouldn’t talk about religion. To try and marginalise industries like that, when all of these things affect everybody in a very real way. A human should be allowed to call something out as they see it.”
Sol: “To muzzle and gag somebody’s free speech is horrific. But you should respect that words also have consequences. There’s that nuance again.”
Minky: “It’s a fantastic political move for her public image. This could have flown under the radar, but that wouldn’t have done her any favours. And it must be pointed out that the right aren’t the only people to employ this tactic. But in America and Britain especially, the right is very, very good at weaponising these sorts of allegations and using them to enhance their image as victims.”
BRAIN APE’s political leanings are manifest in their song titles, which take inspiration from important historical events. With the titles’ Roman numerals and Latin, this clearly isn’t a band concerned with writing manufactured, throwaway pop songs, as Minky explains…
“As a Western European society, we all experience a shared history, which makes it appropriate to try and understand the British identity through it. But it also makes it appropriate when dissecting the French identity, and especially the Italian identity. Through two thousand odd years of history, a lot of our culture has spread and adapted through a Roman lens.
“So, when we went from writing about ourselves in a very selfish way to writing about our environment it would have been daft to have ignored the history that we all come from. There’s no such thing as being British in that regard because if you go far enough back, we’re all foreigners in one way or another. We’re all auslanders. So, protect people coming to our shores on boats, because we were once them.”
With BRAIN APE’s new approach to songwriting and thought-provoking material, the band is undoubtedly coming of age. By switching focus, Minky, Sol and Co. have opened new borders for themselves, allowing them to find inspiration in all kinds of places, from ancient Rome to current events. In that regard, you could say that they are musical “auslanders”, always willing to explore new horizons.
Wherever they go next, you can guarantee the music will be challenging, thought-provoking, honest, and authentic. If you are looking for music that will make you think, Brain Ape is worth checking out.