The following is an Independent Spotlight exclusive interview with the band AP Mode. Questions were answered by both Lewis Grimes (vocals, guitar, primary songwriter) and Joey Vetter, the drummer. They co-founded the band together.
First and foremost, I’ve always loved digging into your music because of its versatility. You describe your music as “indie alternative,” but I’d argue there’s a whole lot more at play as well. It can often be incredibly funky, and every so often you release tunes like ‘Lightning & Thunder,’ a jaunt through lots of instrumental soloing and banter. Was it your intent to infuse your sound with such a dynamic range of styles? Does it come naturally, or are you always striving to push that bar farther and higher?
Vetter: Yes, I think the “dynamic range of styles” that you mentioned comes naturally out of our playing and less so consciously. For example, AP Mode’s “traditional” music is actually not the kind of music that I listen to myself, so I think the outlier tracks that you’re thinking of (the longer, more instrumental, more experimental tracks) are reflections of some of the other influences in the band. I’ve actually noticed in your reviews of our stuff that you’ve specifically commented on my playing as being very jazz-influenced. That made me pretty surprised to see, as I’ve never thought “okay, I’m going to play with a jazz influence here,” but one of my favorite genres is jazz, so I suppose it’s cool to be able to recognize that those influences are manifesting themselves in the music subconsciously.
To be more specific about the songs themselves, a lot of that kind of more experimental material was on our last album, and at that time I think we both were listening to a lot of post-rock music and that kind of thing which inspired that. Almost all of the longer tracks that we’ve done have been pure improvisation. The one exception I can think of is 'Columbus Day' off the last album, which of all the tracks we’ve ever done was actually the one that we’ve probably spent the most time on.
Grimes: This is interesting. It is really hard to say - we don't get to practice often - so I think we all have it on our minds what we want do when we do finally get together. Maybe we’re more prepared when we do meet up, who knows. We still send albums and other things we find interesting to each other, so I think we still kind of keep up with music tastes in a way.
AP Mode’s new album, ‘Kids Eat Free,’ was recorded when the band was able to get together in the same place after being at separate colleges in Texas. How has your collaborative process as an outfit changed now that you’re apart most of the time?
Vetter :The collaborative process changed, but I don’t think it was a result of us being away for so long. A big deal on this new album is that we moved into a new studio for the first time, which is something that we should’ve done years ago and was a good decision. In regards to writing and arranging, over the years we’ve moved from working with pre-established songs being brought into the studio ahead of time to writing and arranging everything as we’re going along, and that’s how pretty much every single song on the new album was made.
For example, we would start recording when we only had just a very basic idea of the song and we would write the rest of it as we were recording it. This is very different to what we started out doing in high school, where we would pretty much fully iron out songs before ever starting to record them.
‘Kids Eat Free’ was released on Jack Morrison’s Warganized Records, the label behind acts like The Links and Warganization. How did releasing music with Morrison’s label come about for you? Warganization is based in Louisiana, after all.
Vetter: I actually met Jack Morrison on an internet forum years ago. I started out doing drum tracks for Warganization (which I still do occasionally) and then when AP Mode had gotten to the point where we needed people to work on our tracks he was basically the best option we had, and it’s evolved into a pretty long-running collaboration.
Grimes: It’s funny because we just met Jack in person this last December, which was kinda wild after knowing him via internet for several years.
To that end, what is your process like with Morrison? He mixed and mastered your new album.
Grimes: It is really just us recording stuff and sending it off to him as we finish, and then once all the recording is done we spend several weeks discussing changes and stuff.
Vetter: He’s a pretty integral creative component of the band, and is, in a lot of ways, the central architect of our sound (in the studio at least). Because we’re working in the unique position of internet collaboration, we’ll pretty much finish recording a track, send it off and then get it back and see what he’s done with it. We’re usually satisfied, and of course if we’re not we’ll talk about it. But the point is that it’s not like how I imagine a local producer or engineer’s role might be, where they’re furiously at work on a mixing board while we’re sitting on a couch behind them dictating what to do and how. This approach has pros and cons to it, but it means that Jack has had an important creative role.
Kids Eat Free’ has a loose theme to it, almost like a concept record. It has intros and outros that take place in the classroom, and your artwork was drawn by a preschool class. Why did you opt for that theme on this LP?
Grimes: 'Kids Eat Free' was Joey’s idea, and I think it was just fun to have a juvenile feeling while making the last of the songs and arranging them. It was kinda just like, we don't really wanna stress too much, so let's just be like kids a little. Kids do eat free, after all.
Vetter: I would actually say that it’s not a concept album, in that (to my knowledge at least, I didn’t write the lyrics) there isn’t an intentional theme that unifies or links the tracks. I came up with the title of 'Kids Eat Free,' and when we decided to use that a lot of other stuff flowed out of it. The intro and outro tracks came about basically because we just thought it would be fun to have one of our favorite high school teachers on the album.
We wrote those in a way to make it a little mysterious, so as to add some intrigue to the album. The artwork came about because with the word 'Kids' in the title I was imagining children’s doodles and stuff like that, and also I think this album is our most “lighthearted” by far, so I thought that kind of style fit. I dug around and found this big thing from my preschool with a bunch of drawings from different kids in the class so we ended up using that.
There’s a track on ‘Kids Eat Free’ called ‘I Miss Airplane Mode.’ It’s a bit of a parody of Kanye West’s ‘I Miss The Old Kanye,’ but many listeners may not notice that if they haven’t heard West’s ‘The Life of Pablo.’ Do you guys like West? Or was there another motive the song’s structure mimicking his?
Grimes: I do like Kanye, definitely, I think it started just playing around with a drum machine and taking poor attempt at freestyles or something. To me, it is kind of like an ode to Kanye, maybe one day he’ll hear it… It also just seemed to have to do with the timing, that album just came out, and it was kinda like making a time capsule by putting it in our song, I guess.
Vetter: I have actually never heard a Kanye West album in full. The way that track came about is that, when we had to change our name (because of a trademark dispute), we thought it would be funny to do sort of a “diss track” about it. I don’t even remember how the Kanye thing came into it (I have an awful memory when it comes to writing and recording usually), but I do know that I’m probably going to regret my vocals on that track for the rest of my life...
There’s another Kanye thing on the album, the title of 'No More Ubers in ATX' is a clear poke at 'No More Parties in L.A.' That one was my idea. Whenever Kanye puts an album out it’s like you can’t go the next two months without hearing about it every single day, so maybe that was our way of poking fun at the whole thing.
Does anyone in AP Mode have any sort of musical training? It’s always been impressive how well performed your records have always been for a relatively young outfit.
Grimes: I took violin when I was way young, and several instruments from then on, but settled on guitar when I was like twelve. I don't have much guitar training, and I have no vocal training, but I have always felt I had a decent ear, and it was my desire to make music that made me progress in both I think. I definitely just wanted to start putting stuff out, I guess, and learn from what I did wrong and stuff, so I can hopefully make even better stuff in the future. I think Joey feels similarly.
Vetter: I took drum lessons for a few years, and I actually went to a “percussion camp” when I was in middle school. I can’t really read music, though. I’ve also had piano lessons, but nothing’s really come out of that. My personal view is that music theory, as it relates to the drum kit at least, is overrated. Maybe some people will find that surprising given how important time keeping is to drumming, but to me notes on a page just don’t “work right” with contemporary drumming for me.
If AP Mode was to switch genres, what direction would the band take? (If you had to move away from alternative indie rock.)
Grimes: That's a great question, and one we are definitely still trying to figure out ourselves. I think we want to alter our sound, but how much and which way I just don't think we can say right now.
Vetter: It’s actually interesting that you mention that, because this is something we’ve been talking about. There’s not a definite idea of how we want to take things but I can probably say people can expect things to sound different in the future.
Where do you see AP Mode in the future now that ‘Kids Eat Free’ is finished? Are there more songs in the tank for the group?
Vetter: We get asked this after every album and we never really have a good answer. Right now we’re really trying to concentrate on live stuff as much we can, I think. I think we’ve always sort of been a “studio band” and we’re trying to really focus on playing live now. It’s very difficult for us though because we’re all in school and I live four hours from the other guys, but we try to make stuff work on breaks if we can.
We’d love to be able to tour but the issue, as with everything else, is time. I would imagine we’ll do another album at some point, but all of our schedules are pretty well filled for the near future, so it just depends on whenever the time presents itself. That being said, after we finished 'Slate' we never thought we’d have another album finished in a year, and we did, so who knows what will happen.
Grimes: I think there are definitely more songs. We just want to experiment a bit before we put more out, though.
On the Independent Spotlight, we always close our interviews asking bands and artist about themselves as music consumers rather than producers. If AP Mode was to put together a playlist of their favorite tunes and hit shuffle, what three songs might pop up?
Grimes: Oh wow, definitely a Gorillaz tune, and the other two would probably be R&B or rap, like some R. Kelly and probably an MF Doom track. Doesn't make too much sense, but doesn't need to either.
Vetter: I think what Lewis said is pretty much correct. Among the artists we both like, MF Doom is a very big name for both of us. Lewis also got me into this band called 'Mild High Club' recently. (Notable because it’s kind of rare that I find rock music that I like these days).
Connect with AP Mode below. 'Kids Eat Free' is available on their BandCamp now!