By Joseph Mazzola & Emily Blackwell
Originally out of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Apes of the State have been making music since 2014. Starting as a solo project by April Hartman, the band grew into a more ramshackle ensemble over the past near-decade. Currently on tour, two of our staffers went to their stop at Waller’s Coffee Shop in Decatur, Georgia to talk to April about songwriting, addiction recovery, and the future of folk punk.
90.5fm is WUOG Athens. We are here with . . .
April from Apes of the State!
How’s tour been going?
So far it’s been one show. We played Charlotte yesterday. We had to go to an emergency dentist today. We’re all taken care of. Aside from that, no antics. And the show went well. Hopefully tonight goes well too. We’ll see what tomorrow holds, we won’t know.
How often have you guys played in Georgia?
We hit here almost every time we tour the south. So, we were just at this same venue last August. Prior to the pandemic, we were here, and we actually played in Athens in a place called Bombs Away, a house, I think in 2017. We played a house show in Atlanta in 2018. So yeah, like once a year, I’d say, we try to make it down to Georgia. Whether Savannah, or here in the Atlanta area.
So I know sobriety is a huge part of your music, and I know you’ve been making music for a long time now. I wanted to ask, how has sobriety influenced your writing process, and how has it changed over the past years of doing it?
Yeah, so my writing process was really heavily influenced by my recovery—in early recovery—because I got sober in 2014, and then I needed something to do with my emotions instead of doing drugs about them. So, I started writing songs instead. And that’s kinda what grew into this project. And, like, over the years, it has kind of morphed out of my own emotions into a little bit bigger stuff. There’s been a bit of an evolution from our first to our second LP. Our next album that’ll come out sometime, probably in the next year, is heavily . . . There’s recovery themes, but it’s from the perspective of me watching my friends go through the same things I did in early recovery, and some friends dying, and stuff like that. So it’s morphed over the years, but I’d say it’s still very heavily a theme.
I’m glad you brought that up, I was about to ask—I noticed that, in This City Isn’t Big Enough (2016) a lot of the songs were about more personal relationships, more one-on-one stuff, but in Pipe Dream (2019) they kind of scaled out a little bit, talking about society. I’m thinking about songs like Internet Song and Snowflake as broader social commentary. So, I guess one thing that I have to ask is, was that a conscious decision to change the lyrical content, and if so why?
Not really. I think it was just the logical progression of my recovery. Like, in early recovery, I was still very much caught up in my own stuff, and I couldn’t think about outside of myself yet. And then, as the years progressed, I got the capacity to be okay with myself and my emotions, so I started just considering others more and thinking about what I could do to help the broader state of the world, rather than just be worried and wrapped up in my own emotions all the time.
Sweet! Since you’ve been making music for nearly 10 years now, you’ve been touring—you come to Georgia about once every year—how has the folk punk scene changed, both in Georgia and in all of your touring spaces in the last near-decade that you’ve been releasing music?
It is like, so big now. The folk punk scene is so much bigger than I think it ever has been. And—I was just talking about this with a friend a while ago—when we started our band, which was in like 2016, that was the same year that Pat the Bunny retired, and also that Plan-It X Records dissolved, and Erik Petersen died. Like, all in a row. So a lot of people that were in the folk punk scene prior to that saw that as the year folk punk died. But our whole career has been post-that. We never played in that scene. So we had to build something. And I think that the bands that rose out of that are stronger and bigger than ever. Like, we have Pigeon Pit. I love Pigeon Pit! On NPR? Like, what? Folk punk getting national recognition like that? Never heard of! People like the Bridge City Sinners, our friends from Portland, are just playing 500 to 1,000 cap rooms all over. Like, selling out rooms that big. We’ve never seen folk punk bands do this. I think it’s just an awesome time. It’s exploded beyond what we ever thought folk punk could be. From the little basement spots to now—like, it’s something that’s getting mainstream recognition, almost. Which is really cool. It brings a lot of eyes and ears on the scene that might not always agree with it, or might not always like it. Like, the YouTube comments might not be friendly all of the time. But at the end of the day, it’s gonna reach more people that need it. And, I always say, folk punk isn’t for everyone, but for the people it is, it is everything.
Yes. I’m glad you brought up Pigeon Pit with NPR, because the person who orchestrated that Tiny Desk, Lars Gotrich, actually used to be Local Music Director at WUOG.
Oh, so cool!
Pretty cool! Very very small world. So, how did “Internet Song” off of Pipe Dream come about?
So I was sitting on my couch, and I was actually thinking about writing a sad song. Like, I was thinking about how much stuff has changed due to the internet when I grew up, versus kids now growing up. I worked at the Boys & Girls Club at the time, and kids would come in and want to spend all the time on the computer in the computer room. So I was just thinking that I was glad I grew up when we could still do bad kid stuff outside. It started out as a sad song, and it morphed into this really comical thing. And I was like, “Okay, this needs to be silly.” Sometimes I’ll set out to write an angry song, or a sad song, or a funny song, and it just comes out being the opposite, and I just vibe with it. I’m like, “It is what it is. It came out this way.”
Fair. Speaking of the internet, as much as I love Apes of the State’s music, I also greatly enjoy your digital footprint on TikTok, Twitter, and the Instagram memes. Has that shaped people’s perceptions of what folk punk or Apes of the State is or could be? Have you gotten any strange comments on your online footprint?
There’s been a lot of people that are like, “What’s going on? I followed this because I liked your music, and now I’m either confused or I’m enjoying it.” I think overall, it’s been good. There was a period where we lost a lot of Facebook followers, but then we gained a lot more, so it evened out. I think the people that were fans prior to me just kind of losing my mind online, they left, but they stuck around for the music. They still come to the shows, but they just don’t follow us anymore. And then, a lot of people that I think don’t even listen to us, just follow us now because they think we post funny stuff. Which is cool, because eventually those people come out to shows anyways.
That’s awesome! So we were talking earlier about how folk punk is the biggest it’s ever been. Where do you see it going from here in the next couple years, and what role do you think Apes of the State has to play in that?
That’s really interesting. I don’t know. I see bands popping up, like brand new bands that I’ve never heard of, that say they’re influenced by us. Which is, I’m like, “What?!” So I could see that the bands of now—Pigeon Pit, Apes, Bridge City, the so-called “bigger bands” of the genre—we’re gonna shape the sound of the next generation. Just like the bands that I listened to when I first started writing songs, like Pat and Paul Baribeau, shaped my songwriting. So I’m interested to see how it morphs, and I hope it becomes even bigger than we were able to accomplish.
I wanted to ask, do you have any recommendations, folk punk or otherwise, that you’ve been listening to?
I listen to a lot of Prince Daddy & The Hyena. I know they’re pretty big, and I wanna plug bands that aren’t huge. Dakota Floyd, who’s playing this show, is awesome. This band Trash Boat and The Ambush out of D.C. Really great, little known folk punk out of DC right now. I love their songwriting. I play in another band, Local News Legend. Love my bandmate Emily, I love their songwriting. Billy Batts & The Made Men from here in Atlanta. They kill it every time. We played an awesome show with them here last time. So, I actually have a whole playlist on Spotify that’s called “Folk Punk DIY TAKEOVER,” and on that playlist it’s all active bands that are little-known in the folk punk world, and I sprinkle in bigger bands. So, it’s over an hour long and it’s just got hundreds of songs of new bands that are out there playing right now that are gonna be the future of folk punk. So, I’d give that a listen for sure if you wanna hear some new bands.
That about wraps it up. You said you’ve got a new album coming out maybe in the next year?
Sweet! Any other comments, and where can we find you on social media?
I don’t have any other comments. @ApesOfTheState on everything—Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, everything @ApesOfTheState.
April, thank you so much for taking time with us.
Yeah, of course!