MEXICAN APE-LORD - You Are What You Eat
October 29, 2020, a month ago
For centuries it was the wild west on the open seas as mankind discovered new lands, peoples and goods. Ships, mostly from Europe, criss-crossed the Atlantic Ocean to fill up their cargo holds to earn some kind of living, which some saw as a better option than sitting in poverty on land. Some ended up being pirates and privateers. Most looking for high seas adventure and to fill their pockets doing it. But few met the fate of this crew. In November of 1710, the British merchant ship, Nottingham Galley, left the shores of England. According to Seacoastnh.com, the 13 crew captained by John Deane, was carrying valuable cordage (rope for ship rigging), 30 tons of butter and 300 cheeses from England and Ireland to Boston. They were within a day’s sail of their goal when the ship wrecked on Boon Island just six miles off the coast of York, Maine on December 11th. Despite being just a few miles from shore, the survivors were stranded in the dark depths of winter, with no food and could not light a fire. They huddled together under a tarp on the hard ground until Christmas with frostbite slowly eating away at their bodies. Trained in England as an apprentice butcher, the captain eventually beheaded and disemboweled one of the dead corpses before cutting the meat into strips to make it appear less human. How’s that for Christmas dinner.
Hence the name Survival Cannibalism, the second album from Mexican Ape-Lord, lfeaturing Meliah Rage guitarist Tony Nichols, The Bags vocalist/bassist Jon Hardy, drummer named Steve Fry (Crotalus, Graveheart) and lead guitarist Dan Dykes (Triphammer). So get all nestled up, grab a napkin and a bib, because dinner is about to be served.
BraveWords: Before we dig into the actual specifics and gory details of the subject, Tony was giving me some history between you guys - how you were high school friends, but you were on different wavelengths when it came to music. Two musical worlds colliding in your youth - one was a punker, the other was a thrash head.
Hardy: “Yeah! Although I think when we were in high school we hadn’t really fully developed those identities at that point. We both graduated from high school in ‘81. Thrash obviously existed then, and punk certainly did too, but I think we were sampling everything. There was a lot of crossover at that point. I think especially in those early years, you hear stuff everywhere, and you know what you like and what you don’t like, too. I think we were both looking for loud music, loud guitar and drums-driven music. We knew each other in high school, but we didn’t play together. Tony famously disappeared, I think it was junior year of high school - he just sort of disappeared for a year - and the rumour was that he had taken a year off school so he could learn guitar. When he came back, he was like a full blown guitar player. It was crazy. Everyone else who played rock music in high school you kind of knew what they were up to - like if a kid had a drum set you knew about that. But Tony, I never even knew he was a guitar player until that happened and then he came back senior year and I realized, but it was too late, we never got together. Until much later, obviously.”
BraveWords: There’s not too many guitar players who look like they can be a football linebacker!
Hardy: “That’s a really crazy thing about that guy. Physically, he’s pretty intimidating, and he has a low voice. When he called me out of the blue to try to recruit me for this project a few years back I was thrilled to hear from him, but I was also a little bit scared. Like, if I didn’t say yes, what’s going to happen? But then the thing you learn about Tony is he is the nicest guy ever. He loves everybody, he’s got more friends in the world than anyone else I know. And he’s on good terms with everybody. I’ve never heard an angry word from him. I know I’ve disappointed him, but he’ll never let you know that.”
BraveWords: He’s a friendly giant.
Hardy: “He is, and I think that’s one of the reasons this band seems to work pretty well. I think we all think of him as the boss, and he’s a really good boss. He’s the kind of boss you want to please.”
BraveWords: That’s really well put. On a side note, you couldn’t have figured out a more head-scratching band name when you started.
Hardy: “Yeah, well I can’t be blamed one hundred percent for that. Tony and I were trying to think of band names and he had a bunch of crazy ideas and I wanted to call the band Ape-Lord, and he was like ‘Ah, it’s too ordinary, how about Mexican Ape-Lord?’ And I was like, ‘I don’t know, Tony, that’s just too bizarre’. Then, he didn’t bring it up again for a couple of weeks, then the next thing I knew, that was the name of the band. Of course, nowadays whenever I have an idea, I just go right to the internet and make sure that somebody else doesn’t already have that idea. So if it was going to be Mexican Ape-Lord we had to make sure there wasn’t going to be three Mexican Ape-Lords out there. I did a Google search for Mexican Ape-Lord and up came all this stuff about howler monkey gods, and it was just too good to be true. Howler monkeys are these really loud primates and they live in the rainforest and I think they’re known to be the loudest land animal. And then howler monkey gods, which are these Mayan gods were the ancient gods of music and art. So that was enough for me, I was like, ‘Ok, we’re good to go!’ And the other day I did a search for ‘Mexican Ape-Lord Survival Cannibalism’, which is the name of the new record, and of course BraveWords comes up, but right under it is all this research about cannibalism and apes in South America. Weird stuff. I guess they do kill and eat each other.”
BraveWords: You’ve got a really strong story line and lyrics, an incredible guitar player who knows how to write the ultimate riff, and a powerhouse vocalist who I’m talking to right now. The vocals sound so good because you’ve put yourself in the boots of some poor doomed soul stranded on a rock. The story is so fascinating. Musically you guys have it down. And the collective vocals sound like a heavy metal huddle.
Hardy: “Well, I don’t think of myself as having a great voice. My range is seriously limited. I have a one-note range, I have one note that’s really good, but if I go above that or below it, it starts to get less good. Because my range is kind of limited as an instrument I have to rely more on lyrics and phrasing, so I think I try to make that more the focus of my effort. I’m definitely not going to a vocal coach to try and get higher notes, that’s not going to work. And I don’t do a lot of singing other than when I’m working on a song or going into the studio, so I think I’m pretty amateurish as far as my vocal instrument goes. But in a way that gives me the freedom - you know how you were talking about coming from the point of view of those characters - I was just picturing those poor guys with their beards and their crusty, hard clothing - it’s pretty easy to sing like one of those guys. You just have to growl.”
BraveWords: Why this story though? It’s quite interesting that most people have never heard of this history.
Hardy: “Same here. Well, I had been listening to Tony’s demos for just rhythm guitar and drums and I had a visual picture of what the song should be, like landscape and atmosphere, but no words, nothing specific. I knew that there was a story in there but I just didn’t know where to start. I had been reading this book ‘In The Heart of the Sea’, by Nathaniel Philbrick, and it’s about the wreck of the whale ship Essex out of Nantucket, Melville’s inspiration for Moby Dick. It’s a great book, and there’s a chapter in this book about survival cannibalism, where he mentions the Nottingham Galley incident on Boon Island which I had never heard of. Now Tony and I, we grew up just 60 miles from where this happened, but we didn’t learn about this in history class. So I got curious about it and I read what I could find online. There’s also a book called ‘Boon Island’, by Stephen Erickson, that’s relatively new and there’s a lot of new research in it. I knew there was enough material in there for a few songs, and maybe a whole album. So I sent the guys some information about it and I asked them what they think. Should we make this story of survival cannibalism the focus of the record? And they were like ‘Yup. That’s it! That’s the album title.’ I was pretty sure I could write half a dozen songs without it turning into a tedious rock opera. I could see the arc of the story, the shipwreck, the conflicts, cannibalism. I said to Tony, we have to find a logical sequence for these tracks, these demos, so I can start making a connection. He was like, ‘Oh, I wrote them with a sequence in mind, there you go’. He just laid out this perfect map, and I got to work.”
Hardy: “Yeah. So I just took one track at a time, listening to that instrumental demo over and over again until it was just living in my brain. It would be there when I went to sleep, and was still there in the morning. That would suck if the music was predictable, but you know Tony, he likes surprises - weird chords and fucked up timing - so when these tunes set up in your brain they don’t drive you crazy with boredom, they’re more like puzzles looking for a solution. And after a while they start to solve themselves. The songs literally write themselves. I’d be making a sandwich and boom! most of a chorus will appear right out of nowhere. Or a phrase will present itself and you can just hang an entire verse on it. It’s no great effort writing the words, most of it just happens naturally, but because there’s sort of this gestation period - it’s something that I just can’t seem to rush - that’s one of the reasons I think that this album took a while to make. It didn’t want to be forced.”
BraveWords: You put it beautifully - lyrically it was a puzzle that had to be put together. When I listen to the way the lyrics are structured, it’s not easy poetry. You’re telling a story, and to fit this story into Tony’s music, that must have been really tough to do. But you succeeded.
Hardy: “It really wasn’t that tough. Sometimes the music is complex and it can be a little bit of a challenge to find that phrasing that I was talking about. You have something to say, but it needs to fit, and the emphasis really needs to be on the right syllable of the word or it just sounds dumb. But because there’s a lot of dramatic tension in his songs, you hear it in the guitar lines and the riffs, there’s already a story. There’s something going on there. And he doesn’t just give you one part, like if he starts out a song that is a deep shade of grey, you know it’s going to move to white and black eventually. He keeps it interesting. I never felt like I was shoehorning the story into the song. It’s really fun writing with Tony. But back to his good-natured kind of personality, he gives everyone in the band a lot of creative freedom, he wants us to be making our own decisions. I think we got lucky with this particular story, with this set of songs. It was just the right number of songs too. The first record there was a lot of material. Originally I think he had something like 14 or maybe 17 songs. We were going to fill up that CD, he was looking for a full 80 minutes fo music. Then, he experienced some frustration with the first record because he wants to put it out on vinyl, and you can’t do that with that much time unless you want to make a double record. This time he decided it was going to be a 40 minute record, two sides, old style LP, side one and side two. So he just had these eight songs. At first I thought, I don’t know, maybe this is one side of a record, I don’t know if we want to stretch it out for the entire thing, I don’t know if people are going to get tired. But it seemed to work pretty well. There’s a lot in that story of Nottingham Galley and John Deane and all those guys that we didn’t even touch on. There’s a whole second story that occurs after they get back to London, the whole lawsuit and public relations battle that goes on. I thought it was enough to leave them on the island at that point when they haven’t even been rescued but they’ve crossed that line.”
BraveWords: It’s truly a gripping tale, or tales. The way it was reported - obviously to cover his ass - Deane has one story and the crew that survived have another. Somebody is lying. But maybe they were too fucked up to remember. I don’t know if the truth will ever come out. It’s a non-fiction that turned into fiction.
Hardy: “It’s true. The book that came out in 2012 (Boon Island: A True Story Of Mutiny, Shipwreck, And Cannibalism by Stephen A. Erickson and Andrew Vietze), they really try to figure out what happened, but nobody knows. One theory is that Deane and his brother and another guy were smuggling cordage ropes. They figured out that they could make a lot of money if they turned the ship over to French privateers because the French really needed cordage for their navy. There was a ton of value in their cargo.”
BraveWords: Imagine your last resort is cannibalism? Do or die, no matter what cost or line you cross. However, according to the Cornell Law School, it is not illegal to eat another body. Did you ever see that movie about the Uruguayan flight that crashed into the Andes mountain called Alive? Excellent, but horrific storyline. Very similar to the Nottingham Galley situation. Obviously they weren’t prepared for winter unless they lost everything in the wreck. And I can’t believe they were six miles from shore - it must have driven them crazy.
Hardy: “I was thinking about that all the time, there are a couple of references of them being able to smell a fire from the mainland. The fact that they couldn’t light a fire on the island, and they could smell that wood burning smell, it must have tortured them. It’s Iike they know there are people somewhere over there, and they’ve got food and they’ve got fire but they can’t reach them.”
BraveWords: There’s so much to dwell on. There should be a movie based on this!
Hardy, “I know, seriously! Get to work Hollywood, what the fuck? I guess it’s only a matter of time.”
In closing Hardy talks about the stirring artwork for Survival Cannibalism.
“We haven’t talked about the drums at all, but the drummer in this band, Steve Fry, he’s an amazing musician, a fantastic drummer but he’s also a really good guitar player. He’s also the artist in the band. He’s the one who did the logo and all the art work for the album. He shows it to us for our opinion, but that’s the only involvement I have. A couple months ago Tony sent me an image of four skulls, and each one had the name of a band member and the instrument they play under it, and I asked him if it was the band photo, and he said yes.”
BraveWords: And the lyric video for “Situation” was pieced together beautifully. It was almost an “official” video for the amount of work that was put it into it.
Hardy: “We found some amazing images. I have a 17-year old son and I was watching it with him for the first time and he was like, ‘Whoa! Wow!’ as it was going by. There’s a point in the video where there are just skulls, they’ve got like 200 images of skulls flashing by. I told the guy who made it that I watched it with my 17 year old and he thought it was amazing, and he said that is pretty funny because most of the work on this was done by his 17 year old intern.”
"Stinkin’ Drunk On Blood":
"So Much Wasted Rope":
Survival Cannibalism is available at this location.