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Ape Shifter’s Jeff Aug: “The Object of Coolness”

by Keith Valcourt

Ape Shifter’s Guitar Shredder Proves You Can Come Home Again. To Rock!

There are two types of people that grow up in small towns. Neither one is good nor bad. They simply choose to take different paths in life. The first type are folks content to stick to the familiar. Often, they are born, live and die in the same place. Many marry their high school sweethearts, finish their educations locally, and find a steady and stable nine-to-five job. They buy the standard house with the white picket fence and raise a couple of kids. 

Then there are the restless wanderers who can’t wait to jettison the simplicity and status quo to explore the world beyond the hedges of their suburban childhood homes. The creative dreamers who exist to make a mark on the larger world. They don’t often make it back to their starting places. 

Jeff Aug best fits in the second category. Born in D.C., the prolific guitarist grew up in Laurel, MD before moving to Germany more than two decades ago. There, he developed his intense and proficient style of playing. As a touring axe slinger, Aug played with everyone from Alan Holdsworth to Atari Teenage Riot. In 2016, he formed the power rock (some say “Sludge” or “Stoner” rock) instrumental trio Ape Shifter. On the back of their just released CD Ape Shifter 2, Jeff Aug brings his newly revamped prog rock to North America for the first time ever, including a stop in his old state of Maryland. 

Alchemical: Is this Frederick, MD show a homecoming for you?

Jeff:  Yes.  I expect people to come out. I’ve been badgering them. They’ll be some people there I hope to see.

You grew up in Laurel, MD. What was the music scene like for you as a kid?

You were either into Lynyrd Skynyrd, Rush and Led Zeppelin or the punk scene with Fugazi, Minor Threat and Jawbox. I got stuck in between the two. Our generation in this area spanned people who would listen to the Grateful Dead and Fugazi at the same time.  

Why did you move to the German Alps 22 years ago?

My band, Sorry About Your Daughter, got a record deal with a German record label. We used to tour over there. The band broke up in 1996, and I was just spinning my wheels in Maryland. In 1999, I got an invitation from an old tour manager who invited me over there. I went to Germany with no plan. It was kind of like a roller coaster. Sometimes a lot of things happened. Sometimes nothing happened. I just really enjoyed the change of scenery. The change of pace and in the quality of life. I decided to stay.

Was that a culture shock to you?

For the first ten years or so, I felt like I was on vacation the whole time. A lot of people spoke English, or broken English. I was trying hard to learn. I would have dreams at night with these long German words I had heard during the day appearing in my dreams.  I would wake up and ask, “What does that mean?” I had to figure it out. It was more of a culture shock when I took the first trip back to Maryland. 

What drew you to the guitar in the first place?

I was learning piano from five years old to about age twelve. Then my “Cool Uncle” was living in New York. He turned me on to Pink Floyd, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.  He was moving out of Grandma and Grandpa’s house, and he had an old electric guitar. He asked me if I wanted it. And when I grabbed that thing I thought, ‘This is it! This is the object of coolness.’ From there on I was in love.

You are bringing Ape Shifter to North America for the first time, and the band lineup has changed.

Ape Shifter started off with the lineup that played on the two albums (Aug, Florian Walter on bass, Kurty Munch on drums), but coming over to North America, it’s just impossible to get foreign musicians into the U.S. without having mega bucks behind you.  The cost of the work permit applications alone is $3,000 to $4,000 each. Just to apply.  Also, the idea was, if I am doing this, I need some name players because nobody knows the name Ape Shifter.

How did you get Stu Hamm to join?

I had been on tour with him before, both as a tour manager and a support act. I approached him with the idea, and he said he would be up for it. He found Jeremy (Colson-drummer) who is the perfect guy. He hits as hard as Tommy Lee, and when I reached out to Tommy Lee to ask if he wanted to drum for Ape Shifter, he never replied. We just finished a week of rehearsals, and it sounds amazing. 

Do you get intimidated having Stu Hamm in your band?

Yeah. (Laughs) As we’ve been playing, I feel my confidence growing. Because there isn’t that judgmental thing going on. At the end of the day, what is the fear? The fear is fear of being judged and not living up to the potential of what others expect of you. You get beyond that. You get thrown into a whirlwind of confidence and take that step forward. 

Your music has been called everything from “Prog Rock” to “Stoner Rock” to “Sludge Rock.”  How do you classify it?

Easy enough, it’s heavy progressive riff rock. That’s the best way to describe it. 

The music is instrumental. Have you ever been tempted to add vocals and a singer?   

I have nothing against having a vocalist in the band. It’s just that where I live in southern Germany, there’s just nobody around that really fits. Hey, you want to bring your microphone, come on down to rehearsal, and we’ll see what happens.

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Keith Valcourt

Keith Valcourt is a Los Angeles based music and entertainment writer. He has interviewed thousands of celebrities in the worlds of music, film, TV and comedy for dozens of outlets including: L.A. Times, Washington Times, LFP Publishing, ChelseaCommunityNews.com, RetroRoadMap.com LaArtsOnline and more. Much More

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