You know that feeling when you stumble upon a great song? The thrill of discovering a great, new band? That internal battle of wanting to keep is as your own private secret versus shouting it from the tallest building? Well, we’re taking the express elevator to the top floor to tell you about Apteka. Hailing from Chicago, they made a huge splash at SXSW in 2009. With a heady mix of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, the epiphanal rush of shoegaze, with the intensity of Jane’s Addiction they’re truly the great band that’s flown under your radar too long. They released a “tour EP” to coincide with their appearance at SXSW and subsequent tour that would end up on most critics top ten lists if there was any justice.
Without any mega-buck videos for us to show, we’re going to stream some songs here and throw a live video at the end for your viewing. Close your eyes and just imagine this sound washing over you while standing in your town’s mega-arena.
TDOA: You’re sound has been compared to the “shoegaze” movement that’s started to gain momentum again. Do you like the comparisons and what music do you think influenced you the most?
Apteka: We’re all really into some of the early shoegaze bands like MBV or Ride, but we’ve always been a bit surprised by the comparisons. We’re definitely not opposed to the shoegaze label or anything, and
it’s great to see all this exciting guitar music reemerging under the shoegaze banner, but I guess it’s hard to see it in our own music. The ethic is definitely there. We write songs to envelop and blanket you with sound; to create some sort of sensory overload or take you someplace else, whether that’s through our use of volume or guitar textures or whatever. So I guess in some ways, the end results may be similar. But to be honest, we all grew up rock kids, so as much as we love Slowdive, we’re probably more influenced by Led Zeppelin.
TDOA: The sound on your ep is tremendous. Please tell us about the recording process for the band; where you recorded, who produced it, etc.?
Apteka: Thanks, we actually recorded everything ourselves in our noisy little practice space, which can be a total madhouse. If you listen close you can hear all sorts of ambient noise from metal bands down the hall, or a stray vocal traveling through the vents, or just someone slamming a door. But, all the little mistakes and imperfections really ended up adding something to the recordings. especially because they were recorded digitally. The imperfections seemed to give it an analog quality.
None of us has ever really worked in a studio, so the process of getting things sounding right was done mostly by trial and error and trusting our ears. By recording it ourselves we could compensate with time, what we didn’t have in gear or experience. We could spend hours or even days working on guitar tones, or the drum mix, or changing the arrangement a bit. Not having an engineer or producer really forced us to improvise and experiment with the ways we record and write, which at times was really frustrating, but in the end opened a lot of doors musically. That being said, it would be a lot of fun to spend some serious time in a proper studio and see what we would come up with.
TDOA: When we hear bands with such a dense sound, we’re always intrigued about the songwriting process. Does one member of the band generally write parts that the rest of the band build on or do you find most of the music comes out of rehearsal “jams?
Apteka: It really varies from song to song, but for the most part our best stuff happens pretty spontaneously. I’m not really sure where it all comes from, but someone will play a riff or a drumbeat or whatever and everyone will just lock in. We’ll look at each other and just know. These are my favorite moments, when everything is happening in real time, and the four of us are in sync. A song like “Traitors”
for instance came together that way. I just started playing this riff and within minutes the song was pretty much all mapped out.
TDOA: What do you think are the overall themes of the band lyrically?
Apteka: I’m not sure if there is an overall theme to the lyrics, but most of the songs deal with pretty standard themes, you know, love, loss, excess, fights in the dark. Often the actual lyrics are left intentionally vague. I don’t want to imprint the songs with a specific message or meaning
that hits you heavy over the head, but rather to leave things a bit more ambiguous so they can evolve or adapt to the situation or listener.
TDOA: It sounds like you got some good press from your appearance at SXSW this year. Tell us about the experience of playing their. What were the crowds like and did you get a chance to see any bands that you
Apteka: SXSW was amazing. we played 5 shows in three days. It was hot, chaotic, and a lot fun. We played in all sorts of venues from a biker bar to a little taqueria. We were so busy that we didn’t have much of a chance to check out that many bands, but it was a great experience. We can’t wait to get back.
TODA: Most of the press you’ve gotten discusses the injustice of your failure to be signed. Are you just waiting for the right offer or is this another case of even the indie labels having their heads buried
in the sand?
Apteka: Yeah, we’re working on that now. More than anything we’re looking for a supportive label that’s a good fit for the band. It’s not like we’re holding out for some insane deal with a crazy advance or the promise of a castle in the English countryside or anything.
TDOA: I remember a time when the Chicago music scene was pretty vibrant with labels like Drag City and the Chicago Reader covering local bands. How would you describe the scene now and the level of support
from local media?
Apteka: Chicago is pretty much the same as far as I can tell. It’s taken some hits recently with the closing of Touch and Go and some of the print media has gone under or has radically changed, but with the rise of
Pitchfork and other online media, it’s kind of reasserted itself as the center of the indie universe. Chicago has always had this really strong indie identity, to a fault at times. Not being New York or LA, it’s developed a sort of outsider complex, and I think that’s why so many great indie labels started here. It’s still a great place to start a band. the rents are reasonable, there’s a lot of great places to play, and a lot of great bands making exciting music.
TDOA: The only videos of the band are youtube performances and you don’t post pictures of yourselves anywhere. Do you think the visual emphasis people put on musicians is over-rated and takes away from the
purpose of being in a band?
Apteka: I’m not sure that was really our intention or that conscious of a decision. We’re not photo averse or anything. We just happened to find this designer when we first started playing shows whose posters
we really liked, and whose work seemed to represent our music visually in a way that band photos just can’t. His name is Dylan McConnell and we love him.
TDOA: You released your first EP in April. Any plans to record a full-length?
Apteka: Until we get the whole label situation figured out, we’re just planning on pressing limited edition 7in’s. We would love to make a full length and all, but at the moment, it just makes more sense for us to put out singles on a regular basis, than to disappear into a full length.
TDOA: What’s the next step for the band? Will we see you outside of the midwest and at SXSW in 2010?
Apteka: Yeah, hopefully we’ll get out of the midwest for some of the winter hate. We went out to the west coast in June to play a couple shows with Band of Skulls, and had a great time and are looking forward to
playing there again sometime soon. We’re definitely planning on heading back to Austin for SXSW. In the meantime, we’re about to demo out a bunch of new tunes, and see where they go.
Bonus video. Faithful readers know that we only feature a fourth video from bands that are truly amazing. Here’s your fourth video from Apteka.