April Hartman on Sobriety, Running a Non-Profit, and becoming a headliner
by Interviews

Punknews writer David "Punkbanker74" Wilkins recently caught up with April Hartman of Apes of the State, to chat about sobriety, the birth of the "Apes," and their hilarious, yet eye opening, publicity stunt around the release of one of their singles.

PN: You’ve got a new album coming out, called Pipe Dream. Tell me a little bit about it, and why its different than your first album? Well, we are coming up on like our fifth year of playing together. This City was released in 2016, and it was when I was freshly out of rehab, pretty much in my first year of being sober, and I think most of it is very representative of that period. They were all pretty much written in that first year, and like Mollie learned all the songs in one month before we recorded. This album is a bit different as it is more representative of the three years that have passed since that time, and the songs are less about the frustration in my life, and more about the world… Less about me, and more WOW!, these are the things that are wrong with society that I wish I could change. And that's a shift that I’ve gone through in the past few years. Also, a lot of the first album was recorded live, but Dan and I acted as the producers of this album, and didn’t want to be limited to this acoustic band that we play with live, so with certain songs we added more layers, like bass and drums. I like recording albums live because there is a certain energy that is created, like when we play live, we play acoustically with one microphone, and we wanted to capture that energy on the album, but also didn’t want to tie ourselves down and limit the sound.

PN: Well that’s punk, right? It’s raw? Yeah, and there are so many albums that were recorded like that, like off the top of my head, the Pixies album was recorded like that. We can’t capture that energy when we are separated in rooms, and trying to capture it on tape. One of my favorite, which is a weird oddball song, “Fight Song”, I was like, I don’t think this song needs anything. So we just got a group of friends together, and we taught like 11 people the song in one day, and the eleven of us just sang into one mic, and I thought it turned out really well.

PN: If you don’t mind, I’d like to touch on your sobriety, as it is something very important in my life and comes out as very important to you in your music, and you go one step further, and are actually working in that community to give back to them. Can you tell me a bit about the projects you are doing to give back to that community? Yeah, I got sober at a rehab in 2014. They had guitars there, and I picked it up, and wasn’t very good, but remembered a few chords, and I realized pretty quickly that I really enjoyed it, and it was really fun. It was like a healthy distraction from myself. I realized that I could start writing my own songs to get my anger and frustration out, and I was living in this sober house, and I put out this solo album out, and it was very much me trying to make friends in my circle laugh.

PN: I’ve heard that album, its definitely not the Apes that we know. Yeah, I mean most of the songs were kind of inside jokes, so they weren’t relatable to anyone else. But I realized through that, that music was becoming very integral, like a tool in my recovery. And as Dan and I started to play together, I started collecting all these instruments. Any musician knows that you have, basically, one instrument that you play, and all these others just kind of sit around, so I told Dan maybe we can give these away to people in recovery who need them. So we started up “Second Chance to Play” which gets these instruments into rehabs and to those who can’t afford them. We will fix up instruments that have been donated, and give them away. To date, we have given away 60 instruments. The one part that was missing with that was a social circle, like musicians in recovery. In my town, almost all of the venues to play are in bars, and if you aren’t trying to be around that, so we started doing a weekly jam here, at our house, and we’ve been going strong for about 3 years now. It started out as an open mic, but it has become something where we all just play together. I picked up banjo a few years ago, and I almost exclusively play banjo with that group, and I’ve gained the ability to like solo on the banjo, just by playing there. We also partnered with the city, and the city gives us a bit of money to play on Friday’s, for this music thing they support, and we give away all that money, and I feel like it gives sobriety a better, like face, in our community. Like if some people are listening to us play, and they like what they hear, then they find out we are all recovering addicts, it might change their mind about who we are, and what addiction is doing. Like everytime there is an article or news story about police carrying Narcan, our community goes up in an uproar. It’s like the government has dehumanized addicts, and we’re trying to give them the idea that we are humans as well, and we can entertain you.

PN: Wow, 60 instruments, I mean, even if they are only $100 a piece, that’s a lot of work. I mean, I don’t even know if you can get an instrument for $100. Yeah, I mean, that’s about what we offer, and sometimes, I’ll offer that to someone selling something, and then tell them what we are doing with it, and we’re able to keep the costs down. Also, you know, you should see my house, there are a ton of guitars in various states of disrepair, and Dan works on fixing them, and we do that work ourselves so that we’re able to help more people.

PN: Well, I wanted to touch on Dan, as he is such a big part of the music. How did you two meet and start playing together? Dan is like the first member of Apes of the State. The core of this band has been me and him since day one. We met at an open mic, where he was playing with a psychadelic rock band, and I was playing acoustic Wu-Tang covers. We became friends on social media, and he saw a video of the song “Strangers” when I first recorded it, and it was a really bad, recorded on my phone, version, and I had made a post saying I was looking for people that play really weird instruments. I was getting into Folk Punk, so I was trying to make a band like Rail Yard Ghosts, and made this post, trying to fill out our sound. So he reached out and said “I play mandolin.” I didn’t even really know what a mandolin was, but I said sure, and he quickly just became a fixture in the band.

PN: Ok, and now you’ve got Max and Mollie which rounds out your four piece. How did they come into the fold? I really wanted a violinist to fill out our sound, and Mollie is very, like ubiquitous, to our scene. She’s played in a ton of Lancaster bands, she was going through a break-up, and Dan knew her, and invited her to play, and she said when we played “Strangers”, she was like, wow I really like this. So its kind of cool that it was the song that hooked both of them. Max joined much more recently, like two years ago. On an early Apes tour, Me and Dan and Mollie were down in Baltimore, and Max was an opener for the show, and Max, at the time, didn’t play anything, just sang acapella, and like shook this bottle of pills around, and I thought it was amazing. I thought it was so cool, so I reached out to them right after, and a couple years later, they came back to Lancaster, which was there home town, and we didn’t know it. So they came to one of our shows, and said “Hey, do you remember me?” and we were like, yeah, what are you doing here, and it turned out they had come to Lancaster to go to rehab, and decided to hang around when they got out. They told us that they sang harmonies, and so we tried it out. And now, any time we need something different, they are the ones that usually pick that up. Like we wanted bells on a particular song, so we handed them bells, and now they play the bells.

PN: Haha. That’s great. In my opinion, you guys seem to have been blowing up for about the past year. I’m seeing sizeable gains in your listeners/followers, and I guess, what do you attribute that to? I mean, we’ve been like steadily growing over the years. Over the last year, we’ve gotten to the point where you can’t really ignore us anymore. I would say that the biggest thing that has helped our growth, would be spotify. I started noticing that it was the main way that people were finding out about music, and I started a playlist to try and take advantage of their algorithms that refer new music to others. I put our music together with bands like Days N Daze, and Pat the Bunny, and I started sharing that playlist, and it actually started to work. In the beginning it was 80% bigger bands and 20% us, but now I add anyone that asks me to be a part, as long as they are like, even a little, in our genre. Now it's almost all about the smaller artists and less about the bigger guys.

PN: So you just released Pipe Dream. What are your next plans? Well, I plan on touring pretty extensively in 2020. I want to visit all of the cities that have been really good to us, but I also want to hit places we’ve kind of ignored. We’re also playing several fests, and I’d like to try to save money so that we can do Europe in 2021. And I’ve already got several songs that could be the next album.

PN: You mentioned the festivals, and I guess, how did it feel to get the call that you were headlining with Days N Daze, and I mean you two were the first two names released, and in my opinion, you two are now like equals. How did that feel? I mean, we’ve done other festivals, so when we got the call, we just thought we were another band, but then we saw that we were one of the headliners, and it was pretty cool. I was like, Damn, I didn’t think someone would see us like that, until that happened, and it made me think, wow are we one of the bands that are at the top?

PN: Alright, before I let you go, can you name a few of the bands that you think are underrated? HappyHappy, Davey Dynamite, Pigeon Pit and Long Sought Rest, Dana Skully and the Tiger Sharks. Hmm, I’m trying to think of others that I love. Does it have to be Folk Punk?

PN: No, whatever you’re digging. Slump, out of California. Its just like straight guitar rock, and I love it. Awakebutstillinbed is one of my favorite bands. They’re like straight emo, like not what’s happened to emo, but like traditional emo. Don’t get me wrong, I like Lil’ Peep and what’s happened to emo, I like every type of emo. Oh, and I cannot forget Asa Martin, and all of the others that are on the DIY Take Over playlist.

PN: Alright, before you go, is there anything that you’d like to add that kind of sums everything up, anything I didn’t cover? Well, I’d like to talk a little more about Pipe Dream.

PN: Hahaha. You know, that’s probably something I should have asked more about. I’ve been listening to it like crazy, yeah, go ahead. It was like right when we started playing, and I told Dan about everything I wanted to do, like recording an album, and Dan said “That’s a pipe dream.” So the whole conception of this album is that it wasn’t ever going to happen. And we’ve been largely traveling and playing music, and our first album has been gaining traction, and now, music is basically my career, and its like I’m living my dream. And its become like, I can do this, I can make this my life. And now its no longer a Pipe Dream, its a reality, and now I want to go even bigger, and use music as a platform to do good. I think the theme you’ll find is like, like the first song “Snowflake” is about growing up and being the parents that we wanted to have, and like the second song, even though it starts with like “We might be better off if we burned the earth to the ground” but its completely sarcastic and cynical and is commentary on the political apathy that runs rampant in our scene. And the last songs, like “Fun and Games” basically says we can fix this world, if we can fix ourselves, and the last song is more of a confessional ballad, and deals with my feelings on how this is going, and is poking fun at like, the first couple lines, like “Bandcamp and $20”, I remember the first time I made $20 for our music, I was like “Whoa! Someone actually paid me for my music” and it puts in perspective that this dream is not all its made out to be. That’s the concept that kind of ties the album together.

PN: One last question, but how long were you guys planning that Rick Roll stunt where Chris Burrows sang “Never gonna give you up”? I know it seemed as though we had it all planned, but it just kind of came together like that. Brandon (Punk with a Camera) asked if he could drop a single since his label is putting out our tapes, and we started talking about how he could do that. And he kind of decided that it would be fun to get all of our friends to record parodies of the Rick Astley song, and we could pretend to be fighting and he would "leak" the album. And I put in my phone “Brandon and I have a beef” and the two of us both dropped a post at the same time, and it looked like we were fighting, and it just kind of blew up. But what it proves is that negativity grows faster than positivity. Why are fights what bring us together?

PN: You’re so right, it’s like even though we think we are… Woke?

PN: Yes, that’s perfect. Even though we think we are “woke” this fight took over our community for a day. And it really did, it was all anyone was talking about that day. Yeah, We gained like 70 followers that day. We lost like 7 who I guess were pissed off, but overall it was a win.

PN: I was like, wait, what am I supposed to do? I don’t want to decide between the two of them. So I thought it was genius. Well thank you.

PN: Alright April, thank you for your time, and I look forward to meeting you guys next year at Folk Shit Up 2020.