Windsor, Ontario’s The Apex are doing some big things. The self-described “ghetto tech” band recently opened for The Dillinger Escape Plan in Toronto, just before the icons announced their indefinite hiatus (but we don’t think The Apex had anything to do with that). The band also independently released their new EP, Underbelly, today (August 17) and are concurrently embarking on their third tour of the past year. Not to mention that the new EP, which follows last year’s self-titled debut, is an incredible 11-minute slab of brute, technical intensity, while Darren Marchand’s vocals could give Jens Kidman a run for his money. It’s all quite impressive, to say the least. Svbterranean recently caught up with Marchand, who took the time for an interview before the band heads out on the road. The vocalist discusses joining The Apex following the disbandment of his previous band Dismata, and talks about the new EP and how it compares to their debut album. He also explains the meaning behind “ghetto tech,” discloses what it’s like to have a neurogenic stammer (or verbal block), and more.
As a fan of your previous band Dismata, it’s great to see you back in the game. How did The Apex come to be?
Thank you! After Dismata disbanded honestly I kinda thought that was the end of my music career. I just didn’t see myself giving it another go at my age. It was weird how it came to be. The Apex had already been together for a while and already had a singer. They were having issues with him and Brian [Gemus], the guitar player, and I used to chat online. He hinted around that there might be an opening for me to try out. I never gave it a second thought. A couple months later they asked me to record guest vocals on a song they wrote. I knew all the guys from previous bands they were in and we had played shows together; all good dudes, so I figured why not? It could be fun. I went and recorded and the guys really liked the work I did on the track and basically asked me to join a couple days later. I accepted and the ride has been a lot of fun.
At about 11 minutes, the new EP is short but packs an incredible punch. How are you feeling about the outcome of Underbelly?
I’m very happy with the outcome of the EP. In my eyes, it’s more sludgy with more groove. I’m a fan of double bass so when Tyson [Taylor, drums] and Steve [Landgraff, guitar] first showed me the music I was sold right away. I think the fans will really enjoy this EP. It’s heavy and brings new elements from us for them, while still keeping the original Apex sound.
What was the writing and recording process like?
This EP was kind of different from our debut CD. We were on a tight time schedule, so Tyson and Steve sat down and wrote the entire EP. Usually, I always contribute to the lyric process, but along with the music Tyson and Steve had ideas for the lyrics as well; a concept for all three to flow together. As for the recording process, for me it’s always stressful. I think it’s because I’m always last, so waiting and over-thinking things makes it not as fun as it should be. We’ve been lucky enough to work with Nick Kinnish for both recordings. Knowing WTF he’s doing makes the whole process much easier.
How do you feel the new release compares to the band’s previous album?
This new EP definitely brings new aspects to our sound. The debut had more chaotic and spastic parts. Underbelly shows previous fans a new side of Apex. I personally think this will bring us a whole new type of listener who might not have listened to the debut CD. I’m excited to finally get it out there.
The band’s sound is super intense and technical, and you describe yourselves as “ghetto tech metal.” What does that even mean?
Well, reputable dictionary sites will mention “ghetto” as areas of a city and minorities, etc. We took the more Urban Dictionary meaning and one we’ve grown up with in our city; to rig something together by unconventional methods. It’s not perfect but it’s put together well enough to work. Basically, many technical/progressive musicians learn to read music or go to music schools or study theory, etc. and we just sort of learned on our own and made it work in a grimy sort of way. It’s by no means polished but it is still in the realm of technical/math metal; a “ghetto” version of tech metal.
What are your influences?
I’m the geezer in the band haha, so my influences might differ from the other guys. I have so many influences. The first was actually Max Cavalera that got me to try singing in the first place. Sepultura released Arise and I was hanging out with buddies who were in a band and they wanted to cover a song. I grabbed the mic at their practice one night and I actually sounded really close to him. That was the starting point of me joining my first band. Other influences include Mike Muir of Suicidal Tendencies. His image, lyrics, and stage performance hooked me early. Vocal wise I love original vocals, any singer where you can tell it’s him as soon as you hear it intrigues me. Dave Mustaine of Megadeth, Frank Mullen of Suffocation, John Tardy of Obituary are some of my all-time favs. Serj Tankian of SOAD and Meshuggah‘s Jens Kidman are probably the most recent ones.
Lyrically, what is Underbelly about? What inspires your lyrics?
There are fundamental flaws in this chaos we call an industry today and we make no attempts to sugar coat how we see the “underbelly” of it all. We were noticing bands being “signed” to these bank loan type record contracts, and documentaries explaining how the record industry is taking advantage of bands; and not to mention promoters that are in it for themselves and not paying up, etc. With all of that we took the bold choice to take these issues on as a concept for the EP. We felt those people and issues are the “underbelly” of the music industry, as the parts many don’t want to speak of so it suited the title perfectly in our eyes. I’ve been writing lyrics for about 22 years. I’m a HUGE history and realism buff. I always found it easier to write about things that are real or issues and events that have happened to me. I find I can bring out the passion in what I’m trying to express if it’s something that I know a lot about or experienced.
How does your neurogenic stammering affect your life? Is performing vocals ever a challenge because of it? Or is it easier to express yourself through the music?
I’m going to be real here, bottom line it’s horrible. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. I know the press release listed that I have a stammer, but what I actually have is what they call “blocking.” That’s where I just can’t get the words out. The best way to know what it feels like is the next time someone asks you your name just stare at them and say nothing. Not because you’re ignorant, but because you can’t get it out. Shit gets real when they are looking at you expecting an answer. Personally, I’d trade my right arm not have to live another day with it. At the same time, I’m sure the people with no right arm might read this and say, “Shit I’d give up something for my right arm.” Everyone has their issues, right? You just learn to deal with it the best you can. The biggest issue for me as a musician is a lot of people label me as a “douche” or “ignorant” because they come up to me and ask me my name or what band I play in and sometimes I just can’t get it out. When in reality I’m the opposite; anyone who knows me says I’m one of the nicest guys. It’s kind of why I agreed to release this info in our press kit. To get it out there so when you do meet me, know if I could talk your ear off I would. As for singing live, it does not bother me at all. For some reason, singing clean or heavy, I can sing 30 songs in a row with no issues. Sometimes talking on stage gets sketchy haha, but I do my best. There are a few other popular singers that have the same issue where it does not affect them when they sing.
You recently opened for The Dillinger Escape Plan in Toronto just before they announced disbanding. What was that experience like?
What can I say besides IT WAS AMAZING!!! Dillinger is a HUGE influence for all of us, so us getting to share the stage with them was surreal. I think the hardest part was trying not to be a “fanboy” and bug the shit out of them. Even though I still had them sign some of my vinyl I brought haha. The crowd was also amazing, we got a very good response. Playing in front of people who are actually into our genre made the experience that much better.
What can be expected from your upcoming tour?
This is our third tour in a little over a year. We love being on the road. Playing live really brings all our hard work together and being able to share it with metal fans is a natural high. This is our first time going all the way out east. There’s a couple repeat venues along the way that we had to go back to because the first time was so rad. We’re a pretty modest band, we’re not expecting sold out shows every night. We just hope if you like metal and are able to attend one of the dates or check out our music, we really appreciate it.
Thanks for the interview! Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Thank you for taking the time out of your life to read this article. If you like what you’ve read and wanna check out our music, or if you personally wanna tell me to fuck off, you can add us on Facebook @ http://www.facebook.com/wearetheapex. Make sure you message me though because if you call I probably won’t answer. Cheers, Darren. \m/