Ape Machines Proffer Fizzling Synths and Masterful Musicianship
Producer-composers Nirmit Shah and Sid Shirodkar explain why they chose their new band name and why they don’t classify themselves as jazz
Nirmit Shah and Sid Shirodkar, of the freshly-debuted Ape Machines, are grinning across the table from me. I’ve just asked them what their band name means. “We’re really terrible at coming up with names for anything,” says Shirodkar. “What do you think it means?”
I get the same feeling you get when a teacher asks you what you know is a trick question, or when the government agent taking your photo tells you that you have to show your ears and stop smiling–that is, the same feeling you get when you’ve just been set up to fail. I venture a half-hearted, “You guys are apes and your synths are your machines?”
It’s not a terrible guess, admittedly: Shirodkar and Shah’s latest project, their debut as a duo, is synth-heavy and does indeed feature the two producer-composers going positively wild with blink-or-you’ll-miss-it transitions and time-signature trickery. The pair are heavily influenced by the artists of the new jazz, neo-soul elite who propagate such masterful musicianship: Snarky Puppy, Hiatus Kaiyote, Robert Glasper, Thundercat.
Though my answer ultimately ends up being wrong–no surprise there–it’s comforting to know I’m not the only one who had this interpretation. “That’s exactly what my cousin said,” says Shah, and then pitches up his voice to imitate her. “You guys are going apeshit on your machines.”
The real meaning, of course, isn’t even close to our guesses. The word “ape,” when used as a noun, describes, obviously, a furry primate with opposable thumbs, but when used as a verb, it means “to imitate.” “We found ourselves really conscious of the fact that we were integrating all these influences,” explains Shirodkar. “We talked about Hiatus, Snarky and stuff–we can think of a lot of artists a lot of the times when we write a riff or a passage or some compositional idea,” he says. “[So] it’s the whole idea of aping your influences.”
Great music is born out of great influences, and that’s just what Ape Machines is: well-crafted, feel-good music that feels in line with a lot of other contemporary jazz/neo-soul. Though Ape Machines, the duo’s self-titled debut EP, is uniquely their own, their inspirations still make themselves evident. A slick transition on “Monkey See” will summon up Hiatus Kaiyote; a fizzy synth on “Monkey Do” could evoke Snarky Puppy–even an early version of the EP’s cover art was influenced by Salad Fingers (an early 2000s web show that can at best be described as disturbing).
“It’s harder and harder to be completely original, if that’s even possible,” says Shirodkar. “In the Fifties and the Sixties, maybe you couldn’t say that every sound has been explored, but now virtually everything is an ape of something. It’s not to say that we don’t make an effort to try to be as original as possible,” he adds. “[But] we’re still cognizant of where all the different parts have come from.”
26-year-old Shah, a Mumbai True School of Music graduate, met 25-year-old Shirodkar a few years ago while the two were interning at the studio of film score composer and Indus Creed member Zubin Balaporia. “We started making music a year later, but didn’t really think it was going to materialize into anything concrete,” says Shirodkar. “At some point, we realized it has the scope to actually be played live with a full band.”
Though Ape Machines was entirely composed, mixed and mastered by Shah and Shirodkar, the duo brought on other instrumentalists, like drummer Sahil Shah, bassist Tanmay Bhattacherjee and vocalist Lydia Hendrikje to help fill out their sound. Cotton Press Studio co-founder Aalok Padhye also contributed percussion.
Shah and Shirodkar themselves play multiple instruments on the EP, including keys, drums and guitar. “We talk about this conflict we have in–not calling ourselves [jazz] musicians, but the whole idea of the music being represented as jazz music,” says Shirodkar. “Because even though we heavily borrow from elements of that style, we’re not really jazz musicians in terms of heavy improvisation and stuff–it’s all through-composed material.”
“I’ve met a lot of people who get the idea that jazz is just a sound, but from our understanding, it’s more about the ability to improvise, and not necessarily that sound,” agrees Shah. “Because the sound can be achieved if you know what you’re looking for.”
“We borrow from different kinds of music, different sensibilities, and we love jazz, and we like listening to it, but we’re like kind of frustrated jazz musicians in a sense,” says Shirodkar with a laugh. “But it’s more about–for us–the compositions and the productions and doing interesting things with them.”
Catch Ape Machines at Antisocial Mumbai on August 12th at 10 pm. Click here for more details.
Listen to “Monkey Do,” a track off ‘Ape Machines’: